I probably picked the absolute worst day possible to write up this monthly post: while it’s mid-April, it’s a blizzard outside my window right now. We had about two-inches of snow when I woke up, but it’s been another hour now and there’s at least another inch. So much for the forecast which still- at this very moment- says “little or no accumulation”.
But, it’s definitely spring (despite what it looks like outside) and I see next week has another 70-degree day coming. News has broke that the schoolies have made it to the Rhode Island coast, and I had actually had a little bit of inside information that they’ve been here for a week or more. And here’s even more interesting information: while I was out fishing for Cod more than a week ago now, I lost something on clam strips that I assumed had to be a small cod. However, knowing what I know now, I’m wondering if it wasn’t one of the first schoolies to be hitting the Rhode Island surf!
As for actual success, I’ve got my first wild brookies under my belt now (finally!) and also checked off some largemouth bass on the fly rod, some pickerel, and I lost a couple of pretty good northern pike. The latter- the pike- are very exciting. I have a long history with pike, and haven’t caught one since 2011.
The very first pike I ever caught was a life changing event. My father and I used to troll for smallmouth bass in Maine in the summers. We had no idea there were pike in the lake in which we were fishing; I had never even seen one, and my Dad hadn’t caught one since he was a kid. I had on a Storm deep-diver, and was bumping bottom in 25-feet of water. On this particular day, my mom was with us, too. My sister was back at the rental with my grandma, and my mom was just out to enjoy looking at the lake for the few hours we fished.
I’ll never forget: I was using a brand new rod and reel I had just bought at Walmart- a store we only got to go to on Vacation, since there was only one in the whole state of Vermont and we never went. It was a closed faced reel called the “Turbo”, I’m guessing it was a Berkly product but I can’t remember, and it was absolute junk, but it looked cool. It was blue, and cone shaped, and has silver writing that made it look like a piece of sci-fi equipment. At $20, it was a lot of allowance money, but this is typically what I saved for: one big fishing spend on vacation. I had 10-lb test on it (I stripped off the factory 6-pound, deeming it insufficient) and I swear looking back it probably only held 75-yards of line, and I had almost every inch of it out.
When the fish hit, I instantly yelled, “I’m hung up!” Since my Dad was at the back of the little red boat, I practically screamed in his face. That’s the only thing that saved us. He cut the motor, and just drifted while he brought up his line so we could go back to get my lure (this happened frequently for both of us). It was only then that we realized it was a fish. The rest of the fight is a blur. I think my heart rate was the highest it’s ever been in my whole life. The giant fish took so many runs! It was like dragging a body through the water. My arms were shaking, and my Mom just kept repeating “oh my god!” and my Dad was coaching us both to be calm. When we first saw the fish, my Mom screamed- not in fear, but in bewilderment. My Dad swore- a very rare occurrence, except when he hit his head (which was frequent enough I knew he had a pretty good profane language catalogue). We had never seen anything like this fish!
It took a few swings, but my Dad got the fish in the net, and we all cheered! I was blown out. I felt exhausted and totally overwhelmed by what I was seeing. We didn't even know what to do! But I decided we HAD to show Grandma and my sister. Mom held the net in the water while Dad scooted us back the ½-mile to camp.
Looking back now, that was the nail in the big fishes coffin. That fish- 38 and ½ inches- was very likely one of the original stocked pike in that lake and had been there for 20-years. We really did try to keep it alive, and then revive it after photos, but of course we dragged it up from 30 feet down, in July, then towed it in a net for a ½ mile, only to hold it out of the water for far too long.
We filleted it and had pike for a couple days at breakfast with eggs, and at lunch as a sandwich. It was pretty good, really, and since the fish was so big my Dad just filleted it. My Mom’s parents- Grandma and Pop- showed up later that day (a rare thing, they never came to Maine) and my Pop wished we had saved it and said he would have paid to have it mounted for me. I remember being really sad about that.
But I also remember being sad that it was dead. I went out into the woods at least 10 times to look at its carcass (I had to walk down the road a bit and cut far into the very dense hemlock where Dad had thrown it) and bask in what an amazing fish it was, and what a lucky catch. I felt like this was going to be part of my legacy. A pretty deep thought for an 11-year old chubby little boy. My Dad and I kept plenty of perch to eat, and I didn’t have any real aversion to killing fish, but something about seeing this colossal fish discarded in the woods bothered me. If you caught my article in the March 2020 edition of On the Water entitled “A bike, a bucket, and brown”, it was the same feeling, and I wonder if this wasn’t the start of how I felt about wild brookies and stripers. I’m not saying I’m right, but I just can’t grasp how you could ever kill something you love. And, looking back, that was the moment I really fell in love with a fish for the first time. I loved that damn Pike. I dreamt about that fight for years afterwards. A lot.
Turns out, those pike were introduced, of course, and wiped out the salmon and trout population in that lake and all the others in the area. So, really, I’m a proponent of killing as many Pike in those water as you want (I won’t name, but there aren’t a ton of pike waters in Maine that fit the description I’m making here). Again, I'm not sure that's even right, and ask myself, would I kill them now? I’m not sure. That’s probably bad on me, because I really do believe we should be wiping out invasive before it’s too late. Reintroduce natives, whenever we can. Though, it’s really too lake for this lake.
How did I get on this topic?
So yeah, I got a new kayak- a hybrid canoe/kayak from BassPro brand Ascend (or "kayoe" as I like to call it)- and found a lake with nice bass and pike, and I’m looking forward to getting a few big girls on the G1000 eight-weight. I’m also grudgingly admitting this snow will be really good for the local small trout streams, and I’m ok with it for that reason. We are near drought levels already, and it’s only April. It really upsets me! Before I forget, I also am so excited to be using my new custom-built glass 3wt that Toby Lapinski built me. It's a real beauty, and I'm beyond excited to take it adventuring with me into the wilds of Maine.
I’m looking forward to finally getting into the surf next week (besides the fishing I’ve been quietly doing for Cod) as m
y wife is off work and can take care of the new puppy. I’m also almost totally booked up for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut projects for the months of May, June, July, August, and September and I’m really excited to be bringing you a lot of new and exciting content in late 2021 and through 2022.
AND, I get my second shot on Tuesday. Couldn’t be happier about that.
Happy spring everyone. When next you hear from me, I’m going to be HEAVY into the surf, and may even have one or two big fish under my belt by then.
As for articles and such:
Out now is my article “First Fish” in Surfcasters Journal. I think I mentioned this last month, but the magazine was late getting out, but you can read it now here: www.surfcastersjournal.com
Next, I have two for The Fisherman, and you’re going to see a lot from me there in the coming months. First, and article on fly fishing for Crappie. This is a fun thing to do in the spring when they come in nice and shallow and into open areas. I don’t like to target them once they’re actually on beds, but just prior is really fun. You can catch 25 or 40 fish in an afternoon, and on a 2, 3, or 4-weight fly rod it’s a blast. https://www.thefisherman.com/current-issue/?issue=april-2021®ion=new_england
I also have a short column on fishing the unloaded redfin in the surf for stripers. Can’t underestimate the unloaded redfin! https://www.thefisherman.com/current-issue/?region=new_england
This month is a rare month I don’t have an On the Water article, but next month I have a really fun one…and something else very special.
I also have another VERY big announcement coming up, which I should be able to reveal in the next newsletter (and probably before, as I may make a totally separate post).
The seminar series is winding down! There’s only three more sessions as of writing, but if you’re interested, any of the recordings are going to be available for purchase until June 1. Once June comes, no matter what, they’re going away. Next year, the series is going to be shorter, and it’s going to focus on just a couple topics. While this year was such a great experience, I think it’s best for all parties if I change it up a little. I’m still planning on doing 3-5 interviews on top of the instruction, and I’m still mulling over a 2- or 3-night series followed by a trip or field day. www.indeepdeepoutdoors.com/seminar-series
On April 20th, I’ll be speaking at Plum Island Surfcasters Club, but unfortunately this is not open to the public, sorry! However, a recording of the talk is available to subscribers only, and if you join there are other benefits. You can find out more information on their website: https://www.plumislandsurfcasters.org/
Thank you to all that wrote letters to the ASMFC with comments on the striped bass PID. Also thank you to those of you who came to the hearings and either listened or commented. I’ve heard rumors the feedback was substantial, thorough, and near consensus asking for conservation, but I can’t confirm it. Thank you to the ASGA and Stripers Forever for doing a lot of work to get the word out. However, I also saw MSBA, Plum Island Surfcasters, Newport Surfcasters, Narragansett Surfcasters and various other clubs come out with public comments, and appreciate that very much.
Finally, I urge you to consider what you can do this season to help the striped bass. Can you fish more single hooks? Can you skip taking home any fish this season? Can you limit yourself to a single fish all year? Can you limit the number of schoolies you catch in a single tide? Can you go to a single treble hook? I’m trying to come up with more ways I can do better, though I know I’m already being very conscientious. I am 99% certain I only killed 1 fish last year, and it unfortunately somehow managed to get the treble hook in its gill plate from the outside. That means my release mortality was 0.16% (roughly). But even if I killed 10, somehow, that still is only 1.5%. If we all worked to get to that level- it would mean A LOT more fish left to breed and catch. In fact, if we did get our release mortality to 1%, we would likely not need to change much else (though I think we should, but I’ll leave that off this blog). So that is something to think about: how can YOU both decrease your release mortality, and how can YOU influence your buddies to do the same?