The striped bass that, by all optimistic accounts, should be storming our beaches in pods of thousands any time soon, have yet to materialize. It’s Thanksgiving week – and this is usually when the striper run hits it’s peak. It is, however, hard to tell if it has even begun. Certainly, there are some large fish being caught off-shore, and trolling off the beaches is producing hits, but when we talk striped bass runs, we’re looking for fish in casting distance from the beach, choking the inlets and beaching bait on the point. None of that is happening.
Delaware resident fisherman, if they wish to retain sanity and are honest with themselves, will tell you that we are the first bastard state of a striped bass run. The stepchild. The geographic nature of our state in relation to it’s northern counterparts allow for the migrating herds to pass far off-shore, where charter boats and gas guzzlers will do well, but the rest of us will just be cold. South of Jersey, the Delaware Bay sees good action, but the rest is a gamble. There have been historic runs here in the not too distant past. A spring run comes to mind – the inlet crammed with boats – you could walk across it by jumping from deck to deck. They were elbow to elbow along the rail, and everyone had a bent rod. Incredible. Rare. Like a total eclipse or Halley’s Comet.
I take all the data in stride. “Every fish caught on a fly in saltwater is hard earned”. A Florida guide told me that recently. He’s right, no matter where you are. Yet, he has a longer season, tons more fish, clear water, and better weather. Still, it’s hard.
I took to looking for schoolie striper this year. Using my kayak to sneak around the back bays at various stages of the tide, trying to find the magic number. Beaching the boat on sandbars in casting into channels, of hovering at the mouth of the grass marsh on an outgoing tide, looking for feeders. Not so much as a peep. I fished the beach yesterday – mostly driving looking for birds or bait. Calm water, cold air, not a breath of wind, not a glimpse of fish. The ocean feels so big when you blind cast, stripping freezing saltwater back into your hands.
I keep waiting on better reports, but the best reports come from being on the water. So, I force myself into my waders and bundle up. Load up the kayak or cruise to the beach. The idea of a whole fall without a striped bass is gnawing at me. Sure, there are other factors at play. But I’m not looking of brute size or a state record. A fish will do. A hard earned fish.