Sometime things are as good as you remember. An email from Kevin Josenhans a few weeks ago offered a walk-on opening for a fly and light tackle trip to the Choptank River. This used to be my predominate style of fishing, but it’s been all freshwater and brackish water kayak fishing in recent years. So I jumped at the chance.
Driving to the dock at Cambridge the morning of the trip I began reminiscing. The last time I fished with Kevin was another walk-on trip to Fisherman’s Island in May of 2015. It was a slow day for Nick Nikosai and me as we each caught only one fish.
But it was well worth it — twin 50-inch redfish on medium spin tackle.
But doing the math in my head I realized it was nearly the 25th anniversary of my first trip with Kevin in October of 1994.
At that time Kevin was a park ranger at Jane’s Island State Park. He had just begun his sideline guiding service and invited Joe Bruce to fish with him at Tangier Sound to get advice on saltwater flyfishing tackle and tactics. Joe invited me along to write a story.
Using 8-weight fly rods, fast sinking fly lines and Lefty’s Deceiver flies we’d tied we took almost 100 stripers in the 16 to 28-inch range. The only reason we fell short of the century mark was my futile insistence on taking a striper on a fly rod popper.
The fish slapped at it, played volleyball with it, jumped over it, and did everything but take it. I never hooked a striper in that hour of trying.
(Stripers often blast poppers, but I agree with guide, Gary Neitzey, that stripers’ aggressive strike often pushes away a fly rod popper, so lures like the Smack it are more effective.)
Kevin had told me for this trip he could provide all spin and fly tackle and that the other angler wanted to try taking a striper on fly tackle. I always like to bring my own fly tackle, but decided for once to go with Kevin’s stuff. It was a refreshing change to avoid my usual frantic trip preparation.
I bought food and drink and cameras, and Kevin did have all the tackle needed.
I met Brian Pelisek at the ramp, a very capable and personable angler, who’d seen my book. We fished well together, and, at the end of the day, he invited me to fish with him from his boat and place on Kent Island. (Brian, when you read this I intend to take you up on the invitation.)
Kevin was waiting for us and we quickly hopped aboard. I complimented Kevin on his boat that was so clean I thought it was new. He informed me it was the same boat he’s had for the last 15 years, a Jones Brothers 20foot Cape Fisherman; the 150-horsepower Yamaha motor was new.
Inspecting his tackle it was the same story, two 7-foot Loomis spin rods, Stradic reels, Power Pro braided line, DOA jig heads with 4-inch paddletail swim baits, two more of the same rigs with the smaller size Smack-It poppers modified with fewer trebles (same way I rig them), two Sage 8-weight fly rods with intermediate sinking lines and Clouser minnow and Half-and-Half flies.
That’s Kevin, everything is ready, neat, professional. You’d be surprised at how rare that is.
We began fishing after a short run from the dock. I had never fished this area of the Choptank before.
It was a place of sloping sandy bottoms with occasional holes and dotted with numerous rockpiles — natural formations, dumped ballast and remnants of old sea walls. Brian began with a popper and got a few blowups but no hookups. I began with the jig and plastic.
Kevin gently reminded me to speed up the retrieve.
How many times have I preached and written that in striper fishing, “Try to take it away from ‘em?” I forgot. I was still in my freshwater fluke fishing rhythm. The fast retrieve soon paid off in 16- to 22-inch stripers, and Brian quickly joined the party.
This was the pattern for the day. When action stopped at one place we moved to another. Kevin has always been quick to drop anchor when a spot pays off, but with the winds and tides of this day we mostly drifted.
We returned to our starting point near the end of the day to catch the favorable outgoing tide. Here Brian asked Kevin to show him how to flyfish. Kevin offers this service. But let’s just say it’s hard to teach or learn on the water even under favorable conditions.
One of my favorite flycasting techniques in saltwater, and especially under adverse conditions, is water haul casting. I was tempted to demonstrate it, but Brian was already getting overwhelmed with new information.
So I stuck with the jig and was rewarded with the best fish of the day, the 27 ½-inch striper shown, and was again reminded that saltwater species, pound-for-pound, fight a lot harder than their fresh water cousins (snakeheads may be an exception).
We ended up with two to three dozen released stripers each for the day.
Kevin’s range in coming months will usually be Tangier Sound, which, in addition to 16 to 30-inch stripers produces beautiful speckled trout in the same range and big redfish among a number of other species. (Fall stripers can be a lot bigger.)