Anything Fly Fishing

Schoolies Among The Creeks

4 Mins read

Nantucket Island is tiny; crescent-shaped; isolated; sitting off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Thirty miles from the town of Hyannis, the Island can be reached by private boat, by public ferry, or by plane. Together with the smaller islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, the Town and County of Nantucket is formed. The name Nantucket is adapted from the Wampanoag dialect of the Algonquian Indians meaning Far away island or sandy, sterile soil, tempting no one. However, it is the nickname, The Little Grey Lady of the Sea, that best describes Nantucket Island as it materializes from a fog-bound ocean.

Founded in October 1641, Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world from the mid-1700s to the late 1830s. The Whaling Museum, the Egan Maritime Museum, and the privateer, Tall Ship Lynx all recount Nantucket’s role as an 18th and 19th century hub for independence and whaling. In 1966, the National Park Service designated Nantucket as a National Historic Landmark District, declaring the community the finest surviving architectural and environmental example of a late 18th and early 19th century New England seaport town.

During summer season and holidays, the Nantucket Historic District (Town), swells with tourists. Arranged along the squared-off cobblestone horseshoe of Main Street, Center Street and Broad Street, the Town is a quaint yet bustling collection of buildings and shops, punctuated by elegant restaurants, administrative offices, the Dreamland Film & Cultural Center, (https://bit.ly/3xO243p), high-end boutiques, steepled churches and the wooden wharves of the Inner Harbor. The deceptively large, unpainted, historically marked homes with their greying cedar shingles, colored doors, white picket fences, manicured gardens, tea rose arbors and flowering window boxes abut the narrow back streets while at least eight socioreligious denominations tower over the Island’s history.

The Daffodils of Spring

The Gardens of Summer

In addition to the Historic District, Nantucket Island abounds with landmarks. The Brant Point Light Station, the Jared Coffin House, the Great Point Light, and the Sankaty Head Light are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Managed by the Nantucket Historical Association, the Nantucket Whaling Museum is home to nine galleries, thousands of artifacts, a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton and the restored, 1847 Hadwen & Barney Oil and Candle Factory, (https://bit.ly/33dWr0b). Off the Polpis Road and neighboring the Inner Harbor’s wetlands, lays the historical Egan Maritime Institute’s Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum, (https://bit.ly/3udF9fz). Bursting with basket weaving and craft making lore, the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum, (https://bit.ly/3eThL0r) exhibits are temporarily displayed at lower Main Street’s Hadwen House and the Decorative Arts Gallery of the Whaling Museum with a permanent exhibition to be located at the Nantucket Historical Association on Broad Street.

The Whaling Museum

Tall Ship Lynx

Nantucket Island is a premier spot for fly anglers to target striped bass. Favoring the rugged coastline, striped bass journey north during spring, from the deep waters off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina, up the estuaries of New York (including the Hudson River), and travel into the streams of New England and Maine to spawn and seek cool water, between 55 and 68 degrees. If the water temperature is below 44°, striped bass fishing is unproductive. Small stripers, called schoolies, are the in-shore harbingers of their larger, offshore brothers and sisters.

Like most fish, striped bass have no eyelids, so schoolie fishing on Nantucket is an evening activity. The fishing is best during active migration throughout the month of June as well as mid-September through mid-October; and always midway of an outgoing tide. In the freshwater creeks and the tall eel grass, peak feeding time is 30 minutes before dusk. During the day, the fish retreat to deeper water to avoid bright light. Schoolies prefer to ambush prey that is stirred up and disoriented by turbulent waters. Their favorite foods include sand eels, bunker, squid and shellfish.

Along Washington Street just south of town, the Francis Street Creek (or The Creek), is a prime location for anglers; (https://bit.ly/2W6IbTY). On the left, a bit past Sayle’s Seafood is the entrance. Walk to the right along the waterfront; past the paddle boards and row boats; to the mouth of The Creek. Although the beach sand is soft and the eel grass is tall, the walk to the edge of the inlet is easy, even with rubber boots. The best fly fishing is one to two days before or after a new moon (or during a partly clouded-over, full moon). Even in the dark, lights from surrounding homes illuminate the way, making a headlamp superfluous. Seemingly inquisitive, mating horseshoe crabs create a minor annoyance.

Ricky uses a medium-action, 7-weight rod, weight-forward floating line, slow-sinking polyleader, and a No. 4, barbless, chartreuse/white, Deceiver or Clouser minnow fly. Casting upstream into The Creek at a 45° angle, Ricky swings the fly through the middle of the outgoing current, all the while gently adjusting the strip cadence, so the fly alternately sinks and rises thereby addressing the different levels of the water column. Ricky finishes his presentation downstream at a 45° angle to The Creek’s outflow; moving a step or two to the right or the left; repeating as time and tides allow. As a net is unnecessary, Ricky releases striped bass schoolies back into the flow of The Creek as it travels into Nantucket’s Inner Harbor.

Schoolie by the Creek

After an evening of targeting schoolies, Ricky takes a short walk south along Washington Street; crosses the Stop N’ Stop parking lot; climbs the rickety stairs; saunters into the Angler’s Club, on the second floor above the old Ship’s Chandlery gift shop. At the Club, Ricky re-charges before starting anew the next day. At the mahogany bar, he discusses all types of fishing while knocking down a Sam Adam’s beer, a Buffalo Trace Kentucky bourbon, and a burger with fries.

And in the end, similar to elsewhere in the world, Ricky perfects his routine; accounts for the wind, the rain, and the tides; fly fishes calmly, coolly, quietly, and with good form.

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