Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
In June, the waters surrounding Nantucket are teeming with Striped Bass, but these fish rarely make things easy on the angler. Perhaps it’s the variety of habitats in which they feed that makes them so elusive. Chasing stripers with a fly rod is a full-on addiction. To get your fix, you tend to find yourself in many unique environments and moments.
It’s 3am, and I’m wading a salt creek under a new moon on this little island 30 miles offshore. The audible siren of Bass slurping sand eels produces a full-body buzz, persuading me to venture just a little deeper. Anticipation is at an all-time high and I start to giggle. A 35-year-old man giggling in the dead of night, waist deep in a salty creek is quite liberating. My line tightens and the giggles turn into a howl and I am sure if any unsuspecting homeowner is awake, they have just checked the locks on their doors. This particular fish and I only get to know each other for about 7 seconds before she decides to spit the fly – or more likely I failed to set the hook properly. I take a seat on the bank and try to calmly tie on another fly while the feeding frenzy ramps up. Sometimes it helps to slow things down.
When the sun comes up it’s time to engage your eyes and spot this slippery adversary. The pursuit of stripers on the flats is all-encompassing. Your mind is completely blank – no worries or unwanted thoughts – just laser focus looking through the water for that moving shadow. Time flows by and then seemingly out of nowhere: target acquired. Laying the trusty clouser in their path and bringing it to life with a slow, continuous strip, you see the leader of the pack change course to inspect. No giggling here: just full commitment to keeping composure in the moment. Setting the hook on a Bass in skinny water opens the door to immediate chaos. Without the ability to dive, flats Bass rip off line in search of deeper water. Unlike my time in the salt creeks, this fish stays buttoned and we complete our full song and dance. I release the sea lice covered fish and check my fly. It’s a little battered, but so am I.
The south shore of the island is a magical place to connect with a Bass, but at times you feel humbled by the force of the ocean. A while back, I remember my buddy saying, “You’re walking in stripers,” and at that moment I figured he had gone over his limit of beers. For years, my attempts at catching stripers in the surf from foot was dominated by repetitive cursing and disappointment. Manhandling my rod to get my fly past the breaking waves. The line wrapped around my feet. Smashing my hand on my stripping basket. Forgetting my phone in my water logged pocket. It was like a sad circus with no animals. However, I’ll never forget the morning when that first striper hydroplaned into the wash of the shorebreak and engulfed my fly. It’s a sight that cannot be properly put into words, but the image is forever imprinted on your brain. Knowing where and what to look for is key and I now know what my buddy meant.
By far the most adrenaline-filled striper fishing takes place in the rips. When 50 feet of rushing of water suddenly meets a 5 foot ocean wall – wild stuff happens. At the end of this June, we made an early outing in my friend’s boat several miles off the coast. Two Aussie friends join us and provide constant stoke and laughter. In fact, I have never met a boring Aussie and hope I never do. After an hour of running we hit our spot. I can only imagine the sheer terror of those early ship captains when they got a glimpse through the fog of raging whitewater in the middle of a calm sea. With that being said, you certainly want to know what you’re doing when fishing the rips.
With the boat in gear, treadmilling in the unforgiving current, myself and one of the Aussie’s take position at the stern and make perpendicular casts to the rip. When the fly hits the flat water, I mend the remainder of the line at my feet and point the tip of the rod towards the rip. Wham! A gaping Bass mouth inhales my squid fly almost instantly and the Aussie to my right feels the same explosion as his line goes tight. As we fight our fish we allow the boat to get sucked over the rip to even the playing field. The combo of the raging water and line peeling from the reel creates a euphoric feeling that is contagious and addicting. We land 2 keepers, take a quick photo, let them swim off, and then hit the throttle to get back in position. This is what striper fishing is all about!
Pass after pass, Bass launch out of the rip and demolish our flies. Poppers enhance the eruptions. At one point all four of us are hooked up and the fine balance between exhilaration and safety becomes clear as the boat drifts broadside through the rip. Rips are a place of constant motion and surprises in both a nautical and a fishery sense. But on this morning the Bass are lined up like a firing squad, keyed in on the squid being delivered to them by the ripping current.
After 2 hours we manage to connect with over 40 Bass and 1 monster bluefish. These stripers are healthy and several display distended bellies, probably caused by an overindulgence in squid. Although any of these keeper sized Bass would have made a proper meal, we let them all return to the water. There is nothing wrong about eating a legal Bass, but on this morning we all feel completely satiated. As I look into the big eyes of these beauties it’s hard to not reflect on their history and their future. This striper has traveled a journey of many miles and who I am to determine its end. I am just here for the pursuit, the fight, and the healthy release. Journey on my friend, and I hope to see you again.