Year in Review: 5000 words about 20-7-TEEN

Time for the year in review.  I fished 129 trips according to my logs, 113 night trips, with 142 times at different spots (having spent time at multiple spots on the same night).  I hope my math works out with what I wrote below, but I just carefully counted now and these numbers are the most accurate.  I can’t exactly tabulate the hours, but I would guess that’s well over 600 hours, not counting driving.  I put 18,000 miles on my car.  I caught 470 stripers (round number, weird), 9 blue fish, and 1 porgy.  Sounds like a lot, but I would put 2017 firmly in the “failure” season category.  Click read more below to see the full post…

This will be a very long, rambling post.  I've been avoiding it for several reasons.  First, it is frustrating.  I have high standards and make certain assumptions about my surf fishing at this point in my career, and this season shattered both of those things.  Secondly, it's sad.  The fishery is in trouble and I feel more than a little helpless about it.  If you have not reviewed Rich Troxler's youtube video on the conservation of striped bass, I now consider it required watch.  It's long and dry, I know.  But it's SO important.

Finally, 2017 was an intensely difficult year for me, and I want to move on.  I cannot and will not share all the details of my personal life on this blog, but I will throw a few things out right at the bat, before I move on to lighter things.  I have never been so stressed, anxious, insulted, demeaned, and treated with such a lack of respect in my entire life as what occurred in 2017, over a span of almost six months.  For six months, I lived in Hell.  And in the end, after all of that, I lost my job.  But, I lost more than my job and my home in September, I lost a chunk of myself I won't get back.  But I don’t want it back.  Good riddance to that part of me and my life.  Fishing helped me survive, and I mean that in the literal sense, and I don't know what I would have done without it.  So I wish to just forget 2017 happened.  But to do that, would also lend me a large disservice.  Because we must learn from the past; and we must continue to move forward.  I. Am. Moving. Forward.

Alright, enough with the hard stuff, let's talk fishing.  Not that it will be exactly uplifting.  Let's break it down month by month.

April-  This is not the first month I had fished for Stripers in April, but it's only the second I had done it in the surf (I searched for them via kayak a few times over multiple seasons).  However, it was my first successful attempt.  I will admit, I'm usually still in running mode in April and the last couple of years I have run 30+ mile trail races during that month- it doesn't give you much time to fish.  Anyways, this year, I finished my first official 50k trail race (in 3rd place I might add!) and was fishing 5 days later!  My first trip out I landed two fish, one was a solid 25" schoolie and I felt the season was going to be for the record books- I found these fish in a new spot I had never casted at, and only spent 5 minutes scouting in March.  I had another fish the next night.  And then it was May.

May- My favorite month.  It’s a combination of big fish potential, lack of fisherman and vacationers out and about, easier access, and the fact that I’ve been waiting all winter for the chance to fish again.  I savagely attack May.  I lose my mind every season.  This year, May was more like October.  We had all kinds of NE wind and cold, driving rain.  The water got really warm in April, and then just completely stalled out the entire month.  Still, I had my largest fish in the middle of May.  She was about 28lbs.  She might have been 26, I have a hard time estimating while standing on a rock in rollers.  That was the success story.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First trip I had some schoolies and was happy to find they were much bigger than the dinks people were beating up in RI.  Then, I moved to another spot which I generally consider to be a much high potential for intercepting something larger than a schoolie, but it’s further along the migration route- so it was a gamble. I had nothing that night- except I snagged a bunker.  A big adult bunker.  On May 4.  Not sure what that means, but boy was I shocked.  The next night it was onto my big fish spot I have beat to death the last three or so seasons.  There I found more adult bunker- tons!  And my first keeper of the season on May 6.  I lost quite a few fish that night, and had one on a choopy darter that felt MUCH different than any other hit I’d had.  Heavy weight.  This trend will continue throughout the year- I lost more quality fish this year than I have lost my entire career combined, easily.  I have meditated on this a lot, and I think the answer is drag too tight with heavy gear capable of ripping hooks from small, medium, and large (not trophy) fish.  I got a new VS250 finally replacing my VS200 and a beast of an ODM rod.  I started fishing 80lb leader more.  I started fishing locked drag more.  I think this was the problem, and I’ll extrapolate on this more when I get to October.   Anyways, I had a few really small fish at my new spot over a few nights, before going back to my big fish spot.  I honestly barely remember this night, but I had a few keepers and a fish that went 14lbs.  Then we had more wind and I couldn’t fish there again the next night with big waves keeping me from being productive.  So I sucked it up and drove somewhere else and hiked my ass in to find more giant waves.  I walked even further and tucked myself into the lee of the wind, and there I lost my first really big fish of the season.  Was it 40lbs?  No.   Was it over 25lbs?  I can almost guarantee it.  I then lost a teen bass at my feet, I saw her clear as day, and that would have been my largest of the season to that point.  I was getting frustrated by losing fish. The next night, however, was almost 95 degrees, and that was the night I caught the big girl, and another half dozen or so fish.  Then conditions changed again and I decided to seek shelter and bucktailed a rip out of the wind- and that night was my most successful numbers wise with more than a couple fish over 10lbs and several schoolies and several lost fish.  May was really hard to this point, but then it just got a lot harder.  I spent the next 4-5 trips fishing the big spot to exculsion of everything else, and finding NOTHING.  Not just small fish, I’m talking NOTHING.  I couldn’t understand it and you should see the notes in my log.  They are sad and comical- I was losing my mind.  I sprinkled in a few other locations but half-heartedly knowing my best bet was consistency at this one spot.  It lead to nothing.  So in the month of May I fished 20 nights and had only 20 fish.  My worst May ever I think, or at least for a while since I started blogging 3 seasons ago certainly.  A note.  The stuff in my personal life really started to hit me hard towards the end of this month.  It built through June.  How I managed to fish 2 out of every 3 nights in the month I’m not sure.  I didn’t sleep much.

June- Prime time.  I will admit two things right off the bat.  First, I was so frustrated I reached out to someone more experienced and successful than I am for help.  They were helpful, but gave no instruction- I was more looking for confirmation that 1) it was as bad as I thought and 2) I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  Secondly, I bought eels for the first time in 3 seasons.  I swore them off in 2014, but broke down.  I was desperate for reasons that are silly and seem small and petty now thinking back.  I started to get worried about the blog and my articles and my hope to get good photography.  Anyways, I will never fish them again.  I don’t care how bad my success is.  I do not need to kill something to catch something for fun.  If I’m starving and my only way to live is to catch a striper, I will.  But that is it.  This is my public proclamation.  Did they help me?  Yeah, I caught an 14lber I don’t think I would have caught otherwise.  I’m almost positive actually.  But ONE teen bass?  I’ll pass, thanks.  Anyways, enough lecturing.  The month started with a particularly crazy trip at the first new spot.  I saw…something…stick it’s head out of the water while on a rock 50 yards from shore in 4ft of water.  Now, thinking about it, given that I saw a large dog fish/small shark a few nights later I wonder if it wasn’t a small shark.  Anyways, it freaked me out, and that same night kids tried to steal my bike I had laid on the sand.  I have to park super far away from this spot and bike in.  I yelled at them, and they ran.  It was annoying. I’m looking at my logs and I feel a little sick reading them.  From June 1 to June 11 I caught virtually 0 fish.  Granted, I had focused in on trying to only catch something over 20lbs, but still.  It wasn’t until that 14lber on the eel in the middle of the month that I saw anything significant.  Wait did I just call a 14lb significant?  Ugh!  I basically jumped back and forth between my new bike-in spot and my big fish spot for the first ½ of the month.  Then, towards the end of the month I added another new spot.  A spot that is insanely hard to access, and I had to basically acquire super special permission.  But it looked awesome, and once I had access I could set up a tent and stay basically on the beach.  I won’t have access to that anymore, I’ll leave it at that.  But I started working that spot into the rotation as well.  I found willing schoolies and a few keepers on redfins.  Then, more nothing at the big fish spot.  3, 4, 5 days in a row I’d go and get skunked.  I paid a visit to a familiar spot that was insane in 2015.  Barren.  So I decided to focus in on the exclusive spot.  I had a couple good nights at the end of the month, one that was memorable because I snuck around someone else fishing and spent 4 hours hiding from them while catching bass up to 14lbs.  This new spot looked great, and while I wouldn’t say I did well there, I will say I had consistency.  I had fish every night, even if they weren’t huge.  So I started really filling in my last few weeks and into July at this spot.  I’ll add more to that in a second, but before I do: I had 21 more nights fishing in June.  I again, had only 23 fish.  That’s unbelievable.  Yes, in 2016 I only had 10 fish in June as well, but I had something like 50 or 60 in May and had a dozen fish close to or over 20lbs.  I don’t think I did anything wrong this year (last year I did).  I think there just weren’t any fish.  Look at the canal.  It was dead until July….

July-  I was out of time.  I had used up literally all my vacation time.  I had nothing.  I started to use sick time, but thought better of it.  This was the month of the insane canal blitzes.  It was tempting, I will say.  But I didn’t go.  I think I’ll give the canal a go next season- mid week, late at night.  I think I almost have to at this point to keep my sanity, and to get some photos I really want.  Anyways, I did spend the very beginning of the month pleasantly beating up on schoolies with my fly rod- I had 15 1 night in a TERRIBLE no-see-um invested area.  Back at the big fish spot, on July 1 I finally had a fish take some drag and landed the 18lber on a darter.  I bounced between the big fish spot, the new spot, and the super secret spot through July 15.  But because I had not time and had used up so many favors with Carly, my coworkers, my friends, and my body, I couldn’t keep up the pace.  I only fished 8 nights in July in the surf, and all between July 1st  and July 8th, except 1 night on July 15th.   HUGE stroke of HORRIFIC luck.  Those big fish in the canal hit the rips around this time, and I couldn’t even try and intercept them.  So I both had no luck early on in the season with the stocks, and then had a terrible stroke of bad luck in terms of real life responsibilities.  I didn’t fish the surf from July 15 to August 10.  This is where things really unraveled for me in my personal life and I was barely scraping by.  So add all this in and it’s miracle I fished at all in July.  Oh.  One interesting point.  I was returning to my tent on night very late and heard very vividly a couple having, what sounded like, a very passionate bout of sex.  It was so loud and so close I was worried at first they were in my tent!  I don’t know where they were, but it was close.  I think maybe I could make out a small tent close by, but it was very dark and I was weary with sleep.  It was a little shocking to see anyone, let alone a couple enjoying each other’s bodies so loudly, but it was comical.  I tried to make noise, a lot of it, and it didn’t slow them down even a little.  Good for them I guess!  July I fished 8 nights, had 22 fish.  Again, pitiful.  I was getting messages from guys fishing the canal that had afternoons of twenty fish over 25lbs.  A dozen fish over 30lbs in a week.  It was hard on me, even though they were live lining Mackerel which is about as easy fishing as can possible be had.  No thanks.  The highlight of July though, was my personal best small mouth bass that was over 5.5lbs- on my fly rod.  And I had several large mouth that same weekend over 5lbs on flies I had made myself.  It was a saving grace.

August- More bad luck.  I started the month of fishing on August 10.  I had some schoolies, then went to the north shore.  My old hunting grounds.  I didn’t think I had much of a chance, given the conditions, and was out to clear my head and get some exercise.  Of course, another strike of bad luck.  I had my fly rod, and bumped into a guy fishing eels.  He, and guys nearby, banged fish north of 25lbs, which I managed just a few 20-23” schoolies on my fly rod.  At this point in the year I was almost losing my mind and I don’t remember a lot, as I was locked away in my mind a good portion of the month, so it really didn’t bother me so much, and I got a couple good pictures.  I went to the north shore spot a couple more times that month, fired up by what I saw- and the information I had gleaned about some massive fish that had been caught there during the season.  But I had almost no success.  This months bad fishing wasn’t necessarily due to the stocks, it was more due to my lack of focus and effort.  I wonder what I would have achieved had I been able to continue my efforts from May and June. I fished only 5 nights in August.  I had 13 fish.  Wow.  Writing that it really hits me how bad my spring and summer were.  I had 78 fish in 4 months, constituting 53 trips.  By far my worst spring and summer seasons.  I thought 2016 was bad.  It was nothing compared to 2017.

September-  But then there was fall.  I guess I’ll let this out into the internet.  I went to Cuttyhunk in the beginning of the month, and I crushed fish.  In the first few nights I exceeded all metrics from the entire season up to this point, except for the 28lber in May.  I had more numbers and larger fish. I had a night of 40 fish, it was hit every cast of fish 8-17lbs.  I had a night of 19 fish with 16 of them being over 12lbs…but not a single fish over 18lbs.  It was a teen bass unslaught.  In fact, if you look over this recount again, you’ll notice that I’ve had more teen bass this year than every before.  Less big fish, less schoolies, but more teen fish.  I don’t know what that means, but I don’t think it’s good.  It suggests to me that we’re removing the commercial fish the moment they get big enough, and that we’re not seeing the 2011 class.  Anyways, I had a great trip.  Cuttyhunk is the hardest place I fish, and it takes extreme physical and mental conditioning to do well.  You can believe me or not, but I would not take it lightly.  Montauk is a total step easier compared to Cutty.  The logistics alone are challenging, and then if there’s even a little surf or wind it can be REALLY bad.  I can almost guarantee you would not have caught those 40 fish I caught that night.  Why?  Because I was 5 hours into the night, and had walked more than 6 miles, and there was a 30mph wind I was fighting.  And it was night 4 of 5.  I had spent at least 12 hours every day/night fishing.  The day and night before I had spent 15 hours.  I was sore, hungry, tire beyond tired when I found those fish.  Unless you’re crazy like me, you likely would have been in bed.   But I persisted and “won”- and went back to my room with shaky arms and hands that looked like I had been trying to use a cheese grater to exfoliate.  While at cutty I also had remarkable day time blitzes and had a couple dozen fish on my fly rod to 13lbs, which is my best on a fly. I also had a big blue of 16lbs, and lost one of similar size on my fly rod.  I came back from the trip jobless (I lost my job right before) and bounced between the big fish spot and the new spot.  I found bait like you can’t imagine- or maybe you can, but it would be the most you’ve ever seen.  I could just scoop my hands down and take out dozens of small bait fish in my hands.  Despite this, I struggled to catch again.  The big fish spot was a bust still.  The new spot held only dinks.  Until one night in crazy N winds, I had the best single night of the season that wasn’t at Cutty.  In 60mph winds I had a 22lb, and a 17lb, and a few other fish over 10lbs, and lost something even larger when it pulled me in and I fell into huge waves on my face.  I get it now. That night was enlightening, and something dawned on me I’ve missed time after time after time.  I won’t share, but I discovered something precious.  Can’t wait until next season to use it.  I checked out a few other spots (5) I hadn’t been all year and didn’t find anything.  So I kept going back to the new spot and big fish spot.  Tried to focus.  And I decided I needed to go back to Cutty, if I could.  In September, I fished 18 nights- falling short of my goal of 20.   However, that also includes 5 day time trips, which really brings me up to 23.  Regardless, I finally had some good nights- even if I still had yet to find a trophy bass over 30lbs.  I had 109 fish this month, with a lot of keepers and bass between 12-18lbs.  I can’t find it in my logs which makes me nervous I missed it, but I also had my personal best blue fish this month by weight.  It was over 18lbs.  I had a one in 2016 that was slightly longer, but I think this was my best by weight.  Fishing so infrequently in the day light, I don’t catch many blues, so I like them.  They fight different, and the monsters like this one fight stronger than a bass of the same weight.  Awesome fish.  So, anyways, this month is what I would consider typical for the last few seasons- not good, but could be worse.  I do think the average weight might have actually been on the slightly high side of “normal” because I caught so few schoolies and so many teeners, but again- I had 0 truly quality fish.  And, given how bad the rest of the season had been, I was feeling SO MUCH BETTER to have had some success.  My fire was back, despite having to sell our house and deal with being unemployed….

October- Then there was October.  In MA I fear October.  Because it should be good, but in the past few years it hasn’t always been.  November is a whatever month- it might be good for a few weeks, but if so it’s a bonus, I don’t expect it to be good.  But I get all crazy if October sucks these days.  Last year I had my two biggest fish on the same night in October- a fish over 35lbs and a 40lber.  But the month in general was a huge bust.  But this October went well.  I returned to Cutty for a llooonnggg trip.  It was really hard at the beginning and I didn’t catch many fish.  The first night I had 1 teen fish, but then for several days and nights I didn’t have more than a few schoolies.  I even got skunked once.  I worked super hard too- 6-9 hour sessions, and I fished the entire shoreline, sometimes fishing 75% of the island on a single night.  But the weather and water conditions were bad.  Mid trip, I had a night of 10 schoolies, which was not good, but it was better.  Then, my buddy showed up for the final 3 nights.  He had never been.  I had a feeling his first night on the island was going to be the best of the trip.  I was wrong, but not by much.  We had crazy fish that night.  Not big fish- 7-10lbs mostly- but they were finicky and aggressive at the same time.  You needed to work your plug hard, fast, and spastic.  Then they would CRUSH it.  But if you tried to just go slow and easy, they wouldn’t even touch it.  I had 21 fish that night in a few hours, but would have had a lot more if I hadn’t had to help out my buddy (he doesn’t have as much experience wet suiting and it was an overwhelming situation).  I only had 1 fish at 12lbs and every single one was less, but they were all 25-26” or better.  No small schoolies.  He had the largest fish though, probably closer to 15lbs, and he had 16 fish if I remember. So it was fun.  And the rollers were big and we kept getting washed around.  So overall it was fun and successful.  That night we fished for 12 hours straight and were hallucinating by the end- and 90% of the fish came in the first 2 hours.  It was light as we slunk back to the room.  The next night wasn’t as good but I still had a teen fish and a half dozen other schoolies.  But the next day was a great day, and my buddy had twenty fish on top water, one was pushing 112-13lbs, and lost a nice 20lber which I watched swim right in front of me before it bent his hook and he lost it.  That fish looked huge compared to what we’d been catching.  There’s a valuable lesson in there that goes beyond the need for strong hooks that I’d like to publish so I’ll be a little vague.  Since I didn’t get there until late into the bite (I had been sleeping) I only had about 6 fish but lost at least that many too. We returned there that night, our last on the island, and I had a ton of fish hour after hour, more than an entire tide, and lost the largest fish of my life.  So many stories about that night.  But I will save them.  Upon returning, I figured my season would probably be done, given how bad the season had been.  I was wrong!  My first trip back I had a fun trip that I botched but still managed a few fish and one teener.  There were hue blitzes of dinks around this spot I was at every night from mid September until the end of October.  But one night I had the most insane blitz I’ve seen in a few years.  These fish were all teen bass or better.  You’d think that with 200 yards of blitzing fish in front of me I’d have been able to catch a few.  Nope.  It was the most frustrating night of the season.  I could see the fish clear as day directly under me.  They looked like giants, but again I’m guessing 20lbs at most.  There were juvi herring or mullet or something in huge schools, not peanuts, and they were just following them up and down the shore.  It was wild, awe inspring night.  I had a dozen fish but only one from that school and I think it was 13lbs if I remember right (I didn’t record the weight in my log).  Made only worse because I was so tired I was hallucinating by the end of that trip.  I had to sleep in the front seat of the car for an hour before I drove home, and only made it safely because of the espresso I got from a 24hr Dunkin Donuts.  I then had a night on the outer beaches of Cape Cod that was very special.  I was all alone, and had 49 fish that night.  Nothing over keeper size, but it such an amazing place to fish, and the fish were aggressive even if they were babies, and the surf was up, maybe swells to 5ft.  It was incredible.  One of these days I’ll be there when there’s 20lbers like back in the golden years.  Or I hope.  I’ve been told a few seasons ago a sharpie had a night of fishing you wouldn’t believe even if I told you.  So it is still possible.  I gave up on the big spot finally at the end of this month.  I spent a ton of time at the new spot.  I had 197 fish in the month of October.  Not abnormal, but given how terrible the season had been, I felt amazing about it.  Hind sight is 20/20, but if I knew now what I knew then, I bet I could have had at least a couple 20lbers, something approaching my personal best, and another 200 fish.  So, I can’t call it a bad month.  I did 23 nights in October, and 6 days.  That’s the most of any month I think I’ve ever fished, or it’s close anyways.  Not having a job helped this.

November- Ah, November.  The loneliest month for me in MA.  No one is out.  Everyone has given up or switched to hunting or is down in the So. Co. of RI trying to catch their last schoolies.  I knew I where I needed to go, and for once it worked out.  I spent the very last of October here (so I’m lumping it in with November) where I found a steady, reliable, population of sand eels.  They held bass through several hard winds and very cold nights.  I had fish from 12” to almost 15lbs.  I also got to fish a huge peanut bunker blitz at sunrise one day, a rare treat for me as a nocturnal fisherman- another upside of being unemployed I guess.  No big fish but it was a hit every cast if you didn’t mind schoolies.  But before I get ahead of myself, at the very beginning of November, before I was forced to take a break for 7 days and then 4 more after that, I had a great night.  I fished 13 hours that night, and stayed up all night.  I had 30 fish that night, starting with a good darter bite of keeper sized to teen bass.  Then, as it started to get later I picked away at schoolies, for hours.  As it got towards dawn I switch to whatever I wanted and had fish every cast through sun up.  But the lighter it got the smaller they got, and I got sick of catching fish <25” on treble hooks, so I switched to my fly rod and had a ball catching another 7 fish on the 8wt, and lost at least that many.  They were swarming in 6” of water and you had to strip the fly as fast as possible to get them to hit.  Watching them creating a wake behind the fly was SUPER exciting- even if the biggest one I caught was 25”.  It was just, easy, fun fishing. I forgot to mention I also went to the canal and checked it out in earnest for the first time.  I may fish there next year.  I had some fish, and it was more fun than I expected where I was fishing, and I’ll leave it at that.  I just hate not being in the water though, so fishing the canal is hard.  And 2 people 100 yards away is a crowd for me, so I also just don’t know how it’ll go.  Anyways, the fishing just slowly degraded as the month pushed on.  I had keepers into the middle of the month, but for the most part had very small fish- most of the fish were 20”ers.  I did well on my fly rod though.  Then at the very end of the month, the sand eels disappeared.  And with them, every fish over 15”.  So I also moved on.  I went to the dreaded So. Co. of RI. at the very end of the month.  I say dreaded, because when I head there it almost never works out.  It means I’m desperate and the season is basically over.  I had a few small fish on the very last weekend of November.  But I was ready for it to be over.  I had started running again and training for my ultramarathon in the spring, and it was hard to focus on both.  One more trip on December 1st, which I got skunked on, was my last night out.  I had 63 fish in November, and fished 10 times (I’m including the 1 trip on December 1).  This, I cannot complain about.  Was it good?  Not really.  But after the disaster of a season that 2017 was, 60+ fish in November, in only 10 trips and with more than a few keepers, seemed like a gift!  Last year November was terrible, but 2015 it wasn’t so bad.  I will take every “bonus” fish in November I can!

OK, so I’m over 5000 words in this re-cap, and I want to get it posted up so I’ll stop there.  Next will come my plug review for the season, and I’m going to do that via video.  If you made it this far, I hope you enjoyed the re-cap and it wasn’t too depressing.  Here’s looking cautiously to next season…will it break the trend of worse season after worse season?  I had 1 fish over 25lbs, and I think only 2 more over 20lbs the entire season.  I had a ton of fish, probably close to 100, in the 11-18lb range.  I also had a ton of fish under 24”, probably 200.  I don’t feel like calculating that out.  I don’t know what next year will bring, but I would trade all 200 of those small fish, and 75 of the teeners for 1 fish over 35lbs.  I will keep this in mind next year even more strongly.  I think we may see a dramatic cut in my numbers again, as I focus even more on that ONE fish for the whole season.  One.

Stay tuned.