omehow the passage of time has a way of muddying the actual opportunities that the striper fishers had back in the old days. It is all quite natural but the spread of years, the passage of time, paints an altered picture of the opportunities that your father and uncles really had to catch moby stripers. It is a trap in how we view things that should be both clarified and remembered.
ALL SEASONS ARE NOT THE SAME. As I write this I am looking at last year's take of 50 pounders from all the sources that I could find. What I did was clip and write down sizes and available details on the "best-in-season." A couple of things come to mind from that information: They are the largest number of 50-pound-plus stripers at 70 that we have seen since the moratorium; and, on a good year the yield of such fish will triple that. What you should remember, therefore, is that for any given season there could be as few as one and as many as 300 dream fish that would have you calling the taxidermist.
We make observations on the yield of such fish for the reason of recognizing trends in the fishery as the fortunes of what was born 20 years before come to fruition. And because spawning success is never constant, never the same, and comprised of no less than three origins "southern, Hudson, and Delaware rivers" you deal with the measurement of juvenile success in all or some of the places where linesides are born. Because numbers born are not steady, numbers of dream stripers over 50 pounds twenty years later are not going to be constant either. If there is one thing for you to keep in mind, it is that the opportunity for any size, not just the big ones, has never been, nor will it ever be, historically constant.
TIME CAN FOOL YOU. A trick of anything that springs from time is the tendency to lump years in a way that muddies their relationship. Suppose "Uncle Mike" had a couple of 50's and even a 60 back in yore and you draw two things from it: Uncle Mike knew his stuff and fishing was way better then than now. Both ideas are probably true, but when? During some periods way back the chance for a real cow was no better than it was last season. Nearly 40 years ago, when I was an officer in an old guard striper club I had access to the club's records. Many of the seasons in the early 60s the club fish was in the low 40s, which is the same size a leader will have this year.
It depends upon the sets of years. For instance, the late 50s saw a glut of 50 and 60-pounders from all over the Striper Coast. Yet, many clubs had no such fish four years later. From 1964 to 1970 there was a steady increase of 50-pound-plus bass before years of decline which plummeted all through the seventies. Yes, we had marvelous monster fishing on the Cape in '77 and '78 but those fish were not taken anywhere else. Rhode Island and Cuttyhunk were flat and low. When things started downhill, it was not just the numbers, but it also depended upon where one was in the habit of fishing. Let's do some more contrasts.
THINGS WERE AWFUL THEN. Twenty five or more years ago the striper minimum size was 16 inches here in the north and 12 inches in the south where "pan-rocks" were sold as a market delicacy and brought a high price. Along the way stripers were netted, trapped, gilled, and haul-seined, even targeted as by-catch to get around what little regulation began to come in. If a dragger happened to scoop up a bunch, they rejoiced and made another tow because they were in the fish business. When you think about us having had a minimum size of 36 inches during the moratorium "a two handed, 18 pound throwback" with virtually all commercial activity suspended, there is a big difference between what we have recently seen and the then of yore when it was anything goes.
There is concern that more people are fishing now than ever before. However, short of dynamite, there was no ethic in fishing 30 and 40 years ago. Then, people gave fish to their neighbors and anyone who released a fish was considered to be a little "nuts." The late Lee Wulff said at the time that, "A fish is too valuable to be caught only once." Right as he might have been, he was still viewed as an extremist in some, if not many, quarters. Now, if you are entitled to one striper and want to take it home to both eat it and prove that you were really fishing, you feel so guilty about it that you hide it. For that reason many more fishers represent far less sport fishing mortality, even with release mortality considered, in our present high ethic setting.
WHAT ABOUT THE FISHERS? There is really little difference in the manner in which anglers approach their striper fishing. Hangups of the old days are largely the same in that we always had surfcasters who were spooked in the dark and that has never changed. There were always access limitations along the shore. Evolution of the work ethic comes up a lot when anglers make comparisons of the fishers then as compared to now. There is a common belief that your father fished harder than contemporaries do. To some degree that might be true if he was inspired by the market place and selling fish, a notion that today largely has gone out of the picture. On the other hand today's fishing is more effective because there is wider dissemination of knowledge. I suspect that night fishing in the striper surf was once kind of a trade secret and that many people 40 years ago actually fished in the daytime exclusively.
FLY FISHING? WHAT? My fly fishing in the striper surf started in the late 60s on the Cape where people laughed if they saw you. At the time I did not know that a club in Rhode Island had been doing it for ten years or more. Even those of us who engaged in fly fishing the salt chuck conceded it was largely schoolie fishing. It was hardly the tackle-of-choice for moby stripers, and I didn't get a 40 pounder with fly-fishing until '77, ten years trying.
EQUIPMENT? When I was a small boy in the 40s, my father used to soak his linen fishing line in fresh water after use then stretch it out to dry in the sun. If you didn't care for it properly the stuff decayed in front of you. Spinning came along when I was in Junior High School and mono followed soon after. I fished with braided nylon on a squidder and it was 15 years before braided dacron and later micron, which I think was a composition, was viewed as unbreakable in 50-pound. Level winders on conventional reels were distrusted and Frank Woolner, my first editor, warned me against them. Now we fish level wind reels filled with 300 yards of 70-pound test and can't see it. You would have to say I fished with Barney and Fred Flintstone in the "not-so-good" old days. The best of that time was being young.
WHO HAD THE BEST FISHING? The best striper fishing is now and the biggest stripers say 45 pounds or better -- will be coming in the next few years. They will not be easy to find but then they never were. These days, a shore fisher who knows the tide can go to any outflow in the deep night and catch stripers with a more than reasonable expectation of something easily over 20 pounds and a certainty of less. We had that in the "bad-old-days," but not very often. What more do you want?