I learned the ropes of striped bass fly fishing in a localized area on Long Island Sound. It was the perfect training ground, with tidal creeks, rocky points, beach front, and sand flats all in close proximity. Many parts of the Connecticut shoreline have all of these geographic features within close proximity, but I stuck with one area initially. I gained confidence in this area, as there happened to be a lot of fish there that year. There were even some pretty nice fish in the mix, and some encounters I had that year will stick with me for a while. I was ecstatic with what I'd found in this fishery. I made the faulty assumption that it would always be that way.
The next year things were a little different. The tidal creek that had been the epicenter of my fall run the year prior had some fish but very few. There were some nice fish in the spring but the fall was underwhelming. These spots then wouldn't produce well for five years straight. I began to think that first year would never be repeated. Though some years saw good numbers of bass, especially small ones, there was never a lot in that specific spot.
Then came the fall of 2022. October was one of the most spectacular- probably the most spectacular -striped bass fishing months I'd experienced. For a while I was following one body of fish almost daily, and it was epic. Then I sort of lost track of them. Deciding they must have moved on, I began driving around and stopping to watch for birds or blowups on my daytime missions. Two days after I'd lost track of the fish, I crossed one very familiar bridge and turned my head to see a massive cloud of birds over the creek. I whipped a u-turn as soon as I safely could and parked. Not even donning waders, I grabbed a fly rod and my sling pack and ventured into the marsh with a palpable sense of anticipation. I didn't even make it to where the birds were before spotting a blitz in a marsh cut where I'd not seen loads of breaking bass in years. The fish were on peanuts, averaged about 27 inches, and were ravenous and easily caught.
I roped in bass after bass on a white Hollow Fleye, many of them being low end slot fish and a fair number being smaller. The size of the fish and ferocity of the blitz were very similar to those of that formative year of my striped bass fishing. It felt like a homecoming of sorts. After years if lackluster results this water- one of my favorite places -was suddenly giving up the goods again. Things slowly winded down right in front of me, and in time the decision was made to go to where all those birds had been. I couldn't have anticipated just how crazy that would be.
I had just walked up to the most spectacular, expansive, and prolonged blitzes I had ever encountered. There were acres of bass and hundreds of birds laying siege to peanut bunker in a narrow tidal creek. This was a show to beat all others, a display of life and death that touched every sense. The visual spectacle was, of course, plainly evident. Thousands of iridescent juvenile menhaden sprayed out of thew choppy water, often followed by a linesider going airborne in hot pursuit. The birds provided their own sights to fixate on the laughing gulls dipping to grab the peanuts, hovering low over breaking fish, wings not beating effortlessly as they often can but, rather, completely frantic. Nothing I could see in that little part of the world at that moment was calm. It was chaos. If I closed my eyes, and I did a few times, I couldn't hide from it. The sound may have actually rivaled the sights as evidence of the mayhem. The gulls calling was audible from afar of course but so was the sound of the bass. It was a dull roar, like a waterfall, with higher pitched splashes and pops coming through. I could almost feel it. At times I really could when the bass would pin a school against the mud bank at my feet, the vibrations of their many bodies impacting the sod transmitting to my feet through the very ground I stood on. There was a smell and even taste to the air the signified the death of baitfish as well. It's an almost sweet smell with some vegetable like aspects. If you've been around a wild bunker blitz, you know what I'm talking about. It's an almost melon like smell with hints of fishiness to it.
It's hard to really put into words what a blitz like that is like and what it feels like to be in the middle of all of that. It's even harder to describe what it was like for me being in such a special place with all of that going on around me. This was a meaningful day of fishing for me. Though I knew that this wasn't likely to produce any out-sized fish, that getting larger fish was no more predictable here than winning big at a slot machine, this blitz was more significant to me than so many of the big fish blitzes I'd already experienced this year.