May 24, 2020

Stripers that arrived early may be departing early

Ever notice how quickly responsibilities and commitments are Ever notice how quickly responsibilities and commitments are placed on the back burner when word of fast fishing reaches the right ears? So it was when Joe Rego of Prospect, a striper guide plying his business-and-pleasure trade on the Kennebec and Damariscotta rivers, drove into my yard a week or so ago.

After hearing about the heavyweight stripers Joe’s clients have hooked onto this summer it occurred to me that I might be ahead of schedule in providing paintings for a forthcoming book. I was convinced of it when Joe recounted a day, a week or so earlier, when the Damariscotta’s stripers left his clients arm-weary. Accordingly, when those reports reached Fred Kircheis’s ears, the fisheries research biologist said, “Let me check my schedule.” A few days later we set a course for Damariscotta.

Handy to 6 a.m., we launched Fred’s 16-foot boat at the public landing. Shortly thereafter, where long fingers of ledges tickled laughter from the falling tide, we fished in rips that we reckoned stripers from away would rent for the summer. Well, to make a long story short, after casting and trolling for nearly four hours our tally was two “schoolies,” each a couple of inches shy of the minimum length required by the 20- to 26-inch slot length regulation.

Let’s just say it wasn’t the first time Fred and I “should have been here yestesh or a swirl or birds working or brit (young herring) popping, we figured the Damariscotta’s stripers had hied off to somewhere, on that day at least. Then came the casting of theories and guesses as to why. Not the least among them was this year’s early spring and exceptionally warm summer in which Mother Nature’s garden sprouted and flourished way ahead of schedule.

The ice went out early. Robins and woodcock returned early. Lilacs and lupine blossomed early. Fly hatches emerged early, and runs of alewives, Atlantic salmon, smelts and stripers ascended rivers and streams weeks ahead of their usual arrival time. Likewise, mackerel swarmed into coastal bays in early June – a month ahead of time. Logically, then, Fred and I wondered if the early arrivals were resulting in early departures.

Think about it: A week or so ago, my son, Jeff, and his cousin Tom O’Toole set sail from Searsport in search of a mess of mackerel. They caught one fish. But they weren’t alone. On returning to the town landing, they met another boat fisherman who had hooked only one mackerel. “We caught a lot of seaweed, though,” Jeff allowed. “I never saw so much of it; maybe the early warm weather grew a big crop.”

Fred and I fared no better with regard to the abundant aquatic growth. In spite of diligently threading our lines through sprawling patches of “sea salad,” we constantly cleared our lures of it. In reference to the amount of seaweed – rockweed, if you will – Fred mentioned that the increase in seaweed harvesting may be resulting in crop residues being taken out by the tides. Interesting.

Speaking of harvests, my fishing partner told about the pressure being applied to a seldom mentioned wildlife resource: thousands of pounds of Maine snapping turtles are being caught annually to supply out-of-state markets. “Snapping turtles don’t fit into the warm-and-fuzzy wildlife picture, so there’s very little awareness or concern about the creatures being caught for profit,” Fred explained. But like all creatures, the turtles have a purpose in nature’s plan. Therefore, uncontrolled harvesting of the oft-maligned amphibians is sure to create a void that, in the long term, will effect serious environmental impacts.

Suffice it to say that in spite of the slow fishing the midsummer day couldn’t have been more enjoyable. Sunlight spilling from a cloudless sky sparkled on the river’s breeze-ruffled flow; in nests atop day beacons, adult ospreys chirped nervously while feeding unfledged broods; and like endless strings of Christmas tree lights, colorful lobster buoys twinkled and bobbed in the tide.

Handy to noon, we hauled ashore and ate lunch on a small island. On a nearby mud flats, clam diggers dug for a day’s pay while great blue herons wading on stilt-like legs fished the shorelines, their long necks and heads curved like gaffs poised to strike.

Damariscotta stood farther back from the water when we returned to the boat ramp at dead-low tide. On the dock, Fred and I laughed when we read a tour-boat sign advertising “100 percent natural air-conditioning.”

Rather than contend with the bumper-to-bumper tourist traffic inching along Route 1, we traveled homeward on inland roads winding through forests and farmlands scented with spruce, pine and fresh-mown hay. But after miles of reading signs that summer bloomed early, I wondered if they were signals that autumn would arrive ahead of schedule. Realizing that might be the case, I couldn’t help thinking that catching two stripers on the turn of summer’s ebbing tide wasn’t all that bad.

Tom Hennessey’s columns can be accessed on the BDN Internet page at:

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