My Worst Fly Fishing Night Ever: Big Stripers, Lots of 40+ Inchers

Another cast, another strike. Missed him, or I should say her, as they were all 40+ inch cows. Next cast I hooked up, fought a big fish in the strong rip, and several minutes later a 48 ½ inch fish lay on the beach. I gently released her, and . . .

It was mid October on Marthas Vineyard, a large island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the early 90s, and I was finishing up a month of pretty good fishing with my friend Lobster John, who had just gone off island.

I was fishing the Cape Pogue Gut from the Lighthouse side, a long drive over the beach. The massive Cape Pogue Bay would rip though the narrow gut and the bass and I loved the spot. Cape Pogue is now an island, just like it was in the early 1700s, and the old gut only has a fraction of the current it used to. The barrier beach leading to the lighthouse now has a massive breach.

I love fishing the outgoing tide, especially the last 2 hours, at the mouths of rivers, streams, and salt ponds.

I was fishing the outgoing tide at the Cape Pogue Gut alone with a fast sinking “Teeny” line. I had caught a couple of schoolies at the top of the tide, but nothing for the last couple of hours.

On a hunch, I grabbed a spinning rod and hooking a live eel through the bottom and top lip, flung it way up current and let it sink, dead drifting it through the gut. Lobster John is a good fly fisherman, and always likes having a few eels as well. He had left me about a dozen.

Wham, fish on, good fish, big current, and about 10 minutes later a beautiful 42 inch fish laid on the beach! I released her, and then flogged the water for 10 minutes with the fly rod, switching flies a couple of times too, but nothing.

Maybe a solitary fish? Back to the spinning rod, same eel, three cast, three hits, and two more 40+ inch cows landed. OK, they’re there. Again to the fly rod. Nothing – not a bump, for 30 minutes. I toss out an eel again, and wham, another fish on.

This went on for about 2 hours. I landed well over a dozen 40+ inch cows on eels, but they wouldn't touch the flies.

It's true whether we fly fisherman want to admit it or not: sometimes stripers will hit live bait when they won't touch a fly or other artificial. Stripers seem to have a particularly affinity to live eels.

Frustrated yet excited, how else can I describe this? More big fish than I’ve ever encountered, but I’d caught plenty of big fish on eels before. I wanted a big one on a fly rod!

Another vehicle arrived with a solitary spinfisherman who had made the long drive over the beach. I was using the fly rod, doing nothing at all.

“How’s fishing?” he called out. “A few around,” I answered, and encouraged him to throw his plugs where I’d been hooking the cows. He was having as much luck with his lures as I was fly fishing, meaning none.

“Check this out man,” I said as I flung an eel out after a few minutes. Wham, immediate hit, missed the bass, but the next cast I hooked and landed a mid 40 inch fish.

I gladly shared Lobster John’s eels with my new best friend, and his constant hookups assured me the fish were still there for the next hour. I flogged the water with my fly rod, trying every trick I knew and several I didn’t without luck.

A little after first light, yet still not dawn, as the current trickled to almost a standstill, the bass stopped hitting. Together we had landed easily three dozen fish in the 30-40 pound range, but not a one on fly. These bass wanted eels.

A few other vehicles started showing up for dawn looking for bonito and false albacore. There was no indication of what had just ended. We had released all the bass we caught, and were too tired to care about the bonito and albacore.
The cows must have been stacked up like cordwood. My fly was definitely getting deep enough, but they just didn’t care. Maybe they weren’t hungry but just couldn’t resist a juicy eel drifting past their mouths?

They weren’t there the next few nights – of course I checked.

It’s been 15 years and I’ve never experienced another night like that. Never that many big fish, and never as exciting a night and never as frustrating a night. They were almost close enough to poke with my fly rod tip but they just wouldn’t take a fly.

But some night, somewhere, some time, I’ll find another massive herd of cows, and they’ll be slamming my flies!

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