The greatest night of striper fishing...ever?
It all started 17 years ago on the fabled white sand of Lobsterville Beach....
I was a weird, wiry 7 year-old obsessed with fishing on his first trip to a bastion for salt-obsessed anglers - Martha's Vineyard, MA.
From what everyone had told me - mainly my mom - fish would practically be jumping up to great to me whenever I wet a line.
But being a 7 year-old, I was restricted to fishing my grandfather's dock in Vineyard Haven under parental supervision....during day light hours...when my parents would let me....so this illusion of grandeur turned out to be a cruel tease of a young, fragile mind preoccupied with big pheesh. Add into the equation that I was trying to fit into a family that could, in all good conscience, be deemed "allergic" to the sport - and you've got one sad camper.
In the following years, I've accepted their condition and with each grip-n-grin - they've accepted mine. Tomato, potato as they say, right? But I digress....
Then one day, my mom tells me that a man was coming to take me fishing for the evening. A few months earlier, my grandparents had rendered his services in a benefit auction - and with a grandson in need of a pick-me-up from his tormenting older siblings - they called in the big guns. That was when the man, the myth, the legend - Nelson Sigelman - entered my life for the first time.
Pulling up in the drive way in his SUV, rods firmly entrenched in the roof rack and a hearty, full mustache atop his smile - it was easy to see that Nelson was a good man and a fish whisperer of sorts. Maybe it was his calm, peaceful demeanor or his quiet confidence....or the bucket of live eels in the back of the truck - but I hung onto Nelson's every word that night...to this day, I still do.
When we arrived at Lobsterville Beach, birds were all over the place. Having never experienced this brand of excitement in the farm ponds of the Shenandoah Valley - I was absolutely captivated by my surroundings.
When Nelson lobbed an eel out on his first cast and handed me a doubled over rod - I was over the freakin' moon. By the end of the night, three big bluefish were deposited in my grandmother's sink and a little kid had made a friend for life.
It's amazing how time flies. From that first trip until now - Nelson and I have had adventures all over the island, him taking the time to teach me the nuances of striped bass fishing and making the effort to introduce me, an awkward non-islander, to folks who share a similar affliction. From clamming in Tashmoo to fluking off the Brickyard and yes, chasing trophy striped bass into the heart of the night all over the island - we've seen a lot in our 17 years fishing together. The lessons learned have been incalculable to my maturation and evolution into the man and angler I am today.
Per Nelson's story:
"Now there are people who like to fish and there are fishermen. Any 25-year-old guy who would leave lots of food, pretty women, beer and friends to go bass fishing is a fisherman."
I've never received higher praise in my life. All I can say is thank you for instilling the right principles in a little kid.
Sadly in that same time, we may have ALL witnessed the rise and collapse of the striped bass fishery that many thought to be SO RECOVERED FROM ITS LAST COLLAPSE THAT IT COULD NEVER COLLAPSE AGAIN.
Seriously? That's just fucking dumb logic.
If action isn't taken soon - the stock may never recover. Ever.
Think about that.
Then think about who can change it.
Let's pray the politicians do something good for once. Formerly working in that industry has raised serious, serious doubts. Especially when considering the vast majority of them care more about the stocks of golf balls at the surrounding country clubs and their short game rather than the livelihood of threatened, wild fish...and most natural resources for that matter. Makes me sick.
But if this really is the end...and stripers are a thing of the past...and the world is going to hell in a hand basket....I can safely say Nelson and I went out with one hell of a bang.
It was the greatest night of striper fishing in my entire life - the fish, seemingly manifesting themselves from nowhere out of the midst of the Atlantic. A 35 and 34 inch fish both came to hand that night. A few larger fish still toy with my imagination. There were several in between 24"-27" range. More than a dozen or so brought to hand in a few hours on the water and many others missed.
But as is the tradition with this blog, the fish (albeit arguably the most important aspect) are only part of the equation. It makes no sense to me to go into detail describing blistering runs, thunderous strikes, and grip-n-grin shots. It makes all the sense in the world to me to go into detail describing the scene.
Black water for as far you could see dimpled with the predatory legacy of rising bass. Stars glistening like tiny diamonds on a gentle shoreline. The peace of mind that comes from having no phone, no to-do list, and no commitments other than casting into darkness and eventually finding sleep. The thunderous boom of a big bass on the surface cuts through the heart of darkness, breaking the silence. A reel screams. A rod bends. Excited words are uttered and a few moments later - a smile stretches from ear to ear. A special serenity reserved for those who pursue it. A special moment for those who can cherish it.
"He slid the fish up the beach. The bass measured 34 inches, a fine catch on any night, but a particularly fine fish for a young man happy to be back fishing under the stars on Lobsterville Beach on Martha’s Vineyard and another good story for me to tell when I become a codger."
A special thanks to Nelson Sigelman and all those who have taken a kid fishing. It truly makes all the difference.
Pray that there may one day be a collapse in Titleist stocks so that John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, and Barry O can get their shit together.
To read the full story check out Nelson's piece from the Martha's Vineyard Times:
savage of the north...branch?
I hate it when I take a weekend off from fishing. Especially when there are shenanigans afoot like kicking it with little dogs or drunken stream exploration. That said, you can imagine I was both a tad bummed and excited for my homies when I received this intel from Clarence Monday morning after their trip to the North Branch and Savage this past weekend. Without further adieu - some fly words from brother Clarence:
"Here's how the weekend went down:
Short version: Caught 7 rainbow trout, 1 brook trout, 1 smallmouth bass. Noodled a few minnows. Beautiful weather both days, especially Sunday. Light fishing pressure on both rivers both days.
Friday: Scooted out of town around 2pm. Arrived at the Savage with about an hour of daylight left to fish. Popped down the hill just upstream of the confluence with the North Branch and across from the little industrial plant/mill/thing. Drifted some hopper-droppers and beetles along the far bank and through the pools to no avail. Connor tossed a big articulated streamer in there hoping for Mr. Johnson. Nada. Packed it in and headed to the campground to get set up and eat dinner.
Had the campsite and surrounding area to ourselves. Got lucky and found a site with a bunch of leftover firewood. It quickly got drunk out and spent a long while throwing Tommy at the big oak tree. Did some creaking that night in a little brookie stream and caught some blacknose dace and sculpins by hand, along with a few salamanders. Not a lot of insect activity under the rocks, mostly little nest-building caddis and an odd stonefly or two. Slim pickin' for those brookies. Broke my lungs on a big cigar.
Saturday: Fished the NB lower section. We peered down the cement retaining wall on the way downstream and saw a monster palomino trout that looked a lot like this one. We came back to it later.
About two miles downstream and past the other fisherdudes that were out (not many, maybe a few cars worth) we popped into the river and started fishing. Fished super beetles with size 16-18 stonefly droppers for a bit and hooked up with a 13" or so rainbow with a melting anus. Yes. My best guess is that it had a hook or something lodged in its rectum and the wound had spread and was about half-dollar sized. Don't think it was a bird because the wound was on the bottom. Gross. Plucked out another one about an hour later just upstream in a nice run/glide in the shadows.
Around noon-2pm there were a few fishing hitting at the surface on the shaded side of the bank. We both gave those fish our best shots, but to no avail. Connor took a shot at the big palomino on the way out but it wasn't interested. Left the NB with only two fish between the both of us and headed out for provisions (more beer, fly shop pit stop, and firewood).
Next we went to the Savage to fish it before the Sunday whitewater release. Popped in just below the Do-Not-Enter section and fished a few holes. Had a half-dozen missed surface strikes on size 14-18 elk hair caddis dries. Don't know what the problem was--either user error or uncoordinated fish. Had to pack it up a little early because there was an intimidating storm rolling our way.
Went back to camp and waited out the rain. Decided it would be a good idea to go catch a brook trout, so I went and caught a brook trout. Pretty decent sized fish considering the puddle she lived in. Hammered a little caddis on cast#1. Tired herself out in about 15 seconds and didn't want to swim upright again, so I had to spend 5 minutes reviving her. Felt bad and checked up on her continuously throughout the night and she seemed OK.
Got the tents up, the fire roaring, and dined on pork chops and lamb prepared by Camp Chef Connor. Threw some more Tommy (hawk) until it got lost in the weeds (found it in a very conspicuous spot next to the tree in the AM).
Sunday: Tried to fish the Savage during the release, but at 800-1000cfs we were fishing some stained, high water and were having trouble getting flies down, and casting was tough from the bank and the river was too high to safely wade. Decided to get back to the NB and fished the upper section below the dam. There was a beautiful run with some deep holes upstream about a mile from the parking lot and we had it all to ourselves (except for a big osprey).
We each casted to a palomino and his half-dozen trout buddies but none were interested in anything more than a quick look. Moved upstream and caught a 14" smallie on a super beetle. Moved up a little more and Connor caught fire and ripped out two 13-14" bows from a pool on a dead-drift nymph rig. He gave me a chance at the hole and moved back downstream only to pull out a 20" rainbow. It acted like a log coming to him, but once it saw me with the net it got nimbly and put up a solid fight. Took right back off without hesitation and will make another angler happy again soon.
Swapped places again and I caught a 14-15" rainbow on a wooly bugger. Connor caught another average sized rainbow with a big chunk out of him (thanks Osprey). Fished our way back to the car and called it a day around 3:30.
Lessons learned: Bringing my little dog fishing isn't as big of a pain in the ass as I thought it'd be. She fits perfectly into a backpack and is very complacent sitting there all day. Gets upset when folks refer to her as a cat, though I understand the confusion.
Thanks to Connor, I now know that nymph rigs can be easily setup with a couple feet of leader butt section (or probably a 25-20lb mono knotted taper) with a loop-to-loop connected to 4 feet or so of 4x fluoro tippet. Easily tied, turns over well enough, and cuts through water. Great idea and would have saved me from having to retie after inevitable nymph rig tangles."
And there you have it folks. Fly dudes doin' fly stuff.
Standing in a 9.5ft fiberglass dinghy, roughly 150lbs over capacity without a motor, a relentless Eastern wind pushed the nefarious characters away from the scene of the crime and back towards civilization.
As the darkness enclosed around them in the mangrove wilderness, 9Toe Smothers and Half-Foot Jayne stood with blank stares fixed on the horizon. An eerie silence descended upon the lagoon.
Looking out onto the black water, their characteristic rouge cheeks drained to a more ashen shade of what-the-fuck-just-happened grey; there was no need for words.
After intensely flipping flies for 40 of their first 48 hours in paradise and beating up every goddamn inch of mangrove shoreline to no avail, there was no place on earth they’d rather be than this moment. But damn if it weren’t bittersweet.
9toe had just trout set on the fish they came for— the crown jewel of the backcountry— Magalops Atlanticus.
And a good one, too.
It was a lot like the Game of Thrones episodes where the Red Viper fights the Mountain or the infamous Red Wedding – right when you thought long-awaited victory, justice, and instagram glory were to be restored to the Universe, your favorite character ends up dead in the worst fucking way and the whole world goes to shit….the lines goes slack…the excitement ends….the water which for a fleeting moment was once so full of life turns to black
In this instance, 9toe and Half-Foot didn’t die horrific, graphic deaths…but try telling that to 9-Toe…..
Remick “9-Toe” Smothers and Brogan “Half-Foot” Jayne landed in Sarasota on May 9th at 3pm. Arriving at a familiar place, they intended to fish hard until Monday before heading their separate ways. There was one thing on their minds—redemption.
See—the previous October, the boys had planned to hit it big. Taking time off from some epic trout fishing in their home waters to chase the leviathans that live in the salt.
They arrived in the SRQ (Sarasota) on a Friday, fished through Sunday, and found themselves on the wrong end of a post-frontal, new moon fueled, high-water shit show that rendered every fish within their vicinity absolutely lock-jawed. Over the course of 80 odd hours in Paradise, they came away with only a small tarpon to show for their efforts and a few big reds that threw the hook.
Half-Foot stuck the tarpon on the last day too.
It was just one of those trips.
Ain’t fishing great?
But this time was going to be different. They were fully prepared.
9-Toe tied up fewer flies than last time (albeit with more variety and quality) to figure out what would ignite the bite. Depending on what worked, he would tie from there.
He did better research, this time not picking a random weekend and hoping for ideal conditions – but guaranteeing them.
The first full moon in May can be that good. He read up on fishing reports and tide charts. If only he had shown this sort of dedication in school…
They vowed to be more precise.
Make softer casts.
And never, ever trout set.
After a dozen or so IPAs and some Sniki Tiki chow that night – the weary travelers hit the hay at 2am.
They’d be on the water before the sun.
The next morning, 9toe and Half-Foot woke to darkness, threw on their fishing shirts and board shorts and hopped in the Ford Echo to make their daily stop at the 7-11 on Midnight Pass Rd. The night before, fueled on ambition…or Sweetwater…they got all their ducks in a row – launching the skiff, stringing up the sticks, and picking up a Styrofoam cooler to act as a drying pad/life line to hydration and caloric intake.
They named it ‘Yeti’. It cost $2 and kept their flies dry and their drinks cold and honorable.
Yeti lived a happy life for four days before former FlyTimesDC contributor Tony Pikos lost his balance while playing with his hang down and used the dilapidated Styrofoam chalice to break his fall….’Yeti’ was destroyed….and then we bought ‘Yet 2’…..
Loading up on PURPLE G2, water, ice, sandwiches, cerveza, and breakfast stuffs (new stuffed hash browns are wonderful) the two anglers were ready to get weird on some fish before the sun poked its head over the horizon. They'd repeat this step daily over the duration of the trip.
After two days of ABSOLUTELY CRUSHING GIANT REDS, the boys were still in hot pursuit of a date with Megalops Atlanticus.
Looking down at his sunburnt and fire ant bite ridden feet, Half-Foot, who in the exact same spot about an hour earlier had jumped a nice fish, tried to offer up some encouragement.
“That take was absurd.”
“I know, man. Planet earth shit.” 9toe paused, sighed, got a cigarette out of his pocket, and lit up.
“What happened, dude?”
Looking up at the sky for answers that surely wouldn’t come, 9-Toe sighed heavily. He had two choices. Blame the fish or take blame himself. It was an easy choice, “I just fucking trout set.”
And that was the end of the conversation.
As the ideal moon cycle began to fade, the red bite slowed down. The tarpon, which we had seen somewhat consistently each morning and evening, seemed extinct. Worst of all, Half-Foot had to roll out leaving 9toe to maneuver the vessel while fighting and landing a potential fish solo. Not an ideal situation but not an impossible one. He had done it before.
After almost a week of perfect weather, a front pushed through. The wind would spike to 25mph from the SW after 9am for two days - leaving a miniscule 3hr window to get bit by a fish that by all means did not want to play.
Big, white half-n-halfs and a relatively new baitfish pattern 9toe tied up at the Best Western had produced a few takes. In the span of fishing 5 days with Half-Foot, the boys had managed to cast to 10 fish, jump 3 and ultimately fail to bring any to hand. All fish were spotted in the same 100 yard stretch of shoreline. They had somehow figured out a pattern (by eliminating every OTHER square inch of lagoon...) Time was running out. Half-Foot's exit signaling the final 3 days of fishing for 9toe.
As 9toe launched the skiff that morning - a cool breeze gently rippling the water - he tied on a star**** and began to stealthily place casts on the mangrove ledges. About 10 minutes into his adventure, he came to the tree where just a few days prior - he trout set on the fish of a lifetime, pulling the hook out of the fish's mouth. Making a short, 25ft cast under an overhanging branch, 9toe let the fly descend into the black water for a couple seconds before stripping it back as quickly as he could.
The fish were on it after the first strip and three juvenile poons (10-20lb class) shot out of the groves to inhale the fly.
There would be no trout-setting this time. No pilgrim-anticts of any kind. The Fish grabbed the fly, 9toe strip set hard, and the Megalops Atlanticus skied into the early morning light. After a 10 minute tug-of-war in which the fish attempted to pull 9toe and his motor-less vessel into the mangroves - 9toe managed to get the fish to deeper water and eventually brought it to the surface. Locking the fish grip on its prehistoric mouth - he pulled the juvenile dinosaur in the boat and started fawning over it like it was a hot blonde holding a puppy.
But hey, that's what 4,000 casts and averaging 12hrs a day on the water will do to you.
After a short photo shoot, 9toe gave the beast a quick smooch and revived it boat side. With a strong kick his prize headed back to its mangrove layer.
With the tarpon out of the way - 9toe called Half-Foot at 7am to let him know what went down. Life was good.
Good things come to those who don't give up.
Fly dudes doing fly things in fly places with flies. Got that?