Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

August 23rd, 2004

Counting Fish
By Dave Micus

I've been diligently keeping a fishing log this year, the first time I've made it through a good part of the season and have continued to do so. It started off just as a balance sheet, really, to see how often I fish and how many fish I catch. But then, like most things I do, it grew into a compulsion.

I usually fish alone to avoid the "ha ha I caught more than him oh no he caught more than me" competition that inevitably occurs. I've blamed this in the past on my fishing partners; they were competitive, I was not, but got caught up in the moment. But since keeping the log I've come to realize that we tend to avoid in others what we most dislike about ourselves, and, regrettably, this competitive syndrome is as ingrained in me as anyone else. So the log went from the mere recording of numbers to a standard I had to meet; so many times fishing per week, so many fish per outing. And now that I know that I'm averaging X number of fish, if I only catch Y, I get frantic - "if I don't get two more bass I'll lower my average!" If only I had been this way about my grade point average in school.

Somehow I became obsessed with landing 200 bass by the end of July. The number and date was arbitrary; I had headed into the month with over 100 fish, and by July 24 needed only 8 fish to reach my dubious goal. I'm one forced to fish when I can, no matter the tide or time or weather, but this particular day looked good; an outgoing tide that moves fish and overcast skies with a bit of rain which usually keeps the yahoos at the docks.

I paddled to Key West, one of my favorite spots to fish. You might be surprised to learn that Key West isn't in Florida; it's a small marsh beach in Plum Island Sound only accessible by boat. An angling friend and I have named all of our favorite spots after famous fishing locations: Tierra Del Fuego, Key West, Key Largo, Andros, etc. Partly this is our little joke, acknowledgement that we will likely never be able to actually fish these spots, but it's also subterfuge. We reference our favorite spots without divulging information, and can say in a crowd, "I hammered them this morning at T.D.F." and no one listening will know what we're talking about. Fishing spies, after all, are everywhere.

I was fishing a baitfish pattern that is a combination of a traditional flat wing and a thunder creek style streamer that has been very effective for me this year. The pattern is my own design, which I'm hesitant to say, as I'm sure that, given the long history of fly tying, someone else has surely thought to marry these patterns, and I once believed for an entire year that I invented the half and half (a combination of Lefty's Deceiver and a Clouser deep minnow, though I called mine the 'declouser') before I learned that such an obvious cloning had taken place long before one was born at my vise. But choice of fly patterns in the salt is usually a moot point. One of the beauties of salt water fly fishing is the simplicity of fly selection, and no doubt an article detailing a fly fishing trip for the heretofore believed extinct coelacanth would recommend using a white deceiver or chartreuse clouser.

It was two hours before low and I fished Key West using my favorite technique, something I learned from Jack Gartside's Striper Strategies. I'd start at one end of the beach, cast, then strip in the fly while walking with and at the same speed as the tide. If I hooked a fish I'd play and land it, then back up and fish that particular part of the beat again to see if there was a slough where the stripers were lying in wait to ambush helpless baitfish. I continued until I reached the end of the beach, maybe 75 yards, then walk back and start over. The lines of footprints in the sand, each below the other and parallel to the receding tide, marked my progress.

I caught fish on each rotation, two on the first, two more on the second, then three on the third. It was all too easy, and I was quickly up to 199. The bass weren't large and I played them hard to land them quickly, mentally adding them to the tally before they were even in hand. Stripers are a school fish and, much like school children in the same grade, swim in a school of similar sized fish, sometimes so much so that if seems as if you're catching the same one over and over. But, again like school children, there will be that anomaly, the big fish in the school of fry that catches you off guard when he takes the fly and jerks you out of the trance induced by hooking cookie cutter fish on nearly every cast. What would have been my 200th was such a fish. I misjudged his size and played him too hard, believing him to be another school bass that I could land quickly. But he sent up a plume of spray when he boiled on the surface 60 feet out, as big bass often do, and while I frantically tried to get him on the reel he broke off.

"Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before the fall," wisely cautions Proverbs xvi, 18, and as penance for my hubris, I rightly lost the best bass of the day. But the fish gods are kind, and I was soon on again, and, taking no chance, went right to the reel. And it was a good thing; the fish ran and took line, stopped and wouldn't budge, fighting for every inch I tried to regain. I finally got him close to the beach and I could see, not a bass, but a big blue that, as blues do, turned sideways so that reeling him in was like pulling a tree stump. Putting as much pressure on the line as I dared, and using the waves to win the tug of war, I beached him, a 27-inch blue fish -- the first one I'd taken this year, which seemed somehow appropriate.

I updated the fishing log and deleted expectations. For the rest of the season I would be a fisherman, not an accountant. ~ 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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