At the turn of the tide

Heeding the call of the salt
Photo: Steve Zakur

Back from a week by the sea, I already find myself scrolling through rentals for next summer. Over the past few summers I've been drawn to the mountains but growing up by the sea, the salt is under my skin in ways that I am reminded at that first whiff of damp, briny air.

Growing up we fished in the ocean. When schoolie stripers were in during the spring I'd sometimes borrow a rod from a buddy and we'd head down to the shore and cast and catch. But there was never the passion, the obsession, that I have today for trout shaped objects.

I've spent most of the past decade honing my trout finding skills and I'd like to think I have some ability there. I've also started to branch out fishing for bass and other warm water species in nearby ponds and lakes. Smallmouth, pound-for-pound a great fighting game fish, are also plentiful in local rivers and they've become a fine venture in and of themselves when the water warms.

During the past year, I've also returned to the salt. Some good friends have been gracious enough to invite me along on fishing trips to the salt and have shown me the places to catch and the flies to use and the times to go. I now consult tide charts with a more discriminating eye.

Nearby the house we rented on the Cape there is an estuary where several small rivers combine and dump into the sea. On our first day paddling on the rising tide I moved some fish and saw schools of bait in the water. Lacking a rod to take advantage of the situation I returned later on the falling tide to see if I could turn this bit of info to my advantage. Hubris. Clearly one needs to know much more than what I had observed. I got in a bit of casting practice with my 8wt.

A day later I obtained some second-hand intel from my buddy Jon. With a renewed interest, I acquired local sand eel patterns from a nearby fly shop. I also paddled the water during dead low to get a sense of the structure. I was looking for the sand bars and the drop offs that provided the ambush zones for the stripers. Armed with a good pattern, knowledge that predator and prey were present and some educated guesses about where they'd come together I waited for the tide. It came on Thursday evening.

Arriving just as the tide was coming high I was drawn into the marsh by the tug of the moon. The light was fading but I could see bait leaping and the slap on the surface that any trout angler would recognize as aggressively feeding fish.

I took me a while to figure out how to approach the fish. The bait and the feeding fish moved through the estuary in waves driven from the mouth to the nooks of the marsh. The edges of the sand bars created current seams where most of the action occurred.

Anchoring up in a strategic spot seemed like the most obvious strategy but I soon realized that the tide moved the seams in ways that made a stationary platform a disadvantage. So, I moved to the head of the tide and drifted along the edges of likely water waiting for bait busting. I didn't have to wait long.

Each time a wave of leaping bait came past I cast to the maelstrom and it was in short order that I was rewarded in ways that anglers appreciate. As the light faded I managed to cast to almost a dozen waves of stripers moving through the bait. I hooked fish on half of them and landed two.

Photo: Steve Zakur

I considered this a solid outing on a new piece of water. My only regret was that I had dialed this in just when the vacation was about to expire. At best I would only have one more cycle with the right combination of tidal flow and low light conditions before we headed west across the bridges and back to reality.

I've come to appreciate the tug of the salt. While small freshwater streams still festoon my dreams, brookies don't double over an eight weight rod and pull line from the reel in a deeply satisfying scream. I keep telling myself it's not about the size and weight of the fish.

But sometimes it is.