Final days to help striped bass! Comment on Draft Addendum IV!

ASMFC has been holding hearings this month on the future of east coast striped bass management. If you were unable to attend a hearing, as I was, they will accept email comments until tomorrow, September 30. Here’s what I sent them.

Section 2.5.1 and Section 2.5.2 – I am in favor Option B. We should be referencing the best available, most recent science (as set out in the 2013 Benchmark Assessment) when determining courses of action.

Section 2.6Option A. Clearly, a problem exists, and it needs to be addressed immediately.

Section 3.0Option B. Further, I am strongly opposed to any option that stretches out harvest reductions over three years.

Size and bag limits – I am in favor of Option B3 (a one-fish bag limit and a 32” size limit on the coast) and Option B15 (hard quota) in the Chesapeake.

I am an active (averaging 20-30 outings per year) catch-and-release striped bass angler; my method is fly fishing from the shore. Since 2010 I have experienced a steady decline in striped bass numbers. In some cases the fall has been precipitous.

I’d like to use Block Island as a test example. We vacation there every year, and I fish all week. In the years leading up to 2011, I was catching between fifty and ninety striped bass over the course of seven nights. In 2011, I caught nine. In 2012, I caught five. On the 2012 trip, I went three consecutive nights without a striper; the last time that happened was before I ever started fly fishing for striped bass. Yep. There’s a problem, folks. So, things were better for Block Island anglers this year, especially if you had a boat. Better is, of course, relative. I was horrified by the wanton, wasteful, wholesale slaughter of so many striped bass in their prime breeding years by both charter and private boats.

Striped bass are a precious, finite resource. Please enact regulations that will better protect these magnificent fish and the waters they live in.

Comments should be sent to mwaine at asmfc dot org, subject line Draft Addendum IV.

A little help, here?

FridayBIBass

Striper Report 8/24/14: Back to Silverside City (with apologies to David Bowie)

Hey man, this report is so late.

Hey man, the fishing wasn’t that great.

Enough of that. To the outing. Hoyo de Monterey double corona on the drive down. Most excellent. Time and tide conspired to create supreme fishiness at dusk. Sadly, the bass did not cooperate. So after an hour of good old-fashioned college trying, I left the windswept rocky shores and rolling breakers for the friendly confines of the inside.

Out of the truck and a walk and wade to spot B. The bad news: weeds. An obscene amount of weeds. Weeds on every cast weeds. The good news: infestation levels of silversides, with bass feeding on them. The challenge: make your fly (or in my case, flies: 2″ super-sparse peanut bunker bucktail on top dropper, a 2.5″ Eelie in the middle, and a 3.5″ September Night [have I mentioned that it is time to tie up some September Nights?] on point) stand out among the thousands of naturals.

On the one cast out of a hundred that I managed to both, I hooked two bass. They weren’t big, but they gave me the illusion that I had triumphed over nature.

Last stop, another spot on the inside. In theory, it was a brilliant move. In practice, it was good for casting. Ten minutes in, I realized that I was tragically flawed as a prognosticator, and I should lick my wounds on the way home. And celebrate my one-in-a-hundred good fortune.

With no listening choices other than AM or FM, I subjected myself to what passes for classic rock, but is in reality dreadful pre-programmed subscription crap for the masses. Seriously, I don’t need to hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” twice in one night. Once every six months would be fine. Ditto anything by Journey or Billy Joel. And I don’t ever need to hear “The Joker” again.

Sorry if you like those artists or songs. Don’t lean on me man.

Here’s a short video of the bait situation. I actually hooked more silversides than stripers tonight.

 

 

 

 

Block Island Mini-Report: We’re back, baby

Just returned from a week on my favorite island, and I’m pleased to report that after three sub-standard years, the Block is back! The traditional Block Island Diary will of course be written, but until then here’s a snapshot of the action:

Seven nights (even Friday as Arthur scurried away)

One skunking (thanks, Arthur!)

One broken rod tip (stupid human error)

Two one-bass nights (one of the fish a 15-20 pounder)

Two under-a-dozen-bass nights

Two off-the-charts-dozens-of-bass nights.

Sand eels were the predominant bait, about 2-3″ long, and very fragile. Biolume in the water, which was 63 degrees. New moon to Q1. Fished both incoming and outgoing tides. Fished open ocean and the pond. Fished some new secret spots. Had more water to myself than I’ve ever experienced. A most excellent week.

The Yellow Kittens, Old Glory, and a Fourth of July rainbow.

Kittens Rainbow

Block Island All-Nighter VIII: All by my(our)self

This year’s Block Island All-Nighter played out a little differently than in years past. Once I found out I would be flying solo, I decided to ask my 11 year-old, Cam, if he would like to go. He was all over it. I think he liked the idea of heading off for an overnight as much as he did the chance to go fishing. But I really didn’t care what his motivations were. It would be nice to have his company.

The last two BIANs were busts. My intel on the Island had warned me of epically slow fishing in the last week — “Be prepared to tour the Island to find fish” was the mandate. For a time, it looked like BIAN VIII would crap out. Then, a trickle of fish. And suddenly, the heavens opened and the light — hell, it was more of a beacon — of good bass fortune shined upon us. Here’s a little timeline and some photos from our adventure.

6pm-8:30pm: Take the six o’clock boat over to the Island. The surface is flat as a dinner plate. Speaking of dinner, no better way to start a BIAN off than with the fried scallop platter from Finn’s, washed down with an IPA draft.

My stash for the evening. You’re thinking, “Steve, why would you bring so many cigars?” Just in case. Someone might ask for one. Someone might deserve one for sharing the water. Or, on a dead-calm night like this one, I might forget my bug spray and be inundated by millions of biting no-see-ums. There’s no mention of cigars as bug repellant in the Boy Scout Manual. But this ex-scout was indeed prepared.

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No Fisherman’s IPA this year, so we went with Loose Cannon. Another hop bomb with some nice fruity notes.

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8:30pm-11pm: We arrive at the spot. It is mobbed. Like, we get the last place to park mobbed. Not to worry, I tell Cam. It’ll empty out in short order. Witnessed: The largest, longest school of sand eels I’ve seen on the Block since 2007. The bait was smaller than normal for this time of year: matchstick to 2″ long. But scads of them. And then some. The water looked like it had a moving, breathing oil spill beneath its surface. Cam fishing with a 1/2 oz. bucktail jig bangs up some fluke. Dad goes touchless. We walk to another spot. Dad’s proven fish-producing spot. There, Cam, you see? A couple bass rising. We display our wares to them. Nothing. Hmm. Not usually how things play out on the Block. We borrowed some bug spray for Cam, but he’s still getting pummeled. Cam announces he’s tired and is ready for nap #1. We start the long walk back to the truck. Looks like it’s going to be one of those nights.

11pm-1am: The stars! What a galaxy we live in. The air so calm I can blow smoke rings. The ocean is still mirror flat. So flat that I can easily see those rise rings thirty feet off shore. Multiple active feeders. I tell Cam his nap plans have been placed in a holding pattern. I’m going to cast to some fish. They seem oblivious to my fly. No wonder. There are enough sand eels here to feed every striper in Rhode Island. I connect with a few, and let Cam reel in a couple. At midnight he decides to call it. I keep fishing and catch a half-dozen or so more. This is already better than most of the last two years.

And I have no idea what’s coming.

Tight lines with the long rod. Cam has a knack for getting stripers in quick. No wonder. Look at the angle of the rod. I may have reinforced fighting the fish off the reel and the butt, but he basically taught himself. 

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One of Cam’s prizes. Most of the bass from the first part of the evening were in the 18″-24″ range. Block Island remains the only place I’ll put a sub-double-digit pounds striper on the reel.

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1am-3am: I’m walking along the beach, trying to decide where to fish, when the decision is made for me. A squadron of seagulls are milling about the water’s edge, chattering excitedly. Bass have the sand eels trapped and are picking them off with gusto. The gulls are cleaning up the leftovers. All I need to do is choose a rise ring, lay my fly over it, then start stripping. Sometimes the fly barely has a chance to get wet before the glassy surface is shattered and I’m on. It is a school of good stripers, ten-to-fifteen pound range, and every one of them came tonight to eat. For the better part of 90 minutes, the action is non-stop. It’s like striper fantasy camp. It’s so intense that I wonder how much longer it — or I — can go on. One fish obliterates the fly — this one’s over 30 inches — and as it rolls on the surface it spooks what look like another dozen stripers the same size.

Best of all, what I predicted earlier has come to pass. There isn’t another soul on the beach.

A 15 pound Block striper, classic big shoulders, belly full of bait. I know, fish on sand is not ideal. I risked this one for a photo; all her sisters were lipped and released within safe confines of the ocean.

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The white cavern, the last thing a sand eel sees before it disappears into the void.

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3am-6:30am: This time of year, the first glimmer of light appears in the east around 3:45am. I fished hard in those first forty-five minutes because I could sense I was running out of steam. I continued to walk along the beach, targeting active feeders. The bass seemed to get more aggressive as the sun’s disc neared the horizon; several times I had fish on as soon as the fly hit the water. By five I was done. I chatted up a a few anglers on the walk out, and presented a fly to a gentleman who proudly told me that today was his 81st birthday. After rinsing down our equipment, we headed into town to wait for Ernie’s to open. Breakfast is going to be glorious.

The pre-dawn crescent moon accompanied by the morning star. If you look closely just to the left of center, you can a see the remnants of a rise ring.

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Geez Louise. I gotta be more careful with that belt sander.

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6:30am-8am: Breakfast. Three pancakes for Cam. Pancakes and eggs for dad. Bacon for both. Off to the dock. Delirious from lack of sleep. Or all those stripers.

I can’t remember which.

Cindy Loo-Who has been punching my car ticket for decades now. Our meetings are always bittersweet: “Hello, old friend,” combined with the melancholy of leaving my favorite Island.

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The Greased Line, The Sparse Flatwing, and the Big Three-Oh.

This was a weird spring. It was cold. Rainy. I suffered from a debilitating case of tennis elbow. Without my switch rod, there’s no way I could have even fished for stripers. Things started late – I didn’t get my first bass till well into April. Most of what I was catching was in the sub-twenty-inch class. While that bodes well for the future, April and May of 2014 will go down as a complete vexation for courting the big girls. Two of my traditional big fish spots were depressingly unproductive. It was weeks into May before I even had a legal sized striped bass. But, oh, what a bass. Here’s how it went down.

I was fishing a new location that had big bass written all over it: current, structure, and the presence of herring. Attached to my floating line was a seven-foot length of twenty-five pound test mono. The fly was one I’d tied several years ago: Ken Abrames’ Razzle Dazzle. This particular fly was a veteran many striper campaigns. Its top two saddles were long gone, and over the course of the seasons, some of the bucktail had likewise gone AWOL.

For two-and-a-half hours, I fought the good fight: cast. Upstream mend. Another mend. Another. Swing. Pulsing strip. Let the fly fall back. Retrieve. Repeat. If nothing else, greased line for striped bass is meditative, so absent any hits, the routine was comforting and pleasant.

But, it was time to leave. A walk down-current to a different section, then ten more minutes.

The takes on the greased line presentation are usually either a sensation of building pressure, or a sharp pull. Hers was neither. Suddenly, she was simply there, rolling on the fly, taking line downstream. I had dropped a substantial fish the week before when I couldn’t get a good hook set. With that wound still festering, I drove the point home. Hard. She felt strong. But I didn’t have a idea yet of what I was dealing with.

Every big bass fight presents a unique set of challenges. As expected, her first run was downstream. She peeled line off the drag, but I was surprised by how little it was – probably about thirty feet. I pointed the rod at her and set the hook again.

She turned abruptly, and headed upstream. I was simultaneously delighted and horrified; the former because in this heavy current she’d be burning a tremendous amount of oxygen in her flight, the later because of the memories of all those steelhead who shattered my heart with relentless upstream runs and hook-spitting leaps. The challenge was to re-gather line as fast as possible, staying tight to the fish. She was faster than my hands, though, and I was sure I was going to lose her. I raised the rod tip. Still there. I lowered the tip and re-set the hook.

Now, she sounded. I’ve heard that big bass will try to rub their cheeks against the bottom to rid themselves of a fly. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that the bottoms of rivers and oceans and estuaries are vast depositories for nature’s junk. Who knows what multiple opportunities for snag hell awaited below? I pulled on the line. It didn’t move an inch.

Unbelievable. Stuck on the bottom. Another good striper lost.

But wait. Did the bottom budge? Yes. A little. I moved the rod tip back and forth in a 180-degree arc over the water, trying to stir the fish. It worked. Instead of ripping down-current, she ran uptide. Paused. I re-set the hook. Again. I decided it was time to try and get her out of the abyss and onto the gravel bar. She would have none of that. “Down goes Frazier!” Or, as I imagined it in my head, Cosell shouting “Down goes Culton!” She sounded a second time.

Again, I couldn’t budge her with a straight pull. The rod wagging thing worked once before, so I tried it again. Now she came up a little faster. I could sense she was tiring. Once I coaxed her out of the depths, she took advantage of the shallows, ripping off a series of short runs. But all that sprinting was taking its toll. I still didn’t know what I had. I was hoping for twenty-five pounds. I decided to try to land her on the beach.

I put the rod over my shoulder and walked her in close, then pulled her to the water’s edge. Now I could see the fish. My mouth fell open, searching for words. My pulse rate skyrocketed. After lipping twenty-inchers all spring, her mouth felt like that of some alien creature. Its opening dwarfed my hand. The flesh between my thumb and forefinger was substantial. I could easily see a small dog disappearing down that gaping maw.

I held my rod against her length. Her gill plates came about to the first guide on my two-hander, thirty-four inches away from the butt. This was a striper over forty inches. The big three-oh in pounds. A new personal best on the fly from the shore. She certainly had been eating well, with a distended belly that gave her a perch-like shape.

Wouldn’t you know that this was the one night all spring I left my camera at home? Fortunately, I had my phone in my pack. I took a couple hurried shots, and felt guilty about it, because I really wanted this fish to live. I took hold of her – good Lord, what an impressive mass – and guided her into the shallows. I was expecting a lengthy revival. But no. Almost immediately she felt ready to go. Just to be sure, I held on a few more seconds. As I was re-adjusting my grip, she thrust from my hands.

She slipped away into the darkness, leaving a gentle wake.

Miss Piggy. A thousand apologies for the sub-par photography. This is what happens when you forget your good camera and are reduced to using an iPhone wrapped in a ziploc baggie. But, you can get a good sense of the sheer mass of the fish. The bottom guide is 34″ from the butt, and her tail extends farther than you can see. Look at that belly full of herring.

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A better shot in terms of detail, but you don’t get the full length effect.

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The winning fly. An old Razzle Dazzle, missing two saddles and a fair amount of bucktail. Here we make the case for sparse and impressionistic. This fly is now retired. I may put it out to stud.

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I didn’t sign up for this

On the heels of proclaiming what an amazing, understanding wife I have: no kidding. Last night, after our anniversary dinner with the kids, I went striper fishing.

I shoulda stayed home.

It’s not like I had a bad time or anything, but the fishing was — how you say? — slow. To start, someone who insists on telling everyone on the worldwide web specifically where he striper fishes, especially when he catches — the only thing missing are GPS coordinates — posted the spot I went to last night the day before. At 10pm on a school night, I would expect to be the only angler there. Imagine my surprise when I saw all manner of dark forms silhouetted against the inky waters. I joined the lineup as the sixth man. I think I’ve seen six guys there at night in over the last four years. Way to burn that spot, dude. One 16″ bass on my second cast, then nothing for an hour.

So I hoofed it to another place. Plenty of action there, if you count trout-sized stripers as action. Not the reason I was standing in the water at midnight.

The big one continues to elude me. Must keep at it. The generally persistent generally make out.

Correction: I just learned that the bulk of the anglers at last night’s first location were veterans of that spot, not the report chasers I suspected. No disrespect to them was intended, and I regret the error.

No. Not yet.

Just when Mother Nature gives you permission to believe the stripers might be there (peepers for several days now, first daffodil showing some yellow, temperatures actually in the low 60s) she slams the door with cruel finality. I mean, mean-like. See ya, sucker.

You know it’s bad when the all the spin guys leave before you do.

Here’s what I can tell you: bright, sunny day. Water with good visibility, albeit still well below normal (ten lashes for me for forgetting my thermometer) temperature. Wind honking in my face at 15 mph (with gusts up to 20) that made casting a large diameter floating line difficult. Not a touch for me or any of the other four guys who wisely packed it in before I did.

Everything is late this spring, and the stripers are no exception. April 10 is the farthest I’ve gone into April without a bass. But, there’s good news.  It’s got to start sometime.

It’s like the birds are saying, “Follow the arrows to find the stripers.” If it were only that easy.

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