The things I carry…

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on September 21, 2014 by stflyfisher

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 12 and 18 pounds, depending on a man’s habits or rate of metabolism.

The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien

 

In the movie Platoon, there’s a scene where the young, battle-seasoned Sergeant Elias checks the packs of his new grunts (Chris and Gardner) and pulls out, one by one, what they were instructed to carry in boot camp, but what they wouldn’t need in the jungles, swamps and mountains of Viet Nam. These things, after all, have to be ‘humped’ as a grunt would say, and weight in that hot and steamy environment could snuff the life out of any fighting man.

Grunts humping 60 - 80 lbs or more of gear into the bush of Viet Nam...

Grunts humping 60 – 80 lbs or more of gear into the bush of Viet Nam…

I think of this scene every time I pack my vest for fishing. What do I really need? What can I expect on the water? What do I need in order to fish safely? Will I be equipped for the weather? Will I be equipped for the fishing?

I typically pack tubs – one each for the type of fishing I do – a warmwater river tub, a tub for the trout streams of the Catskills, a tub for trout creeks, a smaller tub with pond gear, a tub for the salt…  So before I head out to “the bush”, I’ll take the appropriate tub and pack it in my car along with my wading gear, my rod and tackle, and my vest. I’ll carry these things in my vest, in my fishing shirt, or around my neck and on my wading belt:

  • Bottle(s) of water
  • Cell phone
  • Waterproof watch
  • Rain jacket
  • Wading staff
  • Toilet paper
  • Tippet spools
  • Lanyard with nippers, tie-fast knot tying tool, forceps, leader straightener, small triangular file
  • Thermometer of IR water temp gauge
  • NY State Fishing License
  • Extra reels and/or spools
  • Landing net
  • Split shot
  • Indicators
  • Leader wallet
  • Rigged fly rod / reel
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera
  • Sunscreen, lip balm
  • Fishing hat
  • Extra clothing and/or gloves (weather dependent)
  • Heat tabs (weather dependent)
  • Fly boxes (fishing dependent)
  • Topo map
  • Lunch / snacks

I can fill out a vest pretty well, and all of that has to be humped, sometimes good distances, while wading. I won’t pretend that it is anywhere near the weight hauled by a grunt in Viet Nam. And in almost all cases, there’s no threat of being shot, but still…

Some of the things I carry on the West Branch of the Delaware...

The things I carry on the West Branch of the Delaware…

Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, also writes about the weight that soldiers “humped” in Viet Nam. He gets pretty technical very early in his writing – spouting off military acronyms for all sorts of weaponry and gear – most of which I recognized from my own military experience and my fascination with military history. But the real story he writes is about the other things the men carried and the things that truly weighed them down – their worries, their fears, superstitions, girlfriends, troubles back home… In the face of battle, staring at death, scared out of one’s wits, a man faces what is truly essential, and I suppose after such experiences, is cleansed of what truly doesn’t matter. But then again, those very experiences added weight to their drooping shoulders on the way home, if they made it home. As we are seeing now, much of that does come home. O’Brien writes a chapter about one soldier he served with who survived the war in Viet Nam, but sadly, not at home.

I will admit that I carry some of those things too when I head to the water. I try to fish without weight, but sometimes the matters of daily life jump on. I may be swinging a wet fly, dead drifting a nymph, or stripping a streamer only to have work, family, or other worries grab onto my line and claw their way up to my very being. But I will also say that fishing often dissipates the very darkness that intrudes. The wondrous scenes of nature – an eagle flying overhead, a mink slipping along the bank of a river, the autumn colors of trees, the rush of water, the incredible camo of a smallmouth bass, the green of the back and the rose of the side of a rainbow trout brought to net, the throb of the head shake, the jump a fish gives for freedom…

I have carried many burdens as all of us do. But fly fishing is often the outlet that vaporizes them.  The tug on a line is magic to me. And has saved me…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Never give in…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28, 2014 by stflyfisher

I’ve always admired Sir Winston Churchill. He was a great statesman and leader, a distinguished military officer, an accomplished writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and he loved a good cigar (the “churchill” cigar, designated as being 7″ in length and having a ring size of an inch of 47-50, 64th’s of an inch). Incidentally, Chruchill was credited for inventing the practice of dunking a cigar in port wine or brandy…

He loved a good cigar...

He loved a good cigar…

Sir Winston Churchill, cigar in his mouth, defiantly forming his fingers in the ‘V’ for victory sign, is a classic wartime image. Few photographs of that era show Churchill without a cigar. He was known to smoke 6 to 10 a day…

And Churchill was also famous for a speech he gave to his own boarding school, Harrow School, on October 29, 1941….

 “But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period – I am addressing myself to the School – surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

This speech was in reference to the war effort, which had finally turned for England. In particular, The Battle of Britain had repulsed the Germans from gaining air superiority and then proceeding with operation Sea Lion, an amphibious and airborne invasion of England. This post gives the effort England put in, short shrift. The Nazis put considerable effort into attacking seaports, then airfields, and finally civilian targets to bring England to its knees. Instead, the English held fast with the classic “stiff upper lip”. It was to be, as Churchill would say, England’s “finest hour”…

So why do I bring up such history?

A few weekends ago I arrived at a favorite stretch of the West Branch of the Delaware River. After rigging up, I watched the river and noticed caddis coming off in very inspiring numbers, to say the least. It was early morning – about 8:30 or so. I waded into the river, my nymphing rig set with a march brown nymph on point, a caddis larva nymph riding shotgun, and a sparkle caddis pupa as tail gunner. I fished this rig and experimented with weight and changed flies as the morning wore on. At one point I looked down at my upstream leg and noticed 30 – 40 charcoal caddis swarming me. Regardless of the caddis pattern I fished, the water seemed dead. As time marched on I will admit I considered giving up the ghost. I was getting discouraged, especially with all of the bug activity but no one seemingly home.

By 11 am, the caddis were just a trickle of a hatch, but a few sulphurs started coming off. I decided to change my plan around 12:30 and fish a flashy bubble-back pheasant tail nymph. For one, this was putting something different in the water. And it also was hopefully leading the hatch that I figured was on the way.

My hunch turned the tide. It wasn’t long after changing things up again that I hooked a small rainbow, then a nice brown, and then, this beautiful Delaware River rainbow…

A beautiful West Branch rainbow...

A beautiful West Branch rainbow…

My flashy tail gun fly was a size 18. It always amazes me that trout can see such a tiny thing fly by in fast water.

I continued fishing and lost two more nice fish, and then had this very odd take in some slower water. My indicator slowly slid under the water, much like a snag. I lifted my rod, felt solid resistance but the snag started moving, then through in some head-shakes, and then moved up-river with the heavy authority of a big carp. Slow and steady, this fish ran up the river, then woke up and put on some heavy and fast runs, more typical of a big brown. I had this fish on a good 5 minutes, and could see its butter brown flash as I worked it out of the current into shallower water. Still, it would make a few more runs, and then, twisting and turning, it was off…

My heart sank – all anglers know the feeling. In a way, though, I smiled.  A good strong wild brown had beaten me. I had failed to  retie – the fly had broken off at the knot. But I had persevered through the fish-less morning hours. I had endured the doubt that darkens an angler’s mind and heart when seconds turn to minutes and hours and casting begins to feel more like flogging the water.

I had not given up…

Father’s Day: Do not go gently…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 15, 2014 by stflyfisher

My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives.

Even if his mind fail, be considerate with him; revile him not in the fullness of your strength.

For kindness to a father will not be forgotten…

The Book of Sirach

Father’s Day has changed for me. My father – my rock and foundation as I became a man and then father – is different these days. Now in his 85th year, he is less steady, less sure. His strength is slowly ebbing, but this year the slide has been more dramatic. He is mentally sharp as ever and all in all, in relatively good health for an octogenarian. And I am lucky in that way, for many friends and co-workers will not have their fathers this Father’s Day. But the days of fishing are over.

Good times summer fluke fishing in 2009...

Good times summer fluke fishing in 2009…

Our last fishing trip was in September of 2012. My Dad is not an early riser, and not a fisherman, but has always encouraged me, and for a number of years, would go with me. This last time he had to be up at oh-dark-thirty – an early riser he has never been – but he did just that to spend the day with me. We had a beautiful day, jigging in 90 feet of water for blues off NJ. My Dad did not fish, but he sat, relaxed, and acted as official photographer the entire time.

Jigging up blues - always a blast...

Jigging up blues – always a blast…

After that trip I remember him telling me how sore he was – his legs, he said, were aching. In 2013 he fell and couldn’t remember falling. He had suffered a stroke and some bleeding on the brain that miraculously, resulted in no damage to the brain or to his ability to function in any way. And this year he cancelled coming up for my son’s graduation. Hearing that he may never visit my family in our home again was difficult to take.

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote a poem for his aging father as he faced death. The poem makes a statement on how to accept what we all must face. Old age, frailty, and death are inevitable, even for fathers. But should we resign our lives to them, or fight them on the way down? To me the poem makes it clear that it’s our obligation – indeed, our duty even – to fight and to live.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This Father’s Day, I pray for strength for all fathers, particularly those in the evening hours of their lives. It is never too late and life is too dear to go gentle into that good night.

 

 

 

Earn this…

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing on May 25, 2014 by stflyfisher

Most of my blog audience are undoubtedly familiar with the movie, Saving Private Ryan. The movie’s blockbuster sales and ratings seemed to indicate how good it was, but the A minus grade given by one audience of American WWII veterans who participated in the D-Day invasion is even more telling as to its realism.

While there are several themes playing in the movie, a haunting line towards its end – perhaps the thesis of the movie – is what was on my mind as I nymphed a stretch of Balls Eddy on a beautiful Memorial Day last year.

The West Branch above Balls Eddy...

The West Branch at Balls Eddy…

This tradition of fishing has been something I’ve been doing for a number of years. There’s an old cemetery adjacent to the Balls Eddy fishing access and it is at that cemetery where I first witnessed a solemn and heartbreaking tribute to those who paid the ultimate price. The place is a simple rectangle of fertile river bottom, walled in fieldstone. There are a few trees there and the graves are adorned with flags, the lawn neatly cut. It is a peaceful place. On this past Memorial Day, the sky was blue, the birds sang sweetly, and the river ran by in hues of blue.

Hallowed ground...

Hallowed ground…

I was on the river and fishing by 8:30 a.m., and at exactly 9:05, heard the volley of shots that marked the day. They crackled through the river valley, then came round again in echo until the sound of the rushing water of the riffle finally silenced them. A few drifts of my nymph rig through the ‘rainbow’s den’, as I call it, resulted in my indicator plunging down in the fast water, the hook set, and a rainbow trout that leaped repeatedly and then made spastic runs in the heavy current. The flash of this fish, its strength, its athleticism made me feel good. After landing it and releasing it, I sat down, watched the river, and remembered the movie.

At the end of Saving Private Ryan, the elderly Ryan is seen visiting the grave of Captain Miller, the Army Ranger officer who led the mission to bring the young Private home after so many of his brothers had been killed in combat. Ryan pays tribute to Captain Miller with the following:

“My family is with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel coming back here. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. And I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”

Earlier in the movie, with Captain Miller slowly dying from wounds received while defending a critical bridge crossing, Ryan hears his last words:

James… earn this. Earn it.

"James, earn it, earn this"

“James, earn this, earn it”

As I listened to the rush of the river and the wind in the trees, I slowly came to the realization that Memorial Day is more than just honoring the casualties of war. It’s really more remembering the dead by celebrating life, and celebrating life in a way that honors those words so simply spoken by Captain Miller. In this country, we are free to choose how to live our lives. That freedom was bought with blood, their blood. In getting up early and going fly fishing – in doing good things – in living life the best we can, we earn it, and by doing that we remember them. And, as my grandmother once told me, no one ever dies if they are remembered.

Balls Eddy

In remembrance…

Pond surprise: Grassie on the fly…

Posted in Carp, Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 19, 2014 by stflyfisher

Just a quick saunter behind my house lies a pond. I’ve profiled it here before. Easily viewed from our deck, it’s about 1.5 acres in size, shaped like a kidney bean with one half much larger than the other, and with a small overgrown island dotting its middle.

The view from my backyard deck...

The view from my backyard deck…

It’s an old pond by most accounts. One third of it has good depth – well over 10 feet – and because of this it is one pond that seemed to survive the fish kills reported this spring by many pond owners in the Southern Tier – the presumed result of a very frigid winter and low oxygen. The rest of the pond, however, is fairly shallow with depths of 2 to 4 feet.

Fall on Grippen Pond.

The pond, looking west over the shallows…

I stocked the pond with bass after we purchased our home. Over two summers, I dutifully caught and carefully introduced “breeder” bass as well as stockie size bass, along with lots of fathead minnows. The pond was already teeming with small, and seemingly stunted, sunfish.

These days I cruise the pond in a small kayak. In early spring, a wooly bugger stripped slowly over bottom will always catch bass along with an occasional hand-sized sunfish. Once temps warm up, however, the pond slowly grows “hair”. Duck weed crowds the banks, cattails sprout up, and all sorts of water veggies fill the shallows. It’s not long before a popper is the only way to fish. As summer heats up, the bass lay in the weedy shallows, and each evening, the pond awakens with the sound of bass crashing prey.

The bass are getting some size to them these days…

A great gamefish for the flyfisher...

A great gamefish for the flyfisher…

…and I’ve caught a number of big sunfish on bass-sized wooly buggers and poppers. Some of these brilliantly colored “pumpkinseeds” have mouths big enough to lip.

But there’s another fish in town. Our neighbor, and pond owner, had introduced a dozen grass carp a few years ago as a way, futile though it seems to be, to combat heavy aquatic weed infestation. These fish have grown big in the rich and weedy waters of the pond…

Grippen pond at dusk.  Not safe for swimmers...

Grippen pond at dusk in August. A weedy paradise…

Grass carp grow rapidly and that seems to be the case with the fish in the pond. I’ve watched them swim gracefully about, have seen them feeding at the surface, and have spooked them while quietly stalking bass in the shallows. Spooking a big grass carp is akin to throwing a hand grenade in the water. Their power, like big river carp, is impressive to say the least. And I’ve read a bit about them – that while they are mainly herbivores, they can apparently be caught on some baits and flies. Some innovative fly tyers have even developed flies that mimic aquatic vegetation.

A very life-like grass carp fly...

A very life-like grass carp fly…

I’ve thought about tying up something along these lines and sight fishing them. But starting late spring, my quarry is largemouth bass. I love their bad-ass ways. What better way to spend a pleasant Saturday evening…

This past Saturday evening I decided to hit the pond in usual style. I fished a chartreuse colored popper – a classic bass pattern with a lot of hackle and long yellow legs. It’s cup-faced for noise with a good sized hook (#2) and I fished it all of the bassie places. My first fish was a huge sunfish, ablaze with pumpkinseed colors, its belly big. I released it quickly, thinking it might be a pre-spawn female. I then went on to catch a number of bass. Most of their takes were explosive, as were their leaps for freedom. And then I had a take I just didn’t understand.

In between “chugs” – popper sitting – wake rings subsiding – it just seemed to disappear in the water. I lifted my rod and connected to something solid and heavy, accompanied by a good bit of thrashing. Then I saw a blackish back, silvery sides, and a broad tail and knew this was no bass.

I got my line on the reel and waited for the run. It didn’t happen at first. The fish thrashed about, shook it’s head, apparently comprehending the resistance this bug was giving it. Then it took off, my 9 foot rod bucking, reel screaming. It made a few nice runs like that, zigged and zagged under my kayak, towed me all about the pond. As it finally tired I began to think, there’s no way I can land this fish in the kayak. So I played it some more and slowly back-paddled to a shallow bank, where I beached it.

Grassie with a chartreuse lollipop...

Grassie with a chartreuse lollipop…

I was pretty impressed with this grass carp. They are far more pleasing to the eye than their golden cousin and their mouths are a lot more, well, fish-like. This one had quite the gut too, though I’ve seen a few in the pond that are even bigger.

Fishing friend Eric once confided that he never fly fishes for carp intentionally, but has no problem crossing one. That has been my experience as well. I’ve landed only a few big golden bones on the local rivers while fishing for smallmouth, and have straightened my leader on far too many that almost got away with my fly line. Maybe one day I will get so addicted that I’ll drop everything to intentionally fish for them. For now, however, it’s almost better just running into them by accident. After all, there’s that first moment of “what the hell is this”, followed by, “it’s big whatever it is”, followed by, “better get it on the reel”, followed by, “hang on”… And who’d a thunk – a carp on a popper! A fly fishing first, perhaps?

Nothing better than a Saturday evening on a pond...

Nothing better than a Saturday evening on a pond…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking Back on 2013

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Flies - Local Favorites, Saltwater, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 3, 2014 by stflyfisher

It’s always helpful to take a look back before moving forward. And while this post is a little late as we near the close of March, for most Southern Tier fly anglers, the traditional fly fishing season has not quite started. So, here’s the way I see 2013 from the fly fishing rear view mirror…

Early season fly fishing for trout in 2013 was very good. I started the season, per tradition, fishing Cayuta Creek with fly fishing friend Dan. The stocked browns never fail on Cayuta and offer a great way to shake off the dust and rust from a long winter. The creek was in great shape and full of that blue-green early season water fly fishers love to see. Particularly noteworthy was catching my first fish on my own fly – in this case a Picket Pin – and an early season favorite.

First fish on one of my own flies...

First fish on one of my own flies…

I also caught what I believe was a hold-over or native brown on a JJ Jigs Picket Pin streamer, a first for me. I once briefly hooked and saw the flash of a very large brown under a downfall and lost another good one in the same spot.

A nice Cayuta brown caught on a picket pin streamer...

A nice Cayuta brown caught on a picket pin streamer…

As was the case in 2012, pre-spawn smallmouth bass did not disappoint. And it was a good thing, because 2013 was one of the worst fishing years for smallmouth in my record books, one that I’ve deemed “the summer of no smallmouth“.

A nice pre-spawn smallmouth...

A nice pre-spawn smallmouth…

Blame high water and lots of it combined with working for a living and not always being able to capitalize on flows settling down to wade-able levels. It seemed there were many weeks when I would drive by the rivers on the way home from work, watch them clearing and dropping, only to watch them rise again with late week or weekend rains. There were a few good outings, including a jaunt on the upper Susquehanna in Windsor where a wooly bugger soft hackle streamer I tied scored some very nice smallmouth.

This early fall smallie took one of JJ-Jig's "home invader" streamers on the swing...

This early fall smallie took one of JJ Jig’s “home invader” streamers on the swing…

Blues off New Jersey were quite simply and truly ‘the blues’ this year. As reported on the Miss Barnegat Light website, it was a weird fishing year with such a lack of bluefish that the boat switched to fluke fishing all summer for the first time in over 20 years. What happened to the blues? The word is that they were far offshore and could be had if one was willing to go for them. One boat reported finding the big guys in abundance offshore where they normally hunt tuna – in this case upwards of 40 miles out of Barnegat Inlet. Based on economics, party boats would rarely venture out that far for bluefish fares. So, aside from one day of tussling with a bunch of big ones in the fall, it was a lousy year for blues.

Getting back to trouting, I was introduced to two great subsurface patterns that really impressed:

I fished a sulfur soft hackle during the sulfur hatch and did quite well. This was not a first for me – I had been introduced to soft hackles way back on a trip to the Bighorn River in Montana – but it was a first on the West Branch of the Delaware. Along with some nice browns, I caught a bunch of dandy rainbows.

A beautiful West Branch rainbow...

A beautiful West Branch rainbow…

I also ran into a nice guy named Tom at the parking access. We got to talking as anglers are apt to do. Tom had not fished Ball Eddy so I offered that I’d be glad to show him around and I was glad I did. Not only was Tom a great fly fisherman, he also introduced me to the caddis sparkle pupa – some he tied up himself. I was fishing a different caddis pupa pattern and not getting nearly the action he was. He threw me a few and as they say, I became a ‘believer’.

The fall streamer bite on the Catskill rivers was so-so for me this year. Conditions were classic when I went in the fall and I did hook up, but it was nothing like I’ve experienced in the past.

A new old rod… I made it a point to cull my ‘stick’ inventory and sold off some in order to purchase a classic Scott rod that I intend to wave above local waters in 2014.

Scott 906/7 BT

Scott 906/7 BT

This Scott 907 BT (“Bass/Trout” rod) was built in the original Scott factory in Berkeley California. The original owner purchased it in 1993 and it has been fished far and wide, including a trip to New Zealand. It’s a “907” rod with a twist – a 6 weight trout tip and a 7 weight bass tip. I’ve always loved my Scott 907B and look forward to putting many more miles on this rod.

‘Turnover’ in the fall is always an interesting time. The science behind this event is that as the temperatures cool, the surface water of ponds and lakes cools, sinks, and displaces the relatively warmer bottom water. This turnover creates up-welling of the bottom water which continues until water temperatures are consistent, top to bottom. Before this process is complete, the water can turn stained or dirty, but afterwards, it’s clear as can be, and refreshingly so on our pond, which is normally murky and weedy in the summer to early fall. I took my kayak out on the pond in mid-November on an unusually warm day and experienced some incredible streamer fishing. I fished my St Croix 5/6 weight with a sink tip line and short leader tipped with one of my weighted bugger / soft hackle variants and had a blast “sight fishing” to deep-cruising largemouth. It was neat watching them inhale the fly in water as clear as the Caribbean. And many of these bass put quite the bend in the rod.

Stripers were hit and miss this year, as recently posted. I managed 2 pool-winners and caught a total of 6. I missed another big one right at the boat. The bass followed my flutter jig right up to the boat, took a swipe, and then bolted! It’s always exciting to watch big bass in feeding mode!

A great way to end 2013...

A great way to end 2013…

 

 

Stripers…

Posted in Uncategorized on March 22, 2014 by stflyfisher

Image

If there is any truth to this proverb, I might spend a lot of time on this good earth. It helps when I total up the time I have spent in the last 10 years chasing striped bass. I’ve not gotten a fly in front of them yet; up to this point it’s been purely a hardware thing. But it’s become an important fall ritual to head south to the New Jersey shore, shed fly tackle for a bit, and get up real early in the cold to toss 5 to 7 ounces of metal and end the day with sore arms just from casting and jigging. It’s an act that is akin to a freshwater fly fisherman kicking back and dunking a worm if for nothing else than to return to his roots.

I started fishing for stripers in the mid-2000’s. My first catch was a spring bass – drifting clams on the bottom from a party boat – in this case the Doris Mae out of Barnegat Light, NJ. In 2008 I won the pool on Miss Barnegat Light on a glorious and relatively warm November day…

Image

…and it was one of “those” days – one of those please don’t let this end types of days. Every angler has at least a few of them. And this one was right up there with the best I’ve ever had. The fishing was as good as it could ever get according to many veterans on the boat. The captain reported a “blacked-out” fish-finder, so thick were the fish. Indeed, it was a battle just getting the jig down to the bass. Big “gator” blues swarmed mid-way in the water column, chomping anything that dared invade their space. I had caught well over 20 blues and two keeper stripers as the day wound to an end, and then hooked something that didn’t move a lot. After a few minutes, it started to move – and this time a lot – and I knew this was a very good fish. The captain kept the boat out after the 2 pm deadline to head back to the dock just to let me bring it to the gaff.

2009 was a bust, 2010 was a miss as I just never got down to the Jersey shore that year, and in 2011, a feisty lady named “Sandy” came up the coast and completely ruined the striper fishing season and also almost sunk Long Beach Island and much of the Jersey shore in the process.

2012 was another miss, so come early fall 2013, I really had an itching for some striper fishing…

My timing was not the best, once again. The season started off hit and miss and remained that way through an early December close. It’s hard to know exactly why, but the reasons the locals offered up included warmer than ideal water at the start of the season. The fish were certainly there – at times many of the party boat captains reported marking lots of fish that just didn’t want to bite. Bait was incredibly plentiful too leading some to surmise that, like a blizzard hatch on a river, there was just too much competition for a few jigs to match. And there were the boats – hundreds of them in some areas – and oft times they can put the fish down.

Despite all of this, I managed to do OK. Conditions were often cold and windy but dressing right and jigging generally kept the cold away. On one trip I was hooking one blue after another, including a giant that ended up being a release at the gaff. The mate knocked the hook off and almost got knocked out himself when 5 ounces of metal came flying up and hit him square in the chest. I decided to take another trip on the following day with #1 son in tow. The brutal wind of the day before had died but the fish didn’t show the entire day, save a small blue caught by another angler and a nice striper that I caught on a flutter jig.

Lonely, pool-winning striper...

Lonely, pool-winning striper…

A few weeks later I went out again with #1 son, hoping we could strike it right and get into the kind of banner day I had experienced in 2008…

#1 son and I as we headed out Barnegat Inlet.

#1 son and I as we headed out Barnegat Inlet.

We got got up way too early in the dark of a bitterly cold morning that barely cracked 20 degrees. My son was a trooper, never complaining once about the weather. We got to the boat and picked a bow spot, then retreated to the warmth of the main cabin, a welcome refuge throughout that cold day. After getting underway at daybreak, the captain spent what seemed like a lot of time searching, and then finally running north to Seaside Heights. There were birds about – in some cases acres of them. They hovered and dove, wheeled and climbed. They are always a good sign of bait and usually the fish are not far below.

Eventually we settled off the Seaside Heights boardwalk and began to fish. The fall jigging game is a matter of getting metal to the bottom and then working the jig up off the bottom. Sometimes an erratic jigging motion is best, other times the fish want it retrieved up as fast as one can reel. The biggest bass are said to be lazy, hanging deep below, sucking up the scraps of bait that drop down from any bluefish feeding above.

The fishing that day was a lot of work and a true test of patience. The bite was very slow to start. Some anglers were hooking dogfish and even a few fluke. The captain continued searching and stripers started to trickle in, most of them “shorts” at first. But as the day went on we started to see some keepers come over the rail.

I found good success, catching 4 nice shorts and finally hooking up solid as we drifted off Manasquan Inlet…

Manasquan Inlet, looking seward...

Manasquan Inlet, looking seaward…

I had picked up the “snap” to my jigging, casting out, letting the jig fall, then retrieving the jig with a quick sweep upward followed by a quick retrieve.  My flutter jig, a local pattern in “sand eel” finish from West Creek Bait and Tackle, was too much for this big fellow to refuse…

Jersey stripes...

Jersey stripes…

I had another bass about as big follow the jig up and take a short swipe at it right at the boat. But that was to be it. The day wound down and soon we were headed in. I felt bad that #1 son had not had any success, but he seemed happy that we came home with fish and pool money. And that one bass made for five good meals for a family and a big pot of delicious chowder.

I’ll continue to make this traditional trip as long as I can stand. I hope to get a shot at a striper with the long rod and fly, but being far away from the salt makes it difficult. One needs to really be in tune with the area, the fish, the weather, and the trends, to be good. I suppose it’s much like the guys from New Jersey who make a few trips on the Delaware for trout. It’s hard to truly figure out the fishing when you’re not a local. But as long as all of that time doesn’t count against my total, it’s all good. There could be worse ways to spend a few hours…

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