A quick, fun read from the archives, and judging from comments over the years, one of my more popular essays. Enjoy, and see you tonight.
I’m pleased to declare war on cabin fever with another free Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom, tomorrow, January 12 at 8pm. The subject will be winter fly fishing, and you can read all about it on the poster below. Hope to see you there!
Plus, if you haven’t done so already, there’s still time to sign up for my first winter fly tying Zoom class, Tying the Soft-Hackled Fly, this Saturday January 16th. This class is a pay-to-play event, and the cost is a very reasonable $10.
Whew! After nine December outings, over 30 hours of fishing, four different locations, it all came together at the 11th hour (both figuratively and literally). I didn’t think it was going to happen. December was by far the toughest month, with high and cold water, wind and subfreezing temperatures, and a maddeningly inconsistent bite. It only proves that catching a striper on the fly from the shore for twelve consecutive months takes skill, planning, perseverance, and — this cannot be understated — luck. Am I going for 13? Maybe. Stay tuned.
It all began on a whim. It was a warm(er) January night, and the tide lined up with some free time. Forty-five minutes in, there he was. I was crazy enough to try again in February, succeed, and off I went.
Once you get past March, things get a little easier. They certainly get warmer, as you can see from the gloveless, submerged (not happening in February) July water hand.
WHACK! I was dragging the deer hair head streamer across the surface to change it out when the fish hit. What a great story about how I caught my December bass! But wait. What is that? Not a striper. Nope, it’s a five-pound Northern Pike. I can’t remember ever being so depressed about catching a quality fish on the surface in 35 degree water. Good thing I didn’t lip it.
I planned on paying homage to a friend (who’s had a very tough go with cancer this year) by catching the December fish with one of his flies, but I lost one on the bottom, and I wanted to keep the other. Ultimately, the winning fly was a three-feather flatwing/bucktail hybrid version of the Crazy Menhaden. I called Ken on the way home to tell him about it, and he said, “You should call that fly the ’12 Consecutive Months December Striper On The Fly From The Shore Crazy Menhaden.'” Who am I to argue?
Cold but happy Post-December Striper Flashlight Hat Man.
The month is off to a lackluster start. I fished a proven late fall bass producer on Monday, and it was a blank for me and the other half dozen souls who braved high, stained water and biting winds. Went back to the same well on Tuesday, and although I had the place to myself and the conditions were far nicer, the bite — or lack thereof — was the same. Off to spot B, where I knew bass had been caught 24 hours earlier, but no. Not for me, dagnabbit.
I don’t like the short term weather forecast, so perhaps I’ll need to rethink time and tide. Catching a striper on the fly from the shore for 12 consecutive months may sound like a simple proposition, but this first week of the last month shows how difficult it can be. While I am bloodied, I remain unbowed.
What my fingertips felt like by the end of Tuesday’s session.
Cold fronts and wind and snow and sleet be damned, I went striper fishing. This was virgin winter water for me; I looked at this place last year and wondered if any bass would care to stay though the cold months. I have my answer.
Only 20″, but a bass is a bass. Dagnabbit, now that I’ve done January and February, I guess I gotta go for 12 consecutive months with a striper on the fly.
The most difficult part of striper fishing in December isn’t the cold. It’s finding the fish. Once you do, you can pretty much get out the tally sheets.
So I headed south to see who might be out and about. Save for a multitude of sea birds and one other fly angler, I had the beach all to myself. This being a powerful moon tide, there was no shortage of sexy rips and seams to cast into. I was two-handing it with a floating line, a six-foot section of T-11, and a three-foot leader of 20-pound mono. A four-inch long September Night seemed like a fine choice of a fly, although I spent considerable time debating the merits of throwing a sparse bucktail like the Magog Smelt.
I fell into the meditative rhythm of cast, mend, mend, swing, slow retrieve. I was ready for the pull of a hungry fish.
The answer was no. All I was catching was sea lettuce and marsh grass. The other angler across the way was likewise blanking. Then he got into a small striper. And another. I kept waiting for the hits that never came. Since I had a limited time slot — I was slagging off work — I reeled in and headed for another spot. The distance and brisk pace I kept made me sorry I had put on that extra layer of fleece.
New venue, same results. There comes a point in every skunking where you make peace with the fact that you’re not going to catch anything. So I reminded myself that while most of the world was working, I was fishing. The sun was out. I had the pleasure of a peppery, earthy Churchill. But, I asked, could I please get just one fish? I raised the question out loud, because I find that when you’re alone, that works a lot better than just thinking it. How else to explain the strident bap! at the end of the next swing?
These stripers didn’t know there weren’t any mullet around. Not to worry, for the September Night worked quite nicely on this December afternoon.
And that was the start of the Bass-o-Matic. All small fish, but each of them fresh from the ocean, flawless and gleaming bright.
With great discipline, I peeled myself away from the frenzy five minutes before my hard stop. So much to do. So little time.
At least now I could cross “catch December stripers” off my list.