63.5-pound striper a Virginia saltwater record
Written by The Roanoke Times   
Thursday, 06 January 2005 10:47
The second of January was warm, the temperature pressing into the 70s, the kind of day you?d kill to be out fishing.

Most working people had returned to their jobs following the holidays, but not Paul Kleckner and six of his buddies. They had boarded Otis Evans Jr.'s private boat, the White Bite, and headed out of Wachapreague to the ocean.

Wachapreague is a village on the seaside of Eastern Shore, best known for its flounder fishing. The creeks, channels, cuts and bays that wind their way from the Shore to the barrier islands and then to the Atlantic offer prime flounder habitat from spring into the fall, but Kleckner and his gang were after bigger game: striped bass.

Back in the heydays, when Wachapreague was ballyhooed the "Flounder Capitol of the World" stripers were pretty much gone. But now they are back, and in big numbers, accounting for an annual late-season migration that gathers recruits as far north as Maine and funnels them in growing numbers past Eastern Shore, past Virginia Beach and onto the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The peak of the ocean fishing in Virginia occurs late Decembers and continues into January, and sometimes early February. The big flotillas of boats, sometimes several hundred craft at a time, gather along the high-rise of Virginia Beach southward into North Carolina.

So the White Bite was well north of the peak action, and at a time when many years the parade of stripers pretty well has passed by the Shore. Not this time.

The silver-sided fish move according to a myriad of variables, wind, tide, time of day, the weakening angle of the sun, food and water temperature. Especially the last two.

November had been mild, and the migration all but stalled, then in mid-December the weather turned too cold for good fishing. The water temperature plummeted from about 50 to 42 degrees. The day after Christmas a foot of snow fell on some sections of the Eastern Shore, a rare occurrence that brought a "Surprise, Surprise" headline on the front of the Eastern Shore News. An old, Northern saying might have made even a better headline: "When the snow flies the bass go by."

"The fish just turned off," said Claude Bain, director of the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament. "When the water temperature drops rapidly, these cold-blooded animals get off their feed. They will scoot out to deeper water and just not cooperate."

This week they began doing just the opposite as warm, sunny days push the water temperature back into the mid-40s.

Kleckner and his friends figured they were about 18 miles south of Wachapreague Inlet when they came onto an area where birds were sitting on the water and the depth sounder showed scattered bait. It was one of those places where you say, "Well, the fish must have fed here a little while ago."

Most anglers probably would move on, in search of birds diving into schools of baitfish being butchered by gangs of savage stripers that are so thick they form a ball or beehive that darkens the water. But Kleckner and crew decided to troll where the battle had taken place. Maybe a big old, cow stripers or two still would be around, feeding on the carnage, letting the younger, more streamlined of its kind dash off to a new venue.

That thinking put a 63-pound, 8-ounce striper on Kleckner?s rod, fooled by a parachute lure dressed with a 4-inch white shad fished as the trailing bait of an umbrella rig.

On Tuesday, Bain certified the 50.5-inch catch as a state record. The previous record was caught last year, on Jan. 30, by Carolyn Brown, who was trolling well south of her hometown Virginia Beach, near Corolla Lighthouse.

Word is that Kleckner, who lives near the Maryland boarder at Greenbackville, had better enjoy his fame while he can.

"The record is not likely to last long," said Bain. "The fishing should be real good until we get another drop in the water temperature, which really doesn?t look like it is going to happen anytime soon. Plus, I think you are going to see a lot of fish moving down from the north."

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