It is nearly dark, the tide dropping with less than an hour to go to slack. The air is still, the smell of rain still present, the water’s surface like glass. On the walk in I can see the bait schooled in large clouds along the edges of the flat. There’s also a grass shrimp hatch in full bloom. A full buffet. It seems quiet. But this is Dog Town, my water. Twelve years on the river. I know what is about to unfold. I make a few casts and watch a cormorant diving on bait out in the channel. And then it happens.
It starts with bait moving up into the shallows causing the water to ripple as is if it is raining, hence the term “rain bait”. Then from upriver come the sweet sounds of tails slapping the water. The sounds get louder and more frequent and I see the splashes as they come through the cut of the old trestle. It gets quiet as the splashes spread out where the river broadens and then seem to disappear. I shift my gaze to a deep section of water that feeds up onto the flat two hundred feet upriver and count to one hundred and twenty. Almost on cue the water boils with striped bass rolling on bait, tails everywhere.
There was a time I would have abandoned my spot and made a mad dash to get within casting range of this melee. But I’ve been here a hundred times. This could last for five minutes or it could go well into slack tide. Experience and the conditions tonight tell me we’ll all be here for awhile. I watch the carnage rage as it moves closer, but I’m looking for something different, something I haven’t seen yet this season. I make a cast with a white with red head fly I call the Mojo. Within the first few strips I’m tight to a rat striper. As I grab the leader I see what I’m hoping for; shad coming straight out of the water as they cut through the bait. I don’t know for certain why they do that but it’s common when they are mixed in with stripers. I like to think they do it just because they can.
I release the bass quickly and drop a long cast over the boiling water in front of me, stripping line with both hands. The fly is hit immediately and I know it’s another bass. This one is a little larger than most river rats, about twenty four inches, normally a photo fish but I want a shad. I cast again and the fly is hit on the first strip. This time I know it’s a shad by the feel of the take. Not as forceful as a striper but definitely as violent. The shad goes tight to the line, heads for deeper water and then comes up and out of the water like a tarpon trying to shake the hook. It comes completely out of the water two more times as I bring it in. This never gets old. I could fish everyday and only catch shad and that would be okay. Risking losing shots at more, I snap a quick photo and release it.
My gut feeling is right. This little blitz of bass and shad lasts into slack tide. Several more rat bass and a couple of shad make their way to my hand. I stand in the darkness as it becomes quiet once again. They’ll be back in the morning.
So will I.
North River (MA)
13 July 2013