Monday, January 30, 2012

636 Miles

Editor's note: This is a guest post by my long-time friend and fishing partner Aaron Swanson.   

This is a follow up to a story that I wrote for The Connecticut Yankee in August. Normally, I’d make some kind of comment here about how August feels so far away and I can only imagine the humidity in the middle of winter and… blah, blah, blah; truth be told it’s been WAY too warm lately and we’ll be fishing for stripers again before we know it. In fact, if you’re cool with catching sluggish holdovers on soft plastics on jig heads you could be out there doing it right now. You’d probably have more luck than I have through the ice this year! But I digress…

Back at the end of July/beginning of August (literally the calendar had just turned), I caught, posed for photos with and released my personal best striped bass deep in the night at an undisclosed location (wink, wink). To me, the bass was special for a few reasons. One being it was the largest I had ever caught. Another was that it caught from shore (I only fish saltwater from shore – for now). I caught it on my birthday, and lastly, it was a “tagged” fish. Now, this wasn’t the kind of tag your fish and game club sticks on some mutated breeder rainbow trout so your daughter can win her first Zebco push-button outfit. This fish had a yellow research tag implanted in its side marked “Tag# A24736. Reward, return to P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557.”

Now, none of these things taken by themselves are special at all. I’m a realist. People catch fish on their birthday all the time. People certainly catch much larger striped bass (cough…Myerson…cough), many of whom regularly catch multiple fish larger than that in a single outing. And plenty of anglers have caught tagged fish and returned the tag to its survey location/entity for their hat or pin or whatever. Some of the “best” anglers are even asked to participate in capturing and tagging fish for research… (I doubt anyone will ever ask me to do that). For me though, I thought all those things lining up in one night was pretty cool and if you don’t think so too then I don’t even know why you’re still reading at this point.

On Saturday, January 29th, 2012, I took a hard skunking on hardwater. I mean “hard” like fishing dark to dark, first one’s there last ones to leave, didn’t even get a flag where more than two feet of line was taken off my tip-up spool. That happens when you only target large fish with big dead baits; for me more often than not. So when I came home I was a bit tired, shot and frustrated that I haven’t been able to land a pike in my four times targeting them through the ice this year. Fortunately, my mood and energy level did a complete 180 when I found two exciting things had happened while I was staring at un-tripped orange flags all day. The first was that we finally trapped and killed the little bastard of a mouse that’s been chewing our place mats and leaving turds around our pots and pans in my kitchen cabinets. It was then, while I was taunting the dead carcass in celebration, that I noticed a large white envelope with the day’s mail on the island in the kitchen. Closer inspection revealed the package to be from North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Division of Marine Fisheries. Awesome! Along with my “reward” in the form of an embroidered hat, was a letter thanking me for my participation in their program and some details about the fish.

Now, for me, I could care less about any reward; but I will wear the hat with pride. The juicy information as far as I’m concerned was the where and when. I was not disappointed to read that the fish was tagged in Roanoke, Virginia in May of 2011 and had swam 636 miles before its recapture 89 days later in Long Island Sound. I really get a kick out of that because regardless how much you read about game fish migrations, unless you’re one of the guys who travels along with it, you tend to contact these fish at your point X,Y, or Z along their route. In short, it makes it real when you can see, touch and feel the tag and consequently read scientific data about where she’s been on her journey.

Again, normally I would be writing about “in the dead of winter” but we can hardly call it that at this point. Anyway, in the dead of winter I find it pretty cool to remember that right now, striped bass swimming and feeding from Virginia to North Carolina will soon be getting ready to make their run into large tributaries like the Chesapeake Bay. There they will feed and spawn before following baitfish to summer grounds from New Jersey to Maine; undoubtedly some of which I hope to make contact with while standing in Long Island Sound come May and beyond.


Aaron hoisting his personal best striped bass that traveled at least 636 miles in 89 days. 
Note the mark on her belly from where the tag came out of. 

The coveted reward and a cool reminder of a memorable August night. 


  1. Very cool - enjoyed reading this one. It's nice when shit like that lines up (Todd's biggest fly-caught bass on the day of his 40th last year was a kick too).

    A fine fish. I've been tying Deceivers all week. What are my chances?!?


  2. That's a great story. I'd have been excited too.

    (Which reminds me...any of you seen my tagged mountain lion from South Dakota? Last I heard, it was roaming along the parkway in Milford...)

  3. It really does make you feel connected when you get a tagged fish and send in the info and get a response back saying how long the fish was at liberty and how far it traveled and how much it grew. I don't even care if it is a recaptured chain pickerel that went from one end of the pond to the other; same as a blue shark being tagged off the Butterfish Hole south off Montauk to being recaptured three years later east of Ascension Island.

    It makes you feel like you're part of something. Good story.

  4. Awesome story! I am trying to figure out that fish's route if he was tagged in the 'Noke? As I remember there are several large dams/lakes in between Roanoake and the open water. One of those lakes being mith Mountain Lake - which had the record striper for a time. Was the bass maybe tagged in the Roanoake River? If it indeed was tagged in Roanoake then the tale is even more amazing!