In a college course on pre-Socratic philosophy, a teacher summed up one of the teachings of Heraclitus by saying: “Through suffering comes beauty.” Tonight, as I saw the first stripers of my year landed around me, that certainly was the case. The night began promisingly: a good tide, aligning with the end of the work day, and light drizzles throughout the day — conditions which, according to one, had yielded fish in the past at this spot. At lunch, the same friend had walked to the Charles River waterfront and cast a line. The stripers that followed his fly to the shore were all the proof we needed to end speculation: Fish were going to be caught this night.
River herring, due to their size, are not a sport fish. But striped bass, like so many other predatory fish, feast on herring. Though of greater stature, herring, like menhaden, are the sometimes unrecognized bedrock of the food system. Their dominance is limited to the krill, small crustaceans and small fish on which they feed. Mostly, they provide are the feed to seals, whales, cod, stripers, blues and other migratory species. That’s why it’s a concern that the National Marine Fisheries Council has listed them as a “species of concern.” As their ocean and inland spawning habitat has gradually been eroded over decades, their numbers have plummeted. So they go, so go many fish above them.
“Toward the end of the twentieth century, we began to see a disconnect between the art of Atlantic salmon fly tying and the sport of Atlantic salmon fishing. In the right hands, a workhorse fly pattern like the Jock Scott became a large, immaculately crafted object, suitable for framing and hanging on one’s wall. Though many like it have hooked thousands of salmon over the last century and a half, this particular fly will never see water, much less the business end of a dime bright Atlantic salmon.”