JOHN HOLYOKE

Sign of stripers? Fishermen tough to find

Posted July 22, 2011, at 4:29 p.m.

The sign outside Van Raymond Outfitters on busy South Main Street in Brewer is an eye-catcher, as it’s supposed to be. And on Wednesday, the four words on that sign carried welcome news to Penobscot River anglers.

BLOODWORMS. STRIPERS ARE IN.

As you may know, after several years of fantastic striper fishing in the Penobscot, those formerly sizable runs of striped bass have dried up. Not too many years ago, the riverside park on South Main Street was clogged with a dozen or more anglers who fished from shore on each high tide. Even more fishermen trolled the river in boats, looking to hook up with a striper.

Not any more. On Wednesday, as high tide and prime fishing time approached, there were no anglers in the park. There were no boats trolling the Penobscot.

According to the sign, stripers are in. Bloodworms, which are a popular bait, are available. And Jim Snow, the fishing manager at Van Raymond Outfitters, would love to sell you a few bloodworms. When asked about the sign, he shook his head and offered up a wry grin.

“I’ve been on vacation for a week and a half,” Snow explained. “We just got [bloodworms] in. I sold a couple of packages yesterday and that was it.”

To Snow, the fact that he’s only sold 20 bloodworms in two days says it all. Snow is carrying bloodworms. They’re available if anyone wants to give striper-fishing a try. But demand has been light for a reason.

“If there were people catching fish, they’d be in here buying bloodworms, or they’d be somewhere buying bloodworms. And they’d be fishing,” Snow said.

And they’re not fishing. Not on Wednesday. Not during Thursday’s afternoon high tide. Not at the park on South Main Street. And not at the Penobscot Salmon Club, where some striper fishermen have enjoyed success in past years.

So, what’s with the sign? Well, there have apparently been signs of striper activity on the river. Reportedly. According to someone.

“I had people tell me that they had seen stripers jumping out of the water. I’ve never seen a striper jump out of the water in my life,” Snow said. “But I have not had any firsthand reports of anybody catching stripers.”

Not any firsthand reports. But he does have one fourth- or fifth- or seventh-hand report that has generated a fair bit of buzz along the river.

Similarly unconfirmed big fish tales — fish tall tales, if you prefer — seem to crop up nearly every year along the Penobscot.

Here’s this year’s version:

“Van [Raymond] told me that he had been told that somebody had caught a 42-incher,” Snow said. “I think he said up by the hospital. But until I see a steady stream of people coming through the door, saying, ‘Oh, the fish are in, the fish are in, I’ve got to buy bloodworms,’ [I’ll be skeptical].”

Snow points out that in years when the striper run was heavy, people were catching the fish by early June, and most activity took place before mid-July. Having fish arrive for the first time in years this late in July sounds a bit odd to him.

Theories on the lack of stripers in the river abound. The fish are migratory, and are common in coastal waters up and down the eastern seaboard. Internet bulletin boards have heralded their arrival in some southern Maine towns this summer, while there has been little talk of them showing up farther north. And even anglers in southern Maine have been complaining that seeing stripers has been fun, but catching them has been difficult due to an abundance of baitfish.

Snow has been working across the street from the Penobscot River for years. He remembers when the stripers were running strong. And it wasn’t that long ago.

“Four years ago was the big year. The next year didn’t amount to anything,” Snow said. “Two years ago we had a run of fish and we had people catching fish. Then we got all the rain and [the fish] left and just never came back. Last year it just didn’t happen. I wish I knew what was causing this.”

Snow likes to tell a story about how excited people were about the striper fishing four years ago, when everybody was catching fish.

“I went and bought bloodworms on a Friday, got back [to the store] at 5 o’clock with 1,500 bloodworms. Saturday night when we closed at 5, they were all gone,” Snow said. “And the last three years, we’ve thrown out bloodworms.”

But he still has bloodworms available for sale. And the stripers are in.

Maybe. Apparently. Reportedly. Once.

At least, that’s what the sign says.

jholyoke@bangordailynews.com

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