2020 Snapshot: Reveries in the river and the first stripers of spring

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Where fall trips are typically solitary endeavors, spring excursions are often accompanied by fishing buddies, manic and talkative against the silence of black mornings, eager for their first encounter with liced-up stripers fresh from the Atlantic super-highway.

We were searching for the first stripers of the season. We dropped the kayaks upriver, relatively far away from the open ocean. I had sent the pinned location in a group chat the night before. They were skeptical of my choice of location.

“There are stripers in here?” Troy asks, scraping ice and dirt off his kayak. “You’re messing with us.” Sean blows up his paddleboard at the water’s edge.

“Have some faith. There are plenty of stripers in here,” I lied (sort of).

While I hadn’t heard explicitly that the stripers had shown in any type of numbers in this particular river system, or really in the Bay at all, my angling intuition (which is often very wrong) told me it was a good starting point. A Buzzards Bay river attached to a herring run in the last week in April is a spot you want to be in.

It was low tide in the river, completely devoid of any transient water, the muddy bottom circling just below our kayaks. Morning fog clung to the narrow river, the morning golden and bright. Casts along the banks from the kayaks proved fishless. Deep holes in the river held vast amounts of staging herring. Ospreys eyed us silently and occasionally dove into the water in loud displays of unathleticsm.

The bait was present. The birds were present. The ice was thawing in the mud on the river bank in the 53 degree water. But the stripers were nowhere to be found. We paddled aimlessly, casting for the sake of casting. I felt ready to admit the incorrect striper intuition. We should have gone trout fishing.

Eventually, we found ourselves through the mouth of the river and into more saltwater-looking environs. I drifted for a long time into the mooring fields, watching the sandy bottom change to weed bed and then change to gravel the back to sand, thinking that, for the first time in a long time, I was content to be fishing and not catching any fish. The midmorning sun was bright and the sky was clear in that early spring way, before the haze of humidity settles in.

My reveries were disrupted by the yells of Troy on his kayak. We padded over while he was being towed around by a healthy spring fish pulling bursts of drag and bending the rod down to the water . He got it to hand and we were shocked at the size—26” and fat, loaded with crawling sealice.

Reinvigorated, I cast and let my swimbait sink to the bottom. I took one turn of the handle and that familiar muscle memory engaged. I was tight to a fish before even realizing I had set the hook. The first fish of the season tends to send a few more little jolts of electricty through your body with each run and headshake. And when I got the fish to the side of the kayak, I was sufficiently buzzing.

I didn’t expect to catch anything—I warned my fishing buddies as much. But at the end of April, things like this just happen without even trying to unfold the great tapestry that is striper fishing.

Billy Mitchell

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