This will be a multi-part series based on my real experiences. While this could be an article, this will be exclusive to the blog. I will be writing it for my "non-fishing friends" as well as those that regularly follow the blog.
A 50lb striped bass is the ultimate goal for me. But, unlike many anglers, I am not willing to "do whatever it takes" to catch it. I don't fish bait, because I don't like the idea of killing something just for fun. Also, I don't fish breachways or inlets because I don't really like it. And fishing is just for fun. So for the past five (OK OK I did fish eels a few times last year out of desperation which I regret) seasons I've been a plug-only fisherman using lures to try and catch my quarry.
It's hard. Harder then using bait, that is undeniable. And as I detail my experiences in this blog, I think you will see that.
But that's OK. I like hard.
So I continue to hunt my 50lb fish with plastic and wood imitations of living creatures.
Wait. Before I get ahead of myself.
At the beginning of the season I set myself a few goals. 1) Don't get hung up on catching fish of any size or number and just do what you want. Last year was a sufferfest and I wanted to be happy with whatever I found- just do what I do, work hard and be happy. 2) Hunt big fish and don't worry about schoolies (small fish). Last year I eventually got drawn into "just catching" and succumbed to schoolie bites. Since I had caught 1000 stripers in 3 seasons, I finally felt I no longer just wanted to bend a rod. And with the fishery not looking so hot, I feel the pressure of "going 50" sooner vs. later 3) I want to catch a 20lb fish on the fly rod. This is a lofty goal, and has been on my list for 3 seasons now. I have more confidence then ever it'll happen in September this year. More on that in future posts.
And finally, one very specific goal. 4) Catch a 30lber at a specific spot I will not name here (let's just say it's on the cape).
This past week was the first in a 6 week stretch I'll be attempting to accomplish my goal. I have never cracked 25lbs at this spot, and have only cracked 20lbs a few times, and even teen fish have been relatively scarce for me. I hadn't fished this spot for roughly 3 seasons, but I used to a lot, and one season in particular I spent a ton of time there- mostly catching schoolies and teen fish. I know if you fish eels, you can crush fish here. I also know it is possible to land monsters on plugs but it is difficult (but has been done). It's a ton of work and a long drive so I thought this was the year to try it, since I'm still on my "break".
I knew it'd be better if I had company for this task, and decided to reach out to someone I had met last year but hadn't fished with more than that one night. He seemed to not be a schmuck, and capable of taking care of himself, so I did something that I NEVER do (and is hard for me) and reached out to him to see if he'd want to fish. He was enthusiastic, and we came up with a plan. Skipping ahead a lot, it has been great to have someone else enthusiastic to help get me there on time and multiple nights in a row. I really really enjoy fishing alone, but as I've said before, there is something to be said for having "back up". This will become even more important later as I'll detail.
So, with a plan and a partner, I set out on my goal.
We started at the end of July fishing the spot four nights in a row. I had decided to focus on just one spot-within-the spot and it was lucky that my new friend had the same feeling.
We wear wet suits because it's a long walk and you have to wade into water that is pretty deep. So after a long walk in our "seal suits" carrying too many plugs, water, and my camera, we arrived at the spot sweaty and I think a little anxious about whether or not the fish would be there. They should, but it's been really tough in a lot of other spots for me, and my friend knows this and believes what he reads about it being so awful up and down the coast. And we had invested a lot to get here, both time, money and energy. Still, the time was now and we were both excited.
That first night my friend and I were actually joined by a couple other anglers, which was exceptional and since then it's been just us.
Wow, did it look promising immediately! I had a couple baby sized fish (20") right off on redfins. But since I was hunting large, I decided I needed to try and stick with lures that were proven to me to catch "cows" alone. Not that redfins aren't great, I love them, it's just sometimes they don't attract the real big fish. I wanted something that got me as close to guarantee as I could. I switched to a darter, and stuck with it. For those that don't know, darters are lures that just gently swim back and forth in current, they don't wiggle. They are big fish magnets because they are so natural in action and big fish love them. They're not really hard to work, but they are seen as a more advanced lure. I ADORE them. I've even custom painted a few. I mostly use Super Strike and Northbar. At this spot in particular I really like Northbars because they can be swum REALLY slowly in the current, where to get the Super Strikes to work correctly I have to fish them faster and I don't really like that.
I made the switch, and within a few minutes I got wacked by what felt like was a decent fish. My friend, who was fishing live eels, had a hard bump not long after and set the hook hard into a fish that took a strong run with the current. After a couple minutes, he had a mid-20 pound fish pulled up to him (roughly 36-38" long). He released the fish without us ever taking it fully out of the water.
We were pumped! Things were looking good.
Not long after that I had another good hit on a darter and set the hook hard into a fish that took a short run. I landed the fish quickly on my heavy rod (ODM Genesis 2-6oz) and we got a quick weight on the fish which tipped the scale at a modest 17lbs. I released it and went back to casting.
All was quiet for a long time after that. All four of us (the other anglers were now with us) had hits but everything felt small.
But then, an hour later, I was fishing my custom painted darter and decided I wasn't getting a good angle at the hole we were fishing. So I went down a way from the other guys and casting a little more parallel with the shore.
Cast out, get tight to the lure, and then reel REALLY slow. The plug swung from about 1 o'clock position to 2 o'clock and BANG. It was slammed by a really, really nice fish.
There was no chance to set the hook. The fish took off. And then it stopped, and shook it's head the drag slipped on every swing of it's head- that's when you know the fish was big. I'm absolutely convinced, that on my first night fishing for my goal, this was the fish I had been looking for.
And then it was gone.
After the head shakes it took off on another run and BINGO, gone. I swore extremely loudly and felt my heart jump as I knew that was "the one". I'm sure it wasn't a 50, but I'm also pretty much convinced it was over 30. I don't know what happened, but I have an idea now (skipping way ahead). At first I thought my drag was just loose. That wasn't the case at all- what happened was the fish hit the plug on the run and I set the hook into it's run. This in combination with the fact that I'm finding these fish are very fussy and taking the plug from behind and just slapping at it, means I probably hooked that fish on the side of the face and never got a good solid set.
Regardless, it was big.
Since it was the first night, I didn't get too upset. We were into fish!
And maybe ten minutes after that, my friend nailed a mid 30lb bass! For those that don't fish, that's a fish in the low-mid 40" range. He was excited, and we got a couple fantastic pictures I will be saving for publication (sorry).
After that, it was nothing for any of us. We fished for another hour or so and called it.
The next night wasn't as good, but my buddy did have a 25lber on his eel. I only had 1 hit on a big pikie, a giant lure made of wood that has a metal lip on it making it wobble on the surface like an injured fish. That's it though, only 1 hit! I don't think it was too big a fish but he seemed to be convinced it was. He also lost a fish that sounded like it was a MONSTER, which broke his line. We are still scratching our heads about that one. Could it have been the dreaded Man in the Grey Suit? I don't think, or want to think, so.
The next night was a repeat for him, and me. I had a hit on a darter right when I expected, and this time my drag WAS too loose because I had been fishing sluggos- big soft plastic eels esssentially- and they don't have great hooks so you have to be careful you don't bend them. I never got a good hook set I don't think. Tragic, googan mistakes. I was so irritated at loosing yet ANOTHER quality fish. Not long after, my buddy landed another low 30lb fish! And then not long after another fish in the teens- maybe 15lbs.
At this point I was starting to get frustrated. The next night he couldn't fish with me, we were both already exhausted from lots of walking (and by lots I mean like 20 miles!) and casting, and I was starting to get sick of the long drive. Getting in bed at 6am that morning, I was debating if this was really worth it.
But, when I woke up at 2pm, I decided I had to stick it out.
So off I went.
That night, it was really hot. I was sweating so much by the time I got to the spot I had to just sit down. I had brought two water bottles and drank one completely. I vowed then to stop carrying so many lures, and to use my "2 tube" bag instead of 3. The tubes are what we hold the lures in. Essentially, this just means it's smaller and carries less and instead of carrying 20lbs+ of gear I'd probably only carry 15lbs.
I had only had 1 meal that day as well- breakfast at 3pm- and then ate some crap snack food in the car, so I was also hungry and decided to eat one of the granola bars I had brought while I sat there. Finally, after I got my wetsuit all zipped up, put my surf top on (looks like a hooded sweat shirt made of wetsuit material), I was still dying of heat stroke. It took a full 20 minutes in the ocean water to get cooled down.
Was it worth it you're asking? Meh. Not really!
I did have a couple fish- one about 15-17lbs and one about 12-13lbs- both on darters. This time Northbar not superstrike. What was interesting is they were REALLY close to shore, basically in water about as deep as I was standing in- no more then waist deep! This got me thinking, and while I knew I was going to have to take a hiatus for over a week, I had some ideas when I came back.
So that week I walked about 25 miles and drove about 700 to catch a few baby bass, a 12, 15, and 20lb bass. While my friend only fished three nights and had multiple fish over 30 and over 20.
And the thing is? It only got worse the next time.
Part II coming soon.