Spring Bass at Squibnocket
At five a.m. my alarm went off. I was delirious. I almost turned it off, but, phone in hand, I stared at the numbers on the dial and thought “this is my last chance.” I jumped out of bed now, reenergized by the thought of cold water and wet line ripping through my fingers. My fishing partner Len stirred as he heard me in the kitchen getting coffee ready. You want coffee I asked? No, let’s roll. He said. I dropped the cup in the sink and grabbed my rod and we strolled out into the half light, spooking a mother doe and her fawn on the morning lawn. They bounded into the mist and I was again reminded of the delicate balance of man and animal on this small island, and I wondered if we were leaving them enough room, enough freedom to behave as they needed to. Our fish-mobile cut through the fog and crunched over the shells and gravel and finally delivered us to the Atlantic shore. As I stepped out of the car, I took a deep breath and filled my lungs with the thickest of the island’s sea mist. The salt spray here had to be thick-when you fish in a place known as Squibnocket, you are being delivered into the oceans punch bowl. The sea here slams into the shore, rakes its salty fingers over the oyster beds and rolls cannon-ball sized rocks back and forth, singing a striped bass lullaby. Men and women alike warn anglers not to fish Squibnocket alone. Boats have been smashed against the rocks here, countless fishermen have sustained injuries here, and in the 1960’s while fishing for bass a local fishing legend took a break to catch a cruising 6’ shark in the water between himself and the shore. It’s not a place for the weak-footed. The bass love it.
I walked the sandy beach that gradually turns into stones and as I entered the water saw how the rocks became homes for dozens of organisms. The seaweed and kelp clinging to the rocks here wave back and forth at the tides, and under the waving grasses spider crabs and other small crustaceans glean bits of food from the rocks. Small minnows dart back and forth, rocked in the arms of the waves, and every now and then a handful of minnows breaks the uneven surface, chased no doubt by larger hungry mouths.
Len waded out to meet the waves crashing over the bar and as I eased out a little way onto the rocky water, I felt like I was performing a weird watery dance in a watermelon patch. Directly in front of me, the Atlantic ocean delivered wave after wave- to my right the beach wound around the corner in a maze of boulders- and to my left the breaking waves slid off the rocky sand bar and down in to a swirling hole that was causing a rip tide and dragging broken crab bodies and small minnows out to feed the larger fish. Into this deep blue-green hole is where I cast my fly. I had tied some white bucktail, a few wisps of pheasant tail, and a few blue, red, and chartreuse strands onto a hook, affixed a big yellow doll’s eye, and then wrapped red string for the nose. I hadn't come up with a name for it yet, but was waiting to catch a few fish before christening it. It was created to imitate a number of small baitfish, from migrating herring to flashy anchovies.
The wind was gradually coming in sideways, so I double hauled a few times and cast into the frothy pit. I pulled the line in- strip strip stop, strip strip stop. Strip strip strip strip strip. Strip strip stop. I varied my retrieve. Nothing. Next cast, strip strip strip- faster now. Next cast. Strip strip stop, strip strip stop. Strip strip strip. Nothing. Ten casts, Fifteen casts, and still nothing. I paused, gathered strength and whipped the fly about five feet further into the hole. Strip strip stop. Strip strip SLAM!!! ZEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!! The line pulled off the reel and I was sure I was into a ten pounder. The fish stopped running and just sat at the bottom of the hole. I hollered for Len and he came running and helped me find appropriate footing so I could back the fish onto the rocky beach. After all of the initial excitement the fish turned out to be much smaller than it felt, probably due to the muscle that was required to stay active in those turbulent waters, but I was overjoyed to have been able to pull a fresh beautiful striper from those waters. It measured 25” and after a quick photo I released him back down into the depths. As his tail whipped from side to side and he plunged out of sight behind a seaweed covered boulder, I looked up to see diving birds working the outskirts of the waves, and the sun peeked from behind pink painted clouds to melt the remainder of the night from the landscape.