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New technique lands plenty of striped bass

Shawn Kimbro catches Chesapeake Bay striped bass Tennessee style.

That is to say this son of the Volunteer State thinks of stripers as oversized largemouth bass with black racing stripes.

There's a lot of running and gunning. And a lot of twitching and jigging.

See the birds. Make a beeline for the birds. Fine-tune location with an eye on the fish finder. Drop lines. Crack the whip. Repeat as needed.

It's not for the laid back. Or the introspective. But it is too much fun.

And, most importantly, it works.

Tuesday afternoon was a perfect day for a demonstration on the deck of Professor Kimbro's 27-foot Judge. Creamy-blue sky, a slight hint of breeze, the temperature a "Hey, wake up there" 50 degrees.

As most of the fishing guides were coming in, we eased out of Kent Narrows and under the bridge to Eastern Bay. Kimbro had his spots all plotted out, but he left a little room to color outside the lines.

We got the crayons out early when Kimbro spied gulls circling like riders on a Ferris wheel above the sparkling water.

"Let's get 'em," he said, zooming in and then throttling back.

Did I also mention his technique is not for those who are adverse to sudden acceleration followed by rapid deceleration? Do crash test dummies fish?

As the boat settled into the water, shipmates Colin Crozier and Joe Evans were quick to bait up and let fly. Kimbro was right behind them.

Evans, an avid fly fisherman, said he was intrigued by Kimbro's technique one evening off Poplar Island, when he noticed Kimbro was busier than he was.

"As soon as he started catching fish, I started going, 'Ah, let me try some of this stuff,' " he recalled. "I'd better get jiggy-wiggy with it."

Kimbro said work commitments meant his bass fishing was done in the evening, and "you had to put a lot more action in the lures."

When he moved to Kent Island and began fishing for striped bass five years ago, he also transferred his technique.

"When I'm fishing on the bottom, the objective is to crack the whip -- to crack the tail of that lure like a whip on the bottom so it pops the bottom and stirs up a little mud or dirt … and it gets the fish's attention," he said. "It works -- most of the time."

Kimbro was throwing a 10-inch BKD lure hot-rodded with red garlic dye on a barbless hook with a half ounce of weight.

"Sensitivity is everything on the drop," he said. "I've got a split-grip rod so I've got two fingers on the blank underneath the reel and two fingers on the rod so I can feel the fish, the slightest tick on the lure, and then set the hook," he said. "You develop a kind of uncanny sense of feel and you can tell what's on the bottom.

"I joke around with people that I can tell the difference between a bread truck and a potato truck moving across the Bay Bridge."

(You can see the technique on the video accompanying this column).

The sound of his line cut the air with a sizzle as Kimbro snapped the rod skyward then let the lure settle back into the depths.

Almost simultaneously, two rods bent toward the water. Evans landed his fish first: a 22-inch striper. Kimbro followed with the catch of the evening: a 38-inch fish, fat, with sea lice still attached. No doubt the migratory fish are heading south.

The rest of the evening was more of the same. Top-water lures and smaller BKDs attracted legal-sized fish no matter where we ran.

As the sun turned the horizon into a pastel ribbon of raspberry and orange and the temperature slipped closer to 40, Kimbro turned his boat north for the run back to the Kent Narrows ramp.

"The bay's like Disneyland to me. Every day you learn something new," he said. "A lot of people talk about the good old days of the bay. I would love to have seen it then because I consider it to be pretty awesome right now."

Still, he preaches barbless hooks and catch and release. He's worried about the declining number of juvenile striped bass and leery of proposals that would increase the pressure on the spawning fish.

Kimbro is generous with his knowledge both on and off the water. His website, www.chesapeakelighttackle.com, is a wealth of information, written in a light, conversational style.

Luckily for bay recreational anglers, Kimbro also is starting to speak up at public hearings. He apologizes for his delivery, but he shouldn't. He's smart and funny and full of insight. If Fisheries Service officials are looking for folks to fill the three new seats on the Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission, they ought to consider Kimbro.

Even if he weren't 6-foot-4, you'd still look up to him.


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