The Tail Tale
I had actually gone to the brant rock fish market and bought the few fresh mackerel they had. Looking at them in the bait bucket actually triggered a Pavlov's dog reaction. this salivation was not due to a yearn to taste them.........but a yearn to fish them.....in pieces!.
I could have chosen any means to catch a striper on this morning....But I chose chunking. Sunrise and a surf rod just go hand in hand. I had my coffee and felt the exhilaration of a kid coming downstairs on Christmas morn. Going fishing ,can be as much fun .......as fishing! During the trudge to the beach, I seemed to lay down footprints at a quicker rate than I usually did. excitement will do that to you. Surfcasting in the fall, with recently caught mackerel as bait...is exciting!!
I love all the phases of fishing the surf for Striped Bass that can out man your tackle. The inaudible way I say good morning to the sun as it rises.....the rock I choose to pound in my stake....the way I position my chair ...the re-sharpening of a hook that may have been used....the size and presentation of the chunk.....things have to be just right. its all part of it....I wouldn't want it any other way.
After drooling from the ecstasy of the sunrise, I could see the oil slick left by the fresh mackerel I had hurled out there. I picked up the rod, this scene looked way to good to rely on my reflexes any more than I had to. I would hold it.
Diving gulls and terns, far beyond casting distance......were a good sign in terms of feeding conditions. They could not......and would not....resist my mackerel "I can resist anything except temptation"........I love that quote, and today. the stripers would have to deal with the reality of my bait being overwhelming to them. Chunking in the fall......wow..hold on!
Striped Bass will gorge themselves before the migration, just before the water gets to cold. They do not eat when they are migrating and need the protein to make the run to their winter home. They are vulnerable......to shallow water.... varied unusual feeding times and conditions.etc. If you want a big one...fall is the time to apply your hope.....to action.
As quickly as a varied breeze, a school of bait and marauding fish boiled up to my left.....very close to shore!!! My first thought was ,.I don't have the other rod.....I don't have the right plugs.....I assumed chunking would do it......I turned away and began to convince myself that they were actually the typical 20 inch fish that dance near the shore......When I saw one roll in the foam, I knew they weren't..........It was a 3footer. These were big cows. loading up before they take on one of natures greatest wonders.......migration!
The Chesapeake bay and Hudson river, are the kindergartens for 99% of all striped bass in the north east. Just think about that!! If I asked every surfcaster I know to give me one word to describe these striper birthplaces and initial rearing areas..........the word would be........POLLUTED. We wonder why these fish are threatened....we wonder why there are good and bad years for stripers......we wonder why even varied keeper limits still back us into a hole of less fish with less size. Don't wonder!!!....just imagine being one of 600,000 eggs laid by a old breeding female.....in which only 600 will ever turn to fry. the rest will suffocate in the filth of these water systems. For the next 2 years the fry remain in their birth place and attempt to survive in toxic conditions until they finally can consume with predatory practices..........and go to sea. a timeless message triggers in their being in the spring of their young existence. The 2 yr. olds, magnetically glide down to the mouth of their birth places and head up, with the adults before them............on a trek that includes a return trip to the exact spot, until they die. Be amazed by it.............don't attempt to understand it.......you cant! If you do want to attempt something, become aware and involved in the future or lack of, the Chesapeake bay and the Hudson River...it effects the future of a fish with broad shoulders and a broad tail. One that chuckles at the fury of high surf and glides purposefully through its turbulence ..One that makes bone chilling runs when hooked and running with 30 to 50 pounds behind its sprint! One that forces the surfcaster to be absorbed in sunrises and sunsets. One that re acquaints us with the ebony of a new moon nite. It is a trophy fish with an American history and one that to this day draws anglers and boats up and down the east coast, day in and day out. It is a great fish. its Americas fish. We must not only hope for it........we must help it. Please consider catch and release, so that this great fighter can fight at least one more time.
When you have 3 foot stripers rolling in the surf, right in front of you and eating like there is no tomorrow, chunking takes a back seat! I reeled my prime mackerel in and tried to remember if I had any lures at all in this chunking set up. The last thing on earth that would work in a school feeding, is a big chunk and 2 oz sinker plopping in the middle of their dinner. You would have more luck heaving a hooked rock in the commotion. Why does this happen???? All I had was a crappy old atom popper I had found last year. It closely resembled the hooked rock I just spoke of.......I wasn't going to ruin things with that big........ker plunk! Thinking takes time, and their feeding wasn't waiting. I considered running to the house, but I knew dam well they would be gone by the time I got back. I cant leave big stripers on a premigration food fest. I took more time....I began thinking again! Before you go on......ask yourself, what would you have done.? Use the chunk and hope when it lands it doesn't spook them and assume they will eat a glob when ingesting baitfish??? or...run to the house and get plug rod and bag??.or use the ridiculously inappropriate 3 oz atom plug?....or throw your chunk back out and watch the show as it goes by and hope for a cow bite later on?
With a local old-timer watching me, I took the 11 foot chunk chucking rod.......took the weight off.....tossed the chunk....and cut ...ONLY the tail off of one of the mackerel....no meat, just the tail!. The big # 7 gamigatsu looked so obvious, but I went with it. If I could cast it 50 feet.... it was a lot.......the rod was big and the piece of tail wasn't virtually weightless. Im not sure when things caused me to beam a morning smile.......whether it was my 4th or 5th cast, but ,that tail was clobbered. The bait did not fit my outfit.....but the racing, well hooked striper.........did. I played the nice fish all the way and she confirmed her exhaustion by not going nuts in the shallow water when I got her that close. I felt so inventive. The neighbor thought it was ingenious. Upon releasing it, he asked it he could keep it since I decided not to. I went through my catch and release spiel and he nodded as the 35 inch line sider power tailed its way to freedom.
The frenzy was still going on further down the beach now and I asked Nick if he wanted to come with me while I try another tail. Absolutely Mike. Same scene, same pod of fish. Just like before, a couple of casts tricked another focused striper. Im sure the tail sure looked like a bait fish in the midst of a school of small bait fish.
Nick was amazed, as I duplicated success and the big backed bruiser rolled in the surf when she felt the sting. I handed the rod to nick.......and told him..Now you are part of "The Tail Tale", this is a story in the making. Nick could not gather the composure to purely enjoy this whopper. He reeled when he should not have, and pulled much to hard, much to often. But I was not about to steal his thunder. he was ecstatic. Ecstatic was a deficient descriptor when he went down and picked up the 34 " striper.
"Its a beauty mike!!!"........Yes it is nick..good for you.........nice fight!!!!.. Its gonna kill me to put this fish back mike. its the biggest one I ever landed from shore. I looked ol Nick in the eye........Then don't Nick.....Take the fish for dinner and pictures and memories. I know you will release one in the future if we condone your harvest and this epic catch for you. I promise mike....I will. I know Nick wont fish from the shore much, if at all....he is all of 65 and really not as motivated as I am. I do think he will tell people of this time..........and how I released a bigger one...and how I used imagination to get them to bite, when all seemed so unlikely.
Surfcasting and striped bass will do that to you. When you look down at these huge fish and still feel the numbness in your right forearm from the fight, be sure to HOPE for them......because the threat of you catching them........is only one worry in the Gauntlet of their migratory lives. Three cheers for AMERICAS fighting fish..........Three cheers for THE STRIPER