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"John, you're my main man. I'm Thomas, and this is my main man Maxwell. You be here in an hour?" I nodded. "Then we'll see you later. We'll float that damn thing all over this damn river."
Thomas and Maxwell wandered off through the screeching traffic. I had lied again. I had no intention of being there when they returned. In a few seconds I was floating upstream with the incoming Hudson tide.
Sculling strongly, I was quickly out toward midriver. I laid down the paddle and cast the streamer toward the edge of one of the many Hudson currents. The river is often like that, like a hundred streams all flowing side by side at different speeds. While rafting, I can adjust my relative speed by entering the various subcurrents, and it is at the junctures of these currents where the fish most often feed. On a calm day you can see snappers working 50 patches across the river. Larger disturbances mean stripers, or sometimes even shad. Once I caught several large shad on my Hudson streamers.
Out away from its shoreline the river is pleasant. With some imagination you can even sense its origins. The Hudson begins 300 miles to the north in the Adirondacks near Mt. Marcy in a fishless two-acre lake called Tear of the Clouds. Spilling gently down, it gradually becomes the wild and rapid upper Hudson, home of native brookies and implanted browns and rainbows that feed on Adirondack mayflies. Stifled at the base of the mountains, the river becomes sluggish, held in check by locks and dams. The trout become carp, and the mayflies houseflies. Pristine tributaries become paper-mill runoffs. Near Troy the sewage takes over. And below the Troy Dam the river first tastes salt and begins to take on the character it has on my beat. The tides extend 154 miles up to Troy and back down past Albany, Kingston. Poughkeepsie, West Point, Croton, Haverstraw Bay, Spuyten Duyvil, the George Washington Bridge, 116th Street. The carp become stripers, the stripers that I was looking for.
Once a school of stripers is located, it pays to move gradually with the current. The baitfish are drifting, and the stripers follow. When I'm bank-fishing and have found a school, I walk slowly along the rocks as I catch and release fish, finally arriving either at the big concrete sewer outlet downriver or the steep gravel bank upriver. Then I return to my starting point to pick up another school.
I sculled the raft, hoping to find a current that would let me drift with some fish. Nearby the surface erupted with six frenzied splashes. Then a smaller splash—my streamer. One strip and a fish was on, pulling hard, taking line, as the raft swung around. The fish was a good one, larger than the 12-inchers I had caught earlier, but not so large that I couldn't slow its runs. Back and forth, the raft rotated with the fish's lunges, zigzagging with the river's flow. I retrieved line gradually, enjoying the bent rod and the tight line. The fish came to the surface 30 feet away and shook its head, a striper. Again it surfaced, and then plunged toward the bottom. But the fish tired, and I soon put my thumb into the jaw of my best Hudson striper. My scale said 3½.
I debated for an instant whether I should keep the bass, for photographs or something. (Hudson River fish shouldn't be eaten because of the high levels of PCBs.) Or to show Steve, my Sheeps-head Bay friend who scorns the Hudson, who won't fish my 116th Street retreat with me. But I decided not to bother, and I put the hefty fish back into the river.
Two false casts and the fly was out again. I stripped and felt a tug. Another pleasing battle and another weighed striper. Longer than the first, but thinner and not as heavy.
The next 24 casts produced stripers. I counted. My record had been 39 straight on a rainy Friday in 1975, but they had been 15- and 16-inchers. These were all at the magic three-pound mark. And they were tiring me. An hour and a half of bent graphite had begun to fatigue my forearm. Striper after striper. Schooling 40 feet away from me, moving together with the tide. I wished I had tagging equipment. Each year I resolve that I will tag my next year's fish, but I still hadn't gotten around to it. Beautiful 20-inch fish. But no whoppers. Tugs and pleasure-boaters passing, waving as I landed and released my catch.
More splashing and I flexed the rod for a cast while simultaneously seeing a dozen teen-agers on the rocks, each heaving stones in my direction and shouting words I could not understand but which did not sound like pleasantries. My sculling paddle got me out of range without injury, but the stripers were soon behind me, and the record 39 was no longer endangered.