Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

October 31st, 2004

By Dave Micus

As much as I don't want to, I'm forced to acknowledge that the last of the striped bass have passed by the northern Massachusetts shoreline on their way to the Chesapeake. This is a bittersweet admission to make; bitter because I won't feel the tug of a linesider on the 9 wt. for six long months, sweet because I'll sleep past 5 am and maybe lose this tic in my left eye that is a symptom of sleep depravation and always manifests itself toward the end of striper season. Now, while still fresh in memory, is the time to reminisce. I start by looking at the fishing log, and though only numbers and dates, the events are recent enough that I can add flesh to the bare bones of the log. Vivid fishing memories are always easy to conjure.

If the IRS were to audit the fishing log, their analysis would look like this: 77 days fishing (less than previous years); 471 fish caught (again, less), 6.116883 average number of fish per outing; 146 fish caught in August (best month), 17 fish caught in October (worst month); 22 fish caught on August 29 (best day but far below previous year's best day); ten days with zero fish; fifteen days with 10 plus fish. And I'm sure they would figure a way to tax me accordingly. These numbers, though, tell but a small part of the story.

For example, the log shows I caught my 300th fish of the season on July 28th. What it doesn't show is that my 300th fish was a very large blue that took me to the backing and then just hunkered down so that I felt as if I were hooked to a fireplug. I don't catch many blues where I fish (this was the first of the season) and I thought I had a 40-inch striper on. But it was with delight, not disappointment, that, after a noble struggle, I horsed him into shallow water and saw the yellow flank and malevolent eye of a big blue. The log also shows that I caught 6 linesiders on July 10, with no mention that this was the day of the annual Eagle Hill River Striped Bass Fly Fishing Derby, a gag tournament I host every year that is really just a reason to get together with friends and share a few drinks and a lot of laughs. This year's prized fish was a 31-inch bass, and the ecstatic two-time winner (he's the Lance Armstrong of the Eagle Hill Derby) went home clutching "The Golden Cup," an athletic cup painted gold and mounted on a block of oak. The previous year he was the proud recipient of "The Golden Fly," a gold colored zipper mounted on a plaque. It was also on this day that I saw, way up in the estuaries, two terns defending their nest from a huge great blue heron. The big heron, prehistoric looking in flight, squawked like a pterodactyl as the terns, maybe one tenth his size, fearlessly fretted him until he was forced to flee.

Two days later, according to the log, I caught one bass, but I know that I took that fish at Nobska Light in Woods Hole before going out shark fishing with Josko Catipovic and hooking, but failing to land, an eight foot mako, which, uncaught, is ineligible to be recorded in the sparse log, but whose spectacular jumps and long fight will be forever recorded in my memory.

Even the no-fish days weren't as bleak as that bare 0 seems to suggest. On one of these days I explored the miles and miles of estuarine channels in Plum Island Sound. With the tall marsh grass and dropping tide it was possible only to see forward to the next sharp bend, of which there were many, and it wasn't long before I felt like the character in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath who wanders for days lost in a colossal cornfield. Though I knew that the open water was to my starboard and I only had to beach the yak and climb up on the marsh bank to see exactly where I was, I continued on feeling lost. We have to, after all, find adventure where we can.

But some adventures are better avoided. On August 1 the log displays, in stark black and white, that I caught eight striped bass, but I remember it is the day I nearly drowned when, as I was obliviously fishing a river mouth, my kayak floated off with the tide. Of course the PFD was in the yak, and I was literally up a creek without a paddle or a pfd with a flood tide on the rise. With no options I swam for the yak, and, fortunately, retrieved it, but not before I came as close to drowning as I ever want to.

On another no-fish day there was so much bait dimpling the ocean's flat surface that I stopped casting and held out both hands, palms up, to make certain it wasn't raining. The bait flashed silver around the retrieved fly line and was so thick I inadvertently snagged a number of silversides on a fly easily the same size, yet there were no bass and I never even saw a splash, no less caught a fish.

Perhaps my most memorable day was August 26, when I launched the kayak after work and fished the estuaries in front of my house. The sun soon kissed the horizon, and the water turned to lavender, the prelude to turning black with the night. I took a few fish before it got too dark, and on the paddle home I cast into a cove that usually holds fish. A large bass takes the flat winged fly with authority, and the blur through the guides turns from the yellow of the floating line to the orange of the backing as I palm the reel to check the initial run. When the fish slows I go to the reel but something's amiss; the wooden handle wobbles as I crank and then comes off in my hand, and I, who pontificates about equipment maintenance, find myself fighting a large fish with a handle-less reel. I strip line into the cockpit of the yak, and the bass takes line out, and this goes on so long that it now is quite dark and I can only hope the line doesn't tangle. I finally bring him to hand, a fat 29-inch fish, that when I shine the headlamp on him, displays a fluorescent blue, a color I've never seen on a striped bass before, in some of the small thunderbolt patterns that make up his stripes. I release the fish and do my best to repair the reel in the dark using only a pair of nail clippers and manage to re-attach the handle.

As I paddle in the blackness a coyote howls out on the marsh, a lonely, mournful dirge that immediately sets every domestic canine within a one-mile radius barking as they easily recognize it as not one of their own. Alone on the dark water, it seems an apt metaphor. ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.

Previous Dave Micus Columns

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