“Ok, finals end at 10:30 and our game doesn’t start until 6; that leaves us free all day.”
My friend Landon’s math strategy treated him a little nicer than he did a few minutes ago during our math final, but he was right; we had some time to kill and the only sensible solution was to go fishing.
When we got back to my house, we loaded up our packs with flies and food and got on our bikes for the 10 minute ride to the flats. The weather had been terrible all morning; steady rain mixed with strong winds and even thunder may have struck fear into the hearts of our fellow testers, but by the time we were cruising down the road with fly rods in hand, it looked like it might clear up.
After catching a few quick schoolies along the way, we finally made it to our spot. We dropped our bikes in a bush and started the journey down the swamp. There was about 100 meters of marsh we had to wade through before we got to the fish areas. The tide was low when we reached the first hole up in the estuary. These flats, outside and especially inside the estuary, fish best on the flood tide, so I thought we could mess around in the deeper holes where the fish are constantly being held while we wait for the tide to change. Almost as soon as we started fishing, Lando and I doubled up on a couple of small schools on the first hole. Finding fish on a low tide is always a good sign that there will be some action when the tide changes, so we were pumped to see these guys. It felt good to bend the rods, but as we released those two fish, the sun began to peek through and hopes of good looking fishing flooded our minds.
We went down the estuary to an area I had had success with recently. It was a long, straight, shallow sand flat with a slightly deeper channel crossing the marsh grass on the other bank. Unlike the first pool, this one didn’t actually have any fish-attracting structures to hold; it was basically just a highway for fish navigation. Our game plan was to wait for a bass to come through the channel and then throw our crab fly ahead to let it drop down to where the bass were cruising. The current was just starting to come through and almost on cue a bass appeared on the flat moving up the channel. The fish were moving quickly the way we came, so I hurried to the sandy bank where I could run out of the water to get in front of the bass. As I rushed in front of the fish, I got a better look at it. The sun still wasn’t giving us great visibility, but it was certainly enough to see this fish in a few feet of water. I could tell it was a solid bass and my heart started pumping as I went back out to the flat to get the cast before the fish.
My cast landed right on the bank about 6 feet up the current of the cruising bass; perfect. The fish was moving fast so my crab was in his sights almost immediately. Many people retell stories and say “everything happened in slow motion”, but that was not the case with this fish. In what seemed like an incredibly short amount of time, the bass ate, I settled in, and my little crab came right out of the fish’s mouth! A faint, “Noooooooo” escaped Lando and my heart dropped. I gave my fly two strong strips in hopes that the bass would ignite its will to kill even though it was just picked, and to my surprise the bass turned on a dime and threw down my little red crab. Without hesitation, the bass swallowed my fly and I pulled off my second group of last 5 seconds, but this time the hook stayed home and I was tight. Landon and I started jumping up and down yelling and jumping at each other after I buckled (which is a stupid thing to do when fighting any fish)! It was at this moment that I saw this fish and realized that I was not playing with a strong pupil. This guy had some serious shoulders and was a real beast.
The bass rose from the current with the force of a truck, instantly clearing my line uncharacteristically smoothly. My 8wt doubled up as this fish slowly and steadily crawls off my reel. The thing about fishing a fish in an estuary like this is that there isn’t much room for a fish to run. They can run up or down the mouth, but other than that it’s a clinic in the short game. This particular fish was too big to get straight into the short game, so Landon and I set off chasing it from the flat to the ocean. In my head I’m begging, “please don’t go into the ocean, please don’t go into the ocean” because I know how difficult this fish would be if it got out into open water.
Apart from a few hard runs we were able to stay relatively close to the bass and it soon became a delicate game of tug of war. I had to forcefully coax this king of the flat to swim to Landon’s welcoming hands without taking the tiny size 4 crab out of his mouth. It would be heartbreaking to break away from this fish and watch him swim away into it the same shallow, clear water where I first saw him. It took some convincing, but in what actually seemed like slow motion, the fish came close and Landon grabbed the leader. This is where everything could go wrong, our striped friend was not cooperating and wouldn’t open his mouth to let Lando hit him. After a few seconds (or hours) of effort, Lando reached down, grabbed his tail with one hand and his stomach with the other, and took our catch in the most dramatic and convenient way possible!
In my eyes, there is nothing better than striper fishing on the flats. The hunt is like no other, and the feeling you get when you watch a wild fish grab the ball of fur and fins is truly the best. This experience only grows with good friends and a fish like this. This was my biggest Striper flat to date (which I’m obviously already trying to beat), and I couldn’t be more excited! Days like this show that you never know what might be swimming around the corner, and if you put in the time in a place, it will certainly pay off.