Thursday, April 27th. 5:46 P.M.
I hit the road. The last week had shown a warming progression and that was starting up the bulk of the herring run. That's what I was looking for. The run shouldn't be in full swing yet, and I didn't want it to be. Optimally I could fish all the way through the week or two when herring were coming in. The rise, peak, and fall of the run if you will. Why am I so obsessed with the herring run? The herring bring in large predators, stripers being the primary focus at the moment. In the coming month perch, stripers, bass, and walleye will all be targeted in the same water. I got on the river and got to work swinging big deceivers. Herring were popping up here and there but I did not spot any stripers until I worked my way upstream. There were some big fish working around a shallow rocky stretch of water, busting on fully grown alewives. I couldn't see them at first so I did not realize exactly how large they were. I very quickly realized that bringing only a two hander was a bad decision. It's a great tool for down and across swinging, not so good for fast stripping and casting upstream. I did what I could though, and I nearly bronzed my waders when I saw a striper that was easily 25 pounds follow my fly before dodging off after an actual herring.
Before darkness fell completely I struggled with the spey rod and saw a few more big stripers. I also had a herring attack a herring pattern only a fraction smaller than itself. That was a first... every time I've fished big streamers around river herring I've seen them chase them, probably assuming they were river herring of the opposite sex. But attempting to eat it, that is something new.
I ended night one without a striper, but I was so much closer. Last year I had seen a few when I wasn't fishing. Now I had gotten them to look at a fly. I got home at 11:10
Friday, April 28th. 5:38 P.M.
I hit the road. In the morning I had tied a few flies that I thought would get the job done. And of course I brought the single handed rod. It just felt right. tonight would be the night. When I got to the river the herring were splashing all over the place. As the tide dropped and the structure started to come up in the rocky shallows I started to see stripers. Seeing a 15-30 pound stripers come cruising over a shallow sandbar that I have caught smallmouth and stocked trout off of... surreal. Just surreal. An hour into the session I watched a schoolie come up behind my big herring fly. It did exactly what I hoped for and inhaled it. I strip set and the fish was on. This was it. This was the fish I've been looking for. Then, slack. First fish of the day lost. About ten minutes later I watched a 20lb striper cruise up the sand bar. I put the fly in front of it and it turned on a dime and looked hard for a second before cruising off in a hurry.
I was getting shots at big stripers, this was good. After the sun had fallen well bellow the horizon, while I wasn't paying attention, my fly got railed by a massive fish. I stopped the line, pointed the rod at the fish, and pulled hard. The hook was set and in my mind set well. In three feet of water 50 feet from me was a very angry monster, thrashing violently. I could see it, plain as day. This was the biggest striper I had ever stuck a fly to. It began taking line until it was basically on the opposite shore. It then turned down and slapped it's tail repeatedly and powerfully on the surface making a hell of a commotion. Then, disaster. Everything went slack. I swore so loud it echoed up the valley and probably woke up every bat in the state that wasn't already up. I threw my rod down. That was the one. That fish meant as much to me as any other well before I had even lifted the rod to begin the fight. I had already worked so hard.
Times like that are when fishing just isn't fun. But I was already there and had to keep fishing. Maybe, just maybe, I would get more than two shots. Well, I did and it was indescribable. My heart was beating faster and louder than it ever has a right to. This little schoolie striper, from skinny fresh water, during an exceptional herring run... truly indescribable. I was on top of the world. And, icing on the cake, right at twilight I was using a big popper and got to watch a keeper striper come flying downstream and slam it. This time I wasn't quite as stressed as I was landing the first schoolie although it still was a bit stressful. After an amazing shallow water fight I landed the thirty inch topwater striper and was truly high as a kite. What an incredible fish caught in an incredible place.
I was home before 11:00.
The saga is not over, nor is the convergence of bait and predator. More to come.