I fished Monday late night into Tuesday early morning in Estuary X in Rhode Island. When I arrived there were clear signs of bait and stripers on the feed. Here’s what happened, in the form of observations and lessons learned and re-learned.
This time of year, the SoCo estuaries are loaded with silversides. In case you didn’t know, silversides go nuts when you shine a light on them. They form tight schools and they congregate in shallows near the shore. There are also juvenile Atlantic Menhaden around, from 2-4″ or so, but silversides are the dominant bait. When there’s that much bait in the water, a dropper rig is your best friend. Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want. They also raise your chances for a hookup because you have more targets in the water.
My first casts were made with a three fly team consisting of a sparse, generic bucktail about 3″ long on top dropper, Mark Gustavson’s Lil’ Bunky in the middle, and a Magog Smelt bucktail on point. There was a substantial current and my presentation was a greased line swing. I had action on every single cast, sometimes on all three flies — except it wasn’t bass. It was weeds. Lots and lots of weeds. When it became clear that flora was all I’d be hooking, I decided to search for fauna elsewhere.
At the next mark I switched to a suspension dropper rig — one with a floating fly on point (in this case a Gurgler) — because I was fishing in shallower water with a much slower current. What’s more, there were several rocks in my presentation zone topped with bubble weed. So this rig helped keep my flies away from trouble. While there was an enormous amount of bait, there was not a corresponding number of stripers in the mix. I was having one of those nights where no matter where I moved, the stripers would shift to just out of casting range. By the turn of the tide I was a wee bit frustrated.
But sometimes persistence pays off. I moved to a different location where I’ve had some success before. I spent a few minutes sitting on a rock, savoring the calm of a cigar in the middle of a cloudy, humid night. I could hear the silverside schools working; every once in a while, they’d get agitated. But I wasn’t hearing any slashes or pops that would indicate stripers feeding. Still, they weren’t getting restless for no reason. I was standing upstream of two bait balls; my logic was that bass would be looking for strays to pick off. If I could dangle my rig near the edges of the bait balls, or even equidistant from them, perhaps my fly would get seen.
There are two ways at impact to determine that you’ve hooked a good bass. The first is sheer power of the hit. The second is sound the water makes as the bass rolls on the fly. I got both. I set the hook — never with the tip, always a sharp rearward thrust back toward my hips. Once the bass realized it was hooked, she bolted for deeper water, another positive sign that you’ve got a good ‘un (bigger bass love to sound). Because the night was damp, my old Scientific Anglers System 2’s drag wasn’t at its powerful-run-stopping best. She peeled off 75 feet of line in a jiffy. I managed to stop her run by palming the reel. From then it was a matter of cranking the reel and not letting her breathe. And before too long, I was admiring her substantial flanks and alien-creature mouth. You beautiful striper, you.