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What Captain Tom Does in the Offseason…

After a long season of fishing in Sitka, my relaxation comes in the form of more fishing. I return to the Northeast with one thing on my mind – casting flies to striped bass. From the time I get back to coastal Massachusetts in mid-September until the bass migrate south in early November, I devote most of my free time to fly fishing for them.

When asked to compare salmon fishing on the North Pacific vs stripers in the North Atlantic, I find the two delightfully different and equally compelling. What I enjoy as a contrast with the stripers is the visuals – big fish blasting baits on the surface, birds diving and squawking. Striper fishing is less about looking for marks on the sounder and more about scanning the water with your God-given eyes. I love the stripers’ willingness to feed on the surface and take a fly as you watch.

The fall of 2020 was a bust near home in Massachusetts, but I got reports from Captain Bo, now retired from AU and working in Philadelphia. The stripers were thick in my home state of New Jersey. So, I chased the southward migration to the Jersey Shore in early November. There I hired Captain Greg Cudnik, a highly regarded guide out of Barnegat Inlet, to show us around. We lucked into warm, calm weather – especially for early November. Day one was sort of slow – we got a few, but not many. Unfortunately for Bo, he had to miss day 2, which was epic.

Greg Cudnik with Striped Bass in New Jersey

We left the dock at dawn and soon Capt. Greg located a large body of surface feeding striped bass. This was on wide-open ocean with few boats nearby. The bass were a little fussy at first but became very willing to take a fly in short order. We ended up landing 10 of them, ranging from 10 to 30 pounds on 8 and 9 weight fly rods. More than a few took surface flies. Large groups of feeding fish surrounded our boat from 7 AM until we called it quits just before noon, by which time that ocean was mirror calm and the air temperature hit 70 degrees. The striped bass were still blitzing small baitfish all around the boat, but we decided to give the fish and our arms a break. I can’t say enough good things about Greg as a guide and fun person to spend a day on the water with.

I drove north to New England that afternoon, traveling in the opposite direction of the striper migration. I’d fished my last day of the fall season with nothing but a long fishless winter ahead. But, what a day.


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