Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bass fishing in Pleasant Bay 4/15/08 by David Garner

My favorite memories from childhood in Orleans always revolved around the water. This time of year especially, mid april, I think back to my youth and the annual arrival of the Striped Bass.
Springtime meant "stripers" in Pleasant Bay. Located on the "back side" of the cape, above the elbow, Pleasant Bay is the largest salt-water estuary on this end of Cape Cod. Separated from the Atlantic by a thin and always changing barrier beach this wonderful abayment is ideally suited and located to hold and feed "tons" of stripers. In their annual sojour north, as the water gets warmer, the Bass migrate up the Atlantic coast following Herring and other bait fish. The first to arrive, the "scouts", are the smaller ones and usually under 14 or 15 inches. They methodically enter one abayment at a time south to north until they end up in the far reaches of Pleasant Bay just about this time of year. There are lots of ways to fish for stripers. It mostly depends on the water you're fishing and the time of year.

Louis Higgins, a local "bayman", was one of my many teachers on the water. In the late 60's he was already in his later years and clearly the epitomy of an "old salt". He had fish and shellfished all the old nooks and crannies of the Bay. Seaworms were his choice of bait to catch these young fish. I can see it as clear today as I did 40 years ago. His thick weathered hands sliding a hook into the mouth of a seaworm, its pinchers biting to resist, and pulling it out its side. His favorite lure was a silver spoon, still sold today, called a "Toniasetta". This spoon with a worm is killer. You can cast it or troll it but the key is bringing it in slowly or trolling slowly. It has wonderful action in the water which is only enhanced by the length of the worm. The little stripers feed from the end of the worm in and announce their arrival with what the fisherman feels are little "bumps" before a hook-up. Another trolling rig he showed me and my favorite still is what was known as a "capecodder". A two foot long, heavy 30lb. monofiliment, rig with colored beads, two silver spoons and two hooks. Add the seaworms and this should be declared illegal in Massachusetts. This is old school fishing. Todays bait choice for the little guys is usually a plastic white "grub" on hook.

Soon the larger bass enter the bay also looking for bait and compete with the little ones for food and habitat. The bigger fish usually like the deeper water to feed in and will in fact eat off the bottom taking good size crabs, shellfish and ells. But these larger bass, sometimes upward of 40 inches, also like to cruise the many sand flats and shallow areas that are typical of the Bay. This is my favorite place to take stripers. My method is light spinning gear, a "bay" rod usually 7 to8 feet long and light line usually 10-12 lb. test and an artificial surface plug. The greatest thrill in the world, as it was 40 years ago, is to catch big stripers on the "top"or surface. To see the water explode as a hungry 20 lb. striper hits a lure is unbelievable experience. To see it at the end of your own line is the best feeling in the world! With this smashing hit on your line you instinctively react by pulling the rod back over your head, trying to set the hook before the fish gets away. The second greatest feeling is the weight of the fish at the other end of the line after you have set knowing you have a big fish on! As the fish starts his first run expect line to spin off your reel. If its a big fish and your drag(resistence) is too tight on your reel then the line is already broken and you have lost a big one. In time that fish will get bigger and bigger each time you tell the story. Believe me... The hooked striper runs slower and stronger than a bluefish and mostly tries to stay deep. After two or three runs his energy usually subsides and you can bring him up along side your boat. Watching out for hooks, slowly reach your hand to the water and with your thumb grab the fish by its lower jaw and lift it out of the water. Try to handle the fish by the body as little as possible as its slime coating protects the fish.The mouth can not close when held like this so now you can remove your lure(bend back all barbs when fishing with multiple hooks) from its mouth. Quickly put the fish back in the water maintaining your grip and slowly pull the fish back in forth in the water allowing water and oxygen to pass through his gills to prepare him for release. Take your hand from its mouth and in a splash he is gone. Now you are ready for another one! I still can't think of anything more fun and relaxing than drifting in Pleasant Bay casting silently,seagulls musing over head, trying to catch that big striper that got away.

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