For 30 years and more, Jerry Sauter of Catonsville fished the rivers and reservoirs of the Mid-Atlantic region for largemouth and smallmouth bass, and in the 1960s set state records for these two species of black bass.
In October of last year, Sauter said, he became fascinated with another fish that is gaining popularity among anglers at some reservoirs in the state, striped bass. On Nov. 3 of this year, Sauter set the state freshwater record for the species with a catch at Liberty Reservoir that measured 43 1/4 inches and weighed 36 pounds, 4 ounces.
"I have really geared up my tackle for them," said Sauter, who works in sales with Kraft Foods and had not fished much during the past four years. "I have really got the bug, and I go at it hard."
Sauter caught his record striper, a new category in the state's freshwater division this year, while working a Cordell Cotton Redfin in 10 feet of water along a rocky point adjacent to a 40-foot drop-off. But the business of catching a state record started more than a year ago.
"When the bug began to bite, I needed to know where the fish were, where the best places to catch them were," said Sauter, who learned many of his fishing skills while working at the Loch Raven Reservoir Fishing Center and angling with Roland Martin, for many years now a top tournament bass fisherman and television show host.
"So, I learned when the state was going to do its annual electro-shocking survey and went out with them to see where the fish were."
What Sauter saw were striped bass averaging 12 to 13 pounds and one that exceeded 50 pounds -- and he was hooked.
"Most of my fishing through the years has been for [black] bass," said Sauter, 55. "But when I saw those electro-shocked fish, I realized that, compared to the average largemouth, stripers are just a big, big fish.
"It got me psyched."
Interesting words from a top-notch angler who held the state smallmouth record for about a year in the late 1960s at 6 pounds, 7 ounces and the largemouth record for a decade at 10 pounds, 1 ounce.
"I have gone down to the bay a few times and fished out of Kentmoor Marina and Chesapeake Beach for rockfish," said Sauter. "And we used to go for sea trout in Delaware Bay, casting bucktails and bouncing them along the bottom for big trout. My, that was fun.
"But DNR has done such a good job with stripers in Liberty and some other reservoirs in the area, that the action is hard to beat now."
Sauter said Liberty is the best freshwater striper fishing around, whether from a boat or the shoreline.
"I know it is a trip to get up to Liberty, and if I were just going for [black] bass, I wouldn't spend as much time there, because any reservoir would work as well," said Sauter. "But DNR has done a super job in Liberty."
Unlike tidewater fishing for stripers, where trolling or chumming are the most common methods, Sauter likes to cast diving and topwater lures to points and flats that hold large fish at this time of year.
"And I am not the only person catching them now," Sauter said. "I'm seeing a lot of people from shore catch large rockfish -- especially up past the Nicodemus bridge, where one morning a guy I spoke with had caught two at 21 and 22 pounds."
Success, Sauter said, started with research and planning.
"After I saw what was going on last October," Sauter said. "I saved some vacation for this fall, because I knew this was when the best fishing would be."
A crucial element in reservoirs at this time of year, Sauter said, is turnover, when the strata of water temperatures change and the patterns of baitfish and predators change with it, and feed heavily in preparation for winter.
"These fish in Liberty really turn on at this time of year," Sauter said, "after the water turns over."