Trip Report Stripers! [One p only....]

It was time for my striped bass trip during my biannual visit back to the “Old Country” (aka, the metro Boston area) to visit my siblings and the nieces and nephews, etc. During the visit, one or more of my brothers and I go flyfishing for stripers. As my brothers are golfers, not fishers, this is somewhat cruel as they cast a fly rod for a few hours every 730 days. But they’re game and they do seem to enjoy the day on the water anyway.

My brother made arrangements with Captain / Guide Randy Sigler out of Marblehead and we were good to go. Guiding is a minor part of Randy’s business; his major focus is running very popular “Ultimate Kids Fishing Camps”. Typically, 4-5 kids (8 – 16 years old) go out fishing on Captain Randy’s boat or on one belonging to one of the other captains in his team for three hours of fishing in the morning or afternoon. They run over 600 trips a summer. One week of half-day fishing camps costs $425 - ka-ching.

Our guided trip was scheduled from 11:30AM to 3:30PM. As we were arrived early, we drove over the Marblehead Neck out to Lighthouse Point at Chandler Hovey Park. The park at the tip of Marblehead Neck has a great view across the harbor and to the town of Marblehead. We actually saw Captain Randy piloting his Everglades 243CC into the harbor with his complement of morning campers.


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The Marblehead Light itself is located at the top of a 130 ft. steel tower in the park; the tower replaced a traditional brick and wood lighthouse in 1895.

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We arrived just at high tide and headed out onto the granite shore. But the biting flies drove us off the rocks. From the picnic area, we watched a small flock of eider ducks diving for shellfish in the upper intertidal for their lunch while we ate ours. Off in the distance, we could see the three-masted Coast Guard training ship Eagle motoring its way north; the tug that had assisted her movement out of Salem Harbor powered past back to Boston. Lunch completed, we drove to the town dock in Marblehead.

Captain Randy and his boat were already tied up on the floating dock when we arrived. His morning group of fish campers had already disembarked. We made our helloes and boarded his boat. While we were waiting for a spot to open at the fuel dock, several of the other kids fishing camp boats came in and Randy transferred some of his live bait fish to those who were low. We wouldn’t be needing it. While he refueled his boat, I rigged up my 9wt. Sage RPL rod. I had brought a diverse selection of flies and Randy recommended one, a blue deceiver-like fly, from the collection.


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Randy indicated that the striper fishing had been good off the rocks. In addition, there were abundant schools of menhaden / bunker / pogies that were often pursued by some of the bigger stripers. When not molested, the bunker schools would often move up in the water column and fish would be flipping at the surface. If the stripers were tracking the school, there would be occasional eruptions of pogies as the stripers charged into the school. To catch these fish, they would snag a pogy from the school and hook it up. They would then let the distressed fish swim around frantically, until one of the bigger stripers would inhale it.

We motored out of the marina and made our first stop at Eagle Island in the middle of Salem Sound. At this point, we had sunny skies and light winds. There wasn’t too much wave action either. We would have a falling tide through the afternoon. My brother would be casting from the bow and I would slinging my heavy sink line over the motor from the stern. While the bulk of Eagle Island is granite, the western side of the island ends in a tail-like shoal of boulders and gravel. The tail was barely submerged at this tide level (see left side of photo below).

Randy recommended that I cast across the tail and strip back. While I was doing that, he spent some time re-instructing my brother on how to cast a fly rod.

While probing the tail was unsuccessful, there was an aggressive striper lying in a trench off the western edge of the island, just off the beach. I dropped a cast into the shallows and striper grabbed my fly as it passed by. I could feel from the initial stage of the fight that this was a good fish. I got it on the reel quickly and it took out quite a bit of line as it bolted away from the boat.

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After that initial spurt, I was able to turn it and steadily gain line. It continued to fight hard right to the boat until it was close enough for Randy to grab the leader and lip the fish. According to Randy, this was a quite good striper for a fly rod.

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A few minutes later, my brother hooked up his first fish too.

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Captain Randy indicated that the kids in his morning fishing group had caught several stripers here in the morning. Essentially, we should view the activities of the morning fishing camp as scouting for our afternoon guided trips.

We continued around the island, casting into any likely pockets of water. As in previous years, the name of the game was to drop the fly into the white water, especially pouring out of a crevice or tidepool. Then strip the fly back in. If possible, you wanted time the strips out of the shallows with the outwash from the waves. While there were a lot of fruitless casts, it did work out as a strategy. Even if a cast did not elicit a strike, you could often see a fish come out from the rocks and trail the fly before breaking off its pursuit as the fly neared the boat. Several times on shorter casts, I watched a striper rise out of the dark background to hammer my fly as I stripped the fly back to the boat. On other occasions, I saw the fish flash in the frothy basket as it took the fly almost as soon as it landed. These were 18” and up fish for the most part. I hand-lined in about half the dozen or so fish that I caught and I fought the bigger fish on the reel.

We worked our way around several more islands into the north side of Salem Sound toward Manchester. The catching was pretty regular.

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My brother was almost matching me fish for fish. We eventually moved back to the coast at Manchester By the Sea, a very exclusive town along the coast. And the rocks along the shore here held multiple stripers, including this large schoolie that my brother caught.

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We even doubled up a few times. The first time ended in a minor disaster. I had just starting fighting a nice fish from the stern when my brother hooked up too in the bow. I was focusing on my fish when I heard my brother’s rod explode into four pieces. He had grabbed the rod too high on and the blank just shattered. I told Randy to help him while I dealt with my fish. Even with the rod in pieces, Randy was able to hand-line the fish into the boat. Of course, this required photo documentation, first with my brother, his fish, and the fragments of his rod.

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Then a second picture with the two of us and our fish. [The little hovel in the background of the photo below sits on 2.6 acres at Gales Pt. and has an assessed value of $11 million.]

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Fortunately, Randy had a second fly rod that my brother could use. We worked our way north along the eastern shore of Gale Point and continued to pick up nice stripers regularly.

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Unfortunately, we experienced another fly rod accident. By early afternoon, the weather was changing. The blue skies of midday had been exchanged for overcast. This made it very difficult to see into the water. And the east wind was strengthening and that was pushing the boat into shore. This made it harder for Captain Randy to use his boat-handling skills to keep us at a fishable distance off the rocks.

We were off one promising point when he put the boat in gear while I was messing with my fly line. In a flash, my fly line was caught around the prop which was pulling line through the rod guides. I called out to him to stop the boat but the damage was already done. After putting the engine in neutral, Randy sprinted to the bow to retrieve an anchor from the compartment there. Sprinting back to the stern, he heaved off the anchor into the wind. After it grabbed, the anchor stabilized the position of the boat just off the rocks. Randy lifted the engine and we could see the wrapped line. Randy was agile enough to reach the prop especially with either my brother or myself anchoring one of his legs, and he began the process of unraveling the line. We did recover the fly and the line. But unfortunately, the tip of my Sage had gotten broken in the initial incident. It happens... According to Sage's web site, they should be able to replace the tip section for $150.

So, I switched to the backup 7 wt. rod that my brother had been using and he would fish with a spinning rod and a plug. It took me a bit to get the timing of the 7 wt. after casting my 9 wt. but I did manage to hook and land a few more fish. And my brother caught several on the plug rod.

One problem that resulted from the switch from a 9wt. rod to a 7 wt. rod was that the 7 wt. lacked the backbone (and its line the fast sinking capacity) to cast the largest flies that I had brought along just for this trip. When we were fishing two years ago, we could see larger fish that were not interested in our flies. That was a year when mackerel appeared to be the food of the bigger fish but we didn’t have any appropriate patterns. Shortly after returning home, I had seen the perfect flies at Puget Sound Fly Company; they looked just like big mackerel.

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Near the end of the day, we did tie one of these monsters on the 7 wt. and I tried to cast it. Into the rising breeze, it was like trying to cast half a dead chicken with all the buck tail and long hackle feathers. But I did deliver several acceptable casts. And I even had a strike on one of the casts, but the fish did not hook up.

I could have kept fishing until dark, but it was approaching 3:30PM and our time was up. I landed at least a dozen fisih in four hours and my brother at least eight. Another fun day on the water with my brother and Captain Randy. See you in 2021!

Steve
 
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Great pics and report as usual, Steve, thanks much for sharing.

Over the pond, the European Seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), a close-ish cousin, is a popular fly target. I used to get them quite regularly off the Adriatic coast, and, closer to home, you get some monster 20-lbers at the mouth of the Tiber, although the locals say you wouldn't want to be eating them.

Kenneth
 

Hem

Active Member
Great report. It's fun catching schoolies.
For alot of reasons I feel hiring a good guide for bass is the best bang for your buck.
 

cabezon

Sculpin Enterprises
WFF Supporter
Great pics and report as usual, Steve, thanks much for sharing.

Over the pond, the European Seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), a close-ish cousin, is a popular fly target. I used to get them quite regularly off the Adriatic coast, and, closer to home, you get some monster 20-lbers at the mouth of the Tiber, although the locals say you wouldn't want to be eating them.

Kenneth
Hi Kenneth,
I did not know that there was a separate population of European seabass in the Mediterranean. Like striped bass, they must be capable of tolerating a wide range of temperatures and salinities.
I normally think of striped bass as a temperate fish with seasonal migrations along the Atlantic Coast, but stripers do extend as far as Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico and several populations have become landlocked and complete their life cycle exclusively in freshwater. Striped bass were introduced to the Sacramento River of California and the Coquille and Umpqua/Smith rivers of Southern Oregon. I've always been surprised that they haven't spread north of Southern Oregon into the Columbia or Chehalis Rivers of Washington.
They certainly are a blast on fly tackle. I first began to catch them in the Roanoke River of North Carolina when the fish headed into freshwater for their spring spawning migrations. The real monster stripers that migrate along the eastern coast of the U.S. (and that we were catching) likely spawn in the Hudson River and the Chesapeake Bay system.
Steve
 

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