On Sept. 17, I took off for Scarborough, Maine, to do some East Coast striper fishing. Excellent food and historic lodging was experienced at Higgins Beach Inn. The first afternoon of my fishing experience was to get a self taught lesson in casting heavily weighted flies with my 8wt Scott saltwater rod. I was watching my backcast to get the timing down for the forward motion. As I turned my head forward I noticed a young seagull was flying right across my casting zone. Sure enough, the line goes where the rod tip goes and the rod tip goes where you look. I caught a 3 to 4 lb seagull and had an airborne fight. It back paddled with its wing as it let out screams of fear and hate. A dozen other gulls suddenly flooded into the area around my prize. The 8 wt handled the bird very well and after a few minutes it was landed. Each reach with my hand was met with open beak, wild eyes and my fear. Quickly putting my hat over its head saved my hand and fingers. The bird was quiet with his eyes blinded. I unwound the line from its wings and luckily, the hook had only grabbed somebody plumage. Once released, it flew off giving me all sorts of verbage. The other gulls looked like they missed a meal.
Moving downstream, I put on one of Rich’s Home Run steelhead pattern to see it I could evoke some strike from something where the river met the salt. At the pickup for the start of my third cast I noticed the rod loaded faster. Wow, I had caught my first East Coast 4 inch smelt. Actually he was snagged. Used him for some added enticement until he broke off.
Maine is having a phenomenal appearance of stripers this year. The next morning I was on board for a half day guide trip offshore and along breakwaters. Two of us and one guide, Scott Howard, with his 18ft flat bottom powered by a 90 hp Honda outboard screamed across the bay and out to some breakwaters and island shielded waters. Sunny and clear sky, calm ocean, fish pods feeding. Striper fishing is not the same as trout fishing. Setting the hook is quite different. Intermediate sink line, a 30 to 45 foot cast, relatively fast strips to imitate bait fish action, and NEVER, NEVER, NEVER raise the rod when you get a strike. Strip set the hook! I lost about 8 to 10 fish before I got the procedure correct. Dave Burnley from West Virginia, on the other end of the boat, had fished for these critters before. He caught 3 to my 1. Very clear water varied from 8 to 15 feet deep. You could see the fish following the fly. After getting sore wrists, the guide would run us out to the rocks at the outer end of the island. The surf was a little heavier and the hope was the bigger fish would be out there too. We fished from 7:30 AM to 12:30. I caught, landed, and released about 15 stripers. Dave was into the 45 + range. We watched one very large striper in about 10 ft of water swimming toward the boat. Scott yelled, look at the size of that one ( over 3ft ). I looked to the left and my eyes popped. The fish saw the boat and turned away and my line went tight. I had slowed my strip down just to watch the lunker. My line was pointing to the right. Had him on for about 30 seconds. These fish fight. They don’t jump out of the water but do make runs, turn a lot, thrash, and basically fight like hell. An 8 wt rod is ideal.
Day two involved a zodiac getting me to a sand island during low tide. We fished using a crab pattern on the sandy bottom of the bay. Practice casting (flinging) heavily weighted flies before attempting this tactic. The back of my head stillhurts. Stop moving the rod immediately when you feel the whack. Carefully remove the hook from your hat or scalp. The stripping action for the crab pattern is different from the baitfish pattern. Shorter strips, variation in length and speed. Don’t set the hook until you are sure. The stripers don’t want to get pinched so they tend to pick them up and mouth it, spit it out, nibble at it, then crunch it. Early strikes leaves you with zip. Only got an hour on the water that day. Fog rolled in and we were losing sight of the beach as well as losing the island to the incoming tide. Lobster boats coming back in was a clue as to the weather front. Only one fish to the guides 5 this day.
Lessons learned: When a guide asks you if you would like to use one of their rods, don’t be stupid and stubborn. They want you to catch fish. They know what they are doing. They have developed a successful tactic. I was using my floating line with sink tip and had even added a heavier sink tip. The hinging action and floating part of the line did effect the action of the baitfish fly. Success more than doubled when I switched to their equipment.
Had a great time, learned a lot. Want to try the stripers in the Umpqua and Smith Rivers here in Oregon. Yes, I did get a Steamer Clam and Maine Lobster meal. Fresh means it was live and kicking 30 minutes before you got served. The trip also involved a presentation by the Stripers Forever conservation group that is trying to get the striper listed as a game fish in Maine and other New England states. The trip was organized and coordinated by Steve Stracqualursi of Patagonia. I can give interested people some contacts back in Maine.