I caught a striped bass last Sunday, October 25.
There are those who keep track of every bass that they catch and those who only keep an imaginary accounting of their piscatorial successes, thereby allowing them to overestimate how many they caught, not to mention how big they were.
And then there are those who have no idea of what they caught from spring to fall, and their “success” lies in the quality of their time on the water.
No matter which you contingent you fall into, I can only imagine an appropriate response to my opening pronouncement: “Who cares?”
But you see, this was the first time that I picked up a rod in 2020 with the hope of catching a fish. In my guiding business, I am often called upon to teach folks how to cast; on those occasions, nothing is worse than hooking a fish, which always leads to my thrusting the rod to someone else on the boat so that they can do the real work of playing and bringing the fish to hand.
For some reason, as I was returning home from the Canal to watch the Patriots game—now there was truly a waste of time—and approached the town docks on the Pocasset River, I decided to try a few casts.
I didn’t have a fly rod or even one of the ultralight spin outfits that I typically carry when pursuing schoolies on my boat, not to mention a small soft-plastic rigged unweighted on an offset worm hook.
Instead, I had to use a medium-light rig that I favor when angling for funny fish, and it still held a small Hogy Epoxy Jig. Now Captain Mike Hogan’s creations are top-notch fish catchers, but I knew its weight, no matter how small, would not allow me to use perhaps my favorite fishing method: the non-retrieve.
Steve Culton, who has an interesting blog that addresses fly fishing techniques, covered this same subject in his most recent post. He wasn’t being overtly critical of people who use some one- or two-handed strip technique when using the long wand, but I smiled and subconsciously nodded my head when he talked about how you really can’t be in touch with the flow and energy of water if you are always racing to defeat it.
Over the years, I have taken to swinging flies—and even topwater plugs and soft plastics—and in many cases I have had more fun than I deserve sharing the non-retrieve with fellow anglers.
On Wednesday, October 28, I was hoping to get out to Monomoy with Bob Lewis and Charlie Richmond, perhaps for the last time this season. Bob had visited the rips last Saturday, October 24, and along with Ken Cirillo and Bruce Cunningham had a great time with bass up to the mid-30-inch class just jumping all over an assortment of shell squids, plugs and plastics, along with Capt. Ron Murphy’s Parachute Squid Flies.
Given that I turned this final column of the season in before I ventured east with Bob and Charlie, I can’t tell you how we did, but rips like those that start at Monomoy Point and extend to all quadrants of the compass from there provide great opportunities to use the non-retrieve.
Even more importantly, at least for me, was Bob’s description of all of the life they found last weekend, including an assortment of gulls and shearwaters.
Obviously, finding birds over a school of fish pushing bait to the surface is nothing new, but the clarity of air makes these sights that much more intense and personal. Over the last couple of weeks, I have made the rounds of spots in Bourne where I have in the past spied these kinds of spectacles and listened to the cries of excited birds and thrilled at the swirls of hungry fish, appreciating how sharing these moments makes me come alive.
According to Amy Wrightson from the Sports Port in Hyannis, there are still opportunities around Cotuit to play with schoolies, for the most part. Typically, Amy will hand off her rod to one of her children if she hooks up, but she had recently started using her fly rod again and on their last trip she hooked the only fish and decided that Mom would have the pleasure of catching and releasing a 16-inch striper.
The word from Chuck Eastman, who now is the wise elder of the family that established Eastman’s Sport & Tackle on Main Street in Falmouth, said as of last weekend there were still albies around. Fishing with his son, Evan, they found a small grouping of boats off Nobska dealing with fast-moving, picky false albacore. Chuck described their appearances as “little blips, and then they were gone.”
The duo also happened upon fleeting albie sightings along the Elizabeths, and when it became apparent their efforts would not be rewarded, they scared up some schoolies along the rocks. In years past, cooling water combined with large concentrations of bait made the waters inside and surrounding Woods Hole the place to be if you needed a few more stripers, no matter their size.
Although it is definitely not for everyone, given the amount of time and effort that is required to catch one fish, there is a select group of anglers who haunt our local archipelago with big wooden plugs, some made with their own hands. They keep their successes quiet, and odds are you won’t see them, or if you do, you won’t know for sure what they are doing, but theirs is the purest of pure fall fishing.
The schools of adult pogies that seemed to be everywhere a week or so ago have thinned, but the water is warm enough and its color indicates there is still enough phytoplankton around to keep them happy, which is why Andy Little at The Powderhorn in Hyannis is not willing to toss aside the possibility that a dedicated shorebound angler will catch that one last bass that carries some heft and plenty of memories. The mouths of southside bays, salt ponds and harbors are logical places to look, but keep in mind the beaches where the outgoing current flows, along with jetties and other rocky structures.
The same holds true for the waters between Quissett and the west entrance to the Canal, although the farther up you travel into Buzzards Bay, you will find far more anglers who have turned their attention to tautog.
Bruce Miller from Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore said that the waters from the Sagamore Bridge out to the east end of the Big Ditch are producing tautog in the five-to-six-pound range. I was expecting to see more folks fishing the shores around the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, but as the water cools inshore, things should pick up thereabouts, as well as up off Besse’s Park in Wareham and stretches of shoreline around Taylor’s Point and Hog Island.
All of that said, the stark reality is that boat anglers have a litany of spots that far exceeds any hotspots that a shore angler might have stored up in his memory or log book. Jeff Hopwood at Maco’s in Buzzards Bay is always quick to point out that while running a distance out into Buzzards Bay in search of tautog is always tempting, some of the best fishing can be had around the old Canal markers, Southwest Ledge and the structure surrounding Wing’s and Scraggy Necks.
For the moment, the Big Ditch is holding mainly schoolies throughout its length, Derek MacNayr from Red Top Sporting Goods in Buzzards Bay said. The bluefish also have moved on, apparently, with far fewer folks cursing out choppers for making a mess of their soft-plastic jigs.
Starting today and continuing through midweek next, there is one last hope that the land cut will see some big fish move into and through. How long they will stick around and whether they provide any surface activity will be a matter of how much and what kind of bait is around, with Bruce Miller hoping that some mackerel show around the east end. In years past, Atlantic sauries, a cousin to the more well-known ballyhoo, have also provided something else for the bass to feed on, but Bruce pointed out that the water is warmer than usual, most likely causing a delay in their appearance, if they show inshore at all this year.
Barnstable Harbor and the numerous shallows or flats that characterize sections of the shoreline between Sandy Neck and Orleans are filled with schoolies at the moment, with one angler telling Amy Wrightson that he caught more than 50 schoolies during a recent trip.
That four letter word “snow” was mentioned in some forecasts this week, but that applies to high ground to the north and west of the Cape, and I can assure you that freshwater anglers are only too happy to enjoy trout fishing as it is right now, as opposed to channeling their best Eskimo imitation when—or if—our local ponds have thick enough ice to be safe.
The state apparently has completed their fall stocking, and the fishing is really good, with close to 70,000 trout stocked statewide, mainly rainbows with a smattering of small browns. PowerBait is tough to beat when it comes to trout fishing, and Amy W. confirmed bright colors like yellow and chartreuse are very popular.
Devin MacNayr concluded his sweetwater report with good news concerning largemouth bass, which are feeding heavily in preparation for slimmer pickings as colder weather settles in. He recommended using lures that produce plenty of vibrations and flash, including spinnerbaits, chatter baits and the like, with Billy Bucketmouth always finding a shiner tough to pass up.
No matter whether you have put your equipment up for the season or continue your search for that one last fish, the remainder of 2020—and a good part of 2021, if you believe the experts—just might be a good time to try the non-retrieve and going with the flow in your life as opposed to struggling to drag yourself against the current, no matter which way it flows.
But no matter what course you take, until the next time, good luck and stay well.