I had five striper trips planned on consecutive days from May 31 to June 4.
I was targeting the “peak dawn” period when we want to be on the water both around two hours after high tide and at first light, a coincidence that takes place every two weeks on the new and full moons.
Those are also the big tides, when very interesting things happen….
But, getting up at 2 am or thereabouts for five mornings in a row can get pretty challenging after several days, even with a nice afternoon nap, which should be a part of the deal. So, when weather conditions – high winds and rain – made me end up canceling Sunday’s and Monday’s adventures, I was both disappointed and a bit relieved. I was pretty tired….
In any event, on May 31, I took out some old friends, Ray and Paul, who are brothers. We had a blue cloudless sky for most of the trip, very light SW winds of zero to five knots (SW is a wind direction I like, giving us good downwind casts for most of the best spots for a right-handed caster).
The water temperature at our first stop was 62 °F, which wasn’t too bad, though my wader-clad friends complained of the cold. I waded wet and was not warm but not uncomfortable either: the secret to wading wet in these waters is to wear twice as much above your waist as you think you’ll need.
We picked up a few fish trolling down to our first stop at the island, and then caught some there as well. Paul had a nice 21” striper at that spot. We didn’t stay long there, as the hits stopped coming, so we headed down to our next stop at the dock where we all had fish, about eight in total. There were also fish busting on bait out in the channel that we couldn’t reach from shore, and with three in the canoe, I decided not to get out there and try for them.
So, we headed further downriver to a flat by a rock, where I’ve caught a lot of big fish in the past. We all caught fish there, mostly at the top of that stretch, on our clousers.
As we worked our way down the flat – we always fish down current on an intercept course with the fish – about halfway down, as I followed Paul who was leading the way, I hooked into a really nice 30” striper that I landed in five to 10 minutes.
This fish didn’t fight as well as the 32” fish that I wrote about in my last post, but it still put up a respectable battle on my little 6.5′ #2!
As we continued to work our way down the flat without strikes, I sent Ray and Paul back up to the top of the stretch where we’d caught our previous fish, and they caught a few more up there while I fished down through the rest of that stretch without a single tap.
These fish have not settled in as yet; they are not in the normal holding areas in any reliable way. The secret to this style of fishing is always “Search and Stealth”!
I tell people: if you’re not actively getting strikes, then you should be in “search mode” and keep moving to find the fish. Don’t stand in one spot and wait for the fish to come to you. This is not like fresh water fishing. It’s more like an open system than a closed one like in a river.
These fish are moving around all the time, especially as the tide changes. Here, you’re fishing a river that is shifting in both the depth and direction of flow on the clock. So, you need to pay close attention to these currents and to be actively searching for fish unless you have found them!
We left that stretch – it was nearing the ebb – and fished the Channel outlet where we all caught about eight fish, and, then, as the tide slacked, we ranged around on the flats to try a few other spots where there was still some flowing current.
After that, we stopped for some sandwiches to await the tide’s turn. Once we could see the buoys shift their direction and the boats turn to face downriver, we crossed to Channel Bar, which can be good on the early incoming tide. Once again, we did well, though, at the start, while they were chatting and having another sandwich, I began fishing and had five fish by the time they got in the water, including a nice 21” striper that fought like a 26” fish.
Indeed, I was quite astonished when I finally brought him in that this fish was really so small! You’ve got to respect this species! But, each of us caught some more fish there. After all, we were out there flailing the water for these stripers.
Then, we paddled back up to the flat by the rock we had fished on the ebb that can be very good on a rising tide, and Ray and Paul fished the whole length of that flat very quickly without a single strike. I fished downriver from them and then brought the canoe upriver to pick them up and move onward.
We decided to try the dock again, where Ray and Paul each had a few fish in a stretch after which I went through it and picked up six there. We ended up trying the island again after that but had no strikes there.
At this point, the wind had kicked up a bit to 10 to 15 knots, which made it a challenge to control the canoe while paddling home, but we made it.
On that day, we caught collectively well over 50 fish; the fishing wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible either. We all had a great time together. We were back at the float by about 1 pm, having fished a bit longer than we normally do.
On June 1,, I took Kevin and my very good friend, Dick, downriver. We met at 3:30 am and were on the water by 4 am.
Our first stop was at the island (as always), after picking up a few fish on the troll to get there. Kevin was fishing a 8.5′ #2 bamboo rod he had brought, with one of my reels with plenty of backing just in case he hooked a big fish, and he caught and landed a nice 21” striper at this first stop.
Then, we went down to the dock, where we all had about two fish each. We then tried for the fish busting out in mid-channel from the canoe, but only had two fish out there and too many tangles to continue with that! We tried them from shore, and caught a few that way when they came in close enough to reach them, but soon headed down to the rock to fish there.
While I was fixing an anchor problem, Dick and Kevin were catching fish near the rock, but as they worked down the flat, they didn’t have strikes. I finally got out fishing and picked up one fish there; Dick got another one far down the flat, while I brought the canoe down to pick them both up.
Then, we paddled to a favorite spot called Hog Hole, where the fishing can be quite good, but Kevin was the only one to catch a fish in that stretch. So, we headed back to the main river and stopped for a bite to eat while waiting for the tide to turn. Dick caught one fish from Channel Bar while Kevin and I had no hits, and, so, we moved upriver.
We dropped Dick at Orgy Corner, the beginning of this stretch, and Kevin about halfway down, while I took the canoe to the next section where I put in and started to fish. None of us had any hits at all in that entire stretch, so Dick and Kevin brought the canoe down current to me and picked me up.
We then we all went to the dock area where we had done so well earlier. There, neither Kevin nor I had fish, but Dick caught a nice 26” striper that splashed on the surface after the take and gave him a decent scrap.
So, the next place we tried was a flat behind the island that can be good on the rising tide, but had no hits there so we went to the island where, again, we had no hits.
We headed home at around noon and were back at the float by about 12:30 pm. This trip had tough fishing, but we all caught some fish, perhaps, almost 30 between us. OK, but not great. Early June should be a lot better than this!
On Saturday, Kevin was taken ill and bailed out of his planned trip with us, so Dick and I went downriver together.
The wind was pretty light at the start, and the sky was partly and then mostly cloudy. We met at 4 am and were on the water by 4:30 am, each picking up a few fish trolling on our way to the island, where Dick caught the only fish there that we found.
So, we didn’t linger, but headed for the dock downriver where we picked up a few fish. But, fish were busting out in the channel and so, with only two of us in the canoe, we decided to try for them and did pretty well, catching about 15 fish between us during the hour we worked on those fish until they pretty much stopped swirling on bait that we were unable to identify (probably sand eels or perhaps silversides, I’d guess).
Then, we went down to the rock, where Dick caught three fish right off the bat and I got one fish there as well. I tend to fish fast when not getting strikes, so I passed Dick and fished on down this fairly long flat until – about 2/3 of the way down – I had my only hit on that flat, a hard take by a very big fish that boiled on the surface with an enormous splash in about an eight-foot wide swirl and then took off downriver vigorously. After taking about 50 to 100 yards of line, the hook pulled out and I realized that I’d not double-struck this big fish, which one should do because their jaws are very hard and so the hook may not penetrate properly otherwise.
Sure enough, when I reeled in my fly, the hook was bent ever-so-slightly outward as if it had not stuck fully into the jaw. It’s an easy error to make, and though one kicks one’s self afterwards, we all have done this. Next time, I mutter to myself, if I am blessed with a “next time” and remember – in the frenzy of that first rush when trying to get a big fish onto the reel without tangling line – that I must strike them hard twice simply to set the hook well in place. It sucks to forget what one knows one should do when a really big striper takes!
No more hits in that stretch, so Dick and I headed downriver for Hog Hole, where we fished from the island side due to the NW wind and the chance of fish up on a shelf and spill out instead of fishing from the deeper side, which we usually do.
We got into a few fish there, and then decided to try a new area by heading out the other way and around the back of the big island into a back channel I often will fish on the weekends since it gets much less motorboat traffic.
Because of the wind direction, we planned to fish it from the “wrong” side, but on our way up there we stopped at a bar because we both hooked fish on the troll as we passed through there, so we thought we’d stop and try in that spot.
Dick got a fish there and I missed a strike, and we paused for a bite to eat at that time, waiting for the incoming tide to start to flow a bit more. Then, we went up to what I call Lunch Rocks, where Dick caught two fish up where he was fishing, and I caught one in the lower section, but had nothing after I fished my way up to Dick.
We tried one other place – no hits – on our way through the back channels to the island where we had started. Dick caught three fish there back casting in a by-then stiff breeze while I fished the other side of the island and had one hit on my first cast and nothing more the whole way down that stretch.
So, we quit about noon and headed home, getting back to the float at 12:30 pm. For that trip, Dick and I each caught 22 to 25 fish in different spots, so we had 45 to 50 fish between us in total. Fun trip!
And then, as I said, I had to cancel the scheduled trips on Sunday and Monday due to a bad wind forecast. It just isn’t worth the struggle and the wind doesn’t help the fishing or casting. I’ve taught myself that lesson the hard way….
But this fishing is going to get a whole lot better (or I’ll eat my hat, but not really)!
Stay tuned. I’ll write up my next batch of trips, which should produce some fabulous fishing, because some of the best “peak dawn” tides of the entire 2018 season are coming up in mid-June, and June 16 is still open!
I’ll be out there myself or with my friend Dick, if no clients speak up, but it is quite a surprise that no one has grabbed that special date as of yet. The high tide at 1:27AM on June 16 is 12.1 feet. Think about that! The height of the marsh is about 10′, so over two feet of water on top of the marsh means the total volume of water in the estuary will be up to 10x greater than it is on a normal 10′ tide.
Magical things will happen. The bait can get up in the marsh grass to feed, and then they come out with the ebb, the fish will be there, hungry and waiting to meet them as all this water recedes. There’s lots of flow and fish activity on these extreme high tide days that I call “peak dawns”!
I could be wrong, or the Weather Gods could act up. I have a high school reunion party on the evening of June 15, so if the weather reports are poor for Saturday, I’ll stay later and drink more on Friday. But, if the weather looks good, I’ll be out on the water during those spectacular tides.
My expectations of fabulous fishing will then be put to the test! And, I’ll let you know what happens next round. In the meantime, tight lines to you all!