Extreme Peak Dawn Tides

I was really psyched for the weekend of June 15 to 17.

On June 15 to 16, there were high tides of 12.1 feet. On June 17, it was 11.9 feet. Since the marsh level is about 10 feet, this meant that two feet of water would be above the marsh. In terms of water volume in the estuary, it would be six to eight times what would be there on a 10-foot high tide.

And then the tide, in six hours or so, would fall 14 feet down to a low tide of about -1.8 feet. That’s a whole helluva lot of water rushing out of the estuary in that amount of time. Bait fish can get up into the marsh grass to feed, and big stripers come in to feed on them. The water flows in the river are impressive, especially around rocks and other structured bottoms.

Magical things can happen on those extreme “peak dawn” tides. So in mid-June, I expected some fabulous fishing for these stripers!  But, so much for expectation and calculation. The fishing was fun, and good, at times, but not that fantastic.

Another great thing about fishing is that you never know what will happen out there! Life is full of surprises, hazards, and unbelievable escapes from insanity that can arise without notice. There were a few of those on this weekend as well that I will relate.

I apologize that this may be a long post; there’s a lot to tell about. I’ll try to make it fun or funny!

On June 15, I went downriver with Rick Little of Shadcreek Flies, a delightful fellow who has spoken often at Trout Unlimited chapter meetings on a whole repertoire of topics, from Maine to Montana. He brought along his friend, Keith, and we met at 3 am, about 2.5 hours after high tide.

We were probably not out on the water until about 3:45 am due to our preparations in the predawn darkness. We shoved off, three in my canoe, brimming with hope and excitement!

We got no fish trolling down to the Island against a brisk NE wind of about 10 knots. Due to this wind, I had them both fish on the back side of the Island with a right-hand cast, while I tried the front side throwing my back cast due to the wind.

Rick caught one small fish there and Keith had a hit, while I had nary a touch on either the front or back sides where they were. So, we headed on down to the Boathouse Stretch (where no one else was fishing; my father taught me long ago to respect people who had hiked in to fish a place, and keep our distance, since we had a boat and many more options than they had on foot), where we trolled most of the upper part with no hits but stopped to wade the lower section.

Rick got a fish at the point, and I got one just upstream of there, both small. Keith had one hit. So, we had a bit of a slower start than I’d expected that day. We didn’t tarry there very long and trolled past the dock with no hits on our way to The Rock. We stopped there and anchored the canoe in deep enough water on a short line where it wouldn’t ground out for a while, and we started high up on one of my favorite flats, full of great expectations.

Rick ended up catching about five fish at the very top of the stretch, and on Keith’s very first cast, he hooked into what turned out to be a very nice fish but it didn’t run very far or fight as hard as I’d have expected. But, once he had it in close, it started to look like a pretty good fish, so I asked him if he wanted some help with it.

With his assent, I waded up to him and he led the fish over to me and I ran my hand down his leader and grabbed the fly which was hooked solidly in its lip. The fish was about 28” long, and as I took out the barbless hook I saw what looked like a fin in its mouth. Hmmm. That’s strange, I thought. What the hell is that?

When I looked down into this fish’s gullet, all I could see was about a 16” fish (maybe a striper) totally plugging this fish’s gullet, partially starting to get digested but very clearly a recent victim!

And, this fish took a fly? There was no way this fish could have swallowed anything more; its gullet was blocked. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Greed hath no bounds, I suppose! Or else that fish just struck out of habit or instinct, without really thinking about food or hunger. In any event, it was one of those strange and wondrous situations that happens when fishing, that one never expects.

I suggested that they stay up near the top of this stretch, after fishing a ways down the flat with only one 18” fish near the top and no other strikes. I fished all the way down the flat – over a quarter mile – without even a strike. So after that, I hiked back up to the canoe and we headed for Hog Hole, which can often be good, though it calls for a tough up-current paddle to get into that area.

We had enough time left on the falling tide to make it there and to fish, at least for a short time. Keith and I each got a fish there, but Rick caught nothing and then it stopped – as this spot often does – so we headed back down to the main channel before the tide turned against us.

We paddled downriver a bit further to a steep bank where we stopped, and we each had one fish in that stretch before the tide slacked totally, and we had a bite to eat while we waited for the boats and buoys to turn with the rising tide. Once that happened, we paddled up to the Channel Bar and tried fishing there, as that can be a good stretch at times just after the turn of the tide.

We each had a few fish there, but then it slowed down so we paddled back upriver, trolling through the water we’d fished before with no hits – so it was good that we didn’t waste too much time stopping to wade and cast in that stretch – and then crossed over to fish the point again.

I got a fish right off, but that was the only one we got there so we headed for Osprey Flat, as that can be good on the early incoming tide as a cul-de-sac for fish, but it held no fish that day. So, we crossed to the island where Keith got one on the back side but no one else had a hit there. So we headed for home at about 11 am.

I was a bit disappointed, due to my high expectations, but we all caught fish. Rick had about 10 fish, Keith had five fish and I had five fish casting and two more trolling. So, we collectively had over 20 fish, including Keith’s strange 28” striper. We all had a great time fishing together, which is the most important thing. It was a delightful trip.

On Saturday, an ideal “peak dawn” tide with departure at 3:30 am (two hours after high tide and 90 minutes before sunrise, which I define as “first light”), my dear friend Dick – who fished with me at Grand Lake Stream – and I went downriver together without any clients. We had both enrolled in the Why Knot Fishing North Shore Annual Striper Tournament and were psyched for some great fishing.

But, the trip started a bit slowly; we got nothing trolling to the island and nothing there either. Our next stop at the dock stretch, however, paid off pretty well. Dick caught 10 fish there, all pretty small, I believe, while I five 5 fish there, three of them 16” to 18” long and the other two were 20” and 22”.

There were five people fishing across the river on the point, so we kept our distance. It turned out that some of them were fishing the tournament, too, but they only caught a few small fish in that stretch. I had thought briefly about measuring and getting a photo of my 22” fish at the dock, but decided not to bother. It turned out not to matter at all.

After that, once The Rock was showing enough that we thought we could wade that flat, we headed on downriver to that section of water which has always been good for big fish, if they’re there.

I asked Dick whether he wanted to start high on that flat or below me, and he opted to wade upstream a bit from where we left the canoe. Dick got several fish up there, and I got a few where I started as well, all about 16” to 18” long. Then, I fished down most of the rest of that flat with nary a touch, until I was about a quarter of a mile beyond the canoe when I had a hard strike and was onto a running fish. I remembered this time to strike twice simply to set the hook well.

This fish took about 150 yards of line out into the river, and we argued over that line for a bit, but eventually I brought her in to shore and dragged her up on the sand for a photo and measurement for the tournament. I don’t like taking them out of the water, much less for the length of time it requires to measure and photograph them, but did so as quickly as I could and then carried the fish back into the water and, after a brief revival effort saw, her swim off into the depths once again. This was a nice healthy fish that put up a pretty good scrap for her size.

At that point, I hiked back up to the canoe to start down that stretch once again. Dick at this point was about halfway down the flat, and I heard him cursing, as he had hooked into another good fish and it had taken his fly, leader and entire shooting head with it when the knot broke from his shooting head to his running line.

So, he trudged back to the canoe to leave his rod and take one of my spares to fish with, as his other rod had a floating line and he wanted to get the fly down. He went back to where he had lost that fish, and I started again up at the top of that stretch for a second pass, wondering whether I should have measured and photographed my 22” fish that I had caught up at the dock.

I think I caught a few more smaller fish at the top of the stretch and then hooked into a nice 28” striper that I landed fairly quickly after it ran out 50 to 100 yards of line on me. So, I measured and photographed that fish as well, thinking that these two fish might be a winning combination for the tournament, which is based on the combined length of one’s two largest fish.

The previous year I had won my “fly-shore” division of this same tournament with 30” and 19” fish, but I didn’t think that’d be enough this year. But 30” and 28” might be a winning combination. So, I was pretty happy at that point.

I went back up to the top of the flat, while Dick continued to work his way down the rest of the flat with my spare rod, and, suddenly, he let out a curse. He had had a solid hit from a very big fish and screwed it up and immediately lost the fish. Argh.

Don’t we hate when that happens? We’ve all done it. Indeed, it’s a miracle when we’re successful with a very big fish. To illustrate, then, shortly after that, I had a really solid take from a very big fish, and all hell broke loose. I wrote up the story for Joe Gugino at Why Knot Fishing because it was a good one. Here is what I sent him, along with the pictures of my three biggest fish of the morning:

The 33″ fish comes with a story! This big fish grabbed my fly and started to pull very hard, but my reel jammed and wouldn’t turn, because a loop of line had caught on the reel post! Argh!

I don’t know why my line didn’t break at that point; I was sure that it would. My rod was pulled almost flat down the line. But, for some miraculous reason my line and knots held.

And, then, the fish gave me a very brief respite from this hard pull and I was able to remove the spool from the reel and untangle the line from around the reel post. Whew!

Without warning, suddenly, the fish bolted and ran off. Yikes! When that happened, the reel spool jumped out of my hand and flew 20 feet in front of me into the deeper water there. What the hell do I do now?

Well, I still had hold of the line that was streaking through the guides on my 6-1/2 foot two-weight rod, so I kept it tight and realized that the only way I would be able to land this fish is to let her take out enough backing to completely spool me so I could get the reel spool back into my hand and then get it onto the reel very quickly and hope that the fish would have tired enough by then that I could reel her in.

Well, she took about 250 yards of line out, and was WAY downriver from me (and into some buoys that I was worried about but didn’t have much control over the situation at that point)! Then, suddenly, she bolted again and started to run out line very quickly, taking out another 50 yards or so quickly enough that I suddenly saw the spinning reel spool come up from the depths to about a foot (or 18″?) below me underwater and I quickly grabbed and managed to catch it before it sank to the bottom again!

I frantically stuck it on the spindle in the reel housing but it wouldn’t seat because it was spinning so wildly on this fast running fish. But finally she slowed down a bit, and I had a chance to seat the reel spool into the housing with a welcome click! OK. Now I had a very large fish on a reel that was grinding a bit with the sand that the spool had picked up from the bottom of the river, and that fish was about 300 yards downriver from me at that point. Yikes! What an insane situation. But I thought I still had a chance, and a better one than five minutes before!

However, I wasn’t out of the woods by a long shot. I think that my fish had also gotten the line against a mooring downriver because I couldn’t feel anything actively pulling. I feared that I’d lost this fish. But, then I felt a faint pulse, so I kept the pressure on and sure enough could feel that fish, but only faintly. I was lucky, as when the fish started to come back upriver, it came back on the same side of the buoy as the line was, so suddenly I could feel her again. But, she was still pulling very hard.

I slowly worked in more and more line, wading out as far as I could to keep her away from some other nearer buoys as best as I could, and slowly regained line. When I finally had her only about 100 yards out, I started to think that I might even land this fish after all.

I slowly brought her toward me as I walked into the shallows and up onto the sandy flat, while bringing her into the shallows (where she did NOT want to go), and put up some strong resistance to my pressure, but eventually she got into shallow enough water to turn her onto her side and then I knew that I’d won.

I pulled her up onto the sand and as I got her up far enough to approach her and try to get a photo, the knot at my fly snapped but I had already beached her at that point. So, I was able to land this magnificent fish, even though Murphy had been in total control of the fight!

I should have lost this fish at least five times during this battle, with a jammed reel (the line should have broken but, for some reason, didn’t), then taking the spool out of the reel and into my hand, then the spool flying out of my hand and into the deeper water in front of me, my unexpected good luck in grabbing the spool when it couldn’t spin quickly enough to keep up with this hard-running fish, which brought the reel spool miraculously up from the bottom so it suddenly appeared in the water below me because the fish was taking line so fast, and then not being able to seat the spool on this fast-running fish (but not losing it into the water again), and then having the fish pause for long enough for me to seat the spool into the reel with 300 yards of line out, and then with the briefly grinding sound of sand in the spool that didn’t last very long (fortunately!) so the reel didn’t totally jam again, and next having the line rubbing against (and caught on?) a mooring buoy or rope but not breaking, with the fish coming back up without fouling that buoy, and actually ending up landing that fish, which process finally broke off the fly once beached!

The Gods must have been smiling on me – or laughing at me – that morning, to allow me to get away with that totally insane series of potential disasters. It still amazes me that I didn’t lose that beautiful fish, which took me at least 20 minutes (and perhaps as long as 30 minutes) to land successfully. I don’t know why I lucked out with that fish, but it makes a helluva story, doesn’t it? Quite some craziness…. Mostly dumb luck…. A LOT of dumb luck…. With perhaps just a little bit of quick reactions that saved me a few times as well.

I thought that one was worth writing up. The whole situation was so completely insane and out of control, but I got away with it! A true comedy of crises.

After that bit of excitement, I trudged back up to the top of that stretch and caught six more fish up there, including ones that measured 20”, 21” and 22”. At this point, Dick was way down at the bottom of the stretch, but the tide was slacking, so he trudged all the way back up to the canoe, and we had some sandwiches while we waited for the tide to turn.

We both put on our rain jackets because a NW wind was starting to kick up pretty strongly to about 10 knots, so we were getting a bit chilly. Then, once the tide had started to move inward, we hiked all the way down to the far end of the fish-able stretch (about three-quarters of a mile) and started back up toward the canoe, with Dick leading the way.

I caught only two fish in that entire stretch that had been so good to us on the ebb, a nice 22” fish that fought like a tiger (I thought it was much bigger), and another about 18” near the canoe. Dick caught only two fish in that entire stretch as well, he said.

So, we went back up to the dock to try there, and we each got one fish in that stretch. At that point, we were both pretty tired and Dick had to get back for a luncheon with his family, so we quit at about 11 am and skipped the island on our way home.

All in all, it was a very good day. Dick said that he had caught about 20 fish that morning, and I’m not entirely sure how many I caught, but I’d guess it was 20 to 25 fish, with some pretty nice ones in the mix, including two at 20”, one at 21”, three at 22”, and 28”, 30” and 33” fish as well.

As it turned out, I won my “fly-shore” division in the tournament, and I won a nice WADE rod and CHEEKY reel for the largest fly-caught fish in the tournament as well. Someone in the “boat-spin” category got a 50” fish that morning, too!

So, you might consider checking out the website for Why Knot Fishing; they run some great tournaments and are also a really interesting community of younger anglers full of excitement about this beloved pastime.

On June 17, I took Michael out again. I had taken him out previously on May 26, and he had caught some fish trolling but none casting. Because he was a lot of fun to fish with, and I liked his attitude, I invoked my “Fish Guarantee” and this was his “freebie” trip with me.

We met at 4 am and were on the water by at least 4:30 am. It was pretty flat calm for the first half of our trip together, which was nice and made for easy casting.

Michael got two fish trolling down to the island, while I had only one short hit. At the island, I got no fish on the front side and five fish on the back side, including one 18” and another of 20”, but Michael had only a few short strikes.

I hoped that we weren’t going to have a repeat of his frustrating situation of only catching trolled fish and nothing while wading and casting! In any event, after a while we headed downriver to the dock where we had had decent fishing the day before.

I got three fish there, including one of 20”, and Michael had a strike but no hookups. So, we didn’t stay there long, but headed for The Rock. We started at the very top of that stretch, with Michael leading me down the flat, and he caught two fish there at the top of this stretch and I had a few as well.

Then, we worked all the way down that half-mile flat that had treated me so well the day but without a touch from a fish, not even one strike! So we walked back to the canoe, and I had him paddle from the stern while I stood up in the bow to see if I could see any fish through my polarized glasses, and I didn’t see a single fish on the entire flat. That is VERY unusual, but it explains why we had no strikes! So, we headed for Hog Hole.

I got two small fish at Hog Hole, but Michael didn’t get any there. We decided to head out the back way and fish an area I seldom try, which I call The Kitchen. We saw some fish on minnows en route, but couldn’t catch them so we stopped at the mouth of that back channel to have some lunch and wait until the tide turned.

Once the tide started moving upriver, we paddled up to the Lunch Rocks stretch and fished there for about an hour in a brisk NE wind of about 10 or more knots. I caught about six more fish in that stretch and Michael caught a few there also. I had a lot of short strikes, too. After that, we had another sandwich and then paddled back to the island where we each had a strike but no fish. So, we quit fishing at about 12:30 pm and were back at the float at 1 pm.

We had a great time together. Michael caught five fish in all (two trolling), and I got about 18 fish, with two of about 20” in length. Michael’s casting is much improved!

What interests me is that we had two very slow and tough days of fishing, with surprisingly scant activity in places where I’d expect to catch fish, sandwiching one very productive day. One never knows with this fishing.

I fished the whole length of Rock Flat with nary a strike on Friday and Sunday, while it held a mess of big fish on Saturday when we were there at the very same tides. There weren’t that many boats in the river this last weekend, so that’s not the reason. One is left to wonder and to theorize about why things happen the way they do, which is a great thing about this sport.

Tight lines, everyone! This is the season to be out fishing. The weather is warm, the fish are here. Don’t let the time go!


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