Fishing the Fall Blitzes
by Dave Micus
his is the time of year when the striped bass are gorging on bait, and the fishing should be great. Notice I said should. For some reason the beginning of the migration blitzes hadn't materialized, and what should be 30 + fish days are much, much less. This day it has been much, much, much less.
Being a "the water is always bluer on the other side" kind of guy, I had paddled all over Plum Island Sound only to find fish blitzing in the river that runs in front of my house. Having spent all morning not even seeing a fish, I'm now obligated to chase them, and chasing blitzing fish in the kayak can be a fool's errand. It's not uncommon to paddle 1,000 yards toward birds diving and bass slashing only to have it stop, as if Poseidon flipped a switch, the moment you arrive. And that is what's happening today, when, having seen maybe 400 fish feeding, I've only managed to catch four. I even wonder if the gulls are having sport, squawking and diving just to watch me frantically paddle to barren water (I've seen the way they torture crabs they've cornered on the beach, so I know such behavior is not beneath them). I'm ready to ignore their squawks and free fall dives and just concentrate on the area I occupy, but the prospect of blitzing fish in the distance is kind of like walking into a tavern and seeing Pamela Anderson sitting alone at the end of the bar. You know the odds are poor, but you just have to try.
The blitzes come to a crashing halt when a wake boarder pulled by a powerboat decides that the whole ocean isn't a big enough venue and so rockets down the channel where I'm fishing. Being someone who goes to the water to slow down, I don't understand those who go to speed up. Besides, boats scare fish, and up to 50% of their fuel ends up right back in the water, and if I had my way no powerboat would be allowed anywhere that is accessible by kayak or canoe. The fish disappear, and I decide to call it a day.
The next morning is consumed with domestic chores, and I get a late start. I decide to launch at the boat ramp at the end of my street instead of in front of my house. It's a flood tide, and I suspect that the fish will, like yesterday, be feeding more toward the mouth of the river and by launching at the end of the street I'll save myself some paddling. My instincts are correct; on the marsh bank opposite the ramp quite a few birds have congregated-gulls, of course, and cormorants, but, more importantly, great blue herons and snowy egrets.
Herons and egrets portend better fishing because, unlike gulls and cormorants that fly and dive for bait in schools of feeding fish, the herons and egrets pick spots on shore where they know, don't ask me how, that the bass will drive the bait fish to them, and as soon as I launch the yak I can see schools of busting bass a few yards off shore of where the birds are gathered. But, unlike yesterday, the fish continue feeding even as I paddle near, and at one point I find myself in the middle of a large school of blitzing bass, getting wet from the spray of their tails as they slash at bait on the surface.
A fish hits the fly on every cast, the only problem being they're too damn close. You need to be something of a contortionist to fish from a yak, and I modify my methods, casting only three feet of line with the nine foot leader toward the stern, and then, using just the rod, skip the fly across the surface parallel to starboard and toward the bow, like a baitfish porpoising to escape the feeding fish. A bass leaves the water and smashes the fly on the surface three feet from the boat, a thrilling sight, and by the time I land him I've drifted past the feeding fish. Rather than risking spooking the fish by paddling back, I fish backward, releasing the line on the back cast and as soon as it hits the water I'm on again.
I'm directly across from the boat ramp and any boater launching can't help but note the diving gulls and splashing fish, and will likely zoom over and scatter the bass in every direction. I keep one eye on the school and one eye on the ramp, knowing that this could end at any moment. But the school moves up river, and now there's a small marsh island blocking the view from the ramp. The gulls have settled down, not hovering and diving and giving our position away to enemy boats, but landing right on the expanding ring where a fish just fed, as if, in apology for yesterday's crass behavior, they are trying to show me where the bass are. The cormorants, nervous birds that will land in the middle of a blitz and dive under water to feed with the fish (I hope they don't do that with blues!), keep their distance.
It ends when the blitz moves to a small channel, and I can't help but crowd the cormorants. They, predictably, spook, and in their frenzy to flee raise such a ruckus on the surface that the bass scatter, too. And that's fine with me; I'm ready to quit, as this sort of frenetic fishing, while productive, can be draining. I've caught a whole day's worth of fish in less than an hour and it's hard to keep up that level of intensity. I head for home, feeling what can only be called love for saltwater, shore birds, fish, and life.
Dave Micus lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts where he was an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer, instructor and "star" of an episode of the outdoor show, Fly Fishing America. In 2006 he made the move from sea level to the Rocky Mountains of Montana where he has taken up fly rodding for trout, hunting and enjoying life in the "Big Country."
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