Anything Fly Fishing

The Rip and the Harbor

6 Mins read

To my brother Michael; who once said, “Rick. Learn to fly fish. It is something we can do together.”

It is a clear and calm, mid-August day. The tide is low, and the wind blows from the southwest. The brothers Michael and Ricky decide to pack-up the Pilar II and hunt for striped bass.

Michael and Ricky Trout Fishing on the Missouri River

The Pilar II is an 18 foot, Maritime™ skiff. She is secured on her mooring in Polpis Harbor, 25 yards offshore. One of many boats turned in a northerly direction, she is easily reached by rowboat. Once the captain is aboard, the Pilar II is made ready. The canvas console and bench covers are unfastened, folded, and stowed. The bow anchor is placed under the casting platform. The knotted rope is measured for 30 feet and fixed to the collapsible cleat. The stern anchor is stowed under the rear bench with 50 feet of braided line fixed to the right rear cleat. The side bumpers are placed in the boat. The battery is set to ON. The Garmin 740S navigational system as well as the primary VHF shortwave radio are powered up. Carried by the captain, the back-up, portable, waterproof, VHF250 radio is readied and tested. The four-stroke, fuel injected, Yamaha 90 HP outboard is primed; the prop is lowered into the water; the safety lanyard is installed; the ignition is keyed and turned on; and the engine begins to hum. The Pilar II is prepared for its fishermen.

Rick’s Rainbow

Ahead of time, the brothers decided that Michael will fish for striped bass and Ricky will captain the Pilar II. Michael has loaded two 7-weight rods; one with weight forward floating line and one with intermediate sinking line. The leaders are simple, identical, 9 foot, single strands ending with clear 3-0, fluorocarbon tippet. The flies are Gartside gurglers, black leeches, and Rick’s rainbows. As back-up, Ricky brings one, 7-weight rod along with two reels; one loaded with floating line, and one loaded with sinking line. Besides the necessary fishing gadgets and gizmos, each brother wears an adult, type-III, personal floatation device.

The Pilar II is unsecured from its pirate flag mooring. Ricky captains the boat amidst the numerous secured vessels, into the see-through waters of Polpis Harbor. To the left are the rafts of the sailing school, laden with 7 foot dinghies. To the right are the reeds of the coastline peppered by mega-mansions. Navigating the Polpis Harbor channel is tricky. The inlet is only several feet wide, and the depth is 5 – 7 feet. At low tide, when veering off course, one can easily run aground. Although the inlet is marked with green and red buoys, taking care is a must.

Michael Fly Fishing the Reeds of Polpis Harbor for striped bass

In the open waters of the Inner Harbor, the trip to Nantucket harbor is marked by red buoys. At 38 knots the trip takes 15 minutes. Arriving at Nantucket, the no wake zone requires a slow trip. The harbor is crowded with boats of all types, shapes, and sizes; either anchored or tied to Nantucket Island moorings. Furthermore, there are pleasure craft navigating the channel between the West and East jetties as well as commercial traffic. This includes the Hyannis, Martha’s Vineyard, and New York City passenger ferry services. Passing through the harbor’s gauntlet, the Pilar II turns to the right, through the The Cut of the East jetty, and heads due east. The brothers’ target is Great Point Light; the monument that sits on a spit of beach that marks the start of the Great Point Rip. Here the currents of the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Sound collide; and here the brothers will pursue their prey.

Built in 1784, Great Point Light, officially Nantucket Light, served as a beacon for whaling, commercial and pleasure craft. Although fire destroyed the original wooden tower, the light was rebuilt in 1816 to prevent ships from running aground on the shoals off the coast of Nantucket Island. Following its destruction during the storm of 1984, the light was rebuilt again in 1986, with its stone tower and modern additions in operation today. In 1982, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Nantucket Light.

The Great Point Lighthouse

The hunt is hard. Arriving at the northern tip of Nantucket Island by the Great Point Light, Michael and Ricky begin fishing on the lee side of the Great Point Rip; extending out about 5 miles. At under 7 km/hr, the Pilar II cruises over and along the rip. The boat crisscrosses back and forth; turns 180° and repeats the journey; monotonously, up and back and up again. Michael casts from the bow while Ricky pilots the Pilar II. They stare at the water for signs of life. They spy on the charter boat captains to check if their expertise results in any luck; in any hook-ups; in any catches of fish. They keep an eye on the Great Point Lighthouse to gauge their distance from shore. They do whatever they can to keep alert and stay focused on the task of striped bass fishing.

At the three hour mark, Ricky turns the Pilar II into the calmer waters of Nantucket Sound for a last run before heading home. At this moment, Michael’s rod bends hard while the sinking line flees the reel. Something eats his black leech. Not a seal; maybe a dogfish shark; likely a bluefish. But then the surface shatters and Michael can plainly see. His fly is devoured by a striped bass. Ricky turns the Pilar II bow-wise towards the fish. Michael keeps the rod bent and the fly line taught. The stalking dance lasts over 30 minutes; Michael angling for the fish; the fly line whirring off the reel; Ricky repositioning the Pilar II. Michael reels in, only to hear the whir of the fly line leaving the spool. Finally, tired of the back and forth, the striped bass ends the gambol. Turning-off the Pilar II’s engine, Ricky nets the fish. With little fanfare and wet hands, Michael poses with his proof. After reviving the striped bass, he sets it free into the waters of the rip by the Great Point Lighthouse.

Michael and the striped bass on Great Point Rip

All the way home, Michael and Ricky talk and imagine and dream. By teaming they conquered the Great Point Rip. Although it took over 3 hours, the brothers landed an exquisite striped bass; from beneath the surface; using a fly rod with a sinking line. They are wired. How will they describe their adventure? Whom will they tell? Where will they say they went? What were the tides? What was the fight like? How big was the fish? Will they hunt again? No need to embellish the truth!

Rocketing through the Outer Polpis Harbor, the Pilar II reaches the channel entrance. Past the sunken rock and turning to the left, the boat aims towards the mooring field. But then, to the left, by the oyster beds, are the birds. Dozens of terns and gulls and oyster catchers; striking the water; causing a commotion; not to be ignored. Michael and Ricky explore the racket. Although close to 5 PM and on the water for six hours, the brothers know to persevere. The birds are noisily pecking at fish. The question is, “What kind?” As the Pilar II cruises closer, the answer materializes – striped bass. Michael is psyched for an unexpected go. He swaps fly rods and casts his floating line tipped with a red and white, Gartside gurgler. Ricky swings the Pilar II among the birds; following their lead; trying to anticipate; staying ahead of the flock. Then, as if ordained, Michael hooks a fish. Ricky repositions the boat. Again, the stalking dance peppered with persistence and patience. Remaining cool and calm, Michael controls the striped bass. As Ricky nets the fish, Michael hauls it onto the boat. Again, with wet hands, Michael poses with his proof; revives the fish; and sets it free into the waters of the Outer Polpis Harbor.

Michael and the striped bass by the Outer Polpis Channel

As the sun sets, the brothers Michael and Ricky agree on their story – The Dance of the Two Striped Bass – the navigating to Great Point; the angling for hours; the return to Polpis Harbor; the squawking of birds by the oyster beds; the use of fly rods with sinking and floating lines; the casting of simple flies. Two for two. None got away. An excellent day on the water.

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