Experts along the Eastern seaboard are predicting a wonderful autumn for fishing, ranging from Chesapeake Bay sea trout to North Carolina channel bass.
So what if summer still has almost a month to go? September marks the arrival of fall fishing for most sport fishermen in the mid-Atlantic states and, as one prominent surf-fishing guide in North Carolina said, "Some of our autumn fishing has already started."
Ken Lauer, who runs Outer Banks Safaris out of Buxton on Hatteras, N.C., predicts a better-than-average fall for puppy drum (juvenile channel bass).
"There are a number of puppy drum available now from Rodanthe to Ocracoke Island," he said. "But it will get better in the surf by the end of the month and especially through October.
"I look forward to good October/November flounder, croaker and Norfolk spot fishing, with yearling drum up to 25 pounds also making a strong showing in the surf," Lauer continued. "Big bluefish will be here no sooner than the first week of October and they'll build into huge schools by late November and into the first two weeks of December."
All of which will gladden thousands of Maryland/Virginia surf-fishers who have turned Hatteras Island into their personal autumn Mecca. The only sour note struck by Lauer concerned the striped bass.
"Maybe (there is) a 10 percent chance for them in November, certainly no more," he said. "May as well forget them if you're heading our way."
Closer to home, Chesapeake Bay once again will resemble a floating boat show when cool nights and warm days become the norm.
"September can be bread-and-butter days for Tangier Sound captains," said Doug Carson, a Crisfield, Md., skipper who specializes in drift and still fishing for sea trout with crab baits or white lead jigs dressed with curly, plastic trailers.
The weakfish, some of them 10-12 pounds, also will snatch up crab baits from anchored boats around the Chesapeake's lower Maryland sectors such as the Bouy 50 to Buoy 54 stretches east of the St. Mary's County shoreline.
Big chopper bluefish will charge back into the Bay as far up as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, supplanting the little ones available now, when mid-September arrives. They'll stay until surface water temperatures get so cold the blues no longer can feed comfortably on rising bait schools. Count on that to happen in late October.
If a bit of optimism is permitted, also look for scattered school-sized rockfish that will strike small surface poppers and spoons during early mornings around the shallow grass beds of Smith Island, Hooper Island, the Patuxent River's Cedar Point Light, the St. Mary's River and a good many grassy shoreline dropoffs from the Kent Narrows to Rock Hall on the Eastern Shore.
The best news, however, may belong to the freshwater fanatics. Large- and smallmouth bass will go on a feeding rampage -- particularly in October. Best spots for smallmouth bass: the western Maryland sectors of the Potomac River, from Knoxville north to Little Orleans. Surface lures of every description will draw hits from "brown" fish of mostly small sizes. The upper Shenandoah and Rappahannock rivers in Virginia ought to show similar activity.
"I'm already excited about fall fishing," said local Potomac River guide, Pete Cissel. "Come late September, I'll be throwing everything in my tacklebox at the largemouth bass." Cissel predicts a fine autumn bass season in the area, from as far north as Fletcher's Boat House to below the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Bright, orange-bellied crankbaits, plastic worms, surface flutterers and plastic jigs will be the main attractions in town, as well as in Virginia's large reservoirs, when the bucketmouths prepare to store up fat for the coming winter. On the top of the list is Spotsylvania County's Lake Anna, west of Fredericksburg. The nuclear power station supply waters have shown unusually high numbers of trophy bass of the largemouthed and striped variety.
The list goes on. Crappies, catfish, bass and pickerel will awaken when cool temperatures arrive to stay on Maryland's Eastern Shore rivers and ponds. Mark down the Nanticoke River and adjacent Marshyhope Creek, near Sharptown and Federalsburg, respectively. The Pocomoke River at Shad Landing State Park, the Choptank River at Martinak State Park, the public Urieville, Uncicorn, Wye Mills and Johnson ponds -- all hold a promise of rich fishing adventure when the first skeins of wild geese can be seen on the shore country's horizon.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with the lakes and reservoirs in the immediate area. Rocky Gorge and Triadelphia water supply lakes in the Montgomery/Howard counties corridor will come alive with September and October bass, pickerel and pike. The catfish and bass, the sunfish and crappies of Occoquan Reservoir and Burke Lake in Northern Virginia will increase their feeding activities when morning frost and a warming sun merge every day to tell of tougher times ahead.
Don't be too quick to pack away the fishing gear. The best is yet to come.