I spent the weekend fishing in the New England Kayak Fishing ninth annual Striper Shootout at Winter Island in Salem with 180 of my closest striper yak friends from all over. What a great location and event. Four of us went out Friday night on a dead calm sea with a 3/4 moon for illumination, my first time fishing at night from a yak in the ocean. We fished for a few hours, Val , Jack and I were fly fishing while Jesse was trolling a Hogy. First creepy sighting, a dead seal. Val was the first to get a hit on a popper but didn't hook up. Jack and I didn't see any action, but Jesse managed a 26" schoolie on his Hogy near a breakwater at a small cove. After a few hours we called it a night and went back to camp to socialize before retreating to our respective sleep locations (my car).
After a restless night, I woke up early Saturday and found a 24 hour Dunks in Salem for breakfast. God that tasted good. I returned to camp to find everyone awake and prepping their yaks for another day of fishing. Went out around 7, this time by myself. The sky was bright blue, the air crisp, the sun warm and Salem harbor was filled with the most beautiful collection of boats. I started fishing the rocks and cove along the power plant because I'd heard scuttlebut that this area had been productive. After 3 hours I had zilch and was feeling defeated, but it was still a beautiful day to be on the water so I sucked it up and paddled around to the eastern side of the island where we had fished the previous night. At least I knew that someone had caught something over there.
The sea on the eastern side wasn't as calm as the night before and some of the swells were pushing water up through the footwell of my Hobie into my seat giving me that phenomenon known as "shriveled Hobie ass". After many hours of casting an 8 wt my arm was getting pretty tired so I tied on a classic chartreuse and white Deceiver and slowly trolled it along the rock line. Eventually I arrived at the small cove and breakwater where Jesse had nailed his schoolie the night before.
I was about 30 yards into the cove past the breakwater when I had my first hit. My rod doubled over and fly line started burning through my hands, OUCH! I had to let go of the line, and then tragedy, fish off! I can't begin to explain how dejected I felt, after working for so many hours to find a fish, to finally get a strike and hookup only to lose it due to my own ineptitude. But at least I had found a fish in this great big ocean and perhaps some of his friends were nearby.
I paddled the perimeter of the the small cove so that I eventually found myself back at the breakwater and BAM, my rod doubles over again, line goes screaming out, and I find myself on a sleigh ride. But theres a problem, the fish has headed through the break into deeper water and has pulled me into the rocks. Now I'm going backwards! But even worse, he has wrapped me around one of the channel marker buoys. And this isn't a simple once around kind of wrap, this is a full fledged cluster f***.
Let me just say that trying to lift a buoy with one arm, while steering a kayak and holding onto a fly rod in the other while a big fish keeps pulling on the line is not an experience I would like to repeat. It took me all of 6 minutes before I was finally free. Of course, the fish had worn himself out by this time so it was just a matter of reeling him to the boat.
Now up until this time I had thought that I had hooked into a schoolie, something in the mid-20s. So as the fish gets closer it finally dawns on me that this a really good fish, good enough to potentially win the fly fishing division. My hands violently shaking, in part because of my struggle with the buoy and in part because of my amazement at this catch, I pulled the beast into my lap to begin photographic documentation.
To all my MAFF kayak tournament buddies, if you think photographing a largemouth from the kayak is challenging, it's nothing compared to doing it with a fish in your lap that hangs over both gunnels. It took four photos to capture the entire fish. Physically and emotionally drained I released the fish and returned to the launch. Only afterward did I realize that I had failed to include the official event tag in my photos, a prerequisite for tournament entry. I have printed my photos with my Google time, date and location tags and will present them for review this morning. Hopefully I can get the jury to accept my entry.
Epilogue - my entry was accepted and I won first place in the Fly Fishing Class. Not bad for my first striper on a fly.
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