In deepest, darkest January, when I think ahead to mid-summer striper fishing I think about the best of what we have going on right now. Clear, clear water. Bright mid-days with excellent sighting on light colored flats. Windless mornings. Waking and feeding fish in the early sweet light. Big bass cruising in very skinny water. Casting floating lines and small, no-flash flies imitating little sand eels, smaller shrimp, and of course, green crabs of all sizes. What I often "forget" to recall are the days when the fish are just where you expect but really don't want to play. The manic up and down nature of late July and early August trips. Being beat down by day after day of unrelenting sun. And of course, the greenheads. Definitely don't think of them falling asleep on a minus 15 degree night.
Well, we have it all right now in and around the Kennebec River. We are fully immersed in typical mid-summer conditions and results. If you fish one day and haul out or walk off the beach thinking it's mid summer and fishing is just wicked slow, come back the next morning or that night. If you absolutely nail it and call your friends or boss and promise them an incredible outing with you the next day, be sure to have them read the fine print on the disclaimer. It might be awesome. It might be tough sledding.
We are seeing lots of fish in shallow water on a very consistent basis. And by mid July, we had a lot more striped bass in the 27 to 33 inch range cruising the flats. We've been blessed with some excellent sightcasting weather conditions. And even some of the anemic tides we just endured fished really well.
Here are a couple of ways to improve your chances of coming home feeling victorious:
- Fish early and fish late. It's pretty bright by 5:30 even though the days are getting shorter. Start in the dark or finish in the dark. It helps to catch a bunch of waking fish early, sustaining you through the middle of the day when you are tossing at bass in bright conditions.
- Practice your fly cast, even if just the night before you go out for ten minutes while the grill is warming up.
- Speaking of practicing your cast, don't just work at throwing as long a line as possible with countless number of false casts. Focus on fast, accurate presentations at shorter distances. Your mission is to minimize the number of false casts needed to accurately present your fly to an always moving target. 60 feet in three false casts is a good goal. A lot of skinny water fish of all types are caught on what I call "plop casts" where you dump the fly close to the boat at the group that just surprised you all. "Where the hell did those fish come from?" Get the fly to them pronto. Most of the time they have felt the boat and or seen you, but sometimes they can't help themselves. Give them a chance to eat, but make it fast.
- Work out a consistent initial pick up and false cast, whether the fly is in the water or in your hand. More tangles happen when rolling a fly for pick up or first cast than any other point in the casting process.
- Be mindful of where your stripped line lands, whether you are in a boat or wading or standing on a ledge. With a lot of the long, hard striper strips we often use, you are really throwing the fly line somewhere. Position yourself as best you can to avoid tossing it overboard, onto a cleat, out of your basket, or around the trolling motor. So often you are presented with opportunities when you are already retrieving your fly, you want to be sure that you can pick up and re-present your offering without a hitch.
- Get tight to your fly as soon after it lands as possible. Develop the skill and habit of stripping out slack as soon as the fly lands on the water, even if you are then going to let your crab sink to the bottom or your flat wing streamer swing in the current.
- Be prepared to change flies frequently. You will have the opportunity to see fish react to what you throw at them. Don't judge a fly choice based upon a presentation that has the fly swimming right at the head of a bass in 18 inches of water, but be ready to try different flies throughout the day. What worked at 5:00 isn't necessarily the ticket at noon. Time of day, forage available, amount of light, bottom color, presence or absence of current, number of fish together, all factor into what the fish will eat.
- If you are chucking artificials at skinny water stripers, have a trio of options that allow you to present something on the surface that makes noise, something just under the surface that is more subtle like an unweighted soft plastic, and a small jig that you can bounce across the sand.
- Eliminate the distraction caused by the frigin' bugs. Cover up - almost completely. I wear long pants that are light, cool, and quick drying with socks and shoes. I prefer to cast barefoot but for two weeks out here that's asking for punishment once the day warms up. I also wear a Simms hoody that is also light but treated to repel insects. I even have fingerless gloves of the same material for the worst noseeum mornings. I do still apply bug dope to exposed skin early and late (cleaning my palms immediately after application, of course) but the only time the greenheads take a chuck out of me is when I don my flipflops to haul out the Maverick. Despite my warnings, people keep showing up in shorts and or Tevas, so the big green eyed bastads have easy meals nearby. Some of our best middle of the day fishing last two weeks has been up in the saltmarshes where the greenheads rule.
Hope you're getting out with all of this incredible summer weather. I'd gladly take more morning fog, but am happy to fish what we have. Sometime in the middle of August we should see some June-like days, with crazy surface feeds on strong outgoing tides. This next month is going to be fun.
See the fish. Cast to the fish. Catch the fish.
Capt. Peter Fallon
Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC