I've never appreciated use of the word "skunked" as it pertains to recreational fishing. Getting skunked means an angler didn't catch anything but a bad attitude. One can't say they "were skunked"; it's "I got skunked," as in "I got screwed" or "I got robbed." It is never the conditions that were skunky, though they may have been weedy, mungy or all churned up and dirty. You can't say you offered the fish skunk retrieves or skunkish plugs or flies. The idea is that celestial forces, aloof fish, and angry fish Gods have conspired against the angler to deprive him or her of enjoyment, food and predatory glory. Those fish Gods were "hatin' on ya."
On the enjoyment side of things, I haven't had many miserable experiences. If I have some time to escape from kids, chores, and other obligations, I might meander along a salt river's edge, noticing bait flickering in the waning sunlight and birds eying that bait from above. I could be smelling the peat in the marsh and the brine of the water. I would most likely be enjoying the chance to think, unharried, and maybe let some thoughts go and just absorb the beauty all around. I'd make casts, working from point to point, trying to get into spots where bait presents itself nicely to a striper. Deep holes transitioning to shallow, edges and ledges of underwater topography, places that provide opportunities for ambush of prey by hungry stripers or places where they are funneling in to get to another spot - the striper highway.
I would look at the conditions (wind and water clarity) and just pick a plug I felt like throwing. Work it for a little while, and switch to something else if I didn't get a hit. I might walk along the river for as far as I wanted to, then turn around and work my way back, now enjoying the great mural in pink, purple, and orange spreading across the evening sky. There could be great walloping hits on the plug, an assertive setting of the hook and a careful battle to bring a big fish in. That fish could have friends of the same 30- to 40-inch length and the evening would go from nice to awesome, sending me home breathless and wild-eyed to tell the story with one word tumbling over the next. There might be one 24-inch fish after another, or even one 18-inch fish after another. Pretty little silvery, shining things, some more yellow, some more green, gray or blue. I'd be sufficiently slimed from holding them tight to release the hook cleanly. Or, there might not be any fish biting. In that case, maybe I would go grab some blue crabs. There are days we might bring home both.
To have the opportunity and ability to fish this way is a blessing. Being able to do it here, surrounded by the unfaltering beauty of Cape Cod, is a blessing wrapped in another blessing.
What's in the tackle bag? I might pack a Creek Chub popper for fishing topwater if conditions are weedy, as well as a Stetzko needlefish for the same placement in the water with a different behavioral presentation. I can work a needlefish plug like a darter to resemble fleeing bait or reel it in straight with no funny action from the rod, more like a real needlefish. It also pops, without pushing a ton of water. If squid were around it would be a white or pink needlefish. Bigger is usually better, unless small fish are desired. There would be swimmers in the bag: maybe an olive Mambo minnow and a yellow bomber, for daytime. There would be metal in there - Hopkins and Kastmasters and Stetzko darts, but I'd wait for heavy winds or surf fishing to pull those out - though they're really nice to have if you see a feeding frenzy erupt far from shore. Oh yeah, and Mr Wiggly is in the bag, medium and large. I'd have a flatwing pattern fly tied on as a dropper.
Striper wrapped around crab stuffing
I like to slice laterally through the thickness of a striper filet, making two thin filets, especially in the case of bigger fish and especially at the head end of the filet, where it is thickest. This technique makes pan-frying in butter and oil simple, and makes the following recipe possible.
1 lb crab meat
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup finely chopped green or red bell pepper
1 clove minced garlic
2 cups crushed Ritz-type crackers
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 Tbsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Multiply recipe as needed depending on the amount of fish on hand.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Place the crab meat in a large mixing bowl. Stir in vegetables and dry ingredients, then add the remaining 4 ingredients. Mix thoroughly.
For smaller servings, cut filets to about six-inches in length. Place a rinsed and towel-dried thin fish filet in a greased baking dish and put a couple spoonfuls of stuffing about a third of the way in from the widest end of the filet. Roll up and rest the stuffed filet seam-side down in the pan. Repeat with remaining fish and stuffing, dot with butter, sprinkle with paprika and bake for 20-minutes or until cooked through.
Striper baked in tomatoes and peppers
I like a lot of vegetables with the fish, so I will use one-half of a 30-inch striper for this recipe. The original recipe calls for four fish steaks, which would be both sides of the same-sized fish.
adapted from Fanny Farmer
2 Tbs olive oil or butter
1 large onion, chopped, or a mixture of onion, garlic chives, chives, garlic scapes chopped measuring a cup
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
Cayenne pepper to taste
1/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 Tbs butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a skillet, heat the oil or butter and saute onion, garlic, tomatoes, and green pepper over low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in cayenne pepper and oregano. Spread half the mixture in a shallow baking dish. Season fish with salt and pepper, place them on the vegetables, and cover with remaining vegetables. Sprinkle with lemon juice and bread crumbs, and dot with butter. Bake for 25 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.