While working through the articles I had planned for this issue, I came across one that just didn’t fit the season the way I thought it would and I had to pull it for later use. So I tapped in my friend and colleague Jim Hutchinson, Jr. to fill the void. His story on sod bank striper fishing really resonated with me and brought me back to 2002, the year I moved out of my parents’ house, and the first year I spent living on the coast.
At the time, I hadn’t yet been tainted by the notion that the fall run was all about storms and cold fronts and heaving surf. I was just trying to learn and my lack of preconceived notions lead me to an amazing discovery. I woke up in the predawn hours of October 10, 2002 and hoofed it to an inlet where I did a lot of my fishing at that time. I was casting a pearl-colored Bomber Long A into the current and allowing it to swing in the tide, a method that had accounted for many great nights in that spot…but on this morning, with a perfect tide, I didn’t get my first hit until the sun was up. That fish was a solid catch at 20 pounds, but I didn’t see another fish after that and left at 9 a.m.
I’ve never been the type to give up easily and I had been studying another estuary nearby on a paper Capt. Seagul’s chart (yeah this story predates Google Earth and the Navionics App). So I drove to this spot I had never laid eyes upon and hiked more than a mile in to find a grassy sod bank that dove off into deep, black water. The tide was coming in now and I stuck with the Bomber, a confidence plug at the time. On my first cast across the flooding tide, I watched as a dozen stripers followed the plug back to my feet. On my next cast, I fished the plug slower but with hard, quick forward surges and one of the mid-20-inch class fish ate it. I repeated the process again on the next cast and then I began to wonder if there might be bigger fish in the mix.
I grabbed my other rod, which was rigged to fish live eels, and threw an eel into the dark water. It wasn’t out there more than 10 seconds before I felt a thump. The fish was pretty decent, I measured it at 38 inches before releasing it. The next cast produced another of comparable size. Twenty-two year old me was in a state of full-on euphoria, finding this spot on my own and striking gold on the first visit.
Beside the marsh was a long expanse of sand flat and I found myself compelled to wade out onto it. When I arrived at the first dip in the flat, I saw a green shadow on the yellow sand and as my eyes and brain worked out what I was looking at, a large striped bass materialized above the shadow. With an eel wriggling on the hook, I lobbed it about 8 feet ahead of the cruising striper and watched her inhale it. That fish was a good bit larger at 42 inches and what I estimated to be 26 pounds (looking back I bet it was a little heavier.)
That dip in the flat, fell off into a deep channel and the whole area was loaded with 35 to 40-something-inch bass. And even as I stood there catching them, they continued to make periodic forays onto the flat and circle around me, it was almost like they were looking at me. Even 21 years later it still stands out as a core memory that I will never forget. I did hook one much larger fish that day, I can still see her head breaking the water before she grew tired of my inexperience and embarrassed me, parting the line on the only rock in the area.
I decided to write this story here to further remind myself that the backwater estuaries hold a ton of potential in the fall, especially in October. And I hoped that by sharing this experience, it might inspire you to do the same. If either you or I catch a good fish on a backwater trip this month, we owe all the thanks to Jim.