Sunday, May 28, 2017

Convergence 5: This is the End

There are some images that will stick with me till the very moment I leave this world. The lights from the house on the top of the cliff were turned off. I startled a little. The darkness engulfed everything all at once. I could no longer see clearly the chaos that was going on around the rocky flat, but it was still very audible. Were there beavers all over the river? That's what it sounded like. Tons of beavers tail slapping everywhere. Pops, slaps, and violent thrashing echoed up and down the river. With the light out the knot I was tying suddenly became impossible. I flipped on my headlamp. There was splashing a under my rod tip. I looked up, assuming my light had spooked some herring. I saw two blueback herring come shooting upstream on an erratic, zig-zaging path. I looked behind them, knowing full well they were being chased by something. At first I didn't see it. Then out from behind a large grey and brown rock came a ghost, it's tail barely flicking to propel it the five or six feet from the rock to the point directly below my rod tip. It slowed and almost paused there, close enough that I could see it's eye clear as day. I was looking into the eye of a striped bass over 40 pounds, truly a miracle caliber fish for a fly roder. . It seemed to look back at me and say "not yet". And with another abrupt yet light flick of the tail, it was gone, up stream and out of sight.

It took me 10 minutes to get that knot tied to satisfaction. 

Thursday, May 25th, 6:10 P.M. 

I hit the road. These days were numbered. I felt that now. The run does not last long. There was a lot of urgency in everything I did to get ready, and I felt rushed to get on the water and start fishing especially knowing that I wouldn't be in the state in three days. I'd be gone for what would likely be the very last blast of the herring run. I could end up coming back to the last little bit of the run or nothing at all. I had to get it done. Must get it done. It NEEDS to be done. 

I got to the river and almost bronzed my jeans. There were more herring out than I had ever seen in one place. I mean this place was positively full of fish. One of the many small braids was so full of herring that when I shined my light on it after dark I could see fish from one side to the other, and some actually jumped onto the bank attempting to escape me. The tide was low, so I moved downstream to intercept fish that would slowly work their way up as the level gradually increased. I found some, but getting my fly in front of the fast moving schools was difficult. Surprisingly I did get a decent smallmouth on a 10 inch "beast" fly. Eventually a quick, accurate cast was rewarded with a mid 20 inch striper.

After a short time I worked my way back up to the rocky flat. Things were happening there now. It really was chaos. Fish busting everywhere, herring trying to both spawn and stay away from the stripers, osprey and heron watching the water and picking up the stragglers... life everywhere. Violent, beautiful, deadly life. Convergence.

With lightning and occasionally threatening to tear a hole in the sky and let all the water out I kept swinging my fly through the areas where fish were crashing, hoping for that 40 pounder. And when I hooked up and it wasn't a 40 pounder, I was not at all disappointed. I road home in a steady soaking rain, feeling more alive than ever.

Friday, May 27th, 6:35.

Ben Bilello pulled into my driveway. I'd been reporting to him my luck many nights. Ben was playing the spring run game years before I caught my first striper in freshwater. Unfortunately this spring's odd patterns have not been beneficial in the spots he usually fish's so I extended the invite. 

When we got our first look at the river I thought to myself "why did I not think about this?". It hadn't rained that much, but the river was much higher than it had been and the clarity was highly compromised. The first few casts we took brought my confidence roaring back. Ben got a crazy blowup on a black tube fly, and I had a 30 inch fish swirl to my fly at leader-length. Five casts later I was hooked up.
(Photo courtesy Ben B.) 

(Photo Courtesy Ben B.) 

After a handful more chases and blowups in quick succession, I figured out what was going on. The higher flow and murky water had made the fish a lot less shy. Instead of chasing and inspecting the fly they hit it at first glance, likely because the couldn't see us or the fly line and had to be quicker about eating in the fast water. 

This ended up being the most active night I had there, and I felt terrible because Ben missed and dropped every fish that took his fly... it's the same thing that happened to me my first two nights here this year, and even though I was having incredible luck I badly wanted Ben to hook up. Unfortunately we lost the bite when it got fully dark, and never got back into fish. I managed four tonight. None were really big, but the largest was one of the most well fed stripers I've held. It probably had quite a few herring before it grabbed my fly. 

Saturday, May 27th, 7:00 P.M.

There are times when I probably shouldn't go fishing. This was one of those times, but I had to. There's something about stripers... when they are in and the fishing is good I get extremely frustrated when I can't fish for them. So I went fishing the night before leaving for NY to fish for a whole week. Noah and I met Dan at the paring spot and climbed down to the river before it had gotten dark. There were herring there, and they were exhibiting behavior that suggested the presence of predators. It ended up being a couple hours with no touches whatsoever. Darkness fell and I began to doubt whether I would catch a striper on my last night at this magical spot during the run. Then I got an eat. It came at a very bad time. I was actually texting. with the rod under my arm and my fly hanging in the run downstream. As I put the phone back in my pocket and tried to pull my fly up something pulled back. 

As I was fighting my fish Noah nailed into a schoolie of his own. His fish took the plug deep, and unfortunately it took two people to save that fish. Dan was out of the game when it counted most. I released my fish and almost immediately hooked into another significantly larger one. It didn't fight as well as most 30 inchers do in the water, but when I lipped and lifted her she beat the piss out of me! I was ecstatic. This was the send off I was hoping for. 

And that was it. The bite lasted about 15 minutes, no more. 

When we were climbing out I couldn't help but think how this could be the last night I get to experience this, at least until next spring. And it's no secret the CT's river herring runs are in bad shape, and the bulk population of stripers decreases every year. Like a parachute miles above the earth on a dark night, we slowly plummet into the unknown. 

Will it happen again? Where will I be? How good will it be? 

"This is the end. Beautiful friend.
This is the end. My only friend, the end." 

(The Doors) 


  1. This is amazing.. the night, the fishing, the eloquent account, even your reference to The Doors. It's like a gift, Rowan, and I thank you. Can't wait to see what your New York journey brings.

  2. That was some great fishing and reading your story was the best. You were blessed with some beautiful catches. Love these adventures!
    Tie, fish, write and photo on...

    1. Thanks!
      Great doesn't even begin begin to describe it.

  3. Loved your mesmerizing account. I'll never tire of reading about your experiences.

  4. Nicely done as always! You'll get a 40 now that you have seen one....its in the cards my friend! With your work ethic, its in the way or another. Enjoyed your blog as always! You have an Instagram by chance?

    1. No Instagram... I can only handle so much social media.