If truth be told - odd thing for a fisherman to
say - I expected Saturday to be the Perfect Day.
Actually, I was counting on it. I had a rather
large project at work turn out badly, and it's
times like that when you need to get on the water,
just you and the fish, and sort things out (like
career options). And Saturday had all of the
earmarks of the Perfect Day. I launched the kayak
two hours before low, my favorite tide to fish, the
water was as calm as a Buddhist priest, and the wind,
a gale for the past week, was just a zephyr.
Conditions were right. Well, almost. For reasons
known only to the gods, there were no fish about.
This happens to us all, but it is particularly hard
to take when you've not just looked forward all week
to fishing but actually needed that defibulator jolt
of a fish on the line to get the heart pumping again.
And while I've had many great moments fishing without
fish, I had to, after my debacle at work, confirm
competence in something. But it wasn't to be, and
after a few hours of paddling around Plum Island Sound,
I conceded defeat.
Sunday I awoke a bit latter than usual and even,
blasphemy, toyed with the idea of just sleeping in.
A glance outside showed that conditions weren't
optimal - a moderate breeze rippled the water and
the murky sky looked ready to spew rain at any
moment - but I believe the fish gods reward diligence
(or lunacy, as the bride perceives it). Wasn't the
world record striped bass caught off of Atlantic
City in near hurricane conditions? So I dragged
my sorry self from bed and lugged the kayak to the
And, easy for a fisherman to understand but impossible
to explain, there was that something in the air; magic,
for lack of a better word. The ocean tide seemed to
whisper, "sit back, relax, and I'll guide you." How
could I resist? I abandoned myself to the flow of
water, and she took me past a recently sunk old wooden
cabin cruiser whose bilge pumps must have failed; past
the moored lobster boats where there always seem to
be bass holding, attracted, I think, by old bait
washed through the scuppers; past the yacht club
with it flotilla of opulent vessels that never seem
to leave their moorings. All of this is familiar;
I've fished here a thousand times. But the tide and
I continued to the edge of the Sound, approaching
the point at Plum Island, and then Ipswich Bay.
After that it is open ocean.
Now I felt a pin prick of panic. I have never been
this far in the yak and the water here can be violent,
particularly at the river mouth. Am I being lured to
ruin by the Sirens' song? A glance at the shore
confirms my trepidations aren't unfounded; there,
the skeletal remains of an old coal ship, its
wooden ribs and keel jutting from the sand, is
being exhumed by the tide.
But the water still moves ever so gently, murmurs
"relax," and with a few soft swipes of the paddle
I am on the shore. I beach the kayak and, rod in
hand, walk up river.
I usually fish the other side of the river. It is
easier to get to but much more difficult to fish.
The side I'm on, if accessed by foot, requires a
very, very long walk from a beach parking lot,
and I usually won't make the commitment that this
long trek demands, fearing that, after all of that
travel, there might be no fish and I've wasted a
good part of the tide. But today access is
effortless, and I've been promised fish by the
wind and tide.
And they are true to their word. This side of
the river is a sand beach with a steep drop-off;
perfect fish habitat. I use the Gartside trick
of casting, then walking with and at the same
speed as the current as I strip in the streamer.
The effect is of a baitfish swimming across, but
caught in, the current, and the predatory stripers
can't resist. I reach the end of my beat, catching
four strippers and missing that many more. I walk
back to where I started and cast, walk and strip.
Four more fish.
Again and again I repeat the mantra-cast, walk and
strip. Each time the result is the same. It seems
like this could go on for eternity, and I would be
perfectly content if it did, but then the tide
changes and, abruptly, it seems, it ends. The
shift in tide sighs, "it's time to go," and I
launch the kayak and leisurely paddle with the
incoming tide past Ipswich Bay and Plum Island.
Now I'm back in my home waters, Plum Island Sound,
and I glide effortlessly, wishing that all travel
could be just like this, no noise, no pollution,
no effort. As I arrive at the boat ramp I think,
for just a moment, that it is over too quickly;
but then realize, no, it has been the Perfect Day.
Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an
avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor.
He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet
newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats)
and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.