Smiles were spread across the faces of about a dozen fishermen who were strung along the northern bank of the Little River Thursday morning just before and after the 10:20 a.m. low tide at what to some is known as the “candy house flats” due to the presence of Nichols Candies above the saltmarsh.
And why not?
They were catching stripers on flies, plugs and squigglies, those rubbery things that seem to remind stripers of bait fish or squid, which are reported to have arrived in Gloucester Harbor and, along with the herring in the river, announce the sure beginning of the season.
The arrivals Thursday included the first little stripers and a sprinkling of babysitters, fish of more than two feet and less than the keeper length of 28 inches.
Paul Dredge and Gregory Ekirt of Arlington said they took and released 15 schoolies, and Tony Sydorko of Beverly said he caught and released about 30 in the “couple” of hours before dead low tide at 10:20 a.m.
The day dawned with the smell of lilacs opening up after a week of intermittent rain and gradually warming temperatures, and the knowing, ambitious and optimistic casters and fly fishermen ready for what has become a rite of spring — the arrival of the advance scouts from the giant summer migration of stripers seeking temperatures in the 50s and the northward pulses of forage fish.
Heading back to his car, Skip Montello of Rockport, a charter boat captain and columnist for On the Water Magazine, described the fishing as “spotty,” and traced the first hookup of the year to a week earlier — May 9, which would have put the rites of spring right on track.
The two remaining intelligence exchanges and bait and tackle emporia on Cape Ann — the Fin and Feather of Essex and Gloucester’s Three Lantern Marine and Fishing Supply — both acknowledged credible reports of stripers in local waters for most of May.