Skunked Again, Something Stinks – Learning from tough fish-free days

Learning from tough fish-free days

Stubbornness invites skunk stripes, while adaptation overcomes. Jeff Little with a jerkbait striper caught on the troll.
Stubbornness invites skunk stripes, while adaptation overcomes. Jeff Little with a jerkbait striper caught on the troll. Photo: Jeff Little

Skunked Again, Something Stinks
Learning from tough fish-free days
By Jeff Little

Last Thursday I quit fishing before noon. That never happens. I experienced a sort of internal nudge to get out of the situation I was in immediately. My jig had not been bit. No real problem there. Three-foot wind-shattered waves left my beard, knit cap and dry top encased in crumbly ice nuggets. I've certainly had worse weather, this winter especially. What really told me to get out immediately was that it took me over five minutes to retie a knot. I lost my dexterity – a sure sign of looming hypothermia. I was alone, two miles from my launch and I was ripe for the kind of accident that kills. So I left.

Another sign of hypothermia is anger. It's funny how that word is one "l" away from angler, because most anglers are optimistic and generally happy people. I had no optimism left. I was angry because I had been skunked four trips in a row. The trip before that string of fishless days included my personal best striped bass, a 44.5-inch torpedo of muscles and fins. I caught it by jigging a 10-inch soft plastic on a 2-ounce lead head. I relentlessly pounded the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay with that lure and wasn't about to quit – my next personal best was going to eat that too!

Then I got out on the water last Saturday with my buddy Alan. He trolls to catch striped bass. It's an effective technique, but really doesn't appeal to me the way light tackle jigging does. I prefer to feel that well defined "whack" while lowering the jig back down to the bottom. So I jigged. Alan trolled. Alan hooked up with a 29.5 incher on the first pass over a trench cutting through a big 8-foot deep flat. I jigged. Alan caught.

Each time I looked over, he had a rod doubled over, sometimes both at the same time. Close to 40 hours without a fish, then watching Alan plow through 12 fish in half an hour softened up this jigger faster than you can say, "What speed are they hitting it?"

Alan called back, "Two and a half to three miles an hour, usually 2.8." I dug around for a rod holder, slid it into my track system, and within two passes over the shad choked ditch, I kicked that little pole cat out of my boat. It was only a 17-inch rockfish, but it was the first I had caught trolling.

I ended the day with 6 fish, all by trolling jerkbaits. Alan had over 30, many over 30 inches. I quizzed him on everything from his elevated rod holders to tactics like zig zagging the flat. I learned something that I would have been too stubborn to learn, had it not been for Alan and four skunk trips.

Pro angler Jeff Little hosts his how-to kayak fishing videos at his Tight Line Junkie’s Journal channel.