The surf, the stripers, the solitude
Photo by Stu Bristol
The author prepares to release a striped bass into the surf at Ocean Park Maine. While the fishing in Maine may be a bit more challenging than, say, off the coast of Massachusetts, the fish — some very big fish — are there.
OCEAN PARK, Maine — Trekking across the cold sand in bare feet, the morning came up bright, with the sun breaking over the rocky island just off to the northeast. The blazing red orb promised that it would be a hot day, a muggy day, and fishing would be tough.
The sea was calm, much too calm for fishing. Big waves and turbulence is what traps bait fish and sea creatures such as crabs and eels, making them easy prey for hungry striped bass.
But one fishes when one can fish. If the fisherman waited for the perfect day, or night, little fishing would be had.
The fisherman wanted to get some time in before the crush of beachcombers and swimmers. By 8 a.m., the fishing would become a chore, with kids on boogie boards and floats bouncing by. The time to catch fish was now.
He baited both hooks with large chunks of clam on the No. 5 circle hooks. Then he stepped into the salt water and hurled his offering into the sea. This he did again with a second rod.
He set one, then the other in the two sand spikes, spread apart by about 12 feet. Then he settled back in the lawn chair and waited for the first hit.
In about an hour, the beachcombers were gathering in number. Every so often, a passerby would stop and ask how the fishing was. The fisherman was glad to converse with anyone, but rarely took his eyes off both rod tips, for he knew that stripers have a strange tendency to take the bait when you least expected it.
Perhaps 10 minutes later, the rod on the right suddenly jerked toward the sea. The fisherman jumped to his feet, grabbed the rod handle, quickly reeled in all slack in the line and set the hook.
Right off, the drag on the reel began to pay out, the reel making that dreamy, whirling sound, the sound so alluring to any angler. The drag, set so that a fish can take out line, is set that way so that the line doesn’t break when a fish turns and runs. Even an 8-pound striper, turning quickly to make a run, can snap 20-pound test line if the drag isn’t set.
This was a good fish, a fish that will easily make the slot limit and one that will probably go over it.
Maine has a strange limit on fish. A number of states along the northern coast require a fish to be around 28 inches and, generally, two fish a day. In Maine, a slot limit has been in effect for years. A fish, 20 to 26 inches or over 40 inches, may be taken. The limit is one fish per day.
A surprising number of Vermonters venture to Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and points farther south to angle for stripers. A good number of these anglers go forth with a fly rod.
A few of these anglers are kind enough to keep the fisherman abreast of fishing activity, sending e-mails announcing that a run of stripers is on along the coast hereabouts.
Striped bass put up a brave, but short fight. On the grill, there are few fish that can match the taste and texture of the pure-white flesh.
But stripers are also special, so the fisherman limits the number of fish he kills. And he is somewhat particular. Even though a 20-inch fish is legal, the fisherman generally does not kill a striper unless it reaches the 24-inch mark. At that size, stripers begin to grow fatter, with more meat.
He has no qualms with those who keep those smaller bass. It is simply that the fisherman believes that, after filleting, those smaller stripers do not give up enough of a meal to justify killing them.
But perhaps the real magic to fishing for striped bass from the surf, particularly at night when the fisherman has the beach virtually to himself, is the scene that unfolds — the crashing waves, as high tide nears, the cool night air, the lighthouse, off on a point, flashing red, then green, then yellow lights, the salt air, a Dominican cigar, the solitude.
And, of course, the knowledge that, at any time, a good fish will swim along, take your bait, and then make the run of its life.