Monday, May 4, 2015

Rites of spring

Right on time, the leaves popped out on the trees and the forsythias bloomed. It must be spring.

Spring brings a number of rituals. Among them in our neck of the woods is fishing for schoolie striped bass. On appropriately sized tackle, they put just the right grin on your face, especially after a long, hard New England winter. 

Other rites of spring include cleaning the gutters (postponed), cleaning up the yard (rescheduled for next weekend), and getting the boat ready to go fishing for schoolies. 

Having the boat is certainly a mixed blessing.  We could throw our waders on, grab a handful of flies and hit the shore to catch schoolies by the bucket full. (Seriously, please don't do that.) But the boat is a ticket to access different types of water and cover more ground in search of fish. It's freedom. It's fun. 

It's an obligation.  Prepping and launching took three afternoons that weren't spent fishing.

Is it worthwhile?

First striped bass of 2015

The smile says, "yes".

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Happy birthday, 2fly.

Today marks the anniversary of picking up our Yellowfin 24 at the factory and the start of lots of fun.

Happy birthday, 2fly.

warmer days
warmer days

Thanks to the boys over at the Angler's Culvert for the photo.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spring Fever

It's April, and by all rights the local fish should be stirring and becoming more active. (This blog, too.) This winter's grip on us has been tough, though, and it's looking like the fishing will be delayed.  Long Island Sound is hovering around 38F, and the ice only went out on the harbor 2-3 weeks ago.

Milford Harbor under 12-inches of ice, March 8, 2015
Hard to tell where the dock ends and the water begins.
Spring will get here soon enough.  For now it's time for gear to get prepped and the boat ready to launch. 

Not soon enough.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Putting on some mileage

One of the functions of having a bigger inshore boat is the ability to handle some rougher water and longer distances.  2fly, our Yellowfin 24, cruises nicely between 35-40mph while burning about 10 -11 gph-- pretty solid numbers considering the load of anglers and fishing gear we normally have aboard.

After a long summer with slower fishing activity in local waters, the brief window of early fall when false albacore make their appearance is thrilling. They don't call it "albie fever" for nothing! These little speeders can maddening, and light tackle anglers develop a love hate relationship with them.  Often challenging to locate and then finicky to hook, success attaches you to one of the more thrilling inshore species the Mudhole and surrounding waters have to offer.

We heard the first reports of 'hard tails' trickling in from waters east of us. Rhode Island first, followed by the New York waters of Montauk and Fishers Island, and then the eastern Connecticut shoreline. Like a nervous tick, the brain jumps back to chasing albies, distracting you from whatever task is at hand. finally, it's too much.  Despite busy schedules, we freed a Sunday and started prepping for the trip. Gear was laid out days in advance. We just needed to put the boat on the trailer.

The weather was the big uncertainty. As the weekend approached, east winds blew strong. That's rarely a good sign for good fishing. The forecast changed by Friday, and on Saturday it showed that Sunday would see rain progressively clearing eastward and then light southeasterly wind.

Having a plan in important. Adapting the plan to the situation is more important. We changed gears. Instead of trailering to Niantic (Plan A), we launched from the Mudhole in the late morning after the rain cleared. Plan B was to drive east and stop either when we found birds and fish or when we hit the rain line.

So we drove. The seas were confused but not big, and 2fly loped easily along at 35mph. We slowed to sight see in the Thimble Islands and poke around a few rips. We paused in Clinton to throw flies at a brief surface blitz of bluefish. We passed Niantic in fog and a brief sprinkle.  In front of the old Seaside Sanatorium we found birds and small blues blitzing-- along withe a blitz of boats! We paused and fished with the herd for a while hoping for albies. They may have been there, but we didn't see them. We chatted with some friendly folks as we tossed flies in a slowly increasing wind and then moved on.

We passed New London and continued down the shore. With no real action to speak of, it was time for a game change. "Let's run over to the Race," I suggested. By now it was noon, so we enjoyed a light lunch and cool beer as we reached the eastern end of Fisher's Island.

Immediately we saw fish on the surface.  Lunch was on hold as we cast into small 1-2 lb bluefish. It was entertaining, but these weren't the fish we'd driven all this way for. We moved south toward the The Race.

And then we found them.  Pods of albies up on the surface, here, there, gone, then back. Tucked into the lee of the island made the fly rods the best and most fun tool for the job. With Allie on the bow and me at the stern, we cast epoxy flies into the busting fish.

Laying it out

The of a tug on the line in your hand travels up your arm and down your spine like electricity.  Drags set tight seem to hardly slow these little speeders, which run as hard as anything pound for pound.

We boated a couple, broke one off, cursed at a few that nipped our flies but didn't connect, and laughed when our cast landed right in the boil on the water without success.  Albie fever indeed!

50mph does wonders for your hair

Three smiles for the camera

Meanwhile the weather was changing.  The wind had picked up, and we could see showers moving in from the southeast.  The radar showed a wet ride for the first 15 miles home.  We pulled on the foul weather gear, stowed the rods, and started the run for home.  The first 30 minutes were wet-- this is the tradeoff of having an open boat to maximize fishability.  We rode down sea in 3 foot waves, eventually running through the storm and into clearing skies.

Driving rain

Opening up the throttle, we pushed for home. Sun beamed through multilevel clouds, guiding us home in a golden glow.

No PhotoShop required

103 miles isn't something to do every day, but it's mighty nice to know you can. Bringing albies to the boat while waters in the Mudhole were empty made it all worthwhile.

Long run

Friday, October 31, 2014

Stolen by the wind

It is one of the great ironies of fall fishing. Big Stripers are migrating through. Bunker schools remain plentiful, at least this year. However, the days are getting shorter, and you find yourself reaching for fleece gloves as you head out the door. These last few remaining weekends to fish before putting the boat to bed for the winter are precious. 

And then there's this.

The seasonal transition kicks up the winds, robbing you of already scarce opportunities to get out on the water. This fishing year's not done yet, but the end draws closer. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Martha's Vineyard vacation with the family is a grand slam

Menemsha's swordfish harpooner

We had wind all week. 15-20 kts and greater was typical, and it was mostly northeast. This wasn't shaping up to be a good September vacation, at least for the fishing part. It meant more beach time with the kids, and that's also great.  Unfortunately with the strong winds, even finding a beach in the lee was tricky. On a Monday we ended up at Menemsha, and my daughter wanted to fish so who could say no? Unfortunately family patience being what it is when traveling with a 3- and 5-year-old meant that lasted about 15 minutes. Casting off the Menemsha jetty was just a tease.

The wind just wouldn't let up. A few of the places I wanted to kayak like Cape Poge Bay were just off limits. It was frankly frustrating, but at least it validated the decision to bring the kayak and not bother with the boat.

On Tuesday I was back at the jetty in Menemsha.  Recalled scenes from David Kinney's The Big One, the story of the Martha's Vineyard Derby played in my mind.  Sure enough, the fly rodders camped on the Lobsterville side, and the spin casters on the Menemsha. As a kayak, I was odd man out. I launched on the sound side from the beach and bobbed in steep 2-3 foot chop. I rode the strong current into the pond and fished there. I padded back out and fished the sound again. A small blue and a porgy were the only activity for me. The boys on the jetty didn't seem to be doing any better.  After a few hours of getting slapped around in the waves I called it a morning and headed for the house.

Wednesday was evening windier. I slept in. 

Finally there was break in the wind on Thursday. 


The weather window opened up only the night before. At first I was on the fence-- we had other family plans-- but this was the only window and I jumped on it. I got the boat ready the night before and headed out around dawn directly from our rental house on the pond.  

Windless sunrise

The tide was mid-outgoing. I threw a x-rap minnow in the water and trolled my way toward the pond cut. Bang! Fish on within 200 feet and I had my first striper of the trip. Just a schoolie, but a nice sight.

There were a couple other kayaks inside the pond near the bridge. I waved and headed under the bridge. It's low enough that you need to take down your rods, so plan ahead if you're sweeping through on a strong current. Now outside in Nantucket Sound, I set up to the side of the outflow and drifted with it a few times, casting into the current and letting my lure swing.  The fly rod was rigged and in the rod holder, but for blindly searching water the spinning rod is a more effective tool.  The bottom here is only 4- to 5-feet deep, but a 100 yards past the jetty tip it drops off quickly to about 25. I drifted past and then padded back up toward the bridge for another drift.

On the first return, I picked up my next customer, a bluefish who was also caught trolling as I paddled back upcurrent.  Released him with smile. "You know," I thought to myself. "Add an albie and it's a slam." It wasn't a greedy thought, more idle musing. 

I decided to fish the drop off and switched over to a bucktail tipped with a zoom fluke. On the first drift I had several sharp taps. No connection. The next drift I got the tap again and set the hook hard. This time it held true, and a nice fat black sea bass came to hand.  He looked awfully tasty, but the house didn't have a cutting board and I was feeling lazy, so he went back in. "Three species morning," I thought.  This was fun. 

A couple power boats drifted in the area, waiting for albies to show. One had a couple guys with spinning gear.  The other was a solo fisherman with a fly rod.  The gear guys were impatient, fanning the water with casts, getting nowhere. Fly guy waits. Eventually the gear guys get tired of flogging the water and motor off to parts unknown.

Now it's me and fly guy. I slowly paddle toward the jetty tip and set up just west of it out of the current. Silverside form clouds in the clear water. They are everwhere.  My spinning rod is stowed. An 8-weight is in my lap with line stripped out. I throw a few casts at the jetty to see if anything's stirring there.  Then I drift and enjoy the view.

Fly guy and I look at each other and nod. "Lot of bait," I say. "Now we just need to guest of honor." 

"Look behind you," he says, and points. 150 feet away the tell tale slash of false albacore on small bait blows up in the shallow water off the jetty tip.  I grin and paddle in their direction, 15-20 hard strokes. Then the rod is in my hand and I fire a cast. Buck fever has a grip on me and it's not a great one. I back cast again and fire it off. Strip, strip, strip and the fly is in sight.  Another cast, and this one gets some distance. It lands in the area where they'd boiled ten seconds before. I strip once, twice...

and the line stops.

In my limited experience with albies, the hook set happens so quickly that I've focused only on getting the line cleared and the fish on the reel.  This one was different. A head shake. A pull. The fish didn't run. "Bluefish?" I wondered to myself.

ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!!!  The fish was off to the races. Denial was over and it ran for it's life, burning drag and streaking backing toward the west. I laughed out loud and called out a thanks to fly guy, who waved. He was quietly motoring into position for his own shot. And my fish headed for for the horizon.

He began to tire and slow. I glanced down at the GPS display on my kayak and found that mighty little 8-pound fish was pulling almost 250 pounds of kayak and angler at 2 mph. He tired and I gained line. With the shallow water he couldn't bring the fight vertical, and I had a hand on his tail in short order.  A quick photo op and off he went.

And an albie completes the grand slam

It was then that I realized I'd pulled off my first grand slam, from a kayak.  I chased another school for 10 minutes, but it was time for breakfast and it really couldn't get any sweeter. I paddled back into the pond, where I had a slight delay casting at yet another albie boil before heading back to the house.

For our next trip I now have some intel on where to trailer launch a boat. That creates some interesting possibilities so long as there's a place to store the boat on shore. The ferry fee is less than a slip, and it eliminates the uncertainty of a bad weather crossing forcing you to change your plans.  The wheels are already turning...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dog Days

They refer to the "dog days of summer" because Sirius, the dog star, is visible in the sky.  Most striper fishermen, however, think it's because the fishing is for the dogs.  I had a nice long dry spell from July 3 through August. Admittedly it was partly due to lack of effort at the right times of time.

The determined fishermen go nocturnal or log many hours in the car heading to points east. For me it's a chance to catch up on sleep lost during early morning outings in May and June. Don't get me wrong-- being able to play on Long Island Sound while the water is warn is terrific. Family outings become more of the focus when the fish aren't around. We go sailing. The kids have a blast on snapper blues.

Happiness is a tug on the end of your line.

This summer it does seem that there were fewer big fish around. There were some stripers around for people making the effort. We had a few fun outings casting small flies to 12-14" bluefish blitzing on the surface, but they seemed to average on the small side

What's nice to see is the quantity of bait. Schools of adult menhadden stuck around all summer, and they've grown fat while enjoying respite from harassing schools of big stripers and blues.  This gives hope to fishermen hoping for a good fall run.  The calendar and morning temperatures in the forties tell us that it's fall. The fishing is getting interesting again.