It was a beautiful morning. I had fished last night in a stiff and blowing S wind. I had a huge blow up in the wash on a popper and went back for more this morning, hoping that fish was in the same exact ( yeah right!) spot. Today I fished with Al who had beat me to the parking lot by 5 am.
Today there was no wind and flat water except when the waves crashed on or before the sand bars as the tide ebbed. I stayed with the popper that Joe had gave me the other day. If you are a tyer than watch the video I posted and tie yourself up a few. These are great flies. I prefer to fish them with an intermediate line as the line maintained just below the surface adds to the flies action and water disruption. I also prefer to fish them from the beach as the added elevation from the groins or jetties makes working the fly and getting good solid strips that move water harder.
The fish were just over the waves that crashed at my feet. Casting out produced a fish to hand and a few that tail slapped or missed. I also picked up one casting near parallel to the beach working the popper over the slough in the wash.
One thing I realized this morning is how much I like to catch small fish. We all like to target big fish. They make for a hard hit, strong fight, great photo, and satisfying release, or, a tasty meal. Sadly though we have become a big, and many, big fish anglers. The magazines and websites are loaded with images of big fish. The anglers have a big smile as they hold their catch or stand on the dock with fish at their feet, hanging from a hook, or laying on the deck. But that's not what does it for me.
In my two fisheries, the Upper Delaware, 20 inch fish are the benchmark of a good day and a good fish. Ask anyone how they did, " A few good 16's, and a nice 18"......ho hum...yawn." But tell them you got a 20" or bigger.....that's reason to celebrate. Even when your guiding, telling a client that the fish we just gently released was a 20 incher, and they feel fantastic. So really, anything over 18" gets stretched a bit to make that 20 inch mark.
On the Jersey Shore stripers are benchmarked by 28"- the legal keeper size. " I got a few schoolies and some rats....ho hum....yawn." But, "I got keeper, now you've had a good day." The other bench mark for striper fishing comes when the bigger fish are around. And those are measured in pounds. We use 30's, 40's and the ultimate prize a "50 pounder" descriptions to indicate how "good" a fish someone has caught. But all of it doesn't tell the real story.
Last week I floated the Upper Delaware and caught a beauty, others say "slob" of a brown trout on a streamer in off-color water. I was casting 35 feet to a bank while the boat was anchored up. I saw the take, set the hook, fought the fish, and my buddy landed after a near straight line path to the boat. As far as undue pressure and stress on the fish it was great, as far as a memorable fish.....it just wasn't. It's size was better than 24" and had to go six pounds. It was one of my better fish that I have personally caught on the Delaware.
Now if you have ever been set up on a rising trout standing in waist high water, casting across mixed currents, watching it take just about every mayfly that comes across it's feeding lane, except yours, for hours, then you know how that fish registers as "good" when you finally go tight. It could be 16 inches.....now that's a good fish!
The same goes for striped bass- I wouldn't say bluefish- because 10 plus pound blues on a fly rod are just plain sick, as to what makes a good fish. I have caught 35 inch bass that take a Clouser casted into flat water with little current, a decent strike, a sluggish fight, and an easy land on the beach. No doubt a nice fish. But, I have been perched on a rock that I shouldn't be on, with a howling cold NE wind, with big waves breaking on the rock you are clinging to, and had a striper grab a Deceiver from the crest of a wave. Quickly you are into your backing as you hold your rod up high as the waves bite your line near the rocks as the fish exits via the rip along the groin. Your wondering how your are ever going to land this thing, yet alone keep your fly line from getting cut on the exposed rocks, mussels, and barnacles.
After 15 minutes you have gained back your fly line and found a rock to land the fish. You reach down and grab your leader as having the weight of the fish on your rod tip will surely mean a return-to-Orvis rod repair. As you time the waves you lift up and place the fat 27 inch fish at your feet. You remove the barbless sand eel pattern and gently toss the fish back in. Now that is a great fish!
So with that said. Last week we caught several 6-10 inch wild brown trout on the West Branch and as of late on the Jersey Shore have been catching a lot of 16-25 inch stripers. I love seeing young fish. They are pretty, feisty, strong, and put up a good fight. Hopefully they mean that the species is procreating and doing well. I often see people quick reeling, or dragging, these fish to net or the beach and not giving them the respect they deserve. These fish are the future 20 inchers and 50 pounders that most seek to catch.
In the end- A good fish isn't measured in inches or pounds, but in the experience and challenge of catching them while out in the great outdoors.