In mid-August, Elias Vaisberg hooked a 51-inch striped bass during New England Kayak Fishing's Massachusetts Bay Striper Shootout. In a 12-foot Hobie Outback kayak, Vaisberg braved an incoming thunderstorm to land the fish, which earned him first place in the open division of the catch-and-release Boston tournament. Here is his story.
Vaisberg, a guide and tournament angler, has fished the waters around New York City for 10 years now (eight of them in a kayak) and knows his home waters of Jamaica Bay well. There, he won the Kayak Fishing Classic two years straight. In Boston, though, he relied on the advice of his buddy Eric Harrison, a New England striper guru, to guide his strategy for the Massachusetts Bay Striper Shootout, which ran between Friday, August 14, and Sunday, August 16.
“Eric texted me Saturday morning, saying ‘Don’t make any plans, cause there’s a bite on,’” Vaisberg recalls. By 8 p.m. that night, however, severe thunderstorms had begun rolling through Boston, bringing with them 15- to 20-knot winds, whipping up rough water conditions. “At that point [Eric and I] were going back and forth,” Vaisberg says. “‘Are we going to launch?’ ‘No, it’s crazy.’ ‘Are we gonna do it?’ Finally, Eric said that we had to go now. I was thinking to myself that this was definitely the dumbest thing I’ve done in a very long time.” Vaisberg and Harrison, judging that they had a half-hour window between storms, decided to roll the dice and launch the kayaks. At around 9:30 p.m., trolling an eel tight near the beach just north of Boston Harbor, with lightning cracking overhead, Vaisberg missed his first fish—but then hooked a 42-inch bass, in 6 feet of water.
The lightning was constant, and then it started to rain. On his second eel, Vaisberg hooked a 46-½ inch striper. “At that point, I was already satisfied,” he says. “I was thinking that the fish would take third place, and it just seemed suicidal to keep going.” Vaisberg beached the boat and took refuge in a sushi bar, of all places. An hour later, he attempted to relaunch. “The surf was still pretty hairy, and I couldn’t get my rudder down. I got pushed back up onto the beach, and on my second attempt, I rolled the kayak. I got beat up pretty good, but I finally made it out.”
He fished for an hour without a strike—then hooked a 30-inch striper. Thirty minutes later, now out of eels, he cast a 13-inch Hogy Jiggin’ toward the beach from his position about 25 yards off the breakers. A big striper hit the lure and rose to the surface before taking off. “It ran me all up and down the beach toward the deeper water for 10 or 15 minutes,” Vaisberg says, “before I finally got it boat side, hand over hand, and got two hands in its mouth.” The fish was longer than his 49-inch paddle, so he hailed a nearby angler who helped him measure and photograph the catch before Vaisberg released it. At 51 inches, the striper likely weighed between 48 and 55 pounds.
“I had a fish on during the most intense part of the storm, and I was thinking to myself that if somebody could take a picture of this—rod bent, lightning flashing overhead—it would be the most epic photo ever,” Vaisberg says. And as if catching a tournament-winning trophy, in 6 feet of water, 25 yards off the beach, in a lightning storm wasn’t exciting enough, at one point Vaisberg thought that he might’ve had something dangerous on the line. “It crossed my mind that it might be a shark,” he says. Having misplaced his headlamp, he had to rely on lightning flashes to illuminate and identify the fish as he brought it toward the boat.
“It was definitely one of the top three adventures on the water for me.” Vaisberg says. “I’ve had tournaments where I was even luckier, but this one was a lot more memorable.”
Photographs by Elias Vaisberg