Select Page

Rhode Island Striped BassI grew up in New England, 20 minutes from the beach but before moving permanently away half a lifetime ago, most of my forays to the beach were unresearched, unprepared and fruitless. I’m a freshwater guy always have been. The shrines to the Salty Dogs of my homeland couldn’t be farther from my early fishing experience. I always seem to want to give the beach a try for stripers though. Every year, I buy a piece of equipment or tie a few flies in the off-chance that on one of our few yearly visits to my homeland, I may venture close enough to the surf to wet a line. I have to admit, I’d enjoy Saltwater fishing a lot more, minus the saltwater. A few hours of salt, sun and the North Atlantic breeze can really put me out of sorts and after another fruitless outing I find myself thinking that beach fly-fishing sucks. And it does suck. The long walks, the standing around, the blind casting into pods of bait because you are so bored that you have to do something, and the chaffing…Oh, the chaffing! I have endured this torture once or twice a year for a decade or so beaching a few schoolies here and there, usually just big enough to bend the 8wt ever so slightly. Now, I don’t know if I have fished enough to figure out what is going on, but I have spent enough time around the beach to recognize a few things. Nervous water equals bait, I can tell the difference between peanut bunker and rain bait schools and I can tell the contour of the beach from the way the waves break, but all that hasn’t helped me know what tide I should be at on which beach or where in the migration the cows may be. Saturday night would be a good friend of mine’s bachelor party at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. In my mind, once you got past the gambling, drinking, and the strippers, I thought it may be a chance to get down to the beach and try for that all elusive striper…one “P”. I called Jeremy for some intel and the word about what was going on, looked at the few other reports that I could find online, and Google earthed the entire Conn and Rhode Island Coast line trying to find a potential starting point. The tides worked out so I could catch the last 4 hours of incoming and the first 3 hours of outgoing before meeting the boys at the casino. And so, 5:30 am found me east of Stockbridge on a September day on the Mass Pike Speeding toward the incoming tide. The fog slowed me down just long enough to start to piss me off but a left turn in Hartford got me away from the Connecticut river and into the sunshine. I stopped Near the Rhode Island Border for some last minute directions and a spool of 20lb flour and hit The Watch Hill Lighthouse in Westerly, Rhode Island. I spoke to a few of the pluggers and the lone eel guy standing around, watching the 10 footers roll in and crash on the rocks near the light and they said the dropping tide that morning was happening but the incoming had been quiet. Oh well, just another in my long line of bad timing moments but I had time so after a little recon of the light house pier, I headed for the beach. There is a long sand dune bar that extends out into the river there and it’s about a mile or 2 out to the point. I figured I’d walk out to a salt pond I had seen on the aerials and keep walking until something happened. Nothing happened for 4 hours. It was a long walk in the sand and I was starting to chafe in all those usual places. Oh, I saw bait, lots and lots of bait but the incoming tide was uneventful. I took quite a bit of video, just sitting along the beach amusing myself, casting at structure and balls of bait but the birds were as bored as me and that’s a bad sign in the salt. When the tide turned, things started to change. I was at the mouth of the salt pond and a dark shape moved across a sand flat. No sh*t, I said out loud to nobody and started casting in the direction the shape was moving. No dice but now, I had at least seen a fish longer than 4 inches. A cast into the flow a few minutes later enticed a fish to follow my fly right into shore and as I yelled at the fish, C’mon, C’mon but he wouldn’t listen. I spotted one more fish in the pond before 4 boats pulled up with kids, dogs, sand castle pails and spinning rods so I headed on down the beach. I met up with a gentleman from the Netherlands, it was our friend from right here on flies and fins, Marcel, on Vacation and while were discussing the lack of fish on the beach, a bait ball about 100 yards down the beach blew up. We scrambled down the beach, stripping baskets bouncing, line dangling in the kelp and pretty much fell over each other trying to get flies into the carnage. Peanut bunker were beaching themselves along a mussel bar to escape and stripers were blasting through with their mouths gaping wide open. Marcel hooked up right away and lost the striper quickly. Then all hell broke loose. Bait up and down the beach was in full panic mode as packs of stripers busted up here and there for about a 100 yard stretch. I, in a match the hatch mentality, had the exact shaped and size fly as the bait I saw in the water and Marcel suggested I go one bigger. He hooked up as I tied on another fly and landed a keeper striper after a long fight. He said it was his biggest ever and the first keeper I had seen on the fly in my limited time on the beach so I was just as psyched. I got the bigger fly tied on and before I got a strip in the basket, the line came tight! And my cell phone went off. I ignored it and then I put the strip strike on a fish just like I had gone over in my head and the fish headed for Florida. As he did this the line in my basket came up in one ball and hit my stripping guide at once and the line stopped. The rod strained and nearly came right out of my hand. In a panic I grabbed the longest loop of line and yanked, the knot came loose and flew from the rod and the fish continued until 100 yard of backing were out of the tip. Then he found the edge of the shallow muscle flat and stayed there. My cell phone rang again, I knew my buds were at the hotel and had probably cracked their second beer. I did not care. Several times, as I tangled with the fish I wondered if somehow, I had foul hooked it because I could not do a thing with it. The phone buzzed again…I ignored it and finally, I was standing on the beach with a 34 inch predator of the sea. My first keeper on the fly and my biggest striper ever. As I kneeled in the surf, I felt the beast return to life and watched it slip into the depths. I clipped the fly off and headed down the beach in search of a much needed bourbon and coke. I would have stayed but I don’t get to see my high school homeys much anymore and they don’t fish. Needless to say, They don’t understand. Also, Jeremy was right on with the intel and I owe you one buddy! It goes without saying that once the carnage started, I forgot about the video camera.