Stripers at First Light is the newest story in Winston’s series, On the River, by Winston Field Advisor, Parker Clemens.
Stripers at First Light
There was a slight chill in the air, but it was not cold. Actually, it felt more like a spring morning than the heart of winter. As we floated silently through the darkness, Kern asked me if I preferred watching the sunrise or the sunset and the inflection in his voice told me that he was pondering his own answer. My answer was simple and inconclusive. I could not decide. There is a new feeling that comes with a sunrise; the light chases the cold away and half the earth slowly wakes to the approaching day. And sunsets, I have seen thousands and hope to see thousands more. Reflecting on the question, I pieced together my fly rod as the surrounding blackness turned to a deep deceptive gray, the kind of gray that could either mean the end the day or the end of the night. It was a little past 6:30 am when the first dim colors returned to the sky over the shadowy water of the Chesapeake Bay.
The habits of striped bass have thus far eluded me. I have had 40 fish days and many zero fish days and the difference between them I can tell you not. I acquire bits of knowledge on each outing, but it is like putting together a puzzle when the picture and number of pieces is unknown. It is good to be humbled in such ways, but it is better to be with those who know more about the puzzle. So when Kern’s dad and our captain for the day motored us through the dawn haze into position and told me cast, I did just that. With every cast, the mystery of stripers increased. Darkness turned to daylight and the fish remained elusive. The most terrifying words in the entire fishing lexicon hung over me like a thick cloud of noxious gas, “You should have been here yesterday.”
Casting once again at nothing in particular with my focus elsewhere, I was brought immediately back to the present by the distinct tug familiar to all anglers. Seconds later the first striped bass was in the boat and a renewed confidence returned to all of us. But hopes of a banner day were dashed as the next couple hours yielded few sporadic bites. Hours of repeated distance casts is usually marked by a sore arm, tangled line, and hooks zipping uncomfortably close to my head. It is usually a fatigued descent into sloppiness. Fortunately, my Boron III Plus shouldered much of the casting effort, amplifying my tired motions. Cast after cast, I watched with delight as my nine foot leader gracefully unfolded, gently dropping my baitfish pattern into the water. In the absence of fish, casting became my focus. I tried throwing out more line with fewer false casts. I became enamored by the loops slicing through the air. Reveling in the simple motion and movement of line, I was reminded that the joy of being on the water in pursuit of fish is manifested in the pursuit itself.
I may have learned little more about the nature of the striped bass, but I learned much about making the most of those inevitable slow days on the water. There are ways to break through the frustration of uncooperative fish and casting a Winston Boron III Plus is certainly high on that list.
Photos courtesy of Kern Ducote