How 4 Trout Fishermen Prepared for a Striped Bass Tournament

By: Fishwest Ambassador – Aaron “Mr Werbs” Smith – @mrwerbs

One thing about me that’s undeniable is that I’m a trout fisherman. Sure, there are many destinations and non-trout species I’d like to eventually see tiled across my Instagram page. But I live in Utah, so the weight number on the side of my fly rods doesn’t stray too far away from a 5. So, when a couple of friends and I were asked to fly across the country and not only try something new but compete in it, we weren’t quite sure where to start.

A few months ago, we met up with a friend over lunch. He runs a company called Rexfly that has created a unique casting system and would be sponsoring this year’s Cheeky striper tournament in Cape Cod. He asked if we were interested in traveling to Massachusetts with him this spring, and we all eagerly accepted the opportunity.

Photo courtesy of Michael Hughes of Canterbury CT. Instagram:@Easternctdrone

Coastal striper fishing research quickly took over my spare time. My inbox soon became cluttered with new email addresses from east coast biologists, fishing club members, and previous year’s winners. Our tying benches were even more untidy. Covered in giant hooks, Flashabou, EP Fibers, and smelled of bucktail. It wasn’t a pleasant smell, but I had a lot of fun filling my fly boxes with flies like Clouser minnows and deceivers. The smell is now somehow nostalgic in its own way, but next time I’ll likely go with the synthetic bucktail.

Departure day neared and with the help of Fishwest and many friends, I was finally starting to feel prepared. My spools of fine tippets normally hanging on the side of my Simms dry creek hip pack had been replaced by heavy Rio fluorocarbon. My maps were peppered with pins to promising estuaries and jetties. And alongside my camera gear packed in an Orvis Carry-it-all, I was bringing an Echo EPR and a Nautilus X  spooled with a Airflo Ridge Striper fly line(floating and intermediate are both needed). I had done my research and was ready to put what I had learned to the test.

Our flight was a red-eye and after several hours of trying to create a make-shift pillow out of a thin jacket (and maybe 20 minutes of sleep), we arrived in Boston. We had two days to familiarize ourselves with our saved locations before the tournament, so we quickly got on our way. Our first stop was where everyone would be starting the competition in a couple days—West Dennis Beach. It’s a very popular fishing spot at the mouth of the Bass River and the tides were just about to start coming in. With its long jetties and wide-open estuaries, it has a lot of places for fish to find food when the tides start to shift. I quickly got out towards the jetty, tied on a small olive and white Clouser, and within just a few minutes a 22-inch striper was putting a bend in my 9wt further than any trout has put in my 5wt. After a quick Instagram video and a few new scrapes on my thumb, I said goodbye. Countless more fish were caught before we remembered how many other spots we needed to check out still. So, we reluctantly gathered our stuff and made the slippery walk back down the jetty to the rental car.

Hopes and anticipation were high by the time we got to our warm beachside cabin rental at the end of the day. All our preparation paid off, and we had caught lots of measurable fish worthy of a good score. Even the next day was no exception to our success, and by the end of the second night, we were anxious to compete. Our waders and reels were cleaned, leaders and knots replaced, and our destinations for the tournament had been planned. We stayed up later than we should have, littering the kitchen table with fly tying materials, but the car was loaded up ready to promptly hit the road early in the morning.

Photo courtesy of James Joiner @jjamesjoiner and Patagonia Fly Fishing

It was about 5 a.m. when we arrived at West Dennis Beach Saturday morning, and there were around 430 anglers there ready to get started. We were all suited up, rods assembled, and my Korkers Triple Threat Soles were snapped on tight and ready to tackle some slippery jetties. After a quick announcement, the whistle was blown, and everyone scrambled to be the first ones to their fishing spots. Our first location was an estuary not far away, but surprisingly we were the only ones there. After seeing so many teams earlier, we thought for sure we would be bumping shoulders with other competitors. We scratched our heads, then comfortably spaced out along the shorelines ready to reel in some fish.

Many fish were quickly caught, measured, and photographed during that brief outward tide, and within just a couple hours we had full scorecards. How this tournament was scored was by adding the total length of our top 4 fish. We knew we needed to be above 95 inches to even stand a chance, but so far, we were barely over 80. It was now low tide and the estuaries were no longer dumping food into the ocean as they drain out. The bite had almost completely turned off as the fish moved on to other methods of finding food. It was slow, and we needed to get to our next spot to try and boost our numbers.

The day before, we met a man fishing from the parking lot of a small furniture store. He was very eager to share a few tips and even told us about a small river near his home nearby. After a few short stories of the fish caught there in the past, he offered to lead the way. This small river had lots of structure, and even though the tide was almost completely motionless, we were still able to find many hungry bass. So, after having so much success there during the slack tide the day before, we quickly got to our rental car and headed out. It was only about 15 minutes away and after a short walk from the parking lot to the jetty, we were surprised to see that once again we were the only fisherman there. Tide wasn’t going to start moving in until around the last hour of the competition, so we planned on staying here for nearly the rest of the competition.

After a couple more hours, the rabbit hair on my fly was almost completely chewed off, and our score numbers had been bumped by a few more inches. The competition was just about to come to an end, and we knew we needed to start making our way to the restaurant where we turn in our scorecards. The restaurant was right next to a small river, and the tide was just about to start pushing fish upstream. Since we were just footsteps away from the finish line, we walked down to the water’s edge and frantically started casting with hopes of getting that final boost to our score. Our smallest fish was around 19″, which was barely above average for us that weekend. We needed to catch a fish much larger than that to truly feel confident in our score, and there were only 10 minutes left.

We were starting to cut it too close, and with just 5 minutes left, I muttered “last cast” and threw that beat up rabbit strip style Clouser minnow upstream. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise when I say that after a few quick strips, a fish was on. It was a nice fish, but it wasn’t going to help our score at all. Just then, Rex reminded me there was a prize for the last fish caught before the deadline. We couldn’t remember what the prize was, but we quickly landed it, measured it, and made our way into the restaurant.

The tournament was over and after some burgers, pasta, and several free drinks, they announced the winners. With the first-place team scoring over 103″, they received tons of awesome prizes like Cheeky Limitless 425 reels, Patagonia Stormfront slingpacks, and Thomas & Thomas Exocett fly rods. Cheeky did a great job putting it together, and even though we didn’t win, we will likely be back next year. The only thing left to figure out now was how I was going to take home the YETI Tundra cooler I won for catching the last fish.