Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cranky Corker Tackle Buster

Friday, August 17, 2007

Again, the plan was hatched the night before. “So, I pretty much have tomorrow off. What are you thinking, Daddio?” Since changing my career setting I had more flexibility and, therefore, Daddio was set and ready to fish the early AM on Friday. So we did. And here’s the story.

I met Joel around 5 at Howland’s. Remarkably, the indicator lights at the Dunkin Donuts gleamed and life seemed to be in existence there. So, despite my pledge to avoid that place, I caved and entered to order my medium coffee. But my wishes were smashed when the server had to actually brew a whole pot just to serve me. Ah, no one’s fault but mine. I was ten minutes late meeting Joel at the landing. And ten minutes were important on this trip.

We set off through the channel. The mid tide was ebbing and the good rips were just now forming. First stop yielded nothing. I was somewhat surprised, but took it well. We were on fly rods. We had decided to fly fish for a while before going for the big bass on our secret weapons. I suggested we move and Joel agreed. We traveled for only a few minutes to our next spot and immediately some guy in a Boston Whaler sped nonchalantly over our rip….hmmn. Can’t prevent those things. So we set up a drift over one of my cherished spots and within seconds the fish were showing. I was the first to hook up: a 28 incher on a fly that actually lasted through the latter half of the “one-fly” tournament a few days back. This was sweet. At that time, however, Jon Nash and Eoin showed up in Jon’s boat which was presenting a high pitched alarm every time he ran it (explained later). And this was OK. It was nice fishing among friends. We took turns through the rip and had luck through each one.

My next fish was a wee bit larger (29) and was caught on one of Joel’s famous double-hooked sluggos. Joel, at this point, had several near misses and was getting pissed. Not at me, of course, but at the situation; there were lots of big fish flailing about in front of us and they were hard to catch.

But Joel’s luck turned in rapid fashion. After I unhooked my second keeper he threw out a white sluggo and muttered a bit until *KLASHLURRRP!* an explosion good enough for the books occurred over his lure. Then the reel screamed like a frightened girl, and kept screaming. “Daddio, I think that I have a good one here,” warned Joel. At that instant I noticed several very large fish surfacing within casting distance. I was alternating between fly and spin, trying to satisfy my need to hook into a decent sized fish. I was probably somewhat rude as a result; Joel had to net his fish himself. But I knew that this is a fun accomplishment and let it ride. It was a good one. He was quite happy and we moved on to the next drift.

Next drift (or one soon after)….. *KLASHLURRRP!*. Joel was on again and this one was a bit larger. “Doooooooo-ooooood,” cried the crazy-haired maniac. Meters of line peeled off his reel and this was getting exciting. We landed the fish together (this time I offered to be net boy) and rejoiced loudly enough for Jon and Eoin (who were actually only 15 meters away) to notice.

“Hey, nice fish!” yelled Jon. But I couldn’t resist. “Yeah man, we’ve a corker here. Corker on board…on rubber cranks!” Then the classic reply, “We’re having some tackle-busting action here.”

It was a nice fish. About the same length, but larger in other dimensions. I kept telling Joel that I knew of another spot to try and we’d better go as our time was limited. But his expression was telling me to stay and I felt the same way. And so we did, for a while, and hooked a few more, including keeper sized bass that were released. Don Mac. showed up and joined us all in a couple of drifts, then moved on. And after a while the phone rang and it was my business partner, and friend, Alex. We were to pick him up on shore and then get to work on our oyster farm. But I gauged the time delay between his departure and our arrival and insisted that we hit this other spot that I had been thinking about. So we did…for about 9 minutes.

We arrived. I told Joel about where to cast and when, etc. And it worked. We went through this drift about 4 times and each time we were doubled up with decent sized bass. And these guys were somersaulting over the standing waves after our lures. It was good enough to stay, but we couldn’t. We hit the road and met Alex as he arrive at the landing.

But some things worth noting:

(1) The gut contents were primarily small, stunted squid (see photo). These squid didn't seem to be juveniles, but perhaps a small species? Not sure...looking into it.

(2) Got back to shore and thought this guy (photo below)was dead in his car. Turns out he wasn't. Joel was diligent in taking a photo for posterity.

The rest of the day was cool. We worked for a bit, checked lobster pots (one keeper), and then had a good lunch at a local restaurant. We took home four fish (our limit) and Joel managed to pay for lunch on account of a curious, eager onlooker at Howland’s.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The One-Fly Tournament

August 11, 2007

I’ve never fished in a tournament. Something I have always not been really that interested in. To me, tournaments bring out the lesser qualities in the sport of fishing in most people. Yes, I will agree with the proponents that they are fun for most involved. But the risk is that the outcomes of these tournaments include lots of dead fish (and sharks) that get killed for no reason other than gorilla dust. I’ve seen pounds upon pounds of dead fish thrown away and these fish would never have won any contests anywhere.

But here I am, reporting on the tournament that I joined. It was a fly fishing tournament. This doesn’t mean that it is above all else, but I tend to think that the chances of by-catch are lower than other methods and that the focus is on sport over success. Jon Nash emailed me the rules and gave me a nudge of encouragement, and so I called my sister’s husband, Chip Cornell, and we were in. Being so busy on the water these days I didn’t pay too much attention to Jon’s detailed messages (belated readings of them were actually quite helpful in the understanding of things). So the deal was to meet up at a specified location for instructions and the divvying up of team partners and boat partners (not to be the same). And so we did and off we went. The contest would occur on a very bright, cloudless, early August Saturday afternoon which, if you fish, means that the odds of good fishing were nil.

Chip turned out to be my team mate and, through lottery, he was matched up with Sam Davenport. My boat partner was Scott and right now I cannot remember his last “Scott” will have to suffice. Off we went at 12:00 from Howland’s. First stop was nearby, along the Kingston channel to check out some birds and begin rigging up. We were both unprepared and clumsy. This was probably because there was pressure on us not only to win the first prize, but also to impress one another. Jon, of course, ruined things for me by stating quite loudly to everyone that I was a local guide and probably should be disqualified. And this stunned me and perhaps made me worry more than I should about performing successfully. But Scott was no stranger to these waters and he confidently suggested that we first head outside the bay and try some areas close to the Pilgrim Power Plant. This was actually a fishy spot and quite nice, but no fish. Not even after some attempts with a black sluggo.

We motioned back towards land and came across a couple of schools of bluefish. This, we found out, through Scott’s retrieval of a half-a-sluggo. Hmmn. Bungling around I put on a wire leader and awkwardly attempted at throwing some homemade fly poppers (untested) around. And I skunked out at this attempt. Scott landed one blue and we kept him (for me). I worried about fuel. I mistakenly remembered the fuel tank being full and brought only a few extra gallons in a jerry can. But the tank was near empty and, of course, our first spot was a good haul and this consumed half our day’s fuel. Hmmn.

The sun was high and lots of boats around. It was odd fishing in these conditions. We headed in to the Bug/Saquish area and that is where we started to get back into the groove of things. I took Scott to a small rip that I had been successful with almost 100% on incoming tides. And, to my pleasure, we were. We hooked a few, nothing too big, but enough to get us into the game. I can’t remember exactly where Scott hooked his longest fish of the day (only 26”) but I think it was here or right nearby.

We then moved on to Clark’s Island and had some fun with midsized fish in very skinny water. And after that played out we hit a familiar rip where, in a matter of seconds, most of the other tournament boats showed up and here began the banter. But then other boats, surely attracted by our six boats, showed up and man, were there some classics. People trolling umbrella rigs through our drifts, hooking down and throwing seven baited rigs out, almost consuming the entire rip…etc. To each his own, but Scott and I grew tired of this scene. We both recalled the scene from Jaws where the whole town marina sets off to find Bruce the shark….”They’re all gonna die.” So I offered a new spot for us and I am glad that Scott agreed. This was a skinny, long rip that has been producing fish for me all year. We hit it and, quite honestly, on every pass we were doubled up on good fish. It was exciting because these fish were coming clear out of the water as they devoured our flies. We hooked many, no keepers, but close. Realizing there was only a half hour left of the tournament we switched to a new spot. By this time I had lost both of my tournament flies (allowed two of the same pattern for the day to compete). So we drifted, told stories, then motored in at 5:00.

Jon was smart and put lots of beer on ice at noon. By 5:30 we were ready. And then the Island Creek oysters, and then the Mt. Gay rum and tonics, and dark-n-stormys…and the big gathering that ensued. We had fun meeting one another (20 of us) and recounting the day. Later we feasted on striped bass and a nice surprise of bluefin tuna that was landed by Jack Kent the day before. First raw, then seared, the tuna was absolutely magnificent. Some loony business ensued and I would normally describe these events in detail, but I reckon that the folks involved would frown on me…so later perhaps.

A nice tournament. I actually won one award with my boat mate, Scott. We went home with a couple of nice fly boxes. The overall winner (biggest fish) was Sam Davenport. Good for him.

Next up: another amazing morning in Duxbury Bay with Joel Meunier – we were on.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Major Higgins

Monday, August 6, 2007

Chip was back and ready for action. He took a short flight from White Plains to Boston, rented a car, and by 9:00 AM was in my driveway pulling out his fly gear and proudly exhibiting his apparel. A decent resemblance to Major Higgins, Chip was all suited up and anxious to get out on the water. And this we did. The plan was: fish, eat, drink, sleep, fish.

As usual, and consistent with most of Chip’s visits, the wind was up and the weather unsettled. But this didn’t deter us. When we set off it was partly cloudy with a SSW breeze of 10 – 15 kts. I was on spinning gear (easier from the stern) and Chip on his 9-wt flyrod. And there were fish immediately found on the surface. We found several schools of stripers under crazy terns and I got us close enough, but they were apparently full and hesitant to bite. I landed three or four, largest was 27.9” (yes, he went back in) whereas Chip had difficulty hooking up. This was because the wind increased in steady increments and messed the whole thing up for him.

We broke for a late lunch and a stop at Atlantic Angler to seek some new, local flies. At 3:00 we returned to the bay and found it much worse. Again, undeterred, we move forth to the Cow Yard, where we left them earlier. And yes, they were there. By this time the wind was 20 kts and quickly increased by 3:30 to 30 kts. A thick front of black clouds approached from behind Cordage Park and the rain began whipping us. “I think we ought to head in,” Chip offered. “Hmmn, maybe you’re right,” I said. But I was not going to give up that easily. There were hundreds of breaking fish, unfortunately finicky fish, and Chip had put a lot into getting up here to hook them on his fly gear. I began the journey back toward Howland’s, the weather really becoming a threat, and on the way passed an acre of fish froth. “Listen Higgins, we’re not heading back to shore until you catch a goddamn fish, got it?” But this was not to happen today; it was simply not smart to be out there much longer and we gave up within a couple minutes. The fish, although plentiful were up then down and so full of food that they just weren’t hitting artificials.

We returned to Howland’s under the watchful eye of the Harbormaster and, soaked, retreated to the house to prepare for the evening’s festivities. A jaunt to the shops was followed by perhaps the best meal of the summer: grilled striper (thawed from Dave Yozzo’s recent visit) and tautog (blackfish) in an amazing mixture of caramelized fennel bulb, endive, sweet onion, pernod, and fresh thyme. Good wines too.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The alarm sounded at 4:30. No coffee or food, just straight to the boat. The fog was as thick as it gets and stayed that way all morning. Good thing I had just replaced my broken GPS. On our way out my neighbor, Ned, was preparing to head out too. I found our way to some good tidal rips first and then Ned phoned me. “Hey neighbor, I’m onto some fish right here at Howland’s and landed a keeper on my second cast.” Shit. I mean, good for Ned as he was due for some good luck on the water. But we had already invested a good deal of time navigating out into the bay and to turn around based on this report was not really a desirable action. We were socked by the fog, heard birds in the distance, and Chip had still not hooked up with anything on this trip. But I was confident. We continued out to Clark’s Island, then south to Saquish Neck and it was there where we found acres upon acres of feeding stripers. This delighted Chip and within minutes he was landing as many as he could cast to. Me too. We stayed there, taking multiple drifts, for a good hour or so. Ned called several times trying to convince us to head back to Kingston Bay. “But we’re onto acres of them man,” I countered. We did, however, eventually head back to see what Ned was talking about and yes, we found pretty much the same picture as Saquish. These schools were not necessarily showing on the surface but every second or third cast produced a striper. The water was green and clear, like pernod. The fog continued to be fog and never lifted. No keepers this morning but lots of mid-sized stripers. No blues, which surprised me.

By 10:30 I stated that I had to head in. I was due back out on the water around 11:00 to work on the oyster farm. A few more casts, then we went in. Chip had some time to kill before his flight out of Boston. I pointed him to a flyfishing shop nearby and he was off, but not before he proudly displayed his "striper thumb". I have a busy week on the water ahead, then Chip will return on Saturday as we'd been invited to a small flyfish tournament this weekend. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Full Day

Thursday, August 2, 2007 (Morning)

Joe and Cheryl were a few minutes late arriving at the landing, but I was glad about this because I needed some time to sort things out and the boat needed at least some cleaning from the previous day’s work on the oyster farm. It was a great morning; slight haze, warm, and calm. We sped out to spot number one, took a few casts and watched the sun rise over Saquish Head. Not much luck there, so we moved to number two and had a few interesting hookups, but unfortunately nothing of any great size (although I knew that some cows were in there). The spring tides were responsible for the masses of floating eelgrass and these fouled our lines consistently. As a result I had to maneuver the boat, changing our position, to open areas within. So I did this and they kept casting and overall, within spot numbers two and three, several fish were hooked, including some small bluefish.

The tide, which was ebbing, would turn within the hour and this would likely cause a short lull in the action (likely, but not guaranteed). “How about we head north to the beach channel and see what’s happening up there?” I asked them. They happily agreed and so we moved north. I was explaining that there were a couple spots along the beach channel that would produce fish fairly consistently. The first one was obvious because there were about a thousand birds working the surface and the fish were exploding almost beyond belief. We stopped and fished there for a while and soon had a good number of blues and bass pulling the drag out. Still, nothing too big, but Joe and Cheryl were happy to keep a few blues learn some of the choice areas.

We explored a few more areas in Duxbury Bay, showed them how the boat handles when the prop grinds the sand (it was quite low and murky), then after the tide switched over we headed back to the Saquish area for more bass. We did find more at some of the same spots and some new ones. It was hot and the air was still. No keeper bass today, but plenty of fish. A great time.

Thursday, August 2, 2007 (Afternoon)

It was hard to schedule, but once Stacey nailed both her husband (Dave) and me down on an open timeslot, we worked the trip out. The purpose of the trip was primarily to put a fish on Davey Junior’s rod. Davey Jr., an excitable three year-old, was eager to see some fish. Also on board was Davey’s cousin Edmund, an experienced, award-winning fisherman.

I had seen some surface action in the Cow Yard on my way out to Saquish, but when I returned with my party the fish had vanished and now the bay was full of chop and wake as it was peak return time for all the daytrippers and the SW wind was up to about 15 knots. There were still lots of weed in the water from the spring tides and it was still hot out there. But it was a beautiful evening and we decided, of course, to make the best of it. To ensure that some fish would be hooked (“Anything, even a dogfish,” Dave stated to me.) I picked up a couple of fresh menhaden (called “pogies” in this part of the world) to provide some chunk fishing while we drifted through some of my favorite locations.

First, however, I was keen on finding surface action because this would be the most exciting thing for the young, future angler. A trip up the beach channel – nothing. Further up to the bridge – nothing. Even some little spots that I felt surely would hold some fish, but nothing. Hmmn. This is the part of being a fishing guide that gets a little uncomfortable – when the strikeouts clearly exceed the hits. But we just needed some more time. The sun was still high and the boat traffic needed to die down a bit.

We returned to the Saquish area and quite gladly, I spotted birds working a small school of fish. We sped over to the spot, Dave threw the untouched chunk of pogie over as Edmund and I began casting swimming Yo-Zuri minnows into the school. I hooked up, winked at Dave, we switched rods and soon young Davey Jr. had his first striper. He and his dad reeled it in: about 18 – 20”. Davey was thrilled. Edmund watched happily as he continued to pull eelgrass off his hooks.

Within a few minutes we had another one, but this time on the chunk. Father and son excitedly reeled the fish which required a bit more energy and time then the last one. For effect, I netted this fish. It measured 27”….just shy of keeper size. Again, Davey marveled at the striper and watched in fascination as it swam down into the dark water upon its release.

A few more rips produced some surface explosions but we failed to hookup. It was getting late and time to head back to the beach. I dropped the men off after we all watched the sun set over Kingston Bay. The trip home was fast and beautiful.