© 2015 Grace Baldwin

A Salty Summer

Summer 2015

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After saltwater fly fishing in Belize during January, I was excited to get home to Connecticut to do more salt water fly fishing there. My efforts were helped by the fact that I received a salt water fly rod for my 21st birthday! However, sadly my internship and research took up more time than anticipated. Also there wasn’t much freshwater fishing because the water levels became very low due to a hot, dry summer. I was able to get out on the water a couple of times, recounted below!

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Fishing for Blues with a Fly Rod

I went fishing two days with my friend Bud. After seeing a picture of him on facebook with a huge blue fish he caught on a fly rod, I asked him to take me out. We didn’t catch anything but I did learn a lot about finding the schools of blue fish by looking for birds, bait fish, and uneven water. I also learned how he would catch the fish. He would cast a spin rod with a popper (pictured below) to attract the blue fish and troll it behind his motor boat. Then he would cast his fly rod out with a fly for a blue fish, such as a minnow or fly that is blue on top and silver on bottom (pictured below), and then strip in. One thing that is important about fishing for blues is to have a wire tippet, because they fight very hard. We fished in Westport, Connecticut from the public ramp near the train station, as well as further out near Cockenoe Island. Its important to hit the fish when the tide is changing, and you can have some luck fishing off jettys by the shore, but its really best to have a boat.

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Fishing for Stripers with a Fly Rod

I fished a little bit with Bud for stripers, but he is yet to catch one on a fly rod. A friend of mine did put me in touch with an experienced fly fisher who gave a great description and some wise tips on how to catch one near Connecticut. He said you need: intermediate line, spool with floating line for poppers, deceiver flies, sand eel flies, epoxy flies, clousers in white or chartreuse, stripping basket, wire tippet if blues are around, waders/belt, pliers, nipper, and extra leader material.

He said you have the best luck if you go to the beach before first light or at sunset, ideally at the beginning of tide and at a spot with current such as a creek mouth, jetty, as well as whitewater around rocks. As is true in other salt water fishing, the more water you cover the better and its important to be able to cast 60 feet. Some spots he recommended were Southport Harbor, Sasco Beach, and Fisher’s Island in Rhode Island.

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Practice Casting

Throughout the summer I received lots of advice on my casting and practiced a lot on the water and on my lawn. But the best advice came from a man named David who I met on Fire Island. He is an extremely experienced fishermen.

Watching him cast it was amazing how little effort he put into it and yet the line would go out 60 feet in one cast and completely straight. What helped me the most for my cast was the following:

  1. Use a practice fly! No hook = less trouble.
  2. Stand with right foot in front and thumb on top of the rod.
  3. Keep your elbow in, literally touching the side of your body! (He said some people practice by keeping books under their elbow).
  4. Start with the rod tip down and a little bit of line to haul.
  5. Cast up and rotate your hip slightly as you do so.
  6. Watch the tip and stop your cast high and don’t go forward until you see the tip of the rod curve and fly the line straighten.
  7. Then tug on the line as you cast it forward being sure to end high and keep your line on the rod.
  8. On the second cast do the same but double haul, instead of single haul.

Other advice he said that helped me was that I should really try to get as much line out in 1 – 2 casts. He said that for most fishing you really want to be able to get out 60 feet in 1 – 2 casts and so its important to practice that way. This echoed exactly what I read in the bonefishing book, which said that when you see a fish you should roll cast, single haul cast, then double haul.

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I went fishing twice with David and a couple other men on the island. The first time we got skunked, but the second day we were fairly successful. I caught a ton of sea robins (maybe 5 or so); they are funky looking fish that reminded me of squirrel fish in Belize. Its important when you catch sea robins to use a towel to take out the hook because of their spiny stingers. David cut up two of the sea robins as bait.

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I also caught a little sea bass (I’m not sure exactly what kind), I also caught a fluke. What was pretty humorous about the day out is that I caught the most fish. Mainly because I had a smaller hook and bait (we used gulps as bait and a small, white feathered fish imitation). I also had a weight on the line which allowed me to easily tell when the bait was hitting the bottom, which was very important for catching the fish especially since we were fishing 70 feet deep.

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Shark Fishing

By far my favorite fishing of the summer was going out in a Kayak at Fire Island to catch sharks. The boy who took me out, Ben, had caught over 30 this summer and so was very experienced at landing and dehooking the sharks.

We usually went out around noon (mostly because I played tennis from 9 am to noon every day), but the best time to go is once the sun is up because the bunker eat photoplankton and the sharks eat bunker, but also when the wind and waves are limited making it easier to see the pods of bunker. The bunker pods are so huge that they look like giant dark murky splotches in the water. They snap up and down trying to get to the top of the pod for best protection. Its hard to spot them at first, but once you get used to it, they are fairly noticeable. You can also listen for the sound of rushing water which is when a predator goes for them: sharks, bass, stripers, and birds, as well as fishermen.

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The pods are so thick that to catch the bunker you put on a bunker snatcher, cast a little beyond the pod and then reel and jerk the rod to the side to try and hook one. You also want to let the hook sink a little because the pods are so deep.

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The bunker is then used as bait to catch the sharks. You can either put them on live or chop them in half or a combo of the two. The shark rig consisted of two three-prong hooks and a steel leader. We had the most success fishing with chopped bunker, probably because there was so much bait in the water that the sharks were attracted to the blood. We also had success putting one bunker on live and another chopped.

Something I noticed, if we weren’t having much success, Ben would catch another bunker so it was fresh bait as well as switching up whether it was chum or live. We also drifted around the pods, because that is where the sharks hung out.

The first day we went out we stayed pretty close to shore and after a while ended up hooking a shark while Ben was reeling in the bait. He let me fight the fish, which took over 30 minutes to land! The shark’s first run was the biggest and he went straight out, while after he would rise to the surface and then dive back down. Ben did a really good job of keeping the kayak upwind which made it harder for the shark to run.

The most exciting part was when we first got a glimpse of the beast. I was reeling for so long and the shark took so many runs that it was hard to tell where he was. But it was so exciting when we first saw the leader and then a silvery figure rise to the surface. When we brought the shark near the kayak it would ferociously slap its tail and then take another run.

When we finally landed the shark, Ben thought it was about 5 foot in length. It was quite stunning and very impressive looking. The hook was caught right in the sharks lower lip and was shockingly easy to get out after Ben knocked the hook with the kayak paddle.

We went out again the next day and the conditions were perfect. There were ginormous pods of bunker everywhere which were very active, constantly snapping on top of the water. This time I was sure to bring a camera!

Ben hooked a bunker on his first cast, and we used it as chum. Within only 20 minutes or so we were hooked up. This time the shark took about 5-10 minutes to land and it ended up being fairly small, maybe 2.5 to 3 feet. Ben wrapped a blue dog leash around the tail of the shark and then used big pliers to get the hook out. The hook took a lot longer to get out, and Ben was pretty close to getting his fingers bitten off by baby Jaws. After getting the hook out Ben took a picture of me holding the cartilaginous creature (pictured below).

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Afterwards we kept fishing, snatched a fresh bunker, and after maybe another 45 minutes we got a huge hit as I was holding the rod. The shark took off and I could tell right away this guy was bigger. The shark took a huge run then swam down to the bottom sitting on the sand. Ben taught me to lean forward to create slack while reeling in and then lean back slowly to bring up the shark gradually.

Despite my best efforts I was really struggling to reel the beast in, but I slowly started to get the hang of the “lean forward and reel, then lean back” technique. When we finally saw the leader we could tell it was a much bigger shark. He did a huge slap with his powerful tail and took off again.

After a couple of resurfaces we realized that the shark had been hooked on the side which was why it had been so hard to get him up because all the weight of the water above him was creating resistance against his long, thick body.

I’m not sure how many times we got him to the surface and tried to land him, but easily 6 or 7 times, maybe more. Every time it was easier to bring him up, mostly because he was growing weaker, or “less green” as Ben said, but also because I was getting better at reeling him up to the surface. However, every time he would shoot down after and take another run.

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After over an hour we finally got the fish up long enough to get the hook out. We accomplished this by Ben pulling up the leader with his fingers very gently as I took out the slack with the reel.

When we finally saw the fish we realized he was definitely 6 feet. Ben was able to get the hook out shockingly easy with the pliers and with the blink of an eye the monster was back down to the depths, probably recovering from what for him was just another unlucky brush with some eager fishermen, but for me was by far the highlight of my summer.

The adrenaline I felt and intense focus during the fight—despite my aching back, sore left forearm, and painfully tight right bicep—was addicting. There really is nothing else like a long fight against a formidable cold blooded creature and the unyielding respect that grows stronger from hedging your bets against the ocean’s inhabitants.

Summer Reflection

This summer cemented for me the feeling, which I am continuously reminded of as I dip my toes into the world of fishing: the more you learn the more you realize how much there is to learn. Every experienced fishermen you meet fills a niche and each is bursting with wise words, unbelievable tales of their biggest tails, and a gruff yet welcoming response to newcomers.

I am so grateful to all those that have been so kind and caring in introducing me to this sport that I am falling deeper and deeper in love with. It is always exciting the serendipity that embodies my fishing experiences so far, and the amazing people that I have met and will continue to meet.

As I pack up for College, I am excited to put my saltwater rod on the back burner and get back into the cold freshwater of Maine.

Where will my next fishing adventures lead me? Who knows. But for know I’ll continue day dreaming about curved rods, tight lines, and whizzing reels.