Montauk On My Right and Provincetown on my left!
That guarantees a sweep of
sea where the world's greatest stripers are found
by Frank Daignault
EDITORS NOTE: This article was first printed in June 1970 in Saltwater Sportsman Magazine. It is reprinted here with the permission of Frank Daignault. The article was produced from photostatic copies of the magazine which unfortunately was missing one page. The "gap" is noted in the body of the text. Please keep in mind that this article is +40 years old, fishing tackle technologies that were new at the time have been greatly improved and are now modern day standards. This article is covered by US Copyright Law, no part or parts may be re-printed, distributed or quoted in any form or any medium without the express written consent of Frank Daignault.
rophy striper country...When he lies on his side in the surf, a 50-pound striper is as big as a man, or at least seems to be. For those who believe in luck, I have had the good fortune to bring seven such fish to gaff, three of them for others.
My first came in '64, at a time in my life when 50 was only a numerical quantity. We were in our first beach buggy, a walk-in of vintage which brought little glamor to the family image. A short beach in Westport, Massachusetts was the hang-out. Among its charms was its proximity to Cuttyhunk; just seven miles across Buzzards Bay on the horizon lay a series of bumps--the Elizabeth Island chain. A large impression was cut through the center of the beach to keep marine life in the back pond healthy, and when the tide turned, a hard, deep rip formed a perpendicular to the beach. Bars made up on the outside where the rip is softened.
I did all my heaving hoping with eels in those days, and I had been swimming this one for three hours since the turn. It occurred to me that I was repeating myself, for every time I got within 50 feet of the spool, I traded the drift for a slow retrieve, in vain. On the next drift, considering the level of activity, I rolled it all out. When the pick-up came, my one option was to walk seaward at a better clip than the fish. I stored 20 feet of line and belted him.
Have you ever heard the chimes--the sound of well drawn mono? It only takes a few knots of breeze with this condition to make that sound. With one coil of line around my fist, the 20 held. I saw the bottom of my spool once more before he turned. There was no surf. The fish was 30 feet out in quiet water, idling. A dorsal broke the moonlit surface occasionally to betray his presence. I got ten feet away and reconsidered, for in those days how could I be sure it was a lineside. Ashamed of my fear, I did anyway, backing up the beach--gaff, 52-pounder, nine-footer and a bad case of shakes.
There's something camp about fishing where you can see Cuttyhunk. As a point to start from, it would seem appropriate to set Cuttyhunk as the geographical center of the monster bass population (the three largest rod and reel fish, over 70, came from there). When you include the 100 miles of cold sea west to Montauk and east-northeast to Provincetown on Cape Cod you encompass nearly all of the yielding geography. Your chances diminish sharply outside this area.
There is no organization that maintains statistics on the number of 50 pound plus stripers caught. A few unrelated promotional endeavors do, however, recognize the taking of a 50 as the epitome of piscatorial achievement. One organization, because of the magnitude of its activity and the season and geography it encompasses, comes nearest to recording the real total of these monsters. There is no way of knowing what number is not recorded, consequently a treatise of this sort lacks the purity of having all the facts. But, I'll stick my neck out and say that 90 per cent of the "biggies" within rumor shot get reported. From 1964 to 1969, the number reported varied from 75 to 200 per year. I will concede that the latitude of these figures leaves something to be desired. My only intent is to bracket the thinking a little--to dispel the guess from as few as a handful, and narrow the idea that there are untold hundreds caught.
The hottest year, 1964, produced about 200; of that number 27 were from the surf. In the years that followed, roughly ten per cent of the total were shore-caught. That's right; let's underline that. Statistically, the boats take ten for every one the waders do. Other factors may be responsible for this. There may be more serious fishing in boats, or perhaps once a man gets with it, he is prepared to plow financial resources into a hull. I feel that the reason more lunkers aren't taken from the surf is simply that no one is fishing for them.
Many take up their gear every fall for the schoolie run and can be found at daybreak every morn pumping a popping plug. They may do this for a week for a pair of small fish, or perhaps catch their weight in fish each morning. Some of these lads shape up at daybreak in famed Narragansett, Rhode Island, and they do well. One glaring question bothers many of them. Why can't they take a "fifty"? I've heard of no 50 pound bass landed on those rocks in the last five years. But the tales of woe, heard in any bull session in that town, indicate that they are there.
People will select a particular rock to cast from, because of the vantage it offers, without ever considering the fish-landing qualities of the terrain. Now if catching one of these giants is a rare accomplishment, it certainly isn't because King Neptune doesn't cooperate. We thrust these impossible conditions upon ourselves. The reason I chose Narragansett as a case in point is because there is perhaps no other town with a heavier play of surfmen. There is a high level of success, but only to a point. That is to say many fish are caught, but rarely if ever is the 30 pound mark exceeded.
It is when you are able to observe a large number of fishermen at one time that you realize the inadequacy of gear in use. Difficult to forget is the morning on Newton Avenue, when there were four men "on" simultaneously. All broke off, and two went to the bottom of their spools first. The shiniest novice usually shows up fishing with 12 pound test line. Light tackle, I would think, is for pro's. The novice, more than anyone, ought to be packing artillery. By artillery I mean line in excess of 20 pound test. I will concede, however, that 20 has got the power--if all conditions are right. You don't control all the conditions.
It is not practical in a normal surf casting situation to exceed 20 pound line with a fixed spool or spinning reel. You guessed it, buddy, the old timers were right all along--you've got to go conventional. Taking another tip from the old timers; stay away from mono unless you are chucking tin or lead. Braided line is soft and much easier to handle. It is less prone to backlash, and if you do snarl it's a simple matter to pick it out. As in spinning, the small diameter line gives the longest casts. There are two basic materials in common use--the more accepted nylon and Dacron. Dacron is generally smaller, which results in longer casts; nylon has a tendency to stretch, like mono, which provides a cushion-like safety factor. Dacron is firm, like wire, and you will feel every quiver when on a fish. I prefer the latter in the 45-range.
Conventional gear does take a little getting used to, but it is not as bad as you think. You will find it adds spice to your fishing, though, if you have done a lot of spinning and feel that you're ready for the change. I have a couple of friends who made the change and love it. Today's revolving spool reels are much more reliable than their spinning counterparts. You don't really need to carry any spare parts (accent on bail-springs). Of course I make these remarks conscious that there is a place for spinning gear and you will want to be proficient with it.
Sweet water people have always referred to the revolving spool as the bait casting outfit. I believe it is here--casting bait--that this tackle really shines. For instance, if you were fishing bait on the bottom with a sinker, and the rod was mounted in a sand spike, you just might not be looking. The tell-tale click acts as an alarm. You may prefer to allow the fish some line when he picks up the bait; with the clutch open and the click on, tension (contact with the sinker) can be maintained. The fish has the freedom to move off with the bait and be heard. A simple flick of the clutch lever and your drag is in play. With fixed spool, the only option you have is a set drag, never walk from an open bait. The former enables you to fish heavier line for bigger fish. With an adequate tip, you will be comfortable chucking lures up to four ounces and still get by throwing two. The big bait/big fish theory has much merit. Perhaps one reason is the large, hard-to-straighten hooks.
Our hearts were heavy for the Cape. Columbus Day was on a Thursday, and I could think of no way to get Friday off. We pointed the family pick-up toward the Rhode Island south shore for a short run. It's different there somehow. The tidal fluctuation is smaller; rips are harder to find. There are no bars. Rhody cast the illusion of a biological void, with its straight nothing-to-go-by beach. I soaked a whole squid and plugged a large swimmer. Each hour, a light pickup went by. The second time, the fellow stopped, and we spoke. His name was Andy, and he chartered out his buggy for fall runs along the beaches. His charges sat--weapons carrier style--in the rear of the covered pick-up, facing one another in two rows. Andy watched me closely, for he never failed to inquire. It was a poor night. More »
Go to Part 2 »
Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Frank Daignault, All Rights Reserved
Frank Daignault is the author of Striper Surf, Twenty Years on the Cape, Striper Hot Spots, The Trophy Striper, Eastern Tides and Fly Fishing the Striper Surf.
Autographed books can be purchased directly from Frank; Order Form »
Articles by Frank Daignault