Like a punch-drunk fighter, Hatteras Island, North Carolina, has had its share of ups and downs. An October/November surf-fishing mecca for thousands of the wading set, Hatteras is governed by fickle winds and weather that can turn the seven-hour drive into the experience of a lifetime.
Thus far, the outlook is good. As the month begins, a typical Hatteras run of puppy drum and yearling channel bass is developing. Along with it, flounder, huge amberjack and young bluefish are tearing into the baits. The bluefish will increase in size and number every day. "With the exception of surf stripers it looks like the start of a great year," says Ken Lauer, a nationally known surf guide from Buxton. "But anyone planning to come down this month should have motel reservations. It will get busy if the fish continue to be on schedule."
Elsewhere, the Chesapeake's sea trout and bluefish continue to cooperate over vast sectors of the bay. All that will come to a screeching halt the moment severe cold fronts arrive. But so far, so good. The freshwater scene was muddied a bit by recent rains, but don't let that stop you: Bass, pike, crappies and catfish are very active this week. MARYLAND RIVERS AND LAKES POTOMAC RIVER -- Catfish, catfish everywhere. Stick with liver bait -- it's hard to beat. Of course, cut fish chunks and nightcrawlers also work from western Maryland to below Washington. Bass are striking crankbaits from around Fletcher's Boathouse to the Spoils area near Wilson bridge. The same holds for Edwards to White's ferry areas in Montgomery County. Pan-size rockfish hop onto lipped lures around Washington Channel during tide changes. WSSC RESERVOIRS -- The rockledges and waterlogged trees of Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes are good for keeper bass and some northern pike. Beetlespin lures, quarter- ounce black bucktail jigs trimmed with a strip of black pork rind or long-lipped crankbaits will turn the trick. Next to spring this is the best time of the year for a trophy largemouth bass. DEEP CREEK LAKE -- For some unknown reason, the past week provided poor fishing when it should have been excellent. At any rate, if you're in Garrett County to welcome in the grouse or squirrel season, take along a rod and reel. This place has fish dying of old age. Start throwing jigs and crankbaits. EASTERN SHORE PONDS -- Look for cloudy, even muddy, water at Urieville Lake (Route 213, north of Chestertown), Wye Mills (Route 213, near Chesapeake College) and Leonard's Pond (Salisbury). Either way, the weekend looks good for bass, crappies and sunfish. Cloudy water won't turn them off. Unicorn (Route 313, near Millington) and Tuckahoe State Park lake (Route 480) are clear and show more sunfish than bass. SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES -- Gilbert Run Park lake (Route 6, east of LaPlata) has awakened with good sunfish and catfish action, but the bass are tiny. St. Mary's Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown, at Camp Cosoma Road) is alive with bass, sunfish, pickerel and occasional lunker crappies. A fine all-around lure for beginners is a 1/8-ounce white or yellow hair jig set about two feet under a bobber. Jig it around flooded brush and hang on. CHOPTANK RIVER -- Upper reaches, from Greensboro to Martinak State Park, are murky from recent rains, but pickerel and bass love to see a live minnow in flooded shore brush all the same. Crankbaits and plastic worms also work well. Perch and a few pan-size rockfish show up on crab or bloodworm-baited hooks below Cambridge. NANTICOKE RIVER -- The Marshyhope Creek junction with the river has seen striped and largemouth bass catches on retrieved Firetiger and Natural Ike lures. Plastic worms and grubs will get the hits, too. Crappies and scattered bass are active inside Marshyhope Creek and Broad Creek. SUSQUEHANNA RIVER -- The Flats have been fine for small rockfish on surface plugs, with the inside of the river, toward Conowingo Dam, offering a few lunker largemouth bass on spinnerbaits and plastic worms. CHESTER RIVER -- Boaters found the sea trout and snapper blues last week around Love Point at the river's mouth. Rain discharge from up above, however, may slow down the action. PATUXENT RIVER -- As promised last week, the sea trout and bluefish cooperated for many at Town Creek Marina's fee pier, as well as Drum and Hog points. Most of the catches came on peeler or soft crab chunks, but fresh alewife bait attracted a number of fish. There is no reason why such good fortune shouldn't continue this weekend. CHESAPEAKE BAY Starting with the lower parts of the Chesapeake, from the mouth of the Rappahannock River and Smith Point in Virginia to above Hooper's Island on Maryland's Eastern Shore, there are bluefish and sea trout of various sizes taking trolled bucktails, chummed menhaden or bottom- fished peeler and soft crab baits. The best times for trout still are evenings and nights, especially along the ships' channel ledges near buoys 50, 52 and 54. But sea trout catches also have come from the St. Mary's-Potomac rivers junction, as well as the lower Potomac's Cornfield Harbor and a host of spots inside the Patuxent River. And don't be surprised if an errant channel bass suddenly rips your baits along the dropoffs between the Cedar Point light of the Patuxent and the Point No Point area near St. Jerome's Creek. Sea trout also have been hooked from above Hooper's Island to the Gum Thickets and above, along with the bluefish. Tangier Sound's Puppy Hole and other varying depth areas show trout, blues and some fine flounder. The big problem for many small-boaters is the wind. VIRGINIA RIVERS AND LAKES CLAYTOR LAKE -- This southwestern Virginia lake has seen a steady upswing, with bass and muskellunge providing considerable excitement. Live minnows or such artificial lures as crankbaits and spinners are doing the job. SHENANDOAH RIVER -- Rain may have clouded the waters somewhat, but the weekend should be fine for smallmouth bass. Short black plastic worms do a number on smallmouths during the day. Early hours dictate surface buzz baits. SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE -- The fall run of landlocked stripers has been under way for a few days. Topwater casting, trolled lures or simply cranking a lipped artificial around dropoffs have attracted large stripers during day and evening hours. LAKE GASTON -- Look for fine largemouth bass action this weekend on crankbaits and spinnerbaits at landpoints, rockwalls and deepwater coves. Bass are on the prowl. A few stripers are taken in deep lower lake areas. KERR RESERVOIR -- A mixed bag of stripers, largemouth bass and large crappies from many sectors of the lake. Don't let murky water keep you away. LAKE ANNA -- This is crankbait week for bass. Firetigers, Speed Shads, Wee R's, Honey Bees -- you name them, bass will attack them. Catfish and bluegills are active. OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR -- A few bass and crappies are taken around Fountainhead Marina. Jigged lures or live bait will turn up fish. RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER -- I don't know if local rains have halted the upstream smallmouth bassing, but I'll bet that it hasn't. The Fredericksburg portion is seeing pan-size rockfish who like minnows, worms or hopped jigs. CHICKAHOMINY RIVER -- Belated congratulations to College Park's Jerry Phoebus for his 17-pound bass total and a win in his bass club's recent tournament here. A variety of lures can be used now to find fine keeper largemouths, including buzzing spinnerbaits early in the day. BACK BAY -- Knotts Island, North Landing River, the Bay Haven area and other spots on this windblown monster are showing plastic worm- or surface lure-caught bass in increasing numbers. Crappies and sunfish also are willing. OCEAN AND INLETS MARYLAND -- Ocean City headboats locate scattered sea-bass and sea-trout schools, with the resort town's inlet offering a few lunker trout on jigs and squid. Flounder fishing has slowed, but surf anglers on Assateague Island still connect on bluefish, spot and kingfish. Two adult channel bass have been landed in the surf thus far. VIRGINIA -- Cabbage Patch to C-10 Buoy near Cape Charles (Chesapeake Bay) has seen new catches of channel bass during moving tides. Spot and small bluefish roam about the shallower waters of Cape Charles. On the Atlantic, Chincoteague to Wachapreague flounder anglers still find their favorite fish, although many are small. Increases of sea trout have been noted in the ocean inlets as well as the close-by Atlantic. A few yellowfin tuna are found over the far offshore ledges and the wrecks in those areas hold sea bass schools. NORTH CAROLINA -- The surf and pier anglers along the Outer Banks are scoring on plenty of two-to three-pound bluefish, small flounder, even a few pompanos. The Rodanthe to Buxton stretch on Hatteras Island last week gave up puppy drum (up to eight pounds) and some yearling red drum (up to 25 pounds). Action, however, can be widely scattered. Frisco's public fishing pier has been the scene of frantic amberjack catches, with many of the amberjacks tipping the scales at over 40 pounds. Live spot or bluefish on float rigs is the way to go. If you're planning a trip to Hatteras for the October to November season, reserve a motel room. For lodging help call Ken Lauer, 919/995-5967; for weather and catch information call Outer Banks Fishing Unlimited, 919/995-5183 or 995-5224.