Bangor Daily News outdoors contributor Kevin McKay shows off the first striped bass he ever caught some 20 years ago. Later that day, he hooked onto the "big one." Credit: Courtesy of Kevin McKay

Learning something new can be tough, and oftentimes there’s a huge learning curve. Learning to fly fish for stripers is no exception, but we all have to start somewhere.

You need bigger rods, floating line, sink-tip lines and intermittent lines, heavier leaders and flies that can be larger or have dumbbell eyes. And you need to know when to fish these lines and flies.

So when I got an invite to go striper fishing for the first time, I had no clue what to bring. At the time, the biggest fly rod I owned was a 10-foot, 7-weight rod with a floating line that I used for steelhead trout. Not exactly what I needed for striper fishing.

The week prior to this invite, my dad and some buddies from work entered a striper tournament in Portland. They got knocked out of first place at the last second and that left them fired up and ready to try for stripers again.

I was at the beginning of my fly fishing journey and thought it would be cool to catch one on a fly. I had no clue what I was doing and wouldn’t until a few years later when I got invited to go fishing with Jim from Eldredge Bros. Fly Shop in Cape Neddick, but that’s another story for another day.

Keep in mind this was more than 20 years ago, so small details are mostly lost, but there are a few parts of this story that stand out. I remember the boat had a big V8 engine so it was a good ocean boat.

I remember that I was the only one fly fishing and everyone else was throwing live mackerel. Most of my casts were retrieved with a clump of seaweed on my fly.

After too many casts to count, I got extremely frustrated, grabbed a rod with a mackerel, threw it out and caught my first striper. It was a keeper and I remember it was the most amazing tasting fish I had ever had.

Fortunately, it was the first and only striper I kept. What’s interesting is, I remember many of my first fish on a fly rod, but I do not remember catching this one — but I do have a picture to prove it.

The best part of this trip was when I caught “the big one.” I grabbed the last dead mackerel, attached it to my line and threw it out as far as I could. I made a comment about catching a giant as it hit the water and, much to our surprise, something swirled on my bait immediately.

Before any of us had time to react, the giant started ripping out line! We all were shocked as the reel was zinging and the fish was heading for the open ocean. The boat engine started and the chase was on.

My dad and I were sitting on the bow of the boat looking at each other in amazement, laughing like little kids with no idea how big this fish was. The boat captain had a hard time keeping up with it so we figured it was huge.

As the chase heated up, a sailboat approached from our left. The captain told us we were done at this point. Sailboat keels run deep below the water’s surface, which means my line would be clipped when it passes over it. ”Turn! Turn!” I yelled as I frantically waved my arms.

Much to everyone’s dismay, the sailboat turned and cleared my line. The fight was on once again.

Shortly after the sailboat turned, I was able to start reeling in line. But my tug-of-war with this giant wasn’t over and our concern was the fight had been going on long enough that the hook might pull out. As you fight fish, the hook can make a bigger hole and pull out. This was in the back of my mind as the reel zinged out line once again.

So here I am, 28 years old, sitting on the bow of this boat with my dad fighting a fish for more than 20 minutes. I waved off the sailboat, we are miles from where we started, and I am finally bringing in line. The line is tight, and I am gaining on the fish.

I reel and the fish is reaching the surface. It’s tired and done. As we get closer and the line comes to the top of the water, the head of a seal pops up with my mackerel in its mouth. Turns out my giant fish wasn’t really a fish, rather a small sea mammal.

We laughed in disbelief and hugged each other in support of a job well done. I definitely wasn’t expecting a seal to be at the end of my line, but not many people can say they caught a seal.

Needless to say, I got more than I bargained for that day. Although things turned out drastically different than I had anticipated, I will not soon forget that trip.

Get out there and throw a fly. Who knows, maybe you’ll get more than you bargained for.

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Kevin McKay, Outdoors contributor

Maine native Kevin McKay, a lifelong fisherman, lives on the banks of the Penobscot River north of Bangor. He is a Master Maine Guide who since 2002 has operated Maine Fishing Adventures, where he strives...