Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Montauk the Talk...and the Fish!

In early October, before Sandy destroyed the East Coast, I met up with some of my flyfishing buddies from different online forums for a flyfishing bake in Montauk, NY. This was my second trip to The East End, and I get more addicted to this place and its fish with each visit. And as you'll see in this report, it's not hard to understand why.

The Scenery:

What I caught Last Year:

The group, comprised of 9 guys, fished from both beach and boat, chasing enormous surface "blitzes" of striped bass, bluefish, and false albacore. We shared 2 cars, except those who only stayed a day or two because they live close enough to drive in. I personally spent 5 days in town, fished 1.5 days from a boat, and pounded the beach for 15 hours a day on non-boat days.
Gear for 4. There were at least 2 other cars.

I absolutely love catching fish from the surf. There's something about that early morning fog. Between crashing waves knocking you off your rocky perch and the circus of spin-gear fishermen casting over your head, the adage "one from the beach is worth 10 from the boat" transforms from mere words to a deep sense of accomplishment. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a few scares where my wading jacket got full of crashing, white  Atlantic brine. I broke 2 rods in the surf, and I also lost a cow of a striper that had to go breach the 30lb mark because a receding wave on a steep boulder-field beach sucked the fish between rocks, popping my 20# tippet. That, and I get impatient in my end-game. Oh well. That fish will haunt me and I will return another Fall for redemption.

Claim your rock early.

The blitzes were insane. Literal acres of black mass pushing across the surface, thousands of mouths opening and closing, stripers belly-to-back on top of one another. 
Keep looking. That's right--every surface disturbance from foreground to the boats is a bass.
And they were eating tiny bait.
It's not snot--it's anchovies.

Although I saw a lot of anglers landing 25-28", almost all my stripers were solidly beyond 30". That translates into double-digit pounds, which is more than a fun fight. And if the fish come close enough to shore, the fly anglers are much more likely to hook-up legitimately (lots of fish snagged accidentally by guys throwing 6" poppers or 3oz bucktail jigs on spin gear) because the forage this time of year is mostly 1.5" bay anchovies. Short, thin flies in white, tan, or brown got eaten quick. And even though the blitzing fish would push down the beach, 60' out from the boulder you chose as a platform for this endeavor, all the sudden big black tails would emerge from the foamy water among the rocks around you--25' and your fly will be eaten by an even bigger bass. But like that, the tails are gone. Being awake for 20 hours a day, fishing from shore and boat, it's hard to know what's real, let alone what's a fish.

Some beach stuff:

Jeff laid down some nice casts in the surf

Jimbo gets in on the cove blitz, despite his pathetic stripping basket

Wratch gettin' it done. 

Smallest bass of the trip for me. I would have taken these the whole time...

40" or close enough.

I think the rod was supposed to go behind me. Who cares? 

This was solid CCG, but it still got destroyed after a number of bass and rocks chewed it.

From a boat, you can drive right up to blitzing bass (stripers). One of the guides for our group was leaning over the rail of the boat petting the stripers as they ate their lunch along his hull. Albies (false albacore) on the other hand, are elusive. They pop up a hundred yards away--splash, splash, splash--and then they're gone. And then SPLASH -- right behind the boat! SPLASH at the bow! QUICK! CAST! 9 O'CLOCK! Your fly lands in the middle of what looks like 50 neon green lights flashing under boiling water 40 feet away. You tuck the rod in your armpit and strip with both hands so fast your tying your line in knots, you see the fish track the fly as you scream "EAT EAT EAT," and then it does, right as you lift the fly from the water to recast. Down it goes, 15-20-25 feet and then out goes your line--backing knot makes a little click as it tickles your guides on the way out. The drag screams. The fish--appropriately shaped like a football, is already in the other team's end zone. Boats are zipping by. You yell at them, "FISH FISH, I'VE GOT A LINE IN THE WATER! HEY, IDIOT --I'VE GOT A FISH HERE!" (or in my case, your captain does most of this yelling for you so you can concentrate on putting backing back on your reel as the fish turns to the right).  You think you've got it when that line-to-leader knot is suspending just above the water near the boat--oh right the boat, the fish can see it now, and DOWN it goes! Part II of the albie fight has begun,  the fish is doing tail-shaking circles 20 feet below. Can you pump straight up and down? NO! The fish isn't under the bow now, its headed for stern! You tell your friend to stop casting and move to the bow as you take his place. He drags his loose fly line along the deck and out of your way. The fish is going under the boat! The captain yells at you now "Don't let that rod touch the hull or it'll blow the fuck up! GO AROUND THE FUCKIN' MOTOR, DUDE!" Finally, the leader is visible again, the captain leans over the rail and grabs the leader and then the fish, by the tail. The fish's head is still pointed at the water when it comes out, and you can see him eye it as he leaves; he has plans to return...

Some boat stuff:
Hooked up!

Better have backing.

Another 40" class bass

Not all the albies were big, but they were all badass. 

Stripers or albies or bluefish, they're all amazing creatures with their own attitudes. I love these mid-Atlantic predators. I'm glad they call our waters home (by the way, NY's saltwater license costs $0.00). It's a short plane or car ride to visit these hungry beasts, and if you get the chance, I hope you do.

We left 'em biting...

Until next year, I guess I'll just Montauk the talk ;)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Back from Montauk...

I don't yet have all my pics from my week in Montauk (they are on several cameras, most are not my own). I will be writing a report up and posting it soon. Keep checking back. This was an amazing trip to one of my favorite places to fish. All I can say is, "wow."  Here's a teaser:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Summer, pt. III - Striped Bass Edition


Time for the third and final installment of the CriticalAngling summer series. This time, we'll visit the Mid-Atlantic coast that is popularly called "Jersey Shore."

So if you recall, I got married back in June. We got married in Ohio near a lot of my wife's family. Most of my extended family, however, is located on the East Coast between New Jersey and Maryland.  While I have a lot of aunts and uncles in good health, they were too busy taking care of my not-so-healthy grandparents to be able to attend the wedding. So we took a short 4-day trip to see my family in both coastal states. I was able to do a little poking around estuary including a short afternoon trip with Capt. Joe Hughes of Jersey Cape Guide Service (

One thing I love about this region of the country is the food. My aunt lives close to Philadelphia, so cheesesteaks are prime for pickin'.

Gooey Cheesesteak on Fresh Deli Rolls. Mmmmm...

Down at the Jersey Shore, at the boardwalk, pizza is an all-time favorite. I have always been loyal to Mack & Manco, even after the partnership re-arrangement causing them to now be "Manco & Manco." You decide which one has the better ring to it. I'll be busy eating this delicious foldable treat.
Manco & Manco, formally Mack & Manco Pizza. The Best.
Jersey Shore style. G.T.L. baby...

A little south of the boards is a very lively ecosystem in a narrow, meandering inlet connecting warm back bay water with cooler ocean water. There are no jetties or dredged canals in this little inlet, which I think contributes to its fishiness. I have caught a lot of stripers, blues, and keeper size fluke (flounder) here in years past. I didn't bring my rods this time, so I was happy to just explore. There were Horseshoe Crabs waltzing along areas where sparse flooded grass tickled submerged rocks, and small croakers, silversides, and other baitfish joined hermit crabs in feeding on the discarded carcasses of kingfish (see video below).

Horseshoe Crab--A natural foot masseuse when wading at night. 

Finally it was time to meet up with Capt. Joe. This guy is just an all-around awesome person and that makes him an especially good fishing guide. Tiffany and I had fished with him a number of times before on our Jersey ventures, and we always enjoy his company whether or not the fish are biting. Fortunately, most of the time, they are--in no small part due to Joe's ability to pick out the hungry ones for us to seduce.

When I called Joe a few weeks before the trip, he told me he was pretty much booked solid. He saw a few hours on a Friday evening that he wasn't fishing, but would have otherwise gone to resting between a long day offshore and an early morning back bay trip the next morning. Somehow, he managed to squeeze us in and didn't seem the least bit tired. He worked his butt off for us and dazzled us with his South Jersey charm.

Fearing that the intense summer heat had driven the stripers off of the marsh flats for good--with water temps around 90F--Capt. Joe told me stearnly before we boarded that the plan was to start out getting some fluke on live minnows. While I'd rather toss artificials in skinny water, I love this region and I don't get out here much, so I took the same approach I've taken to fishing lately--I'm just along for the ride.
Fluke love 'em a nice bridge. 

Capt. Joe Hughes rigging up for fluke. Note the bridge.

We caught about 15 fluke between us in about an hour or so. That's pretty good action, but we were using live minnows. Tiffany kept getting snagged on debris, so most of those hookups were mine. Unfortunately, no keeper size fish so they all went back in the brine without pics. Had we caught a keeper or two, I'd not only have pics, but I'd have had a happy belly. Fresh flounder is nice fleshy white meat. Yum.

The sun was angling lower in the sky, and the tide was starting to pull all the critters from their shallow marshy haunts, so Joe fired up the engine and meandered us to the very back of "out back" as they call the bay area here. You could say this is the most "bay" you can get in the bay--the little creeks with all their elbows, colliding and re-routing around the undercut sod banks where fiddlers, shrimp, silversides and mullet abound.

Joe got us in position on the first flat, the water still up in--but quickly leaving-- the tall grass atop the sod. I think it was my fourth cast that scored the first fish. Did I mention Joe only fishes topwater this time of year? This is about irritating the stripers. And boy did we irritate them.
Tiff weighs a fine schoolie on the Boga. 

Over a stretch of bank no more than 150' wide, we spent the next hour missing as many explosions on our Skitter-Pops as we do setting steel into fishy flesh. There were even a few we came tight to, but came unbuttoned. I don't remember the number, exactly. Suffice it say we had fun.
Tiff reels in another from the magic flat.

The coolest thing was that on a single flat, the stripers were of mixed size. Often fish like to shoal up with same-size buddies, but I caught both the smallest and the largest fish of the trip within feet of each other. Little guy was about 16"; Big momma was about 29" and thick.

"Nice to see you, too," I imagine her saying...

Weapon of Choice
We were catching stripers in 85 F water only deep enough to cover their backs! We couldn't believe it. And they were healthy, happy fish! I even had one that Joe and I both agreed had taken lessons from a redfish: The angle of the sun didn't allow us to see the fish in the slightly stained water, so we blind cast at points and cuts in the grass. On one cast, I was popping with a good cadence, when a bulbous wake emerged from the right side of my popper 15' from the boat and proceeds to bolt like lightning to my left. He had just been sunning himself! No interest in the popper for that fish.

We started to run out of water beneath us on the prolific flat of choice, but more importantly our escape route was drying up faster. We had to cross a shallow stretch to get back to the dock, so we had to call it quits. However, Joe wanted to try one more spot on the way back in. Once in the safety of "deep" water (5 feet?) we were to quickly drift by a shoreline and make every cast count. The tide was pulling water fast around a corner, and the shoreline we faced was tucked up just out of the rapid current. Little schools of 3-4" mullet pushed wakes the surface with their bulky torsos and heads, back and forth along the exposed sod. Holes in the dirt wall where fiddlers took shelter were fully exposed and reminded me of a wall at my old school that I used to run by and drag my fully-extended hand along; the quick covering-and-exposing of the tiny holes in the wall would make a sort of 'bubbly' sound that I found pretty entertaining.
The view on the ride toward spot #2. This feels like home.

I had already made my first cast when Joe spoke up from the poling platform telling me where to focus my next shot. He didn't think I made such a wise choice. Just then, white water erupted from the bank and under my popper. "But CATCH THIS FISH FIRST!" Joe shouted, followed by a self-deprecating laughter for his speaking too quickly and erroneously. But alas, I wouldn't catch that fish, or the next one, or the next one. Tiffany and I must have missed 8 more shots along that drift. Oh well, it's good to know they're there. The heat didn't push them out. And just like my relatives in the area, they're residents of the Garden State...So we'll be back to visit them again.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Summer, pt. II

 Okay, so I hope you enjoyed my last post about honeymooning in the Keys...what an awesome start to summer.

When I got back from Florida, my friend Tom was anxious to show me some of the smallmouth bass spots he'd been scouting with some luck. This is on a small river in central Illinois. He showed me how he presents the fly on a greased line swing, which proved to be the ticket! Tom is a great angler who has a couple decades of flyfishing under his belt. He likes classic flies tied with natural materials. I like whatever works in a given situation.

In this case, we were using crayfish imitations. I tied on the only crappy rendition of a Barr's Meat Whistle I could tie the night before.
They've gotten a lot better looking since, trust me. 

The first smallmouth of summer was a beautiful 18" bronze

And there were a lot of bites when you could find them.
Tom also despises my homemade stripping basket. He's never fished the mid-Atlantic surf...

I love those red eyes.

This month they've switched modes to prefer baitfish patterns. Tom is a big fan of fishing two-fly rigs all season. Mostly he uses a 9' tapered leader + 2' tippet + weighted crayfish pattern, beadhead bugger, or Clouser minnow + muddler minnow, wet fly or unweighted bugger. 

If you ever fall face-first into a smallmouth, this is what you'll see.
I like my pictures like I like my potatoes--mashed.

Whatever Tom does, I try to imitate. It's worked so far. And it's almost time for steelhead around here--Tom's favorite. I'm hoping he calls me...