“Don’t leave fish to find fish.”
The angler’s adage is bouncing around my brain as I watch three large pods of bait being herded back and forth along the beach like cloud shadows, well outside of casting range. I watch for nearly half an hour. Finally, one school moves closer. I wade out and toss a metal lure as far as I can. It lands on the edge of the action just before the ruckus turns seaward again. I wasn’t getting my hopes up. Fish can act this way for hours along this stretch of beach, especially in early summer.
The adolescent version of the graybeard standing up to his knees in the surf might have waited on these fish all day long, beseeching them to come closer as he lobbed expletives their way. But age and experience are good for something other than sore backs and dusty stories of glory days.
From the size of the swell, I have a feeling that conditions might be right at a rocky point and an adjacent shallow bowl about a mile away. On an incoming tide with plenty of white water and bait, stripers love to set up in this rocky aquarium.
With the new tide flooding, I turn my back on the fish playing hard to get and start hiking. I feel good about my plan. Near the point, someone has found breakfast. An osprey with a scup in its talons dips and turns evasively to shake off the herring gull and the crow that are attempting to mob it. Beside the dunes, a piping plover chick trails a parent.
I reach the spot and eyeball the surf for a moment when a striper suddenly pounds its tail in a patch of foam about two feet thick. I quickly turn my back on the scene — I don’t need to see any more — and focus just on the job at hand. I snip off the metal jig and carefully tie on a pink-and-white plastic swim bait that is dense enough to cast without extra weight. These plastics ride high, keeping them from getting hung up in the rocks too often. If the waves are larger and the wind strong, I will switch to a weighted jig head for distance and better control.
This little corner of New England comes alive with breaking waves and broad carpets of veiny white water. The shaggy rocks covered in weed and barnacles create clusters of lies and ambush spots. The waves and surging water generate currents, deep scourings and lots of backwash — just the sort of chaos that encourages striped bass to do their finest work. The waves roll in from two or three directions. A pair of swells sometimes meet up to form a larger breaking wedge, spreading foam and causing the fish to erupt.
It’s a fun place to fish. You must time your casts to land after a wave set crumbles, placing your lure beside, between, in front or behind rocks that are favored by the fish. You feel as if you’re fishing a foaming saltwater river, only with waters surging from three directions and a longshore current pulling in one direction or the other. Hits come quickly in white water — the fish barely have time to react — so you try and stay in contact with your lure and keep your eyes open. The entrance to the bowl is dotted with rocks that show their backs depending on the stage of tide and the size of the surf. Depths range from waist deep to 12 or more feet.
Today, I’m fishing an 8-foot surf stick, 30-pound braid and a 4-foot, 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. I start casting on a flattish rock from which I can reach much of the bowl. The waves surge over the rock, and the water feels good on my legs. I sit to remove a stubborn hook from a fish, and four waves quickly drench me from head to toe. The water is in the low to mid-60s, the wind is warm and gusty out of the south, and the sky is streaked blue and white. At one point, the clouds rearrange into a mackerel sky. It’s as pretty a day as you can get.
I fish three rocks and catch and release nine fish, with two falling between 15 and 17 pounds. Each is a dazzling greenish gold, which makes me wonder whether they’ve been dipped in special high-tech paint. Bathed in spray and afternoon light, each is flat-out gorgeous. Perfect creations, these bass are adept at raiding current-swept shallows as bait erupts from around surf-smoothed boulders and their barnacled flanks. In my mind, I hear Ride of the Valkyries as a nice set breaks and the bass lose their shit.
“Don’t leave fish to find fish?”
One of those proverbs that needs to be broken occasionally.
The drag bursts into song as a striped bass runs with the current and darts between rocks. Another set rears up, rolls and tumbles. You put the lure right where it belongs, and you’re rewarded with a quick, hard strike.