July is a month of memories, of in-the-dark-of-night fishing on the coast of Maine for striped bass. But something happened along the way, something that opened up a new approach to angling on an overcast morning of fishing with my three sons a few years ago.
Youth will have its way. I resolved to abandon my “dark fisherman” ways one week when I took into account the fact that young men enjoy the nightlife of Old Orchard Beach and will sometimes retire for the evening right about the time when that I would normally rise to set out, fishing gear in hand, in the dark of night.
They could not join me at night so I adjusted my fishing to their needs.
Still, there was some griping when I advised my three party-boys that we would be setting out at 6 a.m. I rose at 5 a.m., made coffee and woke my sons at 5:30. One great advantage, for me, at least, was the fact that we now had four anglers to carry the gear — two surf rods, two sand spikes (metal devises that hold the 10-foot rods in place), a cooler with bait and a backpack holding water and fishing gear.
After a half-mile walk to our destination, we set up, securing large chunks of clam to the big barbless hooks. It was about 90 minutes from low tide, on an early morning with a dark sky, when they first cast out their lines. Since we had just two rods for three sons, it was agreed that one would sit out for a set period of time or until one angler caught a fish, before the third son would get his chance.
I have fished these waters, almost always alone, for some 25 years and, despite their protests. I insisted that I would serve as a kind of guide, offering advice but would not hold a pole on this morning. It was a pleasant surprise, when only 15 or 20 minutes later, Mike hooked and landed a good, legal striper. That fish would be filleted and served later that day along with lobster for the family of 11 that was in Maine for the week.
Despite the still steel-gray sky, a growing number of beach combers could be seen, picking up shells, jogging along or, even at this early hour, frolicking in the water.
I must say that this was a special morning for me because of how difficult it is, with jobs and families, to get my three boys out for a morning of fishing with the old man. A little later, Matt has a fish and brings it to the beach, but the fish falls just below the legal limit and is quickly released.
About 15 minutes before dead-low tide, Dan’s rod bends over, jerking at almost 90 degrees. He takes the rod from the spike and sets the hook. I am only feet away and can clearly hear the drag on his reel, going out at a constant rate. (You should adjust the degree of drag on the reel to allow a fish to take out line, but only enough that when you begin to reel in line, the drag is tight enough to do so.)
This is a big fish, I tell Dan, as if he needed to be so informed. Like any veteran angler, he knows that one must keep the rod tip high and tight. “He’s still taking out line, dad,” Dan says. “No problem, “I tell him, “You have 320 yards of 17-pound test on that reel.”
After long minutes, the fish begins to tire, taking out less line. Dan begins reeling in and then, the fish suddenly surfaces, showing its long, thick tail. Then it submerges. I’m stunned, because the striper is big, bigger than I guessed. After about 10 minutes, Dan slowly works the fish to shore and brings him in.
I take the tape measure from a pocket and measure the striper. Thirty-eight inches long, a good five inches longer than any striped bass I have ever taken along this beach. At low tide, no less. Dan walks into the surf, holds the heavy striper under its body and then looks on as the fish bolts into the deep.
What a day. It is one thing to bond with your sons on a striper morning; it is gravy to see all three catch fish. A half-hour later, we collect our gear and head back to the beach house, with smiles all around.
I shall never forget that day, marked by a dreary morning, great company and, yes, a bit of luck.
At one point, not long after Dan landed and released that big striper, I took a memorable photograph, one that hangs in our kitchen today, a photo that is striking for what is not obvious to the casual eye: Dan is looking out at Saco Bay, Matt is looking to his right; and Mike is looking left. No fishing poles can be seen but we know that Mike and Matt are both watching the tips of two surf rods, looking for that sharp, bouncing arch or the rod that tells you that a striper has taken the bait and is running with it.
Contact Dennis Jensen at email@example.com