The paddle in had been tough through the narrow and shallow places where the water, with the full weight of the marsh behind it, rushed to find its way back to the ocean. It had been a race to get to “the spot” where the fish had been holding for the past few days at this exact time of the drop. A small side creek running over a sandbar at its mouth was dumping grass shrimp, juvenile baitfish and crab as it emptied into the river. I could see splashes as I got closer. The rat stripers had been in a pocket of deeper water off the sand bar. Most of them were small, twelve to fourteen inches but every once in a while a fish in the low twenties would take a fly; not a large fish but fun on a seven-weight in shallow water nonetheless. In thirty minutes the tide would slack and these fish would be gone.
Line was stripped out within the first few steps out of the kayak and a cast put into the air while walking up to the edge of the sandbar. Still in the rhythm of paddling and cramped from the confines of the boat the first few casts were short and open. I glanced back and forth between the fish breaking water and the line in the air, a sense of urgency to get the fly in front of them beginning to form in my chest. A deep breath was taken; the next few casts getting longer and tighter. Another deep breath with a little bit of a haul on the last false cast and the fly dropped right between two spots of boiling water. I silently mouthed the words, “strip, strip, strip…”
I could see the fly and watched a streak of silver run up to it, take it and turn. Another short strip right as the rod bent set the hook and the line went tight, pulling out the slack until it was on the reel. The fish headed into the current and up onto the sand bar, splashing through the shallow water as it tried to shake the fly. I’ve watched all this happen thousands of times over the years and I never tire of it. It’s like the first time, every time.
But this fish was different. It wasn’t mine. I hadn’t even made a cast yet; I was just a spectator. This was Jill’s first striper on the fly.
She and I grew up in the same small town, had the same teachers, the same coaches, we knew the same blue ice at Sunday River and both took Route 26 south to different lives. Despite thirty plus years between here and there we have a history, a bond from knowing who the other is from knowing where and what the other came from. We were both drawn to the ocean and both adjusted our lives to stay on it. Fly fishing the water by our home has been a big part of my life for nearly twenty years. I wanted to share that with her.
We began her fly fishing education during the middle of last season and picked it back up this spring. She patiently listened to my coaching, watched a few Pete Kutzer video’s and stood for hours throwing line back and forth. She got the basics down but being able to shoot line was taking some time. The previous week it started coming together, she was adding distance to the cast and fueled by a few dropped fish she now knew what to expect. My mission on this day was to get her close to feeding fish where she could see what was happening, make the cast, watch the take and the turn and feel that fish, to be a part of it and in so, understand a little more about me and why fly fishing consumes so much of me. I will probably think of her first striper with as much reverence as I do my own.
Our house is cluttered with rods and reels and I track pieces of Krystal flash, tufts of marabou and buck tail all through it. Stripping baskets and waders hang in the shed. Stuck in the wall on the kitchen porch is an assortment of old beat up flies that I walk past every morning. I look at all of this and I see little pieces of memories of each fish she caught this season, of moments, thoughts and a life shared.
Life on the fly.
A new history.
(Flamingo, Cudjoe, Baja, NOLA, the Berkshires, ACK, MVY, UDL in SC ?? Stay tuned.)
South River, MA
21 November 2017