Surf Solace: Striper Maineiac - The Fisherman

Surf Solace: Striper Maineiac

Maine’s surf-caught bass
While the majority of Maine’s surf-caught bass will be schoolies to slot fish, don’t be surprised if a 40-plus-inch cow strikes your eel or swimming plug.

Escape the crowds and head north the coast of Maine for some excellent summertime striper action.

As I sit here today, pondering my next expedition, our little speck on the map in the northeast corner of the United States is only now beginning to come out of the pandemic that has encompassed the world, where COVID-19 has dictated our common day-to-day behaviors. Masks and hand sanitizer have become common terms, but summer is quickly approaching, and myself and fellow anglers will undoubtedly feel the pull of the salty seas. Striped bass and bluefish will be cruising the surf, black sea bass will be covering the humps; and we’ll be wondering what lies ahead. Are the beaches open? Parking for fishermen and women? What of the new regulations for fishing and size limits? The picture is becoming clearer, and the fish are filing in with reports of bass and blues from Long Island Sound to the sands and rocks of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Travel between the states is opening, and fishing the surf is going to become even more attractive for those bottled up inside, riding out the storm. With that said, it won’t be long before your favorite spots are soon covered in footprints. But what of social distancing? The same can be said in year’s past, before the day’s health concerns were present, as your honey holes of yesteryear are now known far and wide. For those looking to escape the crowds, head Downeast!

Of course, while not actually the “Downeast” section (according to Mainers, this is a bit further north), I’m talking about Maine, particularly the southern coast where rivers carve their way to the beach, inviting baitfish and predator alike. Rocky ledges interspersed with beautiful beaches are common here but with a fraction of the anglers typical of the southern New England states. I’m sure my Maine friends are not overly happy about sharing the beauty and the bounty of their coastal offerings with out of state plates. There is no escaping the Masshole tag, even if you spent many years, every summer, swimming and fishing the beaches of York and Ogunquit like I had the luxury to do. Throughout the late ‘80s, ‘90s and the early 2000s, my folks had a small cottage near Ogunquit beach. I was fortunate enough to spend many an evening drifting swimmers for striped bass from this productive spot on the Striper Coast. The fishery would reveal itself over the years as I plugged the rocky patches of York Beach, jigged fish in the holes of the York River, and fished the stretches of beach from Ogunquit to Kennebunkport. And the best part about it, nary an angler to bump elbows with. For a real escape, seek the cover of darkness on the beaches.

lighthouse
Find a lighthouse and rocky structure, like Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, and striped bass are sure to be close by!

Perhaps my favorite way of fishing this area is with the swimmer and teaser combo. Depending on the size of bait in the area, I’ll attach a 5- to 6-inch Finish-style swimming plug, such as a Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow or Daiwa SP Minnow, to the end of my leader. Additionally, I’ll add a loop in my leader approximately 36 inches up from the lure where I attach a Red Gill teaser or streamer fly. The teaser does an excellent job of imitating the primary source of forage for the bass, sand eels. This has proven to be an extremely successful rigging off the beaches and the river mouths. For example, in the Ogunquit River, I wait until the tide has dropped three-plus hours and work either side, climbing down from the rocks off the Marginal Way (a scenic walking path), or I work the edge of the sandbar off the main beach towards the ocean front. Be warned to proceed with extreme caution as the edge drops away quickly. Casting slightly up current and slowly swimming my offering back has produced many hookups with numerous doubles over the years, including fish to 36 inches. Although Maine is known more for its peaceful offerings than size of stripers, and most fish will fall into the slot or school variety, jumbos are possible, as one Labor Day weekend getaway revealed.

A family outing on a hot, early September day was perfect way to cap the summer. Lobster rolls, cold beverages, and kayaking the shallow waters off the beach on a dropping tide. The water was gin clear, and thousands of sand eels were trapped in a corner of a trough of water about 3 feet deep as we paddled over. But the sand eels were only part of my focus. Bass the size I’m more accustomed to seeing in the rips of Nantucket had the bait trapped. With my chin on my chest, I scurried back to the beach blanket, grabbed my 9-foot surf rod, and tied on a Deadly Dick. Cast after fruitless cast left me with high anxiety, and I made a plan to return 12 hours later under the stars in the hopes that these giant fish returned under the same, but night, tide. Later that evening, after a trip to procure some live eels, I let fly my slithering bait and within two cranks of the reel my suspicions were confirmed. A large fish engulfed my eel and was headed to the deep end of the bar and towards the open ocean. With heart-racing, I fought the fish until I felt a pop; the hook had come free. Not to be dissuaded, I cast another black snake into the trough. This time, a 40-inch striped creature came to the sand. The process was repeated for the next hour as fish in the mid-30- to 40-inch range were eager to sample something a bit bigger than sand eels.

coast of Maine
The coast of Maine is great for the fly rod angler seeking striped bass in the surf.

As much as I’d like to say this is a regular occurrence in southern Maine, this is not usually the case. Daytime outings can be quite rewarding, however. In recent years I’ve found sand eel type jigs, like the 5/8 and 7/8 Hogy epoxy jigs, to be my go-to when walking the beaches. Last year, fishing around Wells and Drake Island, the fish were attacking the jigs and would chase the lures until practically beaching themselves. Nowadays, I find this type of fishing to be almost more fulfilling than catching cow bass, and I usually combine this with a family trip to the beach, walking the beach with my wife and son where any catch brings a smile.

While big fish can be had off the beaches and in the rivers like the Mousam, Ogunquit, and York, striper fishing in Maine isn’t really about the size of the fish. For me, the draw is all that surrounds you and the smell of the salt in the air. This is something you don’t even realize until you catch yourself filling your lungs. It may sound odd to say, but it smells like Maine with a crisp, salty tinge to the air. Add to that the incredible fishing, if not the size of fish, to meet an angler’s need to get away. Wading the rocky flats at Long Sands at York Beach at sunrise. Watching a swirl and then feeling the take. Casting a sand eel imitation from your fly rod, swinging it in the current off the banks of a river marsh. Dancing a pencil popper in the foam of a big curler at sunset. Or watching a young kid get excited over the 20-inch bass he just landed. This is what Maine offers in the summer!

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