I kept on foul hooking crabs. In fact, I landed more green crabs than striped bass. I even caught back to back crabs on consecutive casts. It seemed logical that with such an abundance of crabs, there would be large striped bass around. To my dismay, they were mostly schoolie stripers in the 16″ to 20″ class. I’m certainly not against pulling on any size of striped bass. Still, when you see hefty fish in the 35″ to 42″ class, you know there are substantial fish around. Getting those crafty, bigger fish to bite is another story. The abundance of natural crabs made it more difficult for my fly to stand out. Foul hooking crabs also demanded finesse and care to release. I made the error of dropping a crab into my stripping basket to photograph the size and coloration of the crab, while impaled on my hook. It took seconds before all those scrambling legs and claws intertwined with my previously neatly layered fly line. It’s amazing how quickly an angry crab can become entangled with your fly line. They don’t hold still while you try to extract them!
For the past fourteen or fifteen years, I’ve fished the beaches of Southern Maine for a week or more each Summer. This Northeast saltwater experience has provided me days of chasing striped bass, bluefish and mackerel. I’ve learned specific beaches and how they fish on the incoming and outgoing tide. I’ve paddled countless hours and witnessed where fish hold during different stages of tide. I’ve explored enough rocky stretches to know which islands tend to yield fish in the foamy, white swash. In my early years, I would blind cast prospective zones with a clear intermediate line or 400 grain full sink line on my 8wt. Now, I’m more content to sight fish on the clear sand, to follow diving terns or gun for trophy fish, fishing a crab fly slowly on the bottom.
This year factors conspired against my angling plans. We hosted company for the first half of our trip. I couldn’t be a rude host and leave for hours to fish. Ironically, every time we walked the beach, enjoyed ice cream overlooking the water, visited the inlet or back ocean pool, there were terns working and fish busting. During a fried clam dinner at a local pier, I couldn’t fully savor my seafood as fish busted a mere 100′ off the dock. As was typical, we were with company and I left my fly rod at the cottage. Not to my wife’s surprise, I was more focused on the feeding frenzy in the water than at our table. Speaking of my bride, it’s also more difficult to find fishing time, managing around the nap schedule of our toddler and pre-schooler. I’m a husband/father non-grata if I leave for more than two hours at a time. The final factor was that my trip coincided with less favorable tides, substantial wind, rainy periods (low light for sight fishing) and a full moon. I’m of the opinion that angling is rarely exceptional around a full moon. Most striper experts agree that their best fishing comes on overcast, low light times.
Anyway, I managed to sneak away every other day and landed my share of stipers. Most fish were schoolies under 20″, with several larger fish between 25″ to 30″. My best fish was a 3o” – 9 pound fish that inhaled a crab fly. I was fishing a sinking line on a sand bar around low tide. My three best fish were all caught on olive crab patterns, fished on the bottom and stripped back surprisingly fast. I even had some takes as I was about to lift my fly out of the water. When a striper grabs your crab fly, there is nothing subtle about the feed. It feels like a strong, quick and decisive yank on the other end of your fly rod!
When on the water, I chose to mostly ignore the diving terns because they indicated smaller fish busting on spearing or sand eels. Typically, larger fish don’t waste energy chasing small top water bait, unless the quantity is so significant that it is worth the effort. I specifically observed an eddy feed during this trip. The smaller fish chased spearing/sand eels around the surface. The 30″ plus fish never broke a sweat and stayed at the bottom of the water column. Local bait guides didn’t even bother to fish sand eel or small bait fish patterns. They fished a live mackerel slightly suspended off the bottom, attached to a substantial amount of lead.
This season, my intention was to land a beefy 35″ to 40″ striper on the bottom, fishing a crab fly. Travis, a local fly fisherman casting next to me, landed a dandy 38.5″ – 22 pound fish. It was his third largest fish of the season on that same beach. His best was 41″, earlier in the year. All his big fish came on crab flies. So, I mostly ignored the screeching terns and surface mayhem, to fish a crab pattern on a sinking line. As I mentioned earlier, cloudy/overcast/high tide conditions didn’t permit me favorable sight fishing for cruising fish over the light sandy bottom. My best option to target a trophy striper was with a crab pattern. I fished a particular sand bar at the edge of a sloping sand flat. Everything drained from the sand flat and the fish would cruise or hold about 40′ to 100′ off the sand bar, especially within an hour or so on either side of low tide. I would wade up to my waist or fish from my kayak. After making a typical 60′ or 70′ cast, I would count to five to let the line sink and ensure the crab was fully on the bottom. The retrieve was slow strips, long jerks or quick, fast strips. Most of my takes were as the crab dropped to the bottom or during quick, fleeting strips. My best striped bass was only 30″. Still, you knew there was the possibility of an upper thirty, or forty inch fish. In addition, I foul hooked enough crabs to make it interesting.
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