Thursday, June 3, 2010

Down East Bluewater

I suspect it’s easier, and maybe downright fun, to be a saltwater fishing guide when you have bluebird skies, a gentle sea, and fish popping everywhere you look. Your clients, no matter how inept, are catching fish, hootin’ and hollarin’, slapping you on the back, and calling you the best damn fish finder on the eastern seaboard. But it’s on those other days that you have to work for a living.

Captain George Beckwith, of Down East Guide Service, had one of those other days on Tuesday.

A leaden horizon, choppy seas, and AWOL fish greeted George in the early hours and his task became even more challenging when his fishing partners for the day, Po’ Boy and me, turned up with fly rods and all of the inherent limitations that come with that gear. But he knew it was coming and, to our delight, looked forward to the challenge.

The original plan was to sight cast for cobia, but the conditions made that a problem. We scooted out of our Atlantic Beach slip, hopping from buoy to buoy, hoping to catch a glimpse of the big game fish, but without luck. I was convinced that the outward trip was a shakeout run, designed to find out early if the clients had the stomach for the choppy seas. Fortunately, we did.

With no cobia in view, we shifted gears and ran along the shoals of Cape Lookout, looking out for the schools of big bluefish that George had encountered earlier in the week. And during a brief outbreak of sun, we found a couple of pods, surfacing close to shore, and casted to them. George’s challenges were to get us close enough to reach the fish with our short-range fly casting and still keep the boat off the shoals, to entice the blues closer by casting a decoy bobber, while also giving us verbal queues, too often ignored, to “Set the hook!!!”

Po’ Boy got hooked up first, but the blue sawed him off with its jagged jaws. I was luckier, getting into a 3ft, 8lb fish and fighting him to the net. The new Albright managed nicely, though I undoubtedly fought the blue longer than necessary, not leaning into him as hard as I might have. George’s simple statement, “That’s why you have a 10wt” said it all.

The sun quickly disappeared, and the blues with it, so we changed plans yet again, heading northeast along the cape, acquiring baitfish on our way out to the wrecks. Over an old WWII sinking, we prospected for amberjack, false albacore, or grouper – Po’ Boy and I deep drifting bucktail while George tried to attract fish with live bait near the boat. And, on our very first pass, we raised a fleet of AJs that chased, but would not take, our rapidly stripped flies. Given their size, I’m not sure if that wasn’t a good thing. Watching their ghostly, emerald green shapes rise from the depths, and disappear as quickly, was eerie, and beautiful.

George ended up hooking a couple of grouper, just under take-home limit, and another nice bluefish, on the decoy bait and Po’ Boy fought them home on the spinning gear. No doubt, we could have caught more with a change in tackle, but doggedly stuck with our fly rods, for better or worse.

With deteriorating skies and rising seas, we donned our raingear, hit the throttle, and skipped the swells back towards Morehead for one last pass of the buoys, hoping for a parting shot at cobia. Our hopes raised when the sun began to break through as we approached the bangers, but the fish just weren't there. The ride home was delightful, even without fish in the cooler.

So, I had another one fish day, rapidly becoming my hallmark. But the fish was my first saltwater catch, bigger than anything I’ve ever caught on a fly rod, and made the day a winner in my eyes. And despite our lack of overall success, I have nothing but admiration for the effort that George put in to get us on fish. He worked his tail off, taking lots of approaches, and dealing with tough conditions and the limitations of a couple of rookie saltwater fly fishermen. I’d look forward to being on the chop with him again.

And it seems appropriate to add here my thanks to all of the eastern seaboard guides who are happy to entertain us fly fisherman, a challenging proposition at best. Along with George, here locally there’s my buddy John Martyn of Martyn’s Sea and Stream and, out of Wilmington, Lee Parsons of Gottafly Guide Services. There are others, no doubt, but these gentlemen have supported our local fly fishing club for years, so get my nod. Thanks, guys, for stepping up. We fly boys really appreciate it.

Bottom line, appreciate your guide, saltwater or fresh, not for the number of fish that you catch, but for how hard he worked to put you on them, successful or not. It’s easy to be happy when the fish are jumping into the boat, but the real work, often unappreciated, happens on the tough days. I had another one fish day, and know that George worked damn hard for it. Most importantly, we had a heck of a lot of fun doing it.

Thanks Cap’n.

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