Blitzing Bluefish and Stripers

For nearly fifteen years I’ve fished the beaches and rocks between Kennebunkport and the Saco River in Southern Maine.  I  just returned from a peaceful two weeks of beach time at my parents cottage on Hills Beach.  I managed to fish most mornings.   Typically , I would fish for several hours, anytime between 4 am and 10 am.  Most of my angling forays resulted in lousy fishing.  Uncooperative tides, warm river water (70 degrees), warm ocean temps, bright sun, and a lack of schoolie stripers created poor fishing conditions.  For the first eight days of my trip, I barely succeeded in locating a few stripers.  This was unusual. In year’s past I had little problem catching fish during the day.  My wife had to put up with my lamentations about the crappy fishing conditions.  I know how good a fishery it is and was disappointed.  Bloggers also chronicled the slow conditions and scarcity of fish, while shops  touted great conditions.  Eldredge Bros. Fly Shop was one of the few fly shops that admitted concern about a  lack of schoolie fish, as well as the prevalence of  bigger fish uncharacteristically rejecting flies .

My favorite angling highlight during the first week was rescuing a 4′ Atlantic Sturgeon.  I easily hand caught, tailing this majestic fish as it was going belly up in shallow water.  There was a heavy rubber tube wrapped around the gills (most likely used for commercial fishing). The gills were flared and this fish was fighting for survival.  I delicately removed the tubing and held the fish up current.  I  carefully revived it until it was able to swim away on its’ own power.  This was my second annual encounter with a sturgeon (last year I randomly landed a 52″ species on a fly) and I’m pleased that I was able to help it survive.  I doubt this fish would have lived much longer, especially stuck on a shallow sand bar.

On my ninth day, I abandoned the beaches and targeted the Saco River and rock jetties.  As a result, my fortune changed .   I experienced periods of exceptional fishing.  With the low tide in the morning, pods of stripers and blue fish crashed on schools of silversides and sand eels during the outgoing tide.  It’s impossible to miss the action, as terns hover and screech above the maelstrom, eager to pick off injured bait.  If the terns commotion wasn’t enough,  softball sized explosions in the water gave away the presence of the piscatorial predator and  trapped bait. Paddling my kayak, I positioned myself upstream or across from the melé and cast an intermediate 8wt w/ a sparse  chartreuse or olive, sand eel/silverside fly into the fray.  It’s important to mention, that you need to concentrate on slowing down your retrieve and to not become unraveled by the commotion.  If I managed to place several good casts into the scene, I would be rewarded with a hook up of a striper or bluefish.  Most of the blues and stripers were between 20″ to 30″.  I never fished steel leaders, opting for 30lb flourocarbon and managed to not loose many flies nor blues.  However, I was sloppy with fighting several hefty stripers and foolishly lost three fish that could have pushed 10 lbs.

Pulling on so many fish in that strong current, from a kayak, wears one out!  I decided to anchor on the rock jetty and observe the scene from above.  To my surprise, the water on the beach side of the rock jetty was placid and there were large stripers milling about!  I hurriedly tied on a crab pattern and began to hunt cruisers.  These 25″ to 35″ striped bass traced the rock contours, looking for crabs, stray sand eels, baitfish, flounder, baby lobsters, etc.  It was great game scrambling on the rocks, getting into position and attempting to time a cast to a cruising fish.  Gin clear water, minimal current and selective fish.  It reminded me of my best bonefish, permit and tarpon experiences in the Keys. I experienced lots of interest in my crab patterns, but only managed a few takes each trip.  Overall, I landed seven sight fished stripers with the smallest 24″ and largest 29″.  At one point, I flung a 70′ cast, intercepting two trophy stripers that might have reached 40″.  Great fun and agony watching them initially speed up, show  interest and then turn off.  There are plenty of nuances in fishing crab patterns and I certainly plan to improve my arsenal.  If you haven’t yet made a trip to the Northeast for stripers and blue fish, go for it!  It’s a great way to combine family and fishing, as well as wet a line for  nearby saltwater trophies.  It looks like I’ll have another year to mull over ways to fish a crab patterns, as well as tying new and improved crab imitations.

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Craig Dennison

This is Craig and I host Fly Fisher's Workshop. My fly fishing experiences include plenty of travel (Montana/Florida/North Carolina/Maine) and a few years part time guiding for trout. While I primarily target trout and steelhead, I still manage to chase warm water species and enjoy chasing stripers and bluefish. I'm a 3rd generation fly fisher trying to share the passion with my two sons!

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