Hooked into nature’s glory
By Dennis Jensen
STAFF WRITER | August 25,2013
Photo by Dennis Jensen
A fisherman seeking striped bass casts his line into the surf just as the sun rises on Casco Bay in Saco, Maine, last weekend.
SACO, Maine — The man, probably in his 40s, is standing right about where I had positioned two surf rods some six hours earlier.
The tide has gone fully out by now and he wouldn’t have stood out except for one glaring reason: He’s texting someone, about something. A few minutes earlier, a young woman passed me down by the shoreline and I would have easily missed her had she not been speaking loudly — much too loudly — on her cell phone.
Sad, isn’t it? It’s about 11 a.m. on a gorgeous morning along a spectacular stretch of sandy beach and these two people are more occupied with their electronic toys than with the magic of a spectacular, sunny day along the coast of Maine.
Oh well. I continue to scan the shoreline as it slightly changes with each wave, looking for another offering of sea glass or, better still, a nice chunk of pottery as the water washes over the sand and then back into the surf.
After a short stretch of beach-combing, I pause and let my eyes sweep up and down the beach, looking for terns, diving in the water. I’ve not overlooked the promise of fishing, despite the fact that it is low tide.
While my two surf rods are spiked, unused, a quarter-mile up the beach, I carry a shorter, lighter rod, tipped with a deadly, black plug.
Wearing only a bathing suit and T-shirt, I step into the small waves and wade out about 20 yards. I cast my line and the plug flies out beyond the breakers.
I’m blind-casting, just hoping that perhaps a school of fish could be passing under my plug. I cast the plug a good 15 times and my thoughts are drifting elsewhere when the tip of my 7-foot rod lurches wildly toward the sea.
Moments later, the striped bass surfaces, then dives back into deeper water. It’s a good fish and he’s well hooked. Careful now, that’s only 10-pound-test line separating you and a fat striper, the lighter line spooled onto the reel weeks ago to lengthen the distance while casting lighter, deadlier plugs.
There’s a good number of people along the beach at this hour, collecting sea shells, walking, jogging, just enjoying the day, and as I slowly back-step out of the water, keeping the line good and tight, I can see several watching me fight the fish.
The drag has quieted some and the line is going out less often now and I gently pull the rod tip up and then reel in line as I drop the rod tip. The main point is: Keep the line tight.
I see the striper once more as he surfaces only 15 yards out. He still has some fight in him and I play him nicely. He’s coming in now, only 15 feet out when, just like that, he is off the hook and is gone.
The only thing that I can surmise is that the striper was lightly hooked at the tip of the jaw.
I’m somewhat disappointed, particularly because hours earlier in darkness I fished the four-hour window that falls two hours before and two hours after high tide and managed to reel in just two fish, both small schoolies. Furthermore, taking a striper with a plug along this stretch of beach is not all that common.
The next morning, high tide is set for 5:47 a.m. I’ve got my two rods baited and secured a little after 4 a.m. About an hour later, as the pink-and-blue faint suggestion of dawn begins to emerge, I can feel several school-sized stripers stripping pieces of the large chunk of clam rigged to the circle hook.
At 5:20 a.m., one rod tip takes a violent jerk toward the sea. I pick up the rod, set the hook and know immediately that I am on to a good fish.
Another fisherman, a guy who showed up about 10 minutes earlier, comes over to watch me fight the striped bass.
“I have a feeling this one’s going back,” I say to him as the fish takes my line, running out of the small inlet where he was hooked. A minute later, I bring the striper to the beach, remove the hook from his mouth and take out the tape measure. He’s 27 inches long.
I lift him, one hand under the lip, the other under his belly, walk into the surf and hold him for a moment, in the water. Then the striper bolts away into the blue.
The fishing slows down and I move to a little cove just a bit down the beach. At about 7:30 a.m., a striper takes my bait. This one measures 24 inches, a keeper that will be filleted and consumed later in the day.
(Maine has a slot limit on stripers. Anglers may take one fish per day, between 20 and 26 inches or over 40 inches.)
The tide is more than halfway out and the sun is up and bright. It’s time to reel in, collect my gear and head back to the beach house.
There’s time to brew a cup of coffee, grab a snack and then head back to the little cove, a place where stripers have come and gone and, at the right tide and with the right waves, sea glass of various colors can be discovered.