1. A Big Bass Landed is Well Earned
Big stripers are smart. A 40 inch bass is what we’re all after. At this length, you can assume this fish has been living hard for 12 to 13 year, foraging, migrating, dodging flies, lures, bait, commercial fishing, seals and even sharks. With a deeply rooted instinct to survive, feed, and propagate stripers are experts at each… especially the feeding part. A 40” striper hasn't made many mistakes and is a pro at ducking danger and eating big. You've got to work hard to fool big stripers with a few feathers tied to a hook when the alternative act, look and smell like the real thing. The senses of a striped bass are well polished and with age they become very fine tuned. I’m certainly not making big stripers out to be impossible or even improbable, they just deserve respect and have certainly earned mine.
2. Stripers do COOL Shit
It's clear that stripers have personalities, maybe not like you and I but fish to fish they differ greatly. Each striper fills a different niche, even among peers. Some like deep water, some like the flats, some of them will tail on a crab just like a redfish, and some are just plain mean. It takes grit to grow big in the North Atlantic so only the strong will survive and make it to breeder size. Watching a big bass feeding in the wash(white water created by rolling waves crashing onto the rocks) is a sight every striped bass angler needs to see. One of my most memorable days striped bass fishing was on foot at a small beach. I got to the spot with 2 to 3 foot super clean waves peeling in over the sand. Looking into the faces of these waves, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Stripers surfed the waves and fed on small shrimp patterns dislodged by the energy of the sea. I stood 25 feet away from the fish and swung small shrimp patters hooking up on each cast. After half a dozen fish, I just watched… a day that I’ll always remember regardless of my camera's absence.
3. Shake off the Rust with Schoolie Mayhem
When the first big schools of fish show up in the spring it can be madness. Routine morning blitzes are a common occurrence. Striped bass kindly give us the opportunity to warm up with small, eager schoolies pouring into our waters before the cows arrive in June. Each tide cycle gives way to more fish and incrementally larger specimens show up week after week. Shaking the rust off with a dozen schoolies at sunrise is a great kickoff to the season. Remember to pinch your barbs for these small fish; a barbed hook can handicap a fish for life is handled roughly. Keep solid pressure when fishing barbless and you’ll stay hooked up just fine.
4. You can fish for them how YOU want
The day is yours… so, what’s your favorite way to fish? Do you like deep water rips, estuaries, mud flats, casting flies to the rocks, sight fishing from the beach, swinging flies across a reef, wading a flat, or maybe the variety is what keeps you coming back. Stripers fill many environments, all based around the opportunity to feed.
5. Huge variety in their diet
Portsmouth Harbor and the surrounding waters provide a wide menu that changes seasonally, even weekly. As a fly fisherman I pay particularly close attention to what prey is available at certain times of the year. New “hatches” arise weekly, from shrimp to sand eels, and herring to poagies(menhaden). Juvenile pollock litter the coast and thrive in the same habitats that young lobsters become vulnerable to the suction of a striped bass’s mouth. Invasive Green Crabs hide between the rocks and strut across the flats. Young Atlantic Herring come to calm estuaries after hatching, and the past couple season poagies have been around in significant numbers… great prey for big bass and tuna. Stripers have been known to eat a little bit more exotically as well. The flats are home to juvenile flounder, worms, clams, and probably some other foods that may not be significant to fly angler but the bass know it’s there. Stripers are smart and there are countless localized opportunities for them to get a free meal from the hand of humans. A nearby restaurant shucks clams, and discards lobsters shells right through the restaurant floor, down through the dock, and into the water below. Fish will hold there and feed on the scraps. Stripers trailer lobster boats as they haul their traps and feed on the loose pieces of lobster bait. These may not all be opportunities for the common fly angler but it gives a window into the thinking of your quarry.
6. Distance makes the heart grow fonder…
The seasonality of the striped bass season always leaves us New Englanders wanting more. We don’t take our fish in the Portsmouth Harbor and Southern Maine coast for granted, we savor every moment of their presence. When our waters turn quiet, we dream, we tie flies, we tell stories and wait. The cycles of this fishery have a mind of their own but closely adhere to the cycles of the moon, the weather and of course, the pressure of man. When striper season is on, it’s on… but a time comes in the fall when we hang up our wet waders, pull our boats and put away the tackle. All we are left with is a season-full of memories made priceless by our summer stripers and hopes of more adventures to come the following spring.