“I’m tight!” Ray Stachelek yelled from the stern of his Everglades 230 center console. After an hour searching for fish in foggy Galilee, Captain Ray had moved west, along the beach, staying in thirty feet of water, waiting for what he hoped would happen. Now, leaning over the port side, he pulled back on his nine weight Sage rod and waited to see the days first striped bass. Ray has been putting sports on fish for twenty-two years. He had his boat built for fly fishing. He has that welcomed ease behind the wheel. He is a joy to fish with. Finding fish is an art and there is something really fine about watching good fishermen find fish.
“That fog washes out all the colors,” Ray said, scanning for signs of life along a fractured center wall. Fish will hold in those broken coves and along weedy submerged granite squares but this day started slowly. A hundred casts right tight to their edges and parallel to the ragged line yielded nothing but a few minutes of conversation between two friends, something we could all use more of. Small petrels raced by, quick and fast narrow brush strokes, barely skimming a calm Atlantic.
Late summer fog had indeed turned everything, including the horizon, a milky grey, muting any chances of seeing fish rising after bait, so after switching on the radar, we ran for Deep Hole. It was dark as a pocket there with only a few signs of life here then there watched by some unimpressed Great Black-backed gulls. We made a few obligatory casts from bow and stern on a slow drift over nothing, then Captain Ray fired up the 250 horse Yamaha and wheeled her around. The Everglades is a solid ride. Rods are cleverly stored in a custom-made system that secures butts while providing room for tips with openings in the big T-top. There is ample room to move and with a double wide leaning post up forward, it’s a fly fisher’s dream boat.
That fog came and went and came back again. Fishing with Captain Ray, you learn quickly that you’re expected to pay attention. When it’s time to make a move, there’s no “pick ‘em up” announcement, just a motor coming to life with the feel of a wheel turning. Ten more minutes west, with near zero visibility, he shut down the motor on a hunch, not a view. Mostly because there was nothing to see.
“Let’s give this a few minutes,” he said, looking around at a circular view of mist. He’s been fly fishing since he was, “Ten or twelve, I guess,” he said. After just a few casts, Captain Ray was tight. Then again. Bass, blues, black sea bass. All on his own custom fly.
“Captain Ray is on the fish!” I yelled to no one. Flat calm waters had come to life. Gulls appeared.
“I’m always on the fish,” he laughed. Thick bait balls appeared around the boat without another boat in sight. He had nailed it.
“I’m tight!” he said again.
“How many is that Captain?” I asked.
“I don’t know, maybe 24? After 12 I usually don’t keep track anymore, unless they have some size to them,” he said, dryly. Fly fishing for fun with Captain Ray can be a little humbling.
He caught and released two dozen in less than an hour. As an unhappy bluefish coughed up dozens of one inch silver rain bait, the calm surface had become iridescent, even in low light. We were surrounded by millions of shiny tiny reflectors, glistening, slowly sinking. We both leaned to see the acres of miniature perfect fish scales, last remnants of fish which fed blues and bass and then some fishermen.
“Does that guy have only one speed, fast?” Captain Ray asked looking up, as a pretty, dark hulled center console with a pretty inconsiderate boy at the helm split another school of fish with a full throttle and snake wake.
“There are too many cowboys,” Captain Ray said, stating an obvious displeasure with the state of ocean affairs. After so many years, guest appearances at fishing clubs and a well-earned position as an expert fly tier, he doesn’t hide his belief in courtesy and simple respect. They can be in short supply on the water, especially when it’s been hard finding fish. Logical courtesy guides someone at the wheel to approach a school of fish or other boats with slow speed and little wake. Those full on cowboys, dumping throttles from school to school don’t help the catching; in the end, they catch less than the seasoned, observing and moving methodically and that justifiably frustrates Captain Ray.
With the fish put down again, we moved back east a few clicks. A welcomed sun made the sunblock glisten on his face a bit. He was all smiles now.
“Here you go. I got first choice since I’m High Hook,” he said with a big smile, handing me a now three pack of muffins. Resting our fly rods for a quick break, fish continued to drive bait to the surface. Some piles moved slowly and loud crashing sounds. We took videos and pictures. We talked about how fishing with fly rods and spinning gear on the same trip can affect the catch rate. Cleaning a few bluefish for the smoker, we steamed east for a quick look at the lighthouse, chased a little bait inside the center wall and headed for the ramp.
After loading and unloading his boat with a deft, practiced pace without getting his tan deck shoes wet, we sat in the parking lot for a drink of water and obligatory recap. A URI student walked over to ask how the fishing was. He knew there were some bass around, wondered about fish in the salt ponds and asked for a some advice.
“You need to talk to this guy,” I said, “He’s the high hook. He’s Captain Ray and he always finds the fish.”
Todd Corayer is a lifelong fisherman and occasional hunter whose writing relies on sarcasm and other people’s honest fish stories while seeing words as puzzle pieces that occasionally all fit together perfectly.