by Dave Micus
pril is the cruelest month, observed T.S. Eliot, which tells me he was a New Englander and a striper fisherman. But April is over, and the way to describe it best is that feeling you had as a child when the end of the school year and beginning of summer is only two weeks away. 'Only' is a poor choice of words; it is certainly the longest two weeks of your life. In two weeks (or three or four, if the fish gods are cruel), the striped bass will be returning to the shores of Cape Ann.
They were last here in November, and, damn, it's been a long time since I've felt the throb of a fish on the line. I could have fished for trout, or even bass, but I'm a saltwater snob and usually don't even bother to buy a freshwater license. In all of my trouting trips I have never caught 40+ fish, or spent the day catching trout over 24 inches, but I've done that so often with striped bass that I've lost count. That kind of fishing can spoil a man.
And now, for the first time since I stowed it all, I can begin the sacred ritual of preparing the gear. The reels are taken from their cases, the excess grease cleaned off, and new backing added (which I always do myself after a fly shop clerk trapped a loop which I, fortunately, discovered while cleaning the line and not by that rifle shot retort of a big fish snapping the leader). Then the line, which was stored on a line winder to lessen memory, is tied to the backing with an Albright and wound on, and last years loops are cut off and new ones tied before adding the nine foot twenty pound test fluro leader with the bimini twist. The clear intermediate, my favorite, is wound on the Penn International; the Spey, longer than standard fly line, is wound on the 9/10 Redington RS2, a large arbor reel that runs a little big. The floating and sink tip are wound on the 7/8 Redington RS2's, and I make a mental note to keep an eye on all the RS2 reels, as, in an unacceptable oversight, the spool release lever is not stainless steel nor anodized, and it is prone to rust (which can run down the spindle and into the drag). I've contacted Redington about this problem and received no response, which is not the kind of service that I've come to expect, and I wish they were still an independent company owned by Jim Murphy.
Next I break out the rods-the 12-½ foot two hander for early season shore fishing; the 10 foot eight weight for fishing from the kayak, and, my favorite, a 9 foot nine weight diamondback that I won in a raffle, an inexpensive rod that's very stiff but suits my casting style quite well, particularly when double hauling. (If you have a problem with tailing loops when you haul, try a stiffer rod.)
Then it's on to fly tying. I don't tie many flies, usually just a few clouser variations, some thundercreek style flatwings (a favorite fly of my own design), a few Ray's flies and some gurglers, and a few shrimp and crab patterns that I'll never get around to fishing. I'll tie up a couple of clam worms just in case I hit the worm hatch during June's full moon when the bass won't eat anything else. I never carry more than a dozen or so flies, replenishing the wallet as necessary before each outing (I have more confidence in newly tied flies). And this year I can't wait to try some different flies. A Canadian friend, Christopher Wojda, has sent me some dremel bugs, flies almost too beautiful to fish, to try in the salt. I know the striped bass are going to love them.
Lastly it's a quick check of the gear; make certain the zippers on the chest pack are lubed, put the waterproof binoculars and flashlight in one pocket, the tippet and lead tips in another, put the fly wallet in the pocket most accessible, hook the nippers to the zinger and clip the hemostats onto the back of the pack where it is out of the way of errant fly line but within easy reach for freeing a deeply hooked fish. The chest pack and the waders are hung by the door, over the wading boots and flats booties.
The final ceremony is to string up a rod, complete with fly. It is kept by the basement door so that it is ready to fish when the bass are spotted in front of the house, a common enough occurrence that my kids no longer think the house is on fire when they see their old man flying down the stairs and out the door.
With that all done, I'll begin scanning the water with the binoculars that are always kept on the living room window sill. This early in the season it is just practice (though I did see gulls feeding the other day), but in just a short time I'll see bass busting, and I'll become convinced that by looking long and hard enough I can will them to feed, which, inexplicably, often seems to work. Then it will be a mad dash through the house, grabbing the rod always kept strung up by the basement door, and out to the water. Only two more weeks.
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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