Annual Migrations

Ned Fox at Ninigret Pond, RI
Ned Fox at Ninigret Pond, RI

So.  I live about a quarter mile away from a municipal pond in my Boston-Metro-West neighborhood.  In the summers there are people swimming & tanning, canoeing and playing beach-volleyball adjacent to the pond; they also host weekly fireworks and a Summer Concert Series there and it just so happens to have five-pound+ Large Mouth Bass swimmin’ around in it.  I’ll come back to this little fact in a few minutes…….

Living forty-plus minutes from saltwater on an east-northeasterly course can be a tough position to be in for a saltwater wade light-tackle/fly-fishing guide.  Tough to stay on top of the fish, literally and figuratively. In an industry where local-knowledge rules, having 27 years of local and regional experience [inshore AND offshore] really pays off though.  So, when the fish are a little late to show up in “mi barrio,” I do what all other good fishermen do: I skip town and head 100 miles south to meet them a little early in Rhode Island.

This usually means a trip to the Narragansett-side of Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island [as opposed to the Newport-side].  Annual migrations; making trips down to Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey earlier in the spring to feel “that pull” definitely expedites the process, but those trips don’t count.  Kinda like cheatin’….…gettin’ an early start on ‘em?!!  That’s what I was thinking when I suggested that a high-school friend of mine should drive up to Massachusetts and get his first Striped Bass on the fly between the first and second week of May.  Easy day.  They’re here [!!!] and reports of fresh school-sized fish [complete with sea-lice] are showing up.  No-Brainer.  We’re headed to RI for the “sure-thing.”

…….And we all know how that works out, right?  Rhymes with “we got skunked from Galilee to Mattapoisett, and up and across to Ipswich Neck.”  Yeah.  Over the course of four days.

Ouchie.

Reports the day before we started fishing had 100 fish caught at a certain Army Corps O’ Engineer project in Charlestown, RI. And then the water temperature dropped out over ten degrees the next day [57* to 46*F].  And remained there for another two days.  “Shift!!!”   Mattapoisett Bay and Boston’s North Shore, complete with fresh-fish fishing reports, treated us no better.  I was at a loss.  We had done everything right at every turn; I wouldn’t change a fly or approach to where we were in regards to time or tide at all.  Truly frustrating, but simply put; the fish had moved on and just weren’t there anymore.  A tough pill to swallow, not having felt that Striper-pull in over six months.  Even tougher when your friend drives close to 500 miles to give it a go as a result of your encouraging synopsis.

Awesome.

He was a good sport though, and claimed to really enjoy the beautiful wading locations at my disposal and his time casting there [in addition to all the craft-beer we exposed each other to!].  He also claimed to have learned a lot, coming from a freshwater background, and vowed to be back again.  That statement definitely lightened my burden and helped remind me that teaching was part of what I do as well.  The rewarding part, actually.  Seeing someone, newly exposed, completely FREAK-OUT over their new love of stalking and huckin’ flies in the salt to boisterous, predatory fish??!!!  Yep, despite the scorecard, I think something very positive came out of this week’s trips; for me AND my friend.  Oh, and my girl too.  She suffered with us for the last two days but still came away just loving the experience and the locations we were able to explore as well.

WooHoo.  So all was not lost striking-out on the first trip of the year.  I was still a bit down though.  Going over everything in my head, kind of becoming lost in it at times, I let it annoy me longer than I should have…….  And then my girlfriend’s eleven year-old son came home from school and suggested we string-up the new rod & reel his mom & I picked up for him the week before and take him fishing across the way…….

So here I was, five days removed from fishing some of the most beautiful saltwater bays and estuary areas New England has to offer, chasing migrating Striped Bass…..reduced to fishing in a man-made pond for Large Mouth Bass??  Really, Dude?  So not right; but it just so happens that the place is stuffed with Bucket-Mouth’s in the four to seven pound range though.  “The Boy” was bored and I needed to feel that pull; so we strung up that little spinning rod and off we went.  Found a couple-a-four two-pound fish and then…. “Bertha.”  Bertha would be a resident Bass in the five to six pound range.  Not quite a Striper or a Bluefish pull, but on a light-tackle rig [or a six-weight fly rod chuckin’ frog-pattern poppers (!!!!!)]; a relatively excessive amount of excitement ensues as these fish react and become quite lively, even jumping out of the water, once they figure out that they’ve been fooled.

When we first saw her, I had The Boy try to cast in front of her but she spooked and we moved on.  On our way back we stopped for another try at the dominant fish.  Second attempt had our soft plastic crawfish two feet from her nose, twitching….. oh….. so….. softly……..

BANG!!!  “We’re ON!!!”  One of my favorite phrases to hear.  Bertha had our bait and was FREAKING-OUT, taking our line to the deeper edge of the cove, I swear I heard that fish say “Wait…, what!!!”  Safe to say, she was pissed-off.  I even had to show The Boy how to hold the fore-grip and keep a bend in the rod as a fish is running and taking line; pump the rod, gain some slack, maybe tighten the drag as you get more line back…….  And then I saw it………  I saw it all “click” for him in just that moment.  He had his first real fish on the line; it was thrashing and shaking it’s head, taking line and jumping out of the water.  This fish was providing an immeasurable amount of adventure less than a mile from our house!

Suddenly, the iPad hours and other technologies are in jeopardy?  Airsoft could become a side-show?  Remote controlled what??!!!

Lipping that fish for him after he reeled it in to shore, raising it out of the water for him to touch and seeing it freak HIM out???  Priceless.  Have to say; that caused a bit of a moment for me.  I was that boy once.  Right about his age.  Catching MY first real fish and savoring that experience………..  I was with The Boy and HIS FISH, THAT FISH [!!!].  This monumental moment for him took me out of my funk over the blanked-trip almost a week earlier, just by being able to help provide this experience for him.  Again, Awesome!  I really am so lucky to be able to do this and am humbled by the opportunity to make such profound experiences, like this, happen for people.  But….…  I just completely “ruiiiiined” his life by showing him bass fishing, and I’m feeling good about it?!! Eleven years old and his lifetime income potential is in complete question now?  “Way to go, Dude,” I heard in the back of my head.  Ruiiiiined.  I should have just given him a beer while I was at it.

I am a bad person…….

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