Saltwater fishing really helped to kickstart my angling obsession. As a youngster, typical kid stuff like video games, basketball, and riding my bike dominated my free time, but I did manage to wet a line in freshwater a few times per year during weekend jaunts or vacations. This usually amounted to catching small trout, bass, or squawfish while using my dad's ancient spincast reel mounted on an equally old-school Fenwick spinning rod. Catching fish was always fun, but I never fully caught the fishing "bug" until I began fishing a local San Francisco Bay pier around age 10. I spent countless hours fishing on that pier in some occasionally miserable weather and met a few interesting folks along the way, but catching those sharks, bat rays, and other salty species really got me charged up!
When I picked up the long rod a few years later, saltwater fly fishing was initially the last thing on my mind. Other than a couple of absolutely futile attempts at fly fishing for perch and rockfish, my limited success on the fly came from much calmer freshwater locations where those small, familiar species resided. Fast forward a few more years and two things occured that immediately changed my fishing life: I discovered stripers, and my dad bought us a small skiff.
My first fly-caught striper came on an overcast morning in June 1998. It took me some time to really get good at finding and catching them on lures, but I eventually got it down and established an inventory of favorite artificials and productive spots. On this particular morning, I decided I'd finally have a go at stripers on the fly. In addition to my trusty plug rod and assortment of bucktail jigs, swimbaits, and lipless crankbaits, I toted along my Sage RPLX 990-4 and the Abel 3N reel that took me months of saving up to buy. My fly of choice was a cool-looking bucktail streamer I tied the previous week. I still remember it: 3/0 hook, white body, black and blue back, some long strands of flash, and a pair of big ole' stick-on eyes. My mom had a hot glue gun for arts and crafts, so I borrowed it and coated half the fly in a thick layer of the stuff. It actually came out looking pretty cool, swam well, and didn't foul when casted. By the way, casting that thing wasn't pretty—with all that glue it was quite a clunky fly and pretty much maxed out my 9-weight. It was definitely a chuck-n-duck setup!
After my dad and I rolled up to our spot, I lowered the trolling motor and we both began casting. This area was a large, shallow flat mostly comprised of sand and mud with a couple of lone rocks. It was a great area for stripers and a perfect place for fly fishing. I began casting the fly in the open waters as I worked my way towards the shore but didn't have a strike after about a half dozen throws. Easing in closer to a submerged rock, I fired off a long but ugly cast alongside and past it. I was using a floating line, so the fly was staying visible just a few inches under the surface as I stripped it. As I animated the fly at an erratic, modest pace, it disappeared in a brief but subtle flash of silver. FISH ON!!!!
I stuck the fish well and it took off in the other direction. Stepping on my line a bit in my ultra-cool rubber boots, I managed to clear it from the deck and get the line back on the reel. It was a chunky schoolie striper and put up an admirable tussle as it battled its way through the marshy shallows. The entire time I was anticipating that the fish would come off at any second. I think that's common for a lot of anglers—hook a trophy fish or a species you've never caught before and spend most of the fight totally paranoid about it coming unbuttoned. But this day that striper would NOT be victorious. After a couple minutes of heart-pounding nervousness, my gloved, shaking hand grabbed the face of that striper and I pulled it in the boat. Success!
Following a few pictures courtesy of dad, my first striper on the fly was returned to the cold, stained waters of San Francisco Bay. I could have gone home happy as a clam at that point, but of course we stayed on the water several more hours and whacked the stripers pretty good—but mysteriously I couldn't get another one to eat the fly. I often wish I would've saved that fly as a reminder of that special striper, but just like that overcast June day 18 years ago it's long gone but never forgotten.