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August 2009

Weather On My Mind


My morning anglers had to return to New York early, so I was left without a charter to start the day. Seemed very odd not to be on the water but it was so dry and cool and different, finally, that I stayed home to mow the grass, clean the shed and attend to a couple of other tasks that I kept putting off when it was just too hot and muggy to motivate.

Headed out with Fritz at 6 PM and found fish right away. We were a bit early in the tide for the spot where we started but there were enough stripers around to keep us there as we waited for the water movement to pick up. As Fritz commented, "it's much better to be early rather than late." Isn't that the truth.

The wind wouldn't quit, so we decided to keep the fly rods in the rack and work the Lonely Angler  Zipster spook along the marsh banks, across the tidal creeks and over the flats. As the tide gained strength the bass became more aggressive, switching from the "one and done"pattern of hits to smacking the top water plug again and again. We saw a few fish breaking the surface to feed for a couple of minutes but never saw their target. From the nature of their splash I'm guessing that it was herring or alewives.

The wind didn't die with the sunset, so we stayed with the spinning gear, knowing that the morning would bring calm conditions on the flats and a more friendly fly casting environment. Once it was fully dark we lost the fish. Hunted across an edge with good moving water then worked a couple of ledges that intersect the outgoing current. Only one swirl to show for our perseverance. Never heard a bass feed after 8:00. Hauled out by 9:30 PM with a plan to meet back at the ramp by 4:30 AM.

It was chilly running up the river to Morse Cove. I need to dig out my wool hat for the morning (I'm not kidding - there are frost warnings tonight up north) and I just might launch the Maverick with my boots on for the first time since early June.

We plan to fish tomorrow morning and evening. The forecast for a bright day and light and variable winds would be ideal for sightcasting through the mid-day hours if the water clarity were better. We'll see what happens tomorrow. We hope to finish up with another outing Saturday morning. Will Danny let us get out? Could be some really good fishing or could be a complete bust, but we won't know until we go.

Capt. Peter Fallon
www.MaineStripers.com

No News...

...can be good news. Not much different to report from this morning, which is just fine with me. Fishing was good for the first couple hours of the day and then slacked off by 9:00, at least in the shallow water. I spent a lot of time working what I call "pocket flats", spots that are really small and adjacent to drop offs and fast moving water. Very different from the big mud and sand flats that can capture my attention for hours when the fish are on them. Most of the places I worked today are much smaller than my yard; edges that I can pole across in ten minutes, unless there are fish on them.

I didn't tie any fourteen foot leaders or break out the 8 pound tippet. Big herring flies, both traditional groceries and hollow fleyes, seemed to do the trick. Poppers tied "Faulkingham Style " were also getting chowed. Nothing big to report, but a nice mix of fish over and in the slot limit had me smiling all morning.

I did wear a vest until almost 9:00 AM, which is the first time I've added a layer (other than in the rain) in a couple of weeks. The wind was up early, blowing in off the cooler waters that Bill brought to shore. I see that we're due for low temps in the mid 40's for tomorrow night. How long has it been?

Another sign of the times is the decrease in boat traffic on the river. I've really noticed a drop off over the past week. There were a decent number of boats out on the water by 9:00, but it has been quiet at the ramp around sunrise and almost lonely in the evenings.

The surf from the Bill has the oceanside flats stirred up. Sighting fish down river has been really tough since this past weekend. We also have runoff from the river that is staining the water. Hopefully we'll see some improvement in clarity by this weekend. I'm not fond of these weaker tides but they do limit the amount of additional sediment added to the water.

I keep getting good news from other guides fishing the Kennebec, New Meadows, Casco Bay and south of Portland. Seems like were all finding August to be better than July and the end of this month pointing towards a fun time for the fall. Get out and fish, for before we know it we'll all be donning a lot more than a vest when we head out in the morning.

Capt. Peter Fallon

www.MaineStripers.com


Spousal Therapy

The wind was down and the fish were up. We spent a couple of hours poling around the flats casting to fish only when they showed themselves. The bright morning made a very noticable difference in the fish behavior compared to the prior morning. We noticed far fewer fish cruising in the one to two feet of water after 7:00. The moving water around the ledges still fished well, but even these fish were sometimes reluctant participants.

We were back to the launch ramp, business completed by 10:00 AM. Now what to do? The yard is looking like good pasture but I'd promised Sarah a day in the boat before she starts another very busy stretch of work. Decisions, decisions. Now what to do? Haul boat, fuel up, dash home, pick up Sarah and Hebie, swing by the Center Store, relaunch by 11:00 and run down river to the mouth of the Kennebec. We toured around for a while then ran and swam the dog on the sand flats before anchoring up to read, lounge and nap.

Coming back up river in the evening I noticed that the tide was perfect to check out a spot that was right on the way home. First cast result:IMG_0796 

Third cast result (Sarah commented that I failed to catch a fish on my second cast):IMG_0808 

Now the camera is ready. Here's the sequence of what happened on the fifth cast, starting with the first couple of swirls and swats at the spook followed by the final, dramatic eat:

 

IMG_0813


  Big eat

Sarah and I both smiled the whole way back up river. Hebie just kept looking at us like he couldn't figure out why we weren't catching him more fish.

Capt. Peter Fallon

www.MaineStripers.comIMG_0797


Here's One Pattern That's Producing

Snake Fly.

Very cooperative fish in the shallow water again this morning. Maybe not as many on the flats as last Friday, but still happy to eat what we put in front of them. The north wind was just enough to influence how and where we cast but not so pesky that we were cursing it.

I notice that my box of Snake Flies is almost empty. Yikes! I've been going through them for the past four weeks at a good clip. I fish a lot of smaller (size 2) ones on the flats and will choose tiny (sizes 6 and 4) when the fish are finicky. If the stripers are in the mood to chase I go bigger. Olive is my first choice on the mud flats, but I also tie them in black, in purple and in white. The tiny ones look a lot like a Muddler Minnow.

Check out some of the other pattern instructions that  Capt. Jeff Smith has on his website. He's a great guide and innovative tier who fishes the waters around Cape Cod.

I might have seen bass popping young of the year alwives at the end of the dropping tide this morning. As Homer Simpson would say, "Hmmmmmm...alwives."

Capt. Peter Fallon
www.MaineStripers.com

Quick Notes

The stripers continue to be active in the shallow water early in the morning and again in the evening. Don't overlook water that seems too shallow to hold a 28 inch bass. We ended up wading at one point yesterday morning because I couldn't pole the flats boat over the bars where the fish were feeding.

No great bluefish news from the Kennebec. There are a few around but we haven't seen nor heard of any blitzes. Better bluefish reports come from Casco Bay and the Saco. Although they usually make a solid showing here by now, I'm reversing my previous prediction to say that it is not too late for a little mayhem.

Hurricane Bill will stir up the oceanside flats as the combination of big surf and strong tides will make sighting fish more challenging next week. Rain predicted for today and tomorrow will keep the River running high. I don't expect any significant changes to our fishing pattern to come from this weather event as it is far offshore but keep your eyes on the tropical forecast. My notes show that in many years the first distinct transition from summer to fall fishing occurs as the remnants of a hurricane pass through our waters.

Speaking of transitions...we're poised and ready for the young of the year alewives to start dropping down river in force. I spoke with a biologist doing haul seining sampling upriver and he isn't seeing large numbers of these key baitfish moving towards the salt water...yet.

The high tides have moved more junk into the Kennebec and New Meadows. Keep your eyes peeled for logs and limbs if you're getting an early start or finishing late.

The decrease in length of daylight is now significant. A 5:00 AM departure from the dock happens in the dark. If we leave by 4:30 we've got lots of time to stalk the fish in the shallow water before the light puts them off. Getting an early start continues to be key. By mid-morning the fish show themselves much less frequently and become much harder to tempt with a fly or lure.

The greenheads are almost gone. I'm back to wearing my sandals without socks. I pulled out of the boat my dry bag of warm layers that hasn't been used in a couple of weeks now [quite a stretch of weather for Maine] to wash everything before that first chilly morning that should be here soon.

I'm off the water for today and tomorrow [seems very odd], teaching a saltwater fly fishing class. Enjoy the weekend and watch out for the thunderstorms.

Capt. Peter Fallon

www.MaineStripers.com


Sightfishing and a southwest flow

This hot and humid weather pattern has finally brought us fishing that seems typical for mid-summer. I'm a big fan a cool, dry, crisp days when its bird season but not when I'm chasing stripers ( or just about any other fish). I'll take the mid-day heat and afternoon thunderstorms to get the calm mornings on the flats with happy fish making telltale wakes across the surface of the glassy water. Fishing has been challenging after the morning flurry, which can be anywhere from 7 to 9 AM. The bright light has offered some good sightcasting opportunities when the wind has laid low but this is very demanding fishing. LONG and LIGHT leaders coupled with good fish vision and accurate casts are a must and still don't guarantee an eat. For the guides I know fishing live bait, some tides have produced consistent action right through the middle of the day. So by "typical summer pattern" I mean fish on the flats in very little water and fish on deep structure in good current that are suckers for a live herring drifted overhead.

There is still day to day variability in action when each day seems a carbon copy of the day before. Last Wednesday and Thursday offer an example.

On Wednesday morning we found fairly aggressive fish on the flats from first light to about 8 AM. Put your offering reasonably close to the fish and most times they would at least look at it. Many times the same fish would swirl and swipe and eat again and again until the hook was firmly lodged in its jaw. Accurate casts were well rewarded. Although the tides were almost anemic, ebbing current produced fairly consistent action through out the morning, becoming more sporadic by 11:30 or so. 

Thursday morning was similar in environmental conditions - same southwest flow, similar cloud cover, rising barometer, weak tide - but different in terms of fish response. We found far fewer fish showing themselves between 5 and 7 AM. The few eats that we had on the flats came blind casting to flooded grassbeds. We covered a fair amount of water to finally find a small group of fish that were not on weight watchers. Those bass were, thankfully, very aggressive. In other places with decent water flow we got no hint of fish or a "one and done" response with a single striper making a single attempt to eat. We fished the same time period, from 5 AM to 1 PM, some of the same areas and used mostly similar techniques with noticeably different results.

Now maybe we should have altered our approach even more significantly but my conversations with four other guides confirmed our findings for that day. I spoke with two charter captains who were fishing live bait, one focused on drifting the edges of the flats and shallow water structure and the other who directed his efforts around the deeper ledges and stronger currents. I spoke with a guide who worked soft plastics in shallower water and jigs in deeper water in the Kennebec and I spoke with a fourth guide who took the same approach but covered water out past the mouth of the river, along the beaches and ledges and islands. All said the same thing: much tougher day than the day before. Hmmmmmm...?

Why?

I don't know the answer to that question and it drives me nuts. I want to know why things happen and I have complete faith that they happen for a reason. The fishing on Friday was decent from 5 to 7 AM but then seemed to shut right off for the rest of the morning (again confirmed by others working in the same general area) but I have an explanation for that result that fits my pattern of experience: the weather changed to a glad-to-be-alive glorious day of cool, dry, north wind, bright sky. I don't have an explanation for the difference between Wednesday and Thursday. Was there just more bait moving down river on Wednesday? Was it the pending shift in the weather? Was the dropping tide that much weaker? The list of possible explanations goes on.

I draw three lessons from this experience (which has repeated itself time and time again):

  1. I try to recognize a change in pattern and not spend all day fishing yesterday's bite. 
  2. I go fishing. A slow day does not always portend another slow day to follow. We're all looking for trends on the water. Sometimes a trend lasts for days, sometimes it seems to change after only an hour.
  3. I have a lot to learn.

Capt. Peter Fallon

www.mainestripers.com


Back In Gear

After a very busy stretch of family time chasing fish, tying flies with my niece, boating all over the midcoast, swimming with my nephew and the dogs for hours on end it was back to work this morning. I always feel out of sorts the night before a charter if I've been out of my routine for more than one day. Do I think that I'm going to forget how to chase stripers or that I won't have just the fly right at my finger tips or that I'll leave the house at 4:15 AM without the thermos of coffee that goes with me everytime? Well, I guess the answer is yes.

We were on fish right from the start this morning and did I have the guests to take advantage of our opportunities. I fish with the Murphy family every year. They are all fabulous anglers who appreciate their surroundings and love to catch stripers. We found bass in skinny water from 5:00 until 8:00 and then shifted to pulling fish out of moving water for the next two hours. The last two hours of our trip was much slower as we worked for a few fish on the edges of some large flats right around low water. More about these highliners after our second trip tomorrow morning.

The fishing has improved. The water is clearer and the stripers are cruising the flats. Some days I'm seeing a lot of fish but only catching a few during the brighter middle of the day. Crab flies are still the ticket in sightcasting situations although some days the fish have been agressive, slamming the Lonely Angler Spook and Shadalicious without hesitation, at 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM under bright sun and little wind.

Blues are around (2 to 8 lbs.) but I haven't found any schools of them busting bait. That could change any day but I fear that if it doesn't happen within the next week, we really won't see them here in the midcoast at all this summer.

I'm off to launch for my eveing charter. I'm hoping for a replay of this morning. Life is good, very good, when were catching fish.

Capt. Peter Fallon