• The problem with striped bass
    July 16,2006
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    I suppose it was just a matter of time. As we get older, we change.

    At 50, I noticed I couldn't split wood as long as I once could. Can't do a lot of things the way I once could.

    The legs ache and the muscles get tight after a particularly hard day of labor.

    Other things change as well.

    I gave up bow hunting a few years back because it conflicted with other interests — the fall turkey season and the trip every October to hunt whitetails with the muzzleloader up at Camp Swampy. There simply were not enough days in October to do everything.

    Since I was a boy, the largemouth bass has been my fish of choice. They are aggressive feeders, they grow to good size and they fight well.

    But I have a confession to make.

    Another fish — another bass — has eclipsed my old love.

    Now, all I can think about are striped bass. And, considering the amount of saltwater frontage in the Green Mountain State, I'd say I have a problem — a big problem.

    I did a little calculating the other day and I came up with what was for me a stunning fact — I actually caught more striped bass in 2005 than I did largemouth bass.

    All of this is simply a run-up to the fact that, by the time this paper hits your porch, I will finally get to fish for stripers for the first time this year.

    What's the big deal about striped bass?

    There is more to striper fishing than their sheer beauty, their fighting ability, what they taste like and the immense size they can attain.

    On top of all of that, there is the setting: The pounding surf, the stars, the solitude of the beach in the dead of night, the first glimpse of the bright orange sun, as it peaks above the distant waters, the cold sand between your toes. And that night air.

    As a Vermonter, I have found that I am not alone. I get e-mails from a surprising number of Vermont folks who are also hooked on stripers. They include Fair Haven track coach Dave Heitkamp and former Vermont Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Steve Wright. Both are avid fly fishermen and both catch their share of stripers.

    I even got an e-mail from a Rutland woman last week, asking me — of all people — for advice on how to catch stripers. Although I'm no authority on the subject, I gladly obliged.

    While I have fished for stripers from the banks of rivers, while trolling and drifting from a boat and while plugging at the mouths of inlets, nothing beats surf fishing.

    While it is certainly not the most productive way to catch stripers, I find surf casting for striped bass to be both challenging and relaxing.

    I sit back in my lawn chair, listen to the crash of the waves, smoke my cigar and watch the tip of my two rods, waiting for that heart-stopping moment when the rod jerks toward the sea.

    Here's another thing about fishing from the surf: I know, on any given night, that I could hook into a 30 or 40-pound fish. The big question for me is this: On the night it happens — and it will happen — I wonder what I will do.

    There are just two options, really: I can hook into a big cow, bring her in, quickly measure the fish and let her go. Or, I can reel it in and take it home.

    I want to say that I will be a bigger man. I have always made it a point to release those bigger largemouths that I have been lucky enough to catch while fishing Lake Bomoseen over the past 30 years. They take years to grow, so it doesn't make much sense to kill those big breeders.

    Will that logic prevail if I hook into a big striper?

    I hope so, but at this point, I've got to be honest. I just don't know.

    Meanwhile, the time for retirement approaches. When the day comes, in just a couple of years, I'll be spending more and more time headed for the coast.

    Fishing for stripers. In the dark. And with a big smile on my face.

    Contact Dennis Jensen at dennis.jensen@rutlandherald.com
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