Burned By Cinder Worms
Danny O'Brien age 13 Portland OR first fly caught striper.
As I stepped outside my door on August 20th I noticed one thing, no wind. Not a stitch of a breeze as my American Flag lay still in the early morning hours. Cool! This is going to be a great morning, as the temps were in the mid fifties and zero humidity. It felt like fall already and that always gets me pumped. I made my way to the truck with the Pesky Pole already attached and gear loaded for a day of fly fishing on Cape Cod bay. I had Greg O’Brian and his 13 year old son, Danny from Portland Oregon booked for a day of fly fishing the flats. Neither had bested a striper on the fly rod yet so the plan was simple, work the flats on the last two hours of the incoming tide and the 6 hours of the dropping tide. Perfect conditions for a good bite on sand eel imitations.
Greg O’Brien from Portland OR with his first fly caught striper.
As I pulled into the boat launch at 5:30 I noticed a car and two figures walking the docks and knew these were my clients for the day. After a quick handshake and launching the boat there was still no wind at all, awesome. Nothing can be tougher than trying to throw an intermediate line for a younger angler than 20 knot winds. As we headed out of the marina we had a slight fog covering the water and clear skies above as the sun was cresting the eastern horizon. I was excited to say the least. Almost 80 days on the water this season since May and I still get fired up each and every morning. We made our way along the channel that flanks horseshoe shoal and I noticed small ripples on the surface. You know the kind that trout make when they are slurping small insects on the surface of a calm mountain trout pond. I thought to myself, huh, must be baitfish feeding on plankton? Man was I wrong! Much to my surprise and excitement the water was full of newly hatched cinder worms. They were everywhere and so were the stripers.
Danny and a larger schoolie.
The small trout like ripples were striped bass of all sizes feasting on a bounty that I have never seen in Barnstable Harbor nor has one of my guide friends who was also out that morning. This was a full bore cinder worm hatch. These hatches are not uncommon on Cape Cod, but they usually occur on June on the south facing estuaries and not in the clear cold waters of Cape Cod bay. After observing a current break that was full of feeding fish I positioned the boat for a perfect drift. Not fully sure what to expect I handed Danny an 8 weight rod with intermediate sinking line and a small sand eel pattern. I gave Greg my 9 weight with a fast sinking tip and a similar fly with a few different color strands. On our first drift Greg hooked up on nice fat schoolie striper of about 20 inches, his first on the fly. Our next drift produced a slightly larger fish for Danny on his smaller rod and the smile on his face was priceless, another first for the Pesky Pole. I thought ok maybe this worm hatch isn’t going to ruin our plans. Man was I wrong! On our next 4 drifts of the last hour of the incoming tide the fish and worms were everywhere. We had stripers from 13 inches to 40 inches all around and under our boat only to watch them gorge on the cinder worms as they danced on the surface. I quickly grabbed my 10 weight rod with floating line a searched through my fly boxes for anything that resembles a cinder worm. Since cinder worms have never been in this area I didn’t have any exact matches, but I did have a red wooly bugger type fly with a white tail that I use for redfish down in Florida.
Danny battling a striper on calm waters.
I cut off the tail and trimmed the fly to look more like a cinder worm and let Greg go to work on fish that were close enough to touch with his rod tip. On his first cast we both saw a large 30 inch plus fish turn on his fly only to sniff it and turn away at the last second. Encouraging we thought as we looked at each other with that “this may work” look. We had another hour plus before the tide turned so I headed up in the bay to an area that is only 3 feet deep at high tide. My hunch paid off we immediately saw hundreds of big fish cruising the shallows and some were even feeding on baitfish. There were smaller fish mixed in, but the majority were 35” or bigger, on the flats in 3 feet of water in mid August. Greg and Danny marveled at the fish all around the boat. I explained that we had limited time on this school and they better grab a rod if we’re going to put a few in the boat. Danny switched to a light tackle spin outfit and started hooking the smaller fish as they were more aggressive than the larger ones. Each fish looked like it was ready to spawn their bellies were so fat from feasting on cinder worms all night and morning. My job as a guide is to put clients on fish of course, but I can tell you that when you have hundreds of fish within a short cast from your boat and they won’t bite it’s a very frustrating situation. As the tide stopped moving in and started to drop I saw some birds working a small flat to the east of us. We quickly and quietly worked our way closer. I switched up a few spinning rods with small poppers and Greg had a fish slam his bait only to break off with the popper in its mouth. We could see the fish on the surface and tried to net it, but no dice. As the tide continued dropping our luck improved slightly as we caught a few more schoolies on light tackle spinning rods. The total take for the day was only 7 fish boated with hundreds sighted. I was reminded by Greg as to that’s why we call it fishing and not catching. It’s nice to have clients who understand some things are out of your control. Like a darn cinder worm hatch in August on Cape Cod Bay. Believe me next time I will be ready!
Cinder work jpg compliments of google images.