Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

June 27th, 2005

Shake Down Cruise
By Dave Micus

Recently the weather in my little corner of Massachusetts has been more like November than June, and while this hasn't stopped me from fishing, it has stopped me from fishing from the kayak. I like to use the yak to reach places otherwise inaccessible, beach the boat and get out and fish, which means wet wading and warm water (warm being relative; what is warm to a New Englander would be a cold drink to a southerner). Cold water requires wearing waders in the yak which I really don't like to do. The boots are bulky, it's uncomfortable to paddle, and I don't think there is a PFD made that would keep me afloat if I tipped the yak and flooded my stocking foots. So I've had to pass on fishing from the yak.

But last week, in typical New England fashion, there was a 30 degree temperature swing, and the water even warmed to 60, perfect for the first shake-down cruise. I take a short preliminary voyage on Friday evening, what I thought would be a dry run, a brief paddle to the marsh bank in front of my house a few hundred yards offshore. Of course I bring the fly rod along, being a firm believer in "better to have a fly rod and not need it..." and it's this philosophy that keeps one rod strung up by the basement door, and a multi-piece travel rod in the trunk of my car (a dangerous practice that has resulted in more than one last minute "sick" day from work). I really don't expect to catch anything today, but luckily I'm wrong. In the brief half-hour fishing from the bank I manage to hook three fish, one of which is a decent sized bass.

The real shake down cruise will be the following day. My favorite time to fish, two hours before low tide, is at 5 am, and I resolve to get up early and get out in the yak. There's no need to set the alarm for fishing (quite the opposite for work) and I'm out on Plum Island Sound by 4:45, paddling to a favorite spot. Fishing is never a sure thing, but some spots are dependable and this is one of those, a sand beach on the marsh at the confluence of three estuarine streams that is inaccessible except by boat. I beach the yak on the sand beach, walk against the direction of the tide to one end of the beach and fish with the tide back to the other end. In just a few casts I land my first striper, a healthy fish in the high teens and a harbinger of the fishing to come.

It's impossible to explain the allure of fishing to those who don't fish, and no need to explain it to those who do. There are those times on the water where you get the feeling that everything is not only right with you but right with the world, what Abraham Maslow called a Peak Experience, and this is one of those times. Before the day is through I'll catch and release 42 bass, all small except for three, but early in the year, after a long winter of no fishing, quantity equals quality. Later in the season I'll leave schools of fish like this, ignoring the "never leave fish to find fish" adage in the hopes of finding bigger bass. You'll hear apocryphal tales of large bass feeding beneath the small schools, but I've never found that to be the case. Small fish avoid big fish for obvious reasons, and big stripers don't get to be cows by eating the table scraps of schoolies (though sometimes the larger fish follow the smaller fish in waves with the tide, and you will see a steady progression, first catching small bass, then a pause, then fish a bit larger, then a pause, and then large fish, as if school is letting out and the lesser grades are released first).

Today, though, I just enjoy myself with these smaller fish, practicing those little tricks that sometimes make the difference between catching and not catching, like wiggling the rod during the last 30 feet of the retrieve to imitate a bait fish frantically trying to get away which often triggers a strike from a reticent stripper. On a short strike close to shore I use a trick that North Shore striper bum Mike Tolvanen taught me--quickly pick up the line and cast to that spot three times, slapping the water with the fly each time to attract the fish, letting the fly sink on the third cast and the bass engulfs the fly.

After fishing for four hours, I reel in and leave. It's nine o'clock and the yahoos in their high powered boats are just starting to appear, racing through the water at excessive speeds and hell-bent on getting God-knows-where in a hurry, always my queue to call it a day. But before I launch I stand on the beach and look out on the water, and something catches my eye. A bit off shore the water is nervous, electric, and as I watch a school of bass begins to bust bait on the surface. It's a small school and the blitz ends quickly, but, like the first dusting of snow to the avid skier, it's a pleasing portent of things to come.

I push the kayak off the beach and paddle against the current, careful not to hook the lobster pot buoys as I troll a fly, almost tasting that first cup of hot coffee that will be my reward when I get home. ~ Dave

About Dave:

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.

Previous Dave Micus Columns

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