Fishing with Gary

Each fall my Gary C.of Pennsylvania visits us in Massachusetts for a week of striper fishing. Sometimes the fishing is great. Sometimes it’s just OK. But either way Gary is a good and longtime friend and fishing companion and we always have a good time.

While I rarely keep track of my own catches these days, during the week Gary visits I do keep track of his, and it’s a pretty good indicator of how the fall fishing has been year to year. The reality of fall striper fishing, despite it’s reputation as a time of bountiful blitzes, is that it is very streaky. This is especially true of the daytime fishing. In the daytime you tend to find either a lot of fish or none at all, boom or bust. This is a direct result of the stripers’ fall feeding patterns in which they abandon the structure and regular feeding lanes of summer to chase schools of fast moving bait. Today they may be here, tomorrow there, and the next day nowhere at all.

Even when you find the fish, they can be maddeningly difficult to catch. If you are a shore or wade angler, it’s typical to arrive at the water’s edge to find a cacophony of bait, birds, and bass all boiling the surface–but just outside of your casting range. If you a a boat fisherman you may find yourself surrounded by breaking fish, but by the time you hook and land one the school has moved 300 yards away. Fire up the engine, motor over, and the the school moves once more. You are constantly playing catch up, and for as many fish as you may see you never catch quite as many as you expect.

Night fishing in the fall, as it is most other times of the year, is more reliable. The bass can be counted on to gather at certain spots that attract bait at certain stages of the tide. Rivers and estuaries are especially good places for this. But even night fishing tends to be less predictable in autumn than other times of the year. And, like day fishing, it is subject to that other great factor of fall that can shut down the fishing in a hurry: weather, in the form of wind and storms (cold, though uncomfortable, doesn’t affect the fishing that much as the water temps are slow to change).

Here’s a brief summary of Gary’s catches since 2007:

2007: Day 14; Night 142; Total 156
2008: Day 2; Night 34; Total: 36
2009: Day 3; Night 52; total 55
2010: No visit
2011: Day 15; Night 4; Total 19
2012: Day 3; Night 36; Total 39

While a lot of factors, including weather, the relative lateness week of the visit, and the diminishing striper population in recent years all affect the numbers, it’s pretty clear how much more effective the night fishing is over day. 2011 is the only outlier in that respect, a reflection of my purchase of a boat (which allowed us to chase daytime schools) and night fishing that was exceptionally slow that year (largely due to the absence of lights on the water where they had once existed).

This year’s visit began this evening and we got off to a pretty good start, with Gary landing 15 bass up to 26 inches and dropping a few as well.

Still stripers to be had!

For those of you in or around Boston, there are still lots of fish around, including some big ones! I’ve seen blitzes this week along Revere Beach, Nahant’s Short Beach, and the Lynn/Swampscott shoreline–all within wading range. Sunday night I gave a ride “home” to some friends temporarily moored in Salem Harbor. Their dingy was at a marina near the power plant and wow was there a ton of bait there. And stripers feeding on them. So much bait scattering it was like a rainstorm. I think I’m going to need to spend more time exploring the Salem waterfront next season.

Tonight’s snow and frigid temperatures are a sign of things to come but I don’t think are enough to push the fish out. So if you have the time and inclination, get out there!

Massachusetts Salt Water Fishing License

If you haven’t already heard, starting this year Massachusetts (along with every other US state bordering the ocean) will now require a fishing license for most salt water sport fishing situations. A summary of the pertinent details:

Who needs a license? Any angler 16 years or older fishing in state marine waters, including up to the first dam in rivers and streams that flow to the ocean. An individual license is not required if you are fishing on a permitted for hire boat (which should cover most or all guide/charter boats).

How much does the license cost? The cost is $10, for both residents and non-residents alike. The license is good for the calendar year. Note that anglers age 60 or older are required to have a license but are not charged for it.

Where can I buy a license? You can buy a license by mailing or filling out a paper application at a very limited number of state licensing offices. I expect most people will forgo that route and instead choose to buy one online .

Is my Massachusetts license good outside of Massachusetts? At this writing Massachusetts has reciprocal agreements with Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. A salt water license from any of these states can be used to fish in the other three.

More info here

Commentary to follow. 😯

Striper fishing report 5/13-5/15

mad_hatter.jpgThe striper fishing along the shores of the inner harbor in Winthrop has slowed down a bit over the past few days, probably because of the offshore storms, which have really roiled up the water in some places and have made the outside shore relatively unfishable unless you can cast a flyrod
while riding a surfboard.

I fished a few hours each day and each day I caught fish, but they were widely spaced, one every twenty minutes or so. There was one stretch when I went almost an hour without a hit, this in an area that had been producing well on this stage of the tide only a few days before. I’ve had some surface action with a Gurgler but it’s been very spotty; the most consistent producer has been a chartreuse and white BeastMaster, which is very visible in the murky water. I think, though, that once the weather settles a bit, the fishing will certainly pick up. Looking at my records from last year, the fishing didn’t become consistently good until May 20th; maybe it’ll be the same this year. One thing’s for sure; the water temperature must rise by a few degrees before things really turn on. The temperature’s been up and down this past week but for the most part it’s averaged a chilly 50 degrees in most of the places I’ve fished. Brrrr!

Stripers and largemouths

The Stripers are here!


Stripers have been appearing in good numbers (and sizes) all up and down the northeast coast for several days now along with good numbers of baitfish: herring and silversides for the most part.

It seems like you can almost predict the date: May 8. Depending on weather of course. My logs from the past ten years show that one or two days before and after May 8 you can expect the stripers to be in the warmer parts of the harbor and in most of the estuaries. So get out your gear and head to your favorite striper spot and expect some good action, especially around the lower stages of the tide. If you have only six hours to fish and are wading, try to be on the water three hours into the drop until about three hours after the rise. You can, of course, find good fishing at other times but the fish are more concentrated when the water is lower–and of course it’s easier to access most fishable spots at this time.

I’ve only been out twice in the past few days (the weather hasn’t been all that cooperative; wind, cold, rain, etc. but the two times I’ve been out I’ve been successful. And thrilled to bits to catch the first (for me) stripers of the season.

Here’s a brief rundown of the past few days, my life in capsule form, so to speak.

Saturday, May 10

I had to cancel my first Striper Strategies class of the season because of a predicted storm (which never came, by the way; however it WAS cold and windy) and I stayed in to tie flies and catch up on orders and watch the weather forecasts, hoping that the next day would be warm enough to fish. I was impatient to get back on the water, especially since the night before I had done well fishing for stripers “under the lights”.

Sunday May 11 warmed up more than expected and turned out to be a really interesting day, actually a great day for fishing–at least until the wind picked up. I started fishing a little later than planned (couldn’t get up early enough to fish the dropping tide) and arrived at one of my favorite spots in the inner harbor about half and hour into the rise. It was my first visit of the season and for the first half hour I didn’t get a hit. It wasn’t until about an hour into the rise that the fish started showing up. The water was exceptionally clear considering how roiled up the outside water was and the fly I was fishing–a chartreuse/white BeastMaster–almost glowed beneath the surface. Most of the fish hit close to the surface, within a foot or two, and I was able to see almost every take. The fishing, to be honest, wasn’t fast, one fish about every fifteen casts, but what a thrill! The smallest was about 21″ and the largest 32,” a real beauty! I caught seven in all–this in about an hour and a half. I would have fished longer but the wind was picking up and my hands were getting cold; my shoulder was beginning to bother me as well. Not only that but I had a plan to fish for largemouth bass later in the afternoon and I wanted to get home and take a nap so that I wasn’t completely exhausted for the evening fishing.

Later in the afternoon, after my nap, my friend Dale Linder came by and we headed up to Putnamville Reservoir in Danvers/Topsfield. I hadn’t been there in fifty years and was looking forward to fishing for bass with a 5 weight rod. If you read my last blog entry you might remember that I’ve been looking over some of my log notes from fifty years ago. It was while doing this that I remembered Putnamville Reservoir and decided to revisit it, just for the fun of it–and maybe for the nostalgic element as well.

The fishing was about as good as I could have expected with the temperature in the low 50’s and the water colder than that. Wandering the shore line, I picked up bass wherever I found structure close to shore. They were all largemouth bass–though there are smallies here as well–and all eagerly hit the small Bass Gurgler I was fishing. None was large–the largest about a pound–but all were fun. Caught four bluegills and a pickerel as well. Dale was fishing a streamer and caught many more pickerel than bass. We didn’t have a lot of time to fish, a few hours, and it took a bit of hiking and wandering through the woods to discover some of the best places but in that short time I decided that it was a place I’d love to explore further, but I think I’ll wait until the water warms up a bit before heading up there again.

All in all it was a wonderful day of fishing. Stripers and largemouth bass. Who could ask for anything more? Well, maybe a trout or two thrown into the mix. But that’ll have to wait for another day.

Fifty years later, a day in May


In my last blog entry I mentioned that I’d been reading over some of my past fishing logs. Really interesting reading there (to me, anyway). I read that on this date fifty years ago I fished Crystal Lake in West Peabody, Mass. and caught 53 bluegills and four crappies. All on Wooly Worms, three of which I lost in the trees or on sunken logs (can’t remember why, but I used to keep a record of the number of flies lost also).

Before I went to bed last night, I got to thinking about this lake and the more I thought about it the more I wanted to revisit it, to see if the fishing there was as I remembered it. I fell asleep calling to mind pleasant scenes from fifty years ago: the trail that led off up the hill through the pines and away from the railroad tracks, up up and then down into the damp boggy depressions that seemed always full of skunk cabbage but now and then a lady’s slipper; the fallen trees that lined the edge of the lake and made casting difficult–but not impossible– in most places. And the bluegills, big and fat and full of spunk. Crappies,too.

When I woke up, it seemed the perfect day for bluegill fishing, sunny and warm, with little or no wind. I had some orders to fill but if I could finish them and get to the post office before two I’d have the whole afternoon, the best part of the day.

As it happened I had an order for some Bluegill Gurglers and after tying up them up for a fellow in Indiana I tied some up for myself and by three o’clock I was driving north on Route 1 towards West Peabody and Crystal Lake. I had hitchhiked up this highway many times to fish Crystal Lake but today I couldn’t remember which exit to take and ended up taking the Rte 114 exit, one exit past Lowell Street, which was the right one. I realized my mistake when I crossed the Ipswich River in Middleton. I was tempted to change my plan and fish the Ipswich instead but I had dreamt about bluegills and Crystal Lake all night and I was determined to stick with my original intention. I turned around, got back on Route 1, and this time took the right exit.

Fifty years is a long time. And, as we all know, much can change in fifty years. And so it was with Crystal Lake–or at least the surrounding area. Suburbia had grown up around it. Where there were fields, now there were houses and shopping centers–and much more traffic than back then–and the old railroad tracks had been ripped up. But the lake itself looked the same for the most part–although slightly smaller than I’d remembered–and as I pulled on my waders, I was happy to see bluegills swirling in the shallows, probably on their spawning beds. It was a good sign.

I walked a short way through some bushes and made my way out onto a ridge that I remembered from long ago, back when it was mostly gravel but now mostly mud and silt, and made my first cast to the edge of some lily pads. I let the fly settle, twitched it once, and was soon into the first of many bluegills, all about the size of my hand and all very fat. Almost every cast was rewarded with a fish and after catching thirty or so, I decided to try another spot. Not that this wasn’t a good spot; it was, but I was eager to revisit some of my other favorite spots along the farther shore.

I waded back to shore and then took off up and over the hill to where there were some down-fallen trees in the water. I would guess that these weren’t the same trees but they seemed to be in the same spot where I used to catch a lot of crappies and so I tossed the little Gurgler out into the water along the edge of the trees hoping that some crappies still lived there. Sure enough, they did. I caught seven on seven casts before they finally quit (or maybe there were only seven there). They weren’t large, maybe a quarter-pound or so–but they were fun. And it had been a long time since I had even seen a crappie.

The shoreline was more brushy and timber-strewn than I’d remembered but it was possible to wade out a bit away from the shore and if I was careful I could cast parallel to the shore or with a roll cast hit some of the lily pads out toward the middle. As I edged my way along the shore I noticed some fish movement beneath some overhanging bushes, movement that looked to be made by a fish larger than the bluegills and crappies I’d been catching. Turned out it was. A largemouth bass, about three pounds, a beauty! What a surprise! I had never caught one in this lake when I was a kid. Maybe they were there but you couldn’t prove it by me. Working my way along this part of the shoreline I picked up three more by flicking my Gurgler in and under the overhanging brush.

By now the sun was beginning to set and I was getting tired from all the sloshing through mud and tiptoeing around and over fallen trees and branches and decided to call it a day. And what a day it was, even better than it was fifty years ago. My total for the day was– I still keep count and still keep records–was 77 bluegills, 4 bass, and 7 crappies. All on the Bluegill Gurgler. I lost three flies to trees. But found some old memories. And created a few new ones to recall. Can’t ask more of a day than that.

50 years a fly tyer

jgtrout68.jpgWhile biding my time and counting down the days until the stripers return–within the week now, I reckon–I decided to flip through the pages of some of my past fishing logs tonight, to see if the past held anything in store for me, so to speak.

I don’t know about you but I’ve been a compulsive record-keeper ever since I was a kid, at least when it comes to fishing logs. Looking back to the very first one–a small notepad complete with clipped-off anal fins of trout attached to the pages–I see that I’ve now been tying flies for over fifty years!

I knew that I had been at it for a long time, but fifty years? It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting between Ted Williams and Jack Sharkey at the old Sportsman’s Show at Mechanics Hall in Boston and Ted was teaching me to tie my very first fly (it was a Yellow Wooly Worm, by the way). That was certainly a great moment in my life, one that turned out to be in a way a defining moment as well, since in the years that have followed I’ve not strayed very far from my vise and for much of this time I’ve supported myself (if somewhat inadequately at times) by tying flies. So it’s fifty years now along that road and, although it’s been rocky every now and then, I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s. I may be poor in the pocket book but I’m the richest man I know when it comes to friends and to memories.

Speaking of memories, and looking again at my very first fishing log, I see that on May 4, 1958, also a Sunday, I fished Fish Brook in Topsfield, Mass. and caught four brown trout, all on Wooly Worms (yellow, size 8). A photo taken later that day in my backyard is pasted into the notebook confirming this. Back then I kept most of the trout I caught until I read an article that convinced me to release them back into the water–BUT before doing this to clip off the anal fin to save as a record of the fish caught. According to the writer the fish didn’t really need the anal fin, could get along quite well without it. It never occurred to me to wonder about the truth of this or what the trout thought about it but–after fifty years– my notebook is still bulging with dried-out anal fins. Brookies, browns, and rainbows. Times have changed, haven’t they?

One the things that hasn’t really changed all that much is the music I listen to when I’m tying flies, which is pretty much the same as the music I listened to back when I first started tying. Oldies, they’re called now. But back then they were new. I can, if I close my eyes, still see myself at my bedroom table tying flies to the music of the day. In 1958 it would have been songs like The Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley, Witch Doctor by David Seville, All I Have to Do is Dream by the Everly Brothers, and Tequila by The Champs. The flies I was tying back then were on the whole very simple ones: Wooly Worms, Trueblood Nymphs, Bivisibles, Black Ghosts and Mickey Finns. These are the flies mentioned most frequently in my “log” from that year. Not mentioned is the fact that my first flies were tied not in a vise but were held in place by the jaws of a micrometer. I used two micrometers to accomplish this; one to clamp the other to the table top and one to actually grip the hook by screwing down the micrometer as tight as I could. Needless to say, these micrometers were never quite accurate again and my grandfather, whose micrometers they were, was more than a bit upset about this but, good sport that he was, he gave me some money to buy a real–but very simple– fly tying vise (it cost $1.67 and came from Herter’s; I still have the order form). Later I would graduate to a Thompson A, which held the hooks quite a bit better than did the one for $1.67.

I was going to write a longer piece about the many differences between now and then, about the trends and advances in fly tying that have taken placed during those fifty years, but I see by the clock on the wall that it’s almost three a.m. and I just realized that it’s not 1958 any more and I’m not 15 and I’m getting tired and so I’ll have to put this off and save it for another blog entry at some later date. But, you can bet your boots that it won’t be fifty years from now. Or will it?

What did you catch him on?

smalltarpon.jpgMost fishing web sites are full of pictures of people holding up large fish that they caught. After awhile the fish in these pictures all look the same.

The anglers in these pictures all look the same too, in part because, depending on the type of fish, they’re all wearing pretty much the same stuff. If the fish is a steelhead or trout, the angler is wearing earth-tone waders and a bulgy vest or chest pack thingy with lots of small, clanky things hanging off it. If the fish is a marlin, the angler is wearing topsiders, shorts, a pastel-colored polo shirt, and probably a self-satisfied expression. Tarpon and bonefishermen opt for tan pants, puffy shirts, and stupid hats. The shirts all have rear ventilation flaps, a feature you’d think would actually be more useful on the pants. If it’s a striped bass, the angler could wearing any combination of these things, or even all of them at once. He’s probably also half in the bag.

Compared to those other pictures, this one’s a lot more interesting–Dale Linder holding the smallest tarpon I’ve ever seen. And how impressive is the catch? Lots of people have caught hundred pound tarpon, but how many have caught a six-incher? I didn’t even know tarpon came that small. I thought they all started life at around ten pounds. But unless Dale smuggled a can of sardines out onto the flats that day, I guess I was wrong. The rod, he says, was a ten weight with a floating, sink-tip line. He won’t say what fly he was using. Bastard.

Yes but I photograph well

old_fisherman.jpgOur friend and neighbor Dave Skok just returned from a trip to Costa Rica where, in additional to catching a few fishies, he also took some amazing photographs. A short selection of them is posted on Moldy Chum (which, coincidentally, is probably also a fair description of Dave after several weeks in the jungle). Take a look at the brilliant reds on the Costa Rican rainbows–their flanks look like sunrise in a Turner watercolor.

All tied up

tied_up.jpgIn the current Pointless Poll (see the Home Page) it’s a dead heat for favorite knot between the improved clinch and the loop knot. Which is surprising to me. I like loop knots, don’t get me wrong, I just never realized how many people use them on a regular basis. The clinch knot was the first fishing knot I ever learned. When the improved clinch came out I switched over to it because it was, well, improved. And that’s pretty much where I’ve been ever since.

There’s an odd tendency for certain knots to stick in your brain, while others don’t. I have this theory that once a knot takes possession of your mind it gets territorial and uses its knotty powers to prevent other knots from gaining a place. For example, the trilene is a great knot. But somehow, even though it’s not that complicated, I can’t seem to tie one unless I have a diagram in front of me. The improved clinch just refuses to let it reside in my grey matter. Conversely, I have no problem remembering how to tie blood knots, nail knots, snells, bowlines, and sheepshanks. It’s as if the improved clinch realizes that these knots are not direct competition.

Jack likes to laugh and say, “I know two knots, and one of them is a wind knot.” We’ve fished together for over ten years and he still won’t tell me what that second knot is. It can’t be all that great because, as fine a fisherman as he is, he does snap off quite a few fish. Or maybe it’s the knot itself asserting its will, coming undone on purpose to get even with him for not giving knots their due respect.

A few years ago Jack and I were into some fast and heavy striper action when a nice bass snapped off his fly. So he tied on another one and the next fish snapped off his entire leader. Unperturbed, he tied a fly directly to the fly line and in short time hooked a really big fish which ran him into his backing–before breaking that off and swimming away with the fly line. After that he was reduced to flailing away with a fly tied to nothing but backing. Even then he caught a few more fish until finally the current died and the bass moved off.