The beach kicked my butt! It took me ten days to land my first striped bass on a fly rod. My familiar beach and river system in Southern Maine didn’t cooperate. I’ve fished this same beach for 15 years and have caught hundreds of stripers. This year, I couldn’t find them. Between the daytime heat, bright sun, overly warm river water and poor tides, fish were scarce. Even my two 4:30 am, low light forays were a bust. Nearly desperate to get my nephew into his first striper, I even resorted to chunking mackerel with a 3 ounce lead weight on a circle hook. We baited 3 different rods and fished off the rock jetty for hours with no success. During this time period, I only saw one other fisherman land a striper using sand worms or mackerel. Even though mackerel were plentiful and easy to catch, we weren’t finding stripers. It was part of the dog days of Summer and fishing was super slow.
Whatever I was doing wasn’t working. So, I changed plans and decided to explore new water. I had nothing to lose. It’s easy to fall into the trap of fishing old patterns and places that previously yielded fish. What I needed was a change of location and tactics. I decided to abandon my familiar haunts and learn new water. A pleasant 20 minute paddle placed me around a new sandbar, colder water and a great funnel system during outgoing tide. For the first time in days, I also noticed the swirl of a feeding striper. I quickly positioned my kayak upstream of the swirl, gently lowered my anchor, stripped out line and began casting. After a few fan casts, a plump 22″ schoolie inhaled my sand eel pattern and I was in business. Over the next few days, I worked the dropping tide and experienced a wonderful array of blind casting and energetic blitzes (terns/seagulls/mergansers/stripers) all feeding on 3″ sand eels as they dropped off sand or mud flats. My best fish was just shy of 30″, but these fish sure were refreshing after my previous drought. Luckily, I tied up a new batch of olive and chartreuse craft fur sand eel patterns to match the hatch. There was one time, when my fly impaled sand eels on three consecutive casts. The sand eels were plentiful and the primary bait.
In hindsight, I should have made a correction in my tactics sooner. It’s tough to crack the secret to great fishing just before you have to leave. I squandered too much valuable fishing time, stuck in thinking that my previous spots would give up fish. For whatever reason, they weren’t there during late July and early August. This trip has me reflecting about the need to not entirely rely upon past habits and knowledge, so that I’m open to new angling possibilities and patterns. Nature is not static and a quicker fishing adjustment on my part would have afforded more fish this trip.
If you haven’t yet tangled with our New England striped bass fishery, it’s worth exploring. The new catch limit among Northeastern States is one fish per day, over 28″. From my recent experience, I witnessed plenty of schoolie stripers, as well as larger fish upwards of 40″. Catching those cow stripers in shallow water is another story (think crab patterns). Anyway, I like to use an 8 weight Rio-Intermediate Striped Bass line. Most of the fish around the beach are feeding on sand eels, mackerel or crabs. That’s a fairly simple fly selection and you can get by with a dozen flies for an outing. My leader is about 10′ long and I use either a 10lb or a 12 fluorocarbon tippet. These fish may be caught wading, from a kayak or from a skiff. Striped bass fight well and there’s always the possibility of landing a fish yardstick length or longer. If you’re up to the challenge, there can be spectacular sight fishing on sandy flats for large fish in shallow water (again-crab patterns). So, if your favorite trout water is currently chocolate milk or too warm, why not consider a New England striper/bluefish trip?
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