"It was, and still is, the largest striper I have ever landed on a fly rod."
Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Kevin McKay holds up a 40-inch striped bass that he caught in 2007 fishing with a "Grocery Pollock" fly tied by his then 7-year-old son, Tait. Credit: Courtesy of Kevin McKay

Years ago I was at my friend Jim’s house, and stuck in the door frame were a crazy amount of pollock flies. Not one or two but more than 20. And when I asked him why, he told me they had each caught a striper over 40 inches.  This lit a fire in me to catch my own striper over 40 inches.

That next week I was in my office tying flies when my oldest son, Tait, came in and asked what I was doing. I happened to be tying a baitfish pattern for stripers.

I told him it was a fly my friend Jim designed called the “Grocery Pollock” to imitate pollock. I explained that I had an upcoming striper trip with him and needed to tie a few in preparation for it.

Tait, who was 7 at the time, decided he wanted to tie one as well, so for the next hour he bounced between tying his fly and playing with his brother. It wasn’t a very productive day of tying, but I was left with two Grocery Pollocks to fish.

Soon I headed south to meet Jim. It was time to go striper fishing. I stayed with him the night before we fished and spent most of the night catching up and sharing a few Coronas.

Life is busy, which meant we didn’t see each other much, so when we did it was easy to be up until all hours of the night. This time, it was midnight and our 4 a.m. departure time was quickly approaching.

With a sense of urgency we started getting rods ready, adding new leaders and picking out our flies for the morning. I held up my two freshly tied pollock flies and asked Jim, “which one?” I told him I tied one and Tait tied the other. He said they both looked good and to just choose one. Tait’s fly is the one I went with. With Jim’s approval, I tied it on.

Morning came way too quickly, but we were going fishing and not to work, so it hurt a little less. There is nothing like being on the ocean in the early hours of the day. The warmth and smell of salt in the morning is something I am drawn to. It was still dark as we launched Jim’s boat and headed out of the harbor in hopes of catching a big one.

We cast our 8 and 9 weight fly rods into the waves crashing on the shoreline, oftentimes watching the stripers chase our flies. As I was stripping in my fly, a 28-inch striper ate the fly, and after a short fight I landed the fish. We snapped a couple of quick photos and released the fish. Jim and I were all smiles as we high-fived one another. I had just landed a striper on a fly my 7-year-old son tied! At that point, I didn’t need to catch another fish that day, but, of course, we kept fishing.

Cast and strip, cast and strip. Suddenly my line went tight, and I was instantly into my backing. The fish was headed to the open ocean. Jim told me to hold tight as he started the motor and followed the fish.

As we got closer to the fish, I reeled in line. I got the fish close to the boat and yelled for Jim to grab it. With a chuckle he told me to relax — the fish wasn’t done. The fish went around the motor, headed for the bow, then abruptly changed direction, blowing up my rod and snapping it right above the handle.

I threw the reel at Jim’s feet and grabbed the line as the rod slid toward the fish. I walked the fish up around the bow and back to Jim. It took off again with the line flying through my fingers. The fish finally tired, allowing me to hand-line it back to Jim.

He yelled for me to grab the fish so he could steer us back to safety. During the fight, we lost track of where we were and were only minutes from being thrown into the rocks. I held the fish in the water while Jim motored the boat back into the open ocean.

I sat on the bench and Jim grabbed the fish. I will never forget the massive size and weight of the fish as he pulled it up into the boat. It was shocking. The striper taped out at 40 inches!

It was, and still is, the largest striper I have ever landed on a fly rod. It was a fish I will never forget, not because it’s my largest to date but because my son, Tait, had tied the fly that caught it. That made it a fish of a lifetime.

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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...