Maine saltwater fly fishing means many different things to different people. In the minds of two hardcore striper anglers from Virginia it now means sightcasting to good sized fish in shallow water.
There was nothing easy about the fishing yesterday and today. Although there are no absolutes in fishing, cool, dry, bright days with a north-northwest wind are universally despised by striper anglers and guides alike. Very strong tides, some recent rains upriver and generally windy days have made the water clarity a bit less ideal than last week. The timing of low water coupled with the -1.4 foot height only gave us a short window of water on the flats at low light before we had to wait for the flood to fill back in enough to get up into shallow water. The forecast for calm winds until 9 AM this morning was a lie and the clear sky that went along with that prediction was filled with too many clouds. And yet, Paul and Sam had a blast and have discovered a whole new world of striper angling that will change they way that they fish at home.
These two guys are amazing angling partners, deep friends and a joy to fish. They have traveled across North America to pursue an incredible variety of gamefish in fresh and salt water. They share two boats, a 23 foot Parker that they keep in Chesapeake Bay and a 16 foot Mitzi Skiff that they recently bought for trips to the Florida Keys and the Everglades. On the bow, each is a true predator. In the "on deck seat" each is a true gentleman, genuinely wanting and helping the other to succeed.
They have caught a lot of striped bass down in Virginia, out in Montauk, here in Maine. They also travel to the Bahamas every May to chase bonefish. Even under challenging circumstances, we were able to experience a variety of shallow water opportunities. They were both stunned and joyed to spend two days casting floating lines and crab and shrimp patterns for stripers. We spent the first hours of light chasing waking and swirling fish in calm water that was falling off of a large flat. Once the sun got higher in the sky and the tide started filling back in, we worked groups of fish that we could sometime see clearly and other times just catch a belly flash as a clue as to where to cast. We briefly played with one school of laid up bass (yes they do that...but getting them to eat when they are going nowhere is a low return game) on a white sand bottom until they slowly meandered away from us. We were taunted by a couple of very large single fish sloooooowly cruising an inch below the surface under bright sun at slack high water. Thankfully, we were rewarded with the strong runs of a couple of nice fish that just don't like being hooked in 2 feet of water.
There are plenty of times when a big herring grocery fly or half and half Clouser on a 400 grain sinking shooting head will "out fish" the crab fly at the end of a 12 foot 12 lb test leader attached to an 8 weight floating line. (Right now might not be that time.) Catching any fish, any time, any where on a fly is always a blast and worth the effort. Striped bass in strong currents or surf give a great account of themselves. But how does the commercial go...spotting a school of a dozen bass cruising on the sand, making the right cast, watching two fish peel off and follow your shrimp fly, seeing a bigger fish charge past them, then a glimpse of white as the mouth opens, stripping until the line is tight and then listening to zzzzzzzzzzzzz...priceless.
Shaking hands back at the launch ramp this afternoon, I ask Sam and Paul for a favor. I want a report about their first foray out on the flats of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They have all the tools: the Mitzi Skiff; extensive sightcasting experience; and a ton of fishing time together. Some gray December day or rainy May morning, I'll being checking email in my office at Sunday River and a photo of one of them holding a bass on the bow of their flats skiff will make my week.
Capt. Peter Fallon