Friday, May 13, 2011
81 Rock. No, that’s not some television sitcom with Alec Baldwin, tony New York City address, or kids’ Saturday morning educational snippet. It’s how the fearless crew of the SS Minnow fared on the Roanoke yesterday.
Inspired by the boat named Minnow, I considered riffing on the whole Gilligan’s Island motif for this post, but realized that, as owner and operator of the tidy little 14-foot skiff, Terry was The Skipper. That made me Gilligan. Unfortunately, my parallels with the hapless sixties TV character are just a little too close for comfort, so I decided to pass on the approach. Besides, it seems that every time my buds and I begin discussing the fascinating character archetypes, the thoughtful studies in situational morality, and the in-depth analysis of Darwinian evolution in isolated populations presented by that landmark series, the conversation inevitably degrades into just another Ginger or Mary Ann debate.
We won’t go there today.
So, in the absence of another good overarching metaphor, I thought I’d just toss out a few random impressions from the day. Please accept my apologies for the complete lack of coherent organization.
Rock. Rockfish. Striper. Atlantic Striped Bass. Typically saltwater residents, they annually leave their comfy ocean and migrate up significant east coast waterways to spawn. For me, that means the Roanoke in early May. Coincidently, there’s also an angler migration, as evidenced by the truck lot, loaded with boats, beside the Weldon Days Inn. I try to be among them at least once a season.
Switching from fly fishing for trout to fly fishing for stripers is like parking the Audi and jumping behind the wheel of the family bulldozer. Whippy 4wts give way to broomstick 8-10s, 9ft 7x tapered leaders become 4 feet of straight 16lb floro, and #20 nymphs grow to 1/0 bucktail clousers. The dead drift is traded for jerky ten-inch strips, high sticks swapped for rod tips stuck a foot into the drink. Waterhauling 350 grain intermediate sinking line and T-14 rules the day so forget the false casting – more than a pass or two is hazardous to both your boatmate’s well-being and your chances for a return invitation. You never get completely comfortable with the hiss of low flying clousers.
Stripers are slaves to fashion and each year they seem to have a different preferred color palate in mind. Last year it was tuti-fruti – pink and chartreuse - so I arrived with a box full of pink/chartreuse, pink/white, chartreuse/white clousers, ready for battle. No dice. Yesterday’s menu was yellow, preferably in combination with red or orange, so I spent the day raiding Terry’s ample fly box - and we raided it a lot. The Roanoke is a fly graveyard because you need to get the fly on the bottom where the fish typically congregate and they congregate around structure. You sacrifice a bunch to the river gods. If you don’t tie your own, this can be a pricey trip. I believe that if the COE could somehow drain the Roanoke, they would find the bottom to be a rainbow-colored bucktail shag carpet.
We were on the river at 5:30, as the sun came up, hoping to catch a small window of topwater action. It did not materialize. We spent the bulk of the day on the river, taking a couple-hour break at mid-day for a local barbeque buffet, and fished to darkness, again hoping to find a dusk top bite. We saw sporadic striper spawns - fish fights that get the rocks looking up - but had just a single poorly aimed strike at a popper.
Between our topwater attempts, we hauled from the depths eighty-one rockfish, all in the 18-to-24 inch range, and each fought with its all. I would like to say we netted eighty-one, but, in fact, we netted only forty-seven. The rest were released by hand. Due to a confluence of small oopses (oppsi?), the Minnow’s boat net now sits at the bottom of the Roanoke - on that beautiful shag carpet – the only blemish on a beautiful day. Stripers hate being lipped and have sharp gill plates and dorsals, so we came home a bit nicked up from these manual releases, but we weren’t alone. A number of the fish caught during the day looked like they’d recently been through the wars, bearing wounds received in the free-for-all that is the striper spawn. Rough sex.
So another striper year goes in the books. My thanks to my buddy Terry for the invitation. I owe him a yellow and orange boxful.
And Skipper, your little buddy owes you a new net.