Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Convergence: My 40 Inch Striper on the Fly

The very day after I caught my first striped bass of the year, I made way to my favorite spot earlier in the afternoon to watch the herring that I knew would be there. The rain that had continued beyond my return home the previous night continued well into the morning of the 6th and had brought the river up considerably and muddied it a bit. Tidal flooding wouldn't be an issue though, and I knew the stage was set for something spectacular. I was sure herring would be there but I wasn't sure how many. Upon my arrival, what I saw, simply put, was a huge number of blueback herring, as many as I've ever seen in this river or any other in my four years of monitoring. The high, muddy water made photographing the massive schools in the deeper water virtually impossible, but there were enough of them around that the scope of the run was obvious even without seeing every fish.

So, essentially every ingredient was here. I observed the herring for a few hours then geared up to fish. I started out with an Herr Blue three feather flatwing tied by Steve Culton and stuck with that fly for hours. Before dark, I had a steady pick of 18 20 something inch bass in the fast water.

As it darkened and the herring spread out, I moved downstream and some bigger fish mixed in. At dusk a 28 inch bass found the fly. An hour later, a 30 incher came to hand. But after a while, the Audible pops diminished and I knew that I needed to gain some depth. I changed to a Slammer. I got sporadic hookups between 8:30 and 10:15, mostly 26 inch fish. The last taker before an hour and a half long lull was a good thick low 30's fish. By That time it was getting fairly chilly, but the amount of herring I could see darting under the surface, splashing and jumping up and down the river kept me there.

Around 11:45 there was a very stunning cessation of herring activity, evidently because a serious slug of bass had shown up. I went five casts with a hookup and fish landed on each, then four without a take, then one miss, then four more without a take, then a 28 incher landed. 

And then, from 12:05 until after 2:00, I went without a single take. The herring activity increased when I stopped getting takes, but about every 15 minutes I would hear a massive pop just the other side of flat from me.With the current as steady and fast as it was, I had to slow down my retrieve even more than it already would be when I'd fish this spot, and I basically stood in the same spot for hours on end making the same presentation. This seems like it shouldn't be a remotely productive kind of tactic, but I knew this place very, very well now, and I knew if I just stuck it out I might find what I was looking for. But that doesn't make it much easier to stand in the cold doing something mind-numbingly tedious and slow for hours on end. I made 50 "last 10 casts", towards the end of each being the same loud pop on the other side of the flat, preventing me from leaving. Finally, now legitimately physically and mentally exhausted, I committed to making no more than 15 more casts.

This wasn't the first time I've done this kind of thing. I've fished this spot for entire nights without so much as a tap, repeatedly saying I'd only make so many more casts. At cast number 10, my mind wandered to a place it had gone many, many times before. I asked myself, aloud, "Why the hell do I do this?". On the very next strip, my Slammer got crushed. I accelerated into the strip, then pinched the line tight with my rod hand and pulled back hard, over and over until the fish wouldn't let me anymore. The middle of the river exploded. I'm fairly certain the splash made it 15 feet vertically.  A monster was out there and it was furious. My heartbeat was now audible in my ears and I felt sick to my stomach. 

This. This was why. 

The fish found it's bearings and charged off with authority, bucking the rod violently and taking line from my hand. I put as much pressure on it as I was willing to, which was an awful lot, hoping to prevent it from getting into the backing if I could. It stopped it's initial run and I once again pointed the rod at her and punched her three more times. She responded with massive, sweeping head shakes. I looked at the silhouette of my rod against the faintly star-lit sky, and it was bucking disturbingly far with each head shake. As she settled, I leaned into her hard, keeping the rod low, maximizing the fighting power of the butt section of the rod, straining my arms against an unyielding force the fish defiantly tracked across stream from left to right, then made another unsettlingly powerful run directly away from me. I was at a compromised position now, the fish was 80 feet downstream and hugging my bank. I gave some leeway now, knowing if I tried to impose my will on her she would just go further downstream. She wandered back towards river left, and I allowed a slight bow to form in the line, rod tip in the water, beginning to change the pressure angle from upstream to downstream. Working against that, she started to come upstream. As soon as I could I regained what I had lost and very quickly had the fish at a safe distance again. I then really started to put the muscle to her. I had her beat. I knew I had her beat. About four minutes after I first set the hook, I guided a near 30 pound striped bass into the shallows. I was completely elated. Both filled with joy and relief and utterly awestruck at the same time. I couldn't believe what I was looking at. This was an incredible fish. She measured just a hair over 40 inches but had such an incredible girth that she wasn't anywhere near the average weight for a fish of that length. Putting my had on her stomach, I could feel still alive herring kicking around. When I first opened her mouth, there was herring's tail sticking out of her throat. This fish was appropriately rotund for her apparent gluttony. I carefully settled her in a trench made by runoff and now filled by the tide, a place where she could remain fully submerged and I could set up to photograph her. I couldn't stop saying "Oh my God", over and over, just under my breath. This felt like a dream. Up until this moment it had only been a dream. Since mid fall of 2016 I had been seeking a bass of this caliber on the fly. This fish was the result of nearly three years of time and effort. Accurately describing my thoughts and feelings at that moment? Impossible. 

I handled this fish out of the water for no more than five seconds at a time and no more than 35 seconds total. I got a few half decent shots. In no time at all reviving her, she bit down hard on my hand and stuck her dorsal spines up. I gave her a slap on the tail, and she kicked off hard. 

Every bit as loud and filled with emotion as the moment I lost a fish of this same sort of size in 2017 in this river, I yelled to nobody and everybody (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. -Convergence 1, 2017). The emotions were different this time, and I sighed with a deep satisfaction immediately afterwords. I'd never put so much work and thought into one fish. She meant so, so much to me. And I'm proud that I did it with my feet planted on the ground, with not a soul around to see it, in small water, with techniques I'd spent a long time getting down to a science. And I'm even more proud to know that she's probably still out there somewhere, and I hope she finds her way back to me when she's 40lbs. 

I left right then. I needed nothing more, and I choose not to be a greedy angler when I can help it. I went home and, though tired, didn't sleep well. I couldn't stop thinking about that fish. I couldn't stop thinking about it for a couple weeks. I was reminded every time I looked at my left hand. And every time I moved my right I could feel remnant twinges of pain from the short but arduous battle.

When you're on real fish, it isn't striper thumb, it's striper hand.

So, on just the second day of good fishing I'd had during this run, I'd caught my 40 incher on the fly. This season had practically just begun. so, though this would seem to be the climax of this series, it cant't be. And that's good. I've been able to spend the rest of the run with no feeling of urgency whatsoever. And some of the most spectacular events of the spring convergences were still ahead of me. So, though hardly anyone reads or comments on this series compared to others, I will carry on. 

If you enjoy what I'm doing here, please share and comment. It is increasingly difficult to maintain this blog under dwindling readership. What best keeps me going so is knowing that I am engaging people and getting them interested in different aspects of fly fishing, the natural world, and art. Follow, like on Facebook, share wherever, comment wherever. Also, consider supporting me on Patreon (link at the top of the bar to the right of your screen, on web version). Every little bit is appreciated! Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, john, and Christopher, for supporting this blog.


  1. Oh man - that was completely awesome! What a night. The cow was fun, the fight intriguing... But the number of herring, the changes in their activity relative to that of bass schools working through. What a cool experience across the board. Thanks for bringing "us" with you!

  2. That was AMAZING! Your skill and the hunt made for a great read and that bass was a great reward. Well done!
    Tie, fish, write, conserve and photo on...

  3. "Putting my had on her stomach, I could feel still alive herring kicking around. "



  4. Congratulations! Really enjoyed reading this, and what a fish and night. Can't wait to read more!
    (as a sidenote--I tried to post this a couple of nights ago on a mobile device, but looks like it did not go through after I hit 'publish' In fact, of the 7-8 times I've tried to post on here in the last year +, I think only 3 have posted successfully. Might be worth looking into whether the 'publish' feature works properly on mobile devices?)

    1. Thank you,
      Unfortunately that's not something I really have control over. You aren't the first to indicate that they've had commenting issues, and I wish I could figure out a way to help, but there doesn't seem to be anything I can do from my end.

  5. Well deserved!! Thanks for sharing, it felt like i was there with you.