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California Surf Stripers – Persistance

9 Pound California Surf StriperPersistance pays off… I was out on the beach a few mornings ago looking for surf perch with Jeff, and we got skunked – again. I don’t know what’s happened, surf perch were never a difficult fish for me to find in years past, but recently it’s been a completely different story.

On our way back to the truck (once again, our heads down in defeat) we ran into a guy that had just caught a 12 pound striper on a top-water plug. He was gleaming ear-to-ear as he retold his story to us while walking us up the beach to show us his “catch”. There, 100 feet from the water, high & dry and safely hidden behind a piece of driftwood, was a hideously sand-smothered 12 pound striper, still gasping for water.

“Yeah, that’s my 4th one like that in 5 days!” he excitedly exclaimed.

I really hate those situations. On one side, I appreciate the enthusiasm, but for crying out loud, if you must keep him, at least do the humane thing and bonk him.

We congratulated him for his kill and walked off.

On our way to breakfast we made our typical rants, “Man I hate seeing that”, “and why does anyone need 48 pounds of dead striper in 5 days anyway?”, and of course, the obligatory, “I mean – I’m not opposed to taking one every now & then… “. And so on…

Over breakfast Jeff did a good job of turning the mood back to a positive one by asking if I’d be back out soon. My reply, “Oh yeah I’ll be back… but the little 7 weight won’t be coming along”.

A couple mornings later I made my way back over the hill, without the surf perch setup. Instead, riding shotgun, was the – the 11′ 1″ Big Gun.

[fly fishing surf rod]
The Big Gun

It was an absolutely beautiful morning. The surf was low, the tide was good, and there was no wind at all. I spent most of the gray-light hour reacquainting myself with the big surf rod in some decent looking water. It had been about a year since I’d used “the gun” and it took a while to get the hang of the under-hand cast again, but once I did… man can that thing launch a monster fly!

I covered a variety of likely looking water to no avail and kept working my way down the beach. As the sky began to brighten another fly fishing guy stopped by to see how I was doing. He told me he hadn’t had any luck either this morning but had gotten into a monster the day before that had straightened his hook.

I can’t help but eat those stories up. Those, “should have been here yesterday’s… “. It’s those stories that keep you going in these low-number fisheries, cast after fruitless cast.

I’ve always been a big believer in the, “if you want it bad enough”, theory… and the, “you’re not going to catch em with your line out of the water”, mentality.

The morning went on as the tide receded, cast after cast, after cast, after cast…

Eventually, I got a little antsy, as I tend to do, and decided to go for a walk to check on some water I hadn’t seen since last year. As I made my way along the beach I began recounting to myself how many times in the past I’d made that pre-dawn drive over the hill in high hopes of finally getting a striper in the California surf, only to return a few hours later, head down, tired, and ready for a nap.

I eventually got to the spot and it looked invitingly good. The fog was thinning but there appeared to still be enough time to cover the hole before the sun burned completely through. I started launching my 12″ monster yak-clouser at the shallow end of the trough and rhythmically, yet surprisingly still erratically, began retrieving it while I worked my way towards the rip leading out to the abyss.

Cast… retrieve… step… and repeat…

As I worked my way through, the cadence, had me thinking about winter steelhead fishing and I soon began reminiscing over the first time Brandon & I truly figured out the secret to hooking the ultra elusive – winter steelhead, when nothing else worked.

While most fly fishing steelheaders spend the majority of their “fish-catching” efforts second-guessing their holding water, fly choices, appropriate lines, speed of the swing, angle of the swing, time of day, water temperature, barometric pressure, what have you…

Brandon & I had discovered a secret that virtually guarantees a winter steelhead grab, every time…

And it’s fairly simple, sort of…

Aside from all the obvious requirements, ie: season, water conditions, appropriate presentations, yada, yada, yada… the number one secret to successfully catching winter steelhead with a fly, as proven time and time again by Brandon & I, is as simple as this…

You must lose every single ounce of hope and minute level of faith and belief, whatsoever, in ever getting a grab, ever again! And I mean honestly throwing in the confidence-towel here. You have to truly believe and even cheerfully accept that the rest of your winter steelheading life will be spent merely exercising your casting muscles under a dark ceiling in icy wind while standing in a 30 degree river in the freezing rain. In fact, you might as well cut the hook point off of your fly, because you know you will NEVER get grabbed again!

And NO, cheating doesn’t count (no matter how many times I’ve tried).

And it’s trickier than it sounds. Because you still have to fish well. You still must have 100% confidence in the fact that you are indeed doing everything right, you just have to honestly believe that there’s absolutely no way a fish will ever grab it, EVER!

Your fly still needs to swim impeccably, and it still needs to cover the right water, at the right depth and at the right speed. Fish still need to be in the system, and the conditions still need to be favorable. If you can cover all of these bases perfectly, but honestly, and again, I mean HONESTLY, forfeit any minuscule ounce of faith or belief that you will ever again hook another steelhead – your line will go tight and your reel will come alive – guaranteed.

I continued to mull this over as I almost subconsciously launched cast after cast into the breaking surf. I was trying to somehow tie it into my California surf striper fishery.

True I had made a few dozen trips over the hill in the past 6 years or so, leisurely looking for those striped ghosts in the surf, but had I given them the dedication I had for steelhead?

Not by a long shot. It’s always been a, get up early, drive over, fish for the first 2 or 3 hours of daylight, grab some breakfast or clam chowder, and then come home and take a nap.

Has the confidence ever been there? Not really, it’s always been, more or less, just an excuse to be on the beach at day break.

As I continued my cast… retrieve… step and repeat routine, towards the rip I continued to contemplate the “winter-steelhead-secret” and was slowly convincing myself that it couldn’t “truly” be made applicable to this fishery because, honestly, I hadn’t invested enough time & conviction into it to warrant it’s use.

The sun was just begining to burn through the final thin layer of fog so I put my sunglasses on.

“You know what”, I teased myself, “Maybe you should just lie? If you can convince your subconscious mind that it really did happen, than maybe it will, right? Or at least maybe you will believe that it did, and if you believe it’s true, than is it truly a lie?” Apparently, Napolean Hill’s, “Think & Grow Rich” I’d recently been reading was getting to me.

But the real fact of the matter was that I was begining to finally accept the harsh truth that I would never hook a striper in the California surf, EVER!

And then…

As if on cue…

My crazy talk with myself was abruptly interrupted as my fly came to a dead stop in mid strip…

I quickly shot my glance at the water, and…

And couldn’t believe what I saw…

“Holy Cow!”

Right there, 20 feet out, in plain “polarized” view…

Was a Striper looking right at me…

With a 12″ yaky-clouser stuffed in his face!

He quickly did a 180…

Line flew out of the stripping bucket like there was no tomorrow…

And the reel suddenly came to life!

[California Surf Fly Fishing Striped Bass 9 Pounds]
9 Pound California Surf Striper!!

[California Surf Fly Fishing]
Notice how blue the fins and tail are…

[Surf Fly Fishing for California Stripers]

[Fly fishing waves]

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One Response to California Surf Stripers – Persistance

  1. Dad August 7, 2009 at 5:59 am #

    Great read and great fish. OK, you now have me convinced. I need to come out to your place on business not just in late Winter as I have the last couple of years but also in July. I need to use my heavy artillery other than just down South. Which reminds me…. Woo Hoo, we’ll be throwing those huge flies down there a week from today!