By all accounts, Wednesday, October 8, 2003, was
an historic day in the annals of North Shore striped
bass fishing. It was on this day, on the beaches of
Gloucester and Beverly and Manchester by the Sea, that
the greatest blitz of striped bass seen in 40 years
took place. The schools were huge, fishermen were
getting a fish on every cast, and anglers took up to
100 fish. Most impressive was the size of the bass,
with many stripers in the 30's and 40's taken.
Of course I was at work.
The first buzz about the blitz began circulating via
e-mail on Thursday. I heard from a friend who caught
a 44 incher, and he said he'd never seen anything like
it though he's been fishing for striped bass with a
fly rod for 40 years. While anglers rate just a tad
above politicians on the honesty scale, others confirmed
the veracity of the initial reports. So I did what I
had to do; I arranged to take Friday off, looking as
sincere as possible while muttering to the boss something
about a family emergency.
Fly fishers, especially fly fishing writers, feel
compelled for some odd reason to explain why they
fish, and the reasons always tend toward the
metaphysical-"the only place where the possibility
of rightness even exists" and "an artful effort to
imitate truth" are two of my favorite examples.
And while this might sound profound, as if we fly
fishers are deeper than, say, golfers, let there be
a report of big fish around and you'll see quickly
enough why we fly fish. It has nothing to do with
So I arrived at Singing Beach in Manchester early
Friday morning, waders on, rod in hand, and visions
of giant bass in my head. As I approached the water,
there were no gulls squawking, no bass slashing bait,
and only a few other anglers, most of whom were leaving.
It wasn't looking good. I spoke to a number of them,
and all confirmed that nothing was happening, but they
cruelly pointed out that Wednesday was the best fishing
day they had ever seen, and even Thursday hadn't been bad.
I began to get that feeling in the pit of my stomach,
that twinge of panic as when a job interview or a date
suddenly starts to go bad and you're unsure how to
I'm not familiar with this area, my home waters being
Plum Island Sound, so I latched onto a fellow fly
fisher named Bill and followed him to White Beach
and Black Beach, then to Magnolia Beach (by then he
was afraid I was going to follow him home). There
were no obvious bass sign, and we didn't even wet a
line. We ended up back at Singing Beach, where he
decided to just head for home. But before he did,
he rubbed in the salt.
"Man, you should have been here Wednesday. I never
saw anything like it."
So here I was, off from work, no obligations and a
whole day to fish. But it wasn't Wednesday, and no
matter how I tried to will myself through the time/space
continuum I couldn't go back. Still no birds, and no
surface swirls, but since I was here I figured I might
as well throw a few casts.
I began to pick up fish, not very big, but steady.
I lost a few, lost a few flies, took a few waves,
and, all in all, had a pretty good day fishing.
But it still wasn't Wednesday. As I walked to the
parking lot I met Khan, a full-time bass bum who
everyone seems to know, just getting out of his car.
"Anything happening?" he asked.
"I picked up a couple, but it seems to have just died,"
I answered. Then I braced myself for the inevitable.
"You should have been here Wednesday," he said on queue.
"Best fishing I ever saw. I got at least six fish
in the high 30s low 40s."
Now competition ruins fishing, and I intentionally fish
alone to avoid the 'I caught more than him/he caught
more than me' emotional tug-of-war that inevitably
occurs, and I don't begrudge Khan catching lots of
big fish but right about then I was glad that we were
fishing, not hunting, because I wouldn't have been
responsible for what I might have done had I been
holding a rifle. Khan went on his way and I decided
to call it a day, battered by the waves and tired from
six hours of casting.
"Angling is a situation whose dramatic values are
immediately charged by their context," wrote Thomas
McGuane, and today was a perfect example. When I
did a mental tally I ended up with 23 fish - a good
outing, especially when blind fishing from shore at
a new location, but, as I had heard over and over,
nothing compared to Wednesday. ~ 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.