by Dave Micus
y all accounts, Wednesday, October 8, 2003, was an historic day in the annals of North Shore striped bass fishing. It was on this day, on the beaches of Gloucester and Beverly and Manchester by the Sea, that the greatest blitz of striped bass seen in 40 years took place. The schools were huge, fishermen were getting a fish on every cast, and anglers took up to 100 fish. Most impressive was the size of the bass, with many stripers in the 30's and 40's taken.
Of course I was at work.
The first buzz about the blitz began circulating via e-mail on Thursday. I heard from a friend who caught a 44 incher, and he said he'd never seen anything like it though he's been fishing for striped bass with a fly rod for 40 years. While anglers rate just a tad above politicians on the honesty scale, others confirmed the veracity of the initial reports. So I did what I had to do; I arranged to take Friday off, looking as sincere as possible while muttering to the boss something about a family emergency.
Fly fishers, especially fly fishing writers, feel compelled for some odd reason to explain why they fish, and the reasons always tend toward the metaphysical-"the only place where the possibility of rightness even exists" and "an artful effort to imitate truth" are two of my favorite examples. And while this might sound profound, as if we fly fishers are deeper than, say, golfers, let there be a report of big fish around and you'll see quickly enough why we fly fish. It has nothing to do with imitating truth.
So I arrived at Singing Beach in Manchester early Friday morning, waders on, rod in hand, and visions of giant bass in my head. As I approached the water, there were no gulls squawking, no bass slashing bait, and only a few other anglers, most of whom were leaving. It wasn't looking good. I spoke to a number of them, and all confirmed that nothing was happening, but they cruelly pointed out that Wednesday was the best fishing day they had ever seen, and even Thursday hadn't been bad. I began to get that feeling in the pit of my stomach, that twinge of panic as when a job interview or a date suddenly starts to go bad and you're unsure how to salvage it.
I'm not familiar with this area, my home waters being Plum Island Sound, so I latched onto a fellow fly fisher named Bill and followed him to White Beach and Black Beach, then to Magnolia Beach (by then he was afraid I was going to follow him home). There were no obvious bass sign, and we didn't even wet a line. We ended up back at Singing Beach, where he decided to just head for home. But before he did, he rubbed in the salt.
"Man, you should have been here Wednesday. I never saw anything like it."
So here I was, off from work, no obligations and a whole day to fish. But it wasn't Wednesday, and no matter how I tried to will myself through the time/space continuum I couldn't go back. Still no birds, and no surface swirls, but since I was here I figured I might as well throw a few casts.
I began to pick up fish, not very big, but steady. I lost a few, lost a few flies, took a few waves, and, all in all, had a pretty good day fishing. But it still wasn't Wednesday. As I walked to the parking lot I met Khan, a full-time bass bum who everyone seems to know, just getting out of his car.
"Anything happening?" he asked.
"I picked up a couple, but it seems to have just died," I answered. Then I braced myself for the inevitable.
"You should have been here Wednesday," he said on queue. "Best fishing I ever saw. I got at least six fish in the high 30s low 40s."
Now competition ruins fishing, and I intentionally fish alone to avoid the 'I caught more than him/he caught more than me' emotional tug-of-war that inevitably occurs, and I don't begrudge Khan catching lots of big fish but right about then I was glad that we were fishing, not hunting, because I wouldn't have been responsible for what I might have done had I been holding a rifle. Khan went on his way and I decided to call it a day, battered by the waves and tired from six hours of casting.
"Angling is a situation whose dramatic values are immediately charged by their context," wrote Thomas McGuane, and today was a perfect example. When I did a mental tally I ended up with 23 fish-a good outing, especially when blind fishing from shore at a new location, but, as I had heard over and over, nothing compared to Wednesday.
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."
Copyright © 2003 - 2013 David Micus, All Rights Reserved