They Went Turkey Hunting

I spent last weekend at my brother’s home near New Gloucester, Maine. I taught a wet fly class at Bean’s on Friday, and then Friday evening we had a really nice dinner of grilled venison steaks, with salad, broasted potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob. It was delish! Larry and his daughter, Emily, wanted to go turkey hunting early the next morning. So while they were out in the woods at 4:15 AM, I slept until about 6:00 AM. When I awoke, I made coffee, set up my fly tying stuff on the dining room table, and set about leisurely tying in a little over three hours what ended up to be 2-1/2 dozen Clouser Minnows. We were planning to do some striper fishing.

2-1/2 dozen Clouser Minnows. I tied these Saturday morning on May 26th. They were intended for stripers. Chartreuse and White, Blue and White, and Black and White. Sizes #2 and #1. This was a quick set-up, hand-held shot. It’s been some years since I tied any Clouser Minnows, and it was fun tying them up.

The box on the right is my “schlappen organizer.” It’s a Plano #3450, six-compartment storage box. The feathers are stripped of the fluff and what’s left fits perfectly in the individual compartments in the box. This one is loaded with the six colors of schlappen that I use the most, at my fingertips. Some of the compartments have 40-50 feathers in them. A nice idea that I got last summer, but it took months to act on it. First time I looked for them my local hardware store didn’t have what I wanted. I bought these at a store in Granby, Connecticut, where my daughter lives. I’m glad I did. I have three of these all filled with schlappen colors and a few other feathers for wet fly and streamer hackles and tails.

So Saturday evening, Larry, Emily, and me leave the house, heading down I-95 for the Kennebunkport exit and the Mousam River. We were early by a few hours but we wanted to fish the falling tide and be there at dead low, which was about 9:20 PM on the 26th. We met Tim Spahr, Maine Warden and “star” of the Animal Planet Television series program, Northwoods Law.

We started fishing the lower river, with no action at first. Tim hooked a small fish that got off. The image below is of another angler, Tim, and Emily lined up on the south side of the Mousam River.

Mousam River, Maine, on a falling tide. Warden Tim Spahr is the second angler, my niece Emily Bastian, is the farthest out. You can see four anglers in the distance on the north side. They were spin fishing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 😉

There were stripers driving bait against the opposite shore in a small backwater area to the left of the expensive piece of real estate on the left, but we couldn’t get over there. They fed unmolested as we wished they would move to our side of the river. Tim decided to hop on his motorcycle and drive over there, but of course when he got there the tide was lower and both stripers and bait had moved out. We fished our way down to the mouth but did nothing for the next hour-and-a-half. Not a strike. About nine o’clock, we moved back into the river channel. We started to see a few fish popping the surface. I was using a chartreuse squid pattern that I had designed about ten years ago, which had been successful on my most recent striper trip of seven or eight years ago. That was back before my daughter Kim was married, but I fished with a friend of hers near Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and boated three stripers that day on my Chartreuse Squid.

As the bass fed sporadically in the river, the three of us started to impale little herring on the hook points of our flies. The river was swarming with bait! I admit I tossed a few casts with a four-incher as a double bait-fly rig, but it came off. I had a feeling of discouragement and decided to tie on a chartreuse and white Clouser Minnow. After a few minutes of casting this fly, double-hauling and throwing 65 -70 foot casts, I got a knot in my fly line that checked my cast short when it caught at the stripping guide. Wouldn’t you know it, as I held the rod up on my right elbow, trying to free the knot, the line tightened, swung down-and-across, and a fish hit the fly as it swam in the current. I hollered, “Fish on!”

But of course I had to still undo the knot, which seemed to take forever as I felt the bass holding in the current. It was kind of awkward having a striper on as the rod was bent over my elbow. When I freed my line, I grabbed the grip and raised the rod. The fish took off, several times. I was using a six-weight, nine foot rod, with a seven-weight sink-tip line, since I didn’t expect to be striper fishing this weekend. At least I had a Fly-Logic disc drag reel. But the fish barked my knuckles with the reel handle a couple times with unexpected runs. As I played the fish, a stranger came along and stopped. As the fight closed in and I brought the fish to shore, he asked, “Do you mind if I shine a flashlight on it?”

“Not at all,” I replied. In fact I rather appreciated the fact that I could see the fish. My light was in the brim of my hat, and it had gotten wet earlier and shorted out. There’s nothing more useless than a flashlight that doesn’t work. The fish had the fly so deeply that my forceps were too short, so the stranger’s light was beneficial as it illuminated the mouth of the fish so I could get my fingers on target to unhook the barbless fly.

He was not carrying a rod but I thought it a little curious when he said, “Do you mind if I ask what size tippet you’re using?”

“I think it’s either 0x or 1x,” I answered. Later I thought the odds were good that he was a fly angler. Most spin fisher’s would have asked, “What size leader are you using?” At least that’s my thought.

Then I remembered my camera and mentioned a photo. Then I asked the fellow if he would mind, and he very graciously obliged. The photo below, taken by a friendly passerby, is my first striper of the year, and my first bass in seven or eight years. I was thrilled! I tried to remember to smile, I guess it worked.

My first striper of the season. The fish hit a chartreuse and white Clouser Minnow about 9:15 PM.

I hooked and lost two more fish, but over all the evening was a combination of excitement and discouragement at the same time. Larry and Emily did not get a strike all evening. Yet there were fish working the surface all over, steady for almost two hours. Many within casting distance, and some came so close that they were within the radius of our rod tips. Emily tried at least ten different flies, including a surface popper. I think the bait was very plentiful; there were no blitzes, just fish working close enough to the surface that one would think casting to the rise we’d have hooked up a few more times. I thought maybe a floating line with a floating minnow pattern…or maybe some wider profile, big-eyed herring pattern. Perhaps next time we’ll figure it out.

Monday morning we rose early to take Larry’s Corson 16-footer to the Saco River. Long story short, we got some fish, even though we started fishing around 6:30 AM. Somewhere in the middle section of the river between the ocean and the dock, I saw one good rise very near the boat. Larry pedal-controlled the trolling motor into position and for the next ten minutes we worked this area. Then we saw some small boils of fish chasing bait. I cast my Clouser to the spot, started stripping, and got my first chance of the day to yell the magic words: “Fish on!”

As soon as I hollered, Larry echoed with his call, “Fish on!

“We got a double!” I yelled excitedly in a high-pitched, Flip Wilson style falsetto voice. We can get a little wound up at times. Why not? It’s fun! Emily took this photo with her camera of both fish:

The boys and their toys! My brother, Larry, on the left, and me with a set of striper “schoolie” twins. Larry was using a spinning rod pitching a Slugo, partly because of the inherent difficulty of three people fly casting simultaneously from one boat. We did do that later in the morning when we hit stripers chasing bait and I hooked up on a Clouser Minnow and they didn’t. Bass often key in on small bait, when we first hit them a couple hours later they were chasing sand eels. Emily Bastian photo.

We didn’t get into them until low tide about 10:30. I hooked and netted the first fish, again on the chartreuse and white Clouser Minnow. Emily took these photos with my camera:

Saco River striper, and yours truly. My brother Larry can be partially seen on the bow seat.

Here’s another shot of the same fish:

The official “fish pose.” I got a sunburn that day.

Larry Bastian and nice striper. We didn’t tape this fish, but we could clearly see it was over the legal maximum size limit of 26″. This bass was pushing 30″. Emily Bastian photo.

Up until I caught the first nice striper, I had been using Emily’s fly rod and as soon as I netted, got it photographed, and released the fish, Emily wanted her rod. I can understand that. I had brought mine along but used hers because she had been spin-casting too. I was taking the time to set up and rig my 9-foot, 6 wt. Sage with a sink tip line. I guess I looked a little impatient there while they took the fish photo! 🙂

After a while, Emily too got into the action, hooking and landing her first striper of the season. her dad took this photo below:

Emily Bastian and schoolie striper. Her first bass of the year, just like the one on her shirt. Larry Bastian photo.

We really had fun in the boat. At one point in the afternoon, a school of several hundred mackerel churned a swarm of herring from two-hundred yards off, sweeping toward us in a frenzied froth of chopping, slashing, the water making a rattling sound, growing louder as they closed in, with silver spray flying everywhere, right up to the edge of the boat. It took just seconds for the mackerel to drive the bait all that distance to our position. We also saw giant sturgeon and several times we had bass right beside the boat. We saw a few stripers that were well over three feet long. We were in an inlet area about five to seven feet deep and you could see the stripers, herring, and sand eels all over the place. We had small schools of bass busting bait all around, at times there were several schools of stripers working at once in several directions. Nice too, that we were the only boat in the bay. It was wicked fun! If I lived closer to the salt I’d be doing more of that fishing.

My brother just e-mailed me a little while ago – Monday evening June 4th, to point out that I forgot to mention that he caught the biggest fish. Actually I would have had photos of that but my memory card was full right after Emily took the two photos of my bass. The one I netted was the first good-sized striper we caught, and after that, with all the fish working for well over two hours, I didn’t have time to stop fishing to sit and edit and delete photos from my camera card. Emily took some photos, but she has yet to send them to me. Larry caught one striper that was not legal because it was too big to keep. We quickly taped it at 28″ or 29″. In Maine there is a one fish limit, a slot size where the striper must be between 20″ and 26″, anything smaller or larger must be released at once, though you may also kill one striper over 40″. Either way it’s a one-fish limit with the size restrictions.

The above paragraph was written last night – Emily sent me the three new photos this morning.

I headed south the same day to my daughter’s in Granby, Connecticut, to prepare a fresh-caught striped bass for dinner. I stuffed it and baked it. Served with red skinned potatoes and asparagus, and Anchor Steam beer, It was delicious!