After a couple straight days of catching lots of fish I had high hopes for yesterday's charter. With two very talented and experienced anglers on the boat I knew that we'd make the most of our opportunities.
We started at 5:30 AM with a chilly run in the dark to the first flat that we'd examine. With just enough light to read the surface of the water and zero wind I shut down the motor and hopped up on the poling platform expecting to see the enticing signs of stripers working the shallow water ebbing off the flat. After explaining the game to Jeff and Curtis and offering some thoughts on strategy and tactics I was beginning to wonder where the fish were. I had seen one swirl in the distance up at the head of a cove and that was it. I was about to offer the suggestion that we move to another flat when we all saw the distinct v-wake of a bass cruising just below the water's surface. I started poling to intercept that fish when she vanished in the three feet of water. Two minutes later we were seeing multiple wakes and quiet swirls of a number of striper bass zig-zaging in the shallowest water, grubbing off the bottom and getting us pumped.
Our first couple of shots weren't ideal - a single fish tracking away from us, then one that kept changing course every time the fly would touch down. Jeff was on the bow with the Sage Z-Axis 8 weight rigged with a 9 weight floating line, a very long leader (~13 feet ending with 12 lb fluorocarbon tippet) and a Hollow Fleye (dark olive saddles with light olive bucktail). He is a saltwater fly fishing guide [Solis On The Salt] based out of San Diego and former owner of The San Diego Fly Shop. He's chased an amazing array of saltwater gamefish around the world. He spends a lot of time guiding anglers in Baja, both inshore from the beach, nearshore out of Pangas and offshore for billfish, tuna and other big game. Getting the picture here...? Jeff could see the fish, calculate where he wanted to cast and put the fly on target (both far out and in close) in a very short period of time. If you're thinking "I want to be able to do that, consistently," all you need to do is spend hundreds and hundreds of days of sightfishing with a fly rod.
It wasn't long before we were presented with a fine opportunity. The fish was cruising slowly right towards our port bow, pausing every fifteen feet to swirl as she looked to pick something off the bottom. Jeff saw the fish instantly, had the presence of mind to hold off on his cast until just before the fish came into range, made two false casts, boomed the fly right out to the last spot were the fish swirled, had the fly turn over perfectly and started long and hard strips right after touchdown. He hadn't stripped more than six feet of line when we saw the bulge of water, another swirl and the line come tight. The whole event was supremely satisfying for all three of us. The bass was a nice 24 inch slot fish, nothing huge, but really rewarding.
We were into active fish for a little while with lots of good opportunities and a few more scenes of success and some perfectly played presentations when the eat came in the pause between strips or the fish just didn't cooperate. Jeff's good friend and angling buddy Curtis was very generous, insisting that Jeff stay up on the bow of the boat. Curtis has spent a lot of time catching a lot of stripers on and around the Kennebec River. He kept a boat at Morse Cove for years and knew the waters well. He was impressed with how shallow we spent much of our time and it was nice to have him experience a different way to fish in areas that he can call homewaters.
The flat we were on got quiet earlier in the tide than usual. We checked some moving water close to the edge of the shallows and had follows, attempts to eat but no hook ups. We moved over to another expansive flat that has held a lot of fish during this period of fairly stable weather. The wind was already up on that more exposed water and after poling around for fifteen minutes we just weren't seeing anything. We zoomed back to our original location, played around with some fish that we could just reach with the Maverick without grounding out and decided it was time for a big change.
After a run that seemed 30 degrees warmer than first thing in the morning we swapped out the 8 weight and floating line for the 9 with a 400 grain line and a big herring pattern. We stowed the rod with the spook and grabbed the very light but ultra sensitive St. Croix Legend Elite with a 1/2 ounce RonZ jig. First drift, bingo, fish eats the RonZ. Let's do that again. Second drift, Curtis does it again with the jig. I'm thinking "here we go, should be like this for the next three hours of the tide." Third drift, nada. Fourth drift, no luck. Fifth drift, time to move.
We picked up one other really chunky striper on the RonZ as we passed over another submerged ledge. Jeff put the fly into every sliver of moving water along the rocky shoreline and sunk a heavy Clouser to the bottom in 15 to 20 feet of water (there is skill involved in being able to do that) again and again, all in 15 knots of wind that was never in the right direction. His water haul was impressively consistent. Curtis was putting the jig right where it needed to be. We just weren't being rewarded.
We ran around for a while, fishing spots quickly, looking to locate fish. The wind was ripping and kept us from working the shallow water right at the start of the flood tide. We finally found some shelter in a spot that required an "act of faith run" (all 150 horse running flat out, motor trimmed up as much as possible, following the ribbon of dark water, knowing that we couldn't stop or slow down) over a flat that Curtis knew held very little water. He was impressed. The sun was high and bright as we poled up the edge of a creek that borders a flat and we had one lone fish that Jeff saw before I did. The fish was in close and closing fast. Jeff quickly put the Borski Swimming Shrimp right on target. We watched the fish react and start tracking the fly, and he followed and followed and followed until the fly leader was almost to the tip top and then he just veered and lazily swam away. We were disappointed but the whole event was very cool to watch.
Sarah will testify that I was cranky when I got home. I just expected more from the day and had hoped to keep two great guys into fish throughout the morning. How often do we have a bright and dry day with a strong east wind? An email from another guide who was on the Kennebec yesterday confirmed our findings as he lamented the change in fish cooperation compared to recent days. That helped a bit, but I was still pissed. The act of recalling the details of our early morning fun and writing them here does help to dull the sting. The only real elixir is getting back out there to do it all again.
Capt. Peter Fallon