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ess, and gone a'fishing. - Izaak Walton
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“It was a dark and stormy night…..” I guess that a work of fiction about surfcasting might start with these words. Given the fact that fishermen are notorious for stretching the truth, many fishing stories that appear in magazines contain lots of fiction! However, there are very few novels or short stories that deal with any kind of fishing let alone surfcasting. The main novel that comes to mind is “The Shining Tides” by Win Brooks. Interwoven with several plots (including murder) this book is the story of a huge striped bass named Roccus. He weighs at least a hundred pounds and he struggles with killer whales, dolphins and giant lobsters, as well as with his human stalkers including several surf fishermen. Another fishing novel is Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”. This novel is filled with symbolism as the old man battles with a giant marlin and later with sharks. The “old man” may be the author himself struggling with the forces of aging which none of us can avoid. Another Hemingway short story is “The Big Two-Hearted River” a short story about a Michigan man who returns from the First World War trying to deal with the horrors of war and the suicide of his best friend. He decides to camp by the river of his youth and fish. The waters begin the healing process.
The ultimate “fishing” story is “Moby Dick”. Captain Ahab searches for the great White Whale to take his revenge on the beast for having bitten off his leg. Norman Maclean wrote “A River Runs Through It” about a Montana family which is bound together by the love of fly fishing. One of the characters says: “All existence fades with the sounds of the river and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it… I am haunted by waters.” All of us who fish the surf are haunted by waters. Each of us should explore why we fish. Are we trying to prove something to ourselves? To others? What are we seeking? Someone once said: “When I am in church, I think about fishing and when I am fishing, I think about God”. Whether we are seeking something beyond ourselves or not, once bitten by the surf fishing bug, we are filled with a passion that others may not understand. Perhaps that is why there are few works of fiction dealing with fishing. Our passion is hard to put into words. In this special edition of the Surfcaster’s Journal, we present a short story by Richard Troxler about two surf fishermen. We hope you enjoy it.
-Roger Martin May,2011
Surfcasterâ€™ s Journal Issue #7 May 2011 14-Geared Up 37-The Rod Corner - Caruso 43-Fly Fishing Update - Papciak 53-Plugaholics Anonymous - Anderson 65-Beach To Table - Chase 72-Hatteras - Malat 101-Holy Mackerel! - Muller 111-Baitfish Profiles: Bunker - Skinner 135-Fly Fishing The Worm Hatch - Porreca 145-Last Man Standing - Troxler 192-Contributors editor in chief head photographer: Zeno Hromin art director/garfunkel: Tommy Corrigan head copy editor: Roger Martin boss of the head copy editor: Marie Martin rod guru: Lou Caruso executive chef: Andrew Chase plug guru: Dave Anderson fly guru: John Papciak cover photo: Zeno Hromin advertising and other inquiries firstname.lastname@example.org Surfcaster's Journal is published bi-monthly by Surfcasting LLC. Publisher reserves the right to accept or reject any advertising submitted for publication. Surfcasting LLC and Surfcaster's Journal assume no responsibility for errors made except to republish in future issue any advertisement having an error. Use of this material without express written permission of Surfcasting LLC and Surfcaster's Journal is strictly prohibited.
© 2011 Pure Fishing, Inc.
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Have you seen the recent incarnation of a “must-have-every-gadget” surfcaster on the beach lately? Camera on his head, phone in a Ziploc, tide watch on his wrist, iPod in his ears. The only thing that is missing is a peanut butter sandwich. Yes, we understand that today’s angler is very much "wired" to his Facebook page and his internet forums on which, under fake identity, he posts bogus reports. But let's be honest, electronics and surfcasting are not exactly a great match. Water is the enemy. We are known to carry a lot of stuff with us too. Nikon DSLR camera, HD camcorders and yes, a DROID so our wives can call us to remind us to bring milk on the way home. This is a lot of stuff to lug around and we usually use a large waterproof backpack when we are doing our videos. But most of the time we travel light, with just a cell phone and our truck keys and occasionally a peanut butter sandwich, and when we do, we use a PFG Ditch Bag from Columbia Sportswear Company. We have long been fans of Columbia's clothing and footwear. Here is one company that actually caters to outdoorsmen, something we have always appreciated. Their Ditch bag is made out of 100% nylon. We like that it features a very strong Ziploc enclosure in addition to a roll top and a buckle to make it completely waterproof. It also has two belt loops so you can wear it on your belt, over your shoulder or just carry it in your hand. We would not recommend you swim with it, or any other dry bag for that matter.
Not only will they blow up like a balloon and alter your balance in the water but the chance of pricking it with your hook or the spine from a fish is a real possibility. We would instead suggest you leave it on the beach behind you and for once, stop worrying if the clouds gather and rain starts. Its small size, 7" x 7" x 3" is perfect for carrying essential equipment on your fishing trip. The really neat feature is a transparent window through which you can see who is sending you text messages without removing the phone from the bag. Just think, now you can post fake fishing reports without ever removing a phone from your Ditch Bag. How great is that!
When do you know you are holding something special in your hand? No, not that you pervert, we are a family fishing magazine! What we are talking about is a fishing lure. Wood, plastic, or rubber! When do you say to yourself, “I have to get me some of these bad boys”? If you are like us, you’ve probably seen a fisherman standing next to you clean your clock with a specific lure. You just knew it was the bait and not the fisherman who was responsible for your misery. On our recent trip to Costa Rica we used Gulp Minnow Grubs to catch a myriad of bottom species, simply by impaling them on a plain lead head and dropping the jig to the bottom. We tried different baits but Gulp out fished everything we brought with us ten to one. Now you might ask how does this apply to using it on our local species. We’re glad you asked. During the recent seminar series we conducted over the winter we had chance to talk to some of the most successful surfcasters of this generation. Some of them used Gulp on scup with great success believe it or not, but the eye opening quote came from the well respected author of A Season on the Edge, John Skinner, who fishes out of a kayak when he is not walking the beaches. According to him, he stopped using bait for fluke and instead he uses Berkeley Gulp Alive 3-inch Minnow Grubs and 4-inch Swimming Mullets coupled with a Spro bucktail. And for tube and worm trolling from the kayak he used Gulp 6 inch sandworms. Not only are they as effective but you can catch multiple fish on a same bait!
We know many of you spend a lot of time targeting fluke from the surf, and more of you are traveling abroad to target tropical species each year. Not only that but some of you are targeting sea bass from the rocks or chasing after weakfish and stripers under the cover of darkness. The Gulp baits come in many shapes and sizes, all impregnated with a scent designed for a fish to grab and not let go. Not only that but you can store it back in a ziploc bag after you are done using it. Try that with bunker! We think you should pick up some Gulp baits for your next trip and give them a shot. We always knew they worked but we did not know just how well. Now we do and so do you. We just revoked all your excuses.
Gear Review Update On occasion we will give you an update on products we featured in the past, either because there is something new to report or God forbid, the product we reviewed has lost its luster. Hey, it can happen.
We already wrote of our affinity for these lures in the 2010 Holiday Gift Guide issue of the magazine. What prompted us to write an update when nothing has changed in the lure? The Answer! We went to Costa Rica! Yes, we have all seen the picture of giant roosterfish, jacks and houndfish on the internet websites. And yes, we have caught plenty of stripers and bluefish on them at home. But we have never seen fish go gaga over a lure like they did on our trip to Costa Rica. Skipjack tuna, spanish mackerel, big jacks, roosters, five foot long houndfish and even small grouper rose from the bottom to eat it. Let's face it, when you are standing on the beach, you have a limited angle of vision to see what your lure is doing. Couple that with rough surf and sandy water and you are
lucky to see anything at all. But cast the darn thing off beachside cliffs in the tropics and you can see how it moves in the water. Watch it dance with only a straight retrieve and you will say that this lure should be in your bag whenever you think of tossing surface lures. Funny lure with a funny name? Yes, but one that catches a lot of fish!
We all know these guys make butt kicking shades and been doing it for a long time. What's new for 2011? We recently got to try their newest shades called Fantail. Costa Fantail feature a “360 degree co-molded technology” which is a fancy phrase for a no-slip Hydrolite™ lining along the entire interior of the frame to help keep the sunglasses comfortably in place all day. The Fantail is designed to give a 360 degree view which means they cover the whole range of view. They are available in turquoise or black frame colors. Couple that with Costa’s 580™ lenses and you will be the coolest cat on the block this summer. The Fintail shades are now available in either glass or polycarbonate with colors that include gray, copper, and amber for the Costa 580P, with the same colors, plus blue, green and silver mirror options in 580G model.
You already know that the GoPro camera is something we never leave home without. Stunning picture quality, 1080 High Definition video, bulletproof waterproof caseâ€Ś. what is not to like? Oh, you've heard that we managed to break ours, didn't you? Did you know that when we were tikes our grandfather told our mother that the only toy we should have is a steel ball? Because we broke everything else... The truth is embarrassing as it sounds. We dropped our camera on the ceramic floor of our hotel bathroom while charging it. But we got another one and this time we got one with a new feature. It is something that we have been asking for from the first day we saw the stunning videos that are captured by this tiny camera. The new feature? An attachable LCD screen! Seriously, did you really expect the kid who played with only steel balls would able to capture good video without the ability to frame the photo or review it? Yes, we are not embarrassed to admit it, we made our share of blunders with this camera, from pushing the wrong button to aiming it in wrong places. If there is one issue we had with this camera besides the lack of an LCD screen was that it had too many features! Different video modes, single and sequenced pictures, you name it, Go Pro has it. But all we really wanted was to get on a rock, attach it to our giant head with a staple gun and get some unbelievable footage. Ok, we are kidding about a staple gun but we are serious about everything else. It took us long time to realize we can set the camera on "one button operation". We would have done this earlier and saved ourselves a lot of headaches if we just read the instruction booklet. Then again maybe we wouldn't have ended up in Maine on our last trip to Florida from New York if we listened to the wife and asked for directions...
If you ever hesitated buying this camera because of the lack of an LCD , you have no more excuses. Itâ€™s as simple as plugging the LCD Backpack on the back of the camera. If it does not power up immediately you will need to download firmware to your SD card and insert it into your GoPro. Visit their website for a really simple video of how to do it. Hey, how hard can it be if we managed to get it working on our first try? The LCD Backpack comes with 4 different backdoor housings, 2 waterproof and 2 nonwaterproof. Clip these on in place of your existing backdoor cover and Hollywood here you come! You can play back photos and videos directly on your HD Hero camera. You
can frame your scene and know exactly what you are capturing. You can fast forward, fast reverse and photo playback all with one button operation. There is even an integrated speaker with volume control. All for seventy bucks or so. So if you have a GoPro, go get yourself an LCD BacPak and if you are in the market for a new 1080 HD camera with 180 degree wide angle lenses, you won't find anything even comparable. GoPro is what we used when we started this magazine and what we use today. Only it has gotten better. One purchase we know you won't regret.
Rod holders for spinning and conventional gear come in all shapes and sizes, but options for schlepping a “rigged and ready” fly rod to and from the beach are extremely limited. At least one of us here at Surfcaster’s Journal had a habit of throwing the rod into the back of the truck, where it bounced around with tons of other fishing gear. And that same person (who will remain nameless) eventually lost his favorite nine weight when a deep scratch from transportation caused the rod to blow up while leaning into a fish. Thank god for the “unconditional replacement” policy. I Fly, a small company located in Norfolk MA, has designed a rod holder that does an admirable job of securing fly rods for either boat or beach buggy. The rod holder consists of two sections of impact resistant PVC, lined with cushioning material. The top section can be rotated 180 degrees to close and secure the rod. We have used these holders extensively for boat fishing, and can report that rods remained secure day-in and day-out, despite many hours of bouncing along in choppy bays and open ocean swells. There is no reason why these rod holders would not work for a beach buggy - which is precisely what we intend to do this year.
The design of the holder suggests it will hold a variety of rod sizes. We have safely stored â€œone handedâ€? rods in the nine to twelve weight range (nine and ten weight rods being most common for Northeast inshore applications). We have not tested these holders for spey or switch rods. The rod holders are sold with a variety of mounting options, including a wood mounting kit, which can be fitted to a cooler or rod rack. They can also be sold with oversized suction cups, which can be fitted to a car door window. There is even a mounting option for kayaks. Kits are sold for up to four rod holders, and prices range from $35 to $115, depending on the number of rod holders and the mounting configuration. Rod holders come in white PVC. One thing we would like to see in the future is the same design in stainless or aluminum, to better match the existing hardware on boats or beach buggies.
When the fine folks from Toyota offered us a brand spanking new red Tundra truck with less than 700 miles on the odometer for a week, we were floored. They obviously recognized that readers of Surfcaster's Journal Magazine are a unique bunch. Let's be honest, every one of you either owns a 4x4, is looking to buy one or is dreaming of owning one. But give us a brand new, kick ass truck for a week? To the guys who can't tie a knot without entangling our fingers in the line? We accepted their offer with both hands and drove it on the road, rocks and sand. It didn't take long until we realized this might be the best truck our fanny has ever had a pleasure of sitting in. Let's start with what we liked. Grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair because this might take awhile. One of the most important things for a surfcaster who runs his truck on sand and over the rocks is ground clearance. No worries there mate, as Tundra has the highest ground clearance in its class. You think an extra inch or two does not make a difference? Are you going to answer this without consulting your wife? We didn't think so. What we do know is if you drove the Tundra instead of your current truck that rock probably wouldn't have ripped your axle off your wheels. Yes, an inch or two can make a big difference in more ways than one. With the price of gas hovering around four bucks a gallon you probably want a beach vehicle with good gas mileage. The Toyota Tundra equipped with either the 270-hp 4.0L V6 or 310-hp 4.6L V8 engine gets a very respectable 19 miles per gallon. You
won't have to listen to your better half whine about how much gas you are burning by going to the beach. This is a good thing! The bad thing is once she sits in the cab, your new Tundra might become a minivan on steroids and instead of you spending nights on the beach, she will want to drive the Tundra to the mall.
Our test truck came with a 4.6L DOHC 32V i-Force V8 engine, an engine that felt so manly, we did not shave for a whole week to fit the part. We were very surprised at the acceleration on the highway and how quickly and without much effort the Tundra went from 0-60. You will never feel underpowered again when getting on the highway ramp. On the sand the Tundra is a beast, handling the sand and cornering like a champ. We doubt anyone will ever get buried to the axles in this truck if they air down properly. We know many of you like to carry the yaks on top of the truck or tow a small boat. The Tundra has a 6-speed Electronically Controlled Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i), sequential shift mode, uphill/downhill shift logic and TOW/HAUL mode (which comes with 4.6L and 5.7L V8 models with Tow Package. You will never feel under gunned on the highway or on the beach. By the way, we should mention that this truck is a chick magnet and with a five o'clock shadow on our face we had no shortage of fans of the opposite sex winking at us as we drove by. We are not automotive experts so we won't talk much about the options because this truck has more of them than we can fit in our review. For starters the standard equipment includes vehicle stability control, antilock brakes, 18 inch wheels, double wishbone suspension, trailer sway control, automatic limited slip differential, traction control, tire pressure monitoring system, 40/20/40 split and fold seats, dual zone climate controls, remote keyless entry, power lock/doors/mirrors, cruise control, 4 wheel drive on demand, 6 speed automatic transmission with sequential shift , CD player and much more. What about airbags you ask? They are everywhere! Not only for driver but for all passengers!
Our Tundra came with some optional equipment like a tow package, sliding rear view window, chrome tube steps, bed liner, a cold weather package that included heated mirrors and much more. We know what you are thinking: â€œYes, that is all nice BUT how many cup holders does it haveâ€?? Have no fear, our sleep deprived friends, the middle of the front seat folds nicely and provides for not two or three but all together 4 drink holders and that is only in the front! There are more cup holders in the back and the leg room in the back is not bad either. Not that you ever let anyone sit there. Where the hell would you put your lures, slimy eels and stinky waders? We should mention that our Double Cab Tundra had more horsepower and more leg room up front than most comparable trucks and we loved the fact that all four doors opened forward instead rearward aka "suicide style" like some other trucks. We can envision a cab on the top with bed in the back for crashing after those all-nighters in the surf and a cooler rack up front for hiding that giant striper from prying eyes.
We simply adored the rearview mirrors and control panel but by far the most appealing design feature of this bad boy was a huge windshield which will make you believe you are sitting in the cockpit of an airplane and not a truck! Now that we told you what we do like you might be wondering what we did not like. Two things actually. We dislike that lunatic Muammar Gaddafi is causing oil prices to go through the roof which will make anyone think twice about gas consumption. And the fact that after a week of driving a gorgeous truck with a "new truck smell" we had to return to our old, beat up truck with the stale eel stench.
We can't personally test every product on the market we would like to let you know about. So occasionally we will feature guest reviews by respected surfcasters. Today we have a pleasure of featuring review of one of the most respected anglers in the surf today, Manny Moreno.
Years ago a couple of friends recommended Spiderwire Stealth and I have been using it ever since. At the time, I was shopping for a new braided line that could put up with the abuse my fishing style demands. I had been using a line that started out too stiff when new and became brittle after a short time, causing unexpected break-offs when I needed it most. Before switching to Stealth, a great night of fishing would have been spectacular if the three biggest fish had not broken me off. I was ready for a new fishing line. I immediately noticed two things the first time I spooled up with Stealth. First, the line was thinner than my previous brand allowing me to use a higher breaking test without sacrificing casting distance. Second, the brand new line was quite soft coming off the spool. Soft, thin, strong. This would translate into a line that casts quite well from the start but how would it hold up abrasion and wear?
The light surf rods that mainly come out for fishing sand beaches, I spooled with 30# Stealth. The medium rods that get used on rocky beaches and jetties, I spooled with 50#. The 50# line quickly proved itself when a very large striper wrapped the line around a rock. I was able to land what would turn out to be my biggest fish of the year and keep on fishing. Since then, the toughness of the line has proven itself over and over again. I’ve even spooled up my little kayak outfits with 20# Stealth for light duty knowing that if something better came along, I’d still stand a good chance. Over the years, as new fishing lines come to market, I’ve tried other fishing lines but I keep going back to Spiderwire Stealth. I haven’t found a reason to switch to anything else.
REEL SEAT NO REEL SEAT
I recently spoke at Zeno’s surfcasting seminar. It was a great night. After the seminar, Zeno said a few of the attendees had expressed interest in a topic that I did not cover. Reel seats vs. no reel seat on a surf rod. Surfcasters are very passionate about their preference. I did a survey on that very question recently and as I thought, the answers fell into 3 categories. 1 – Use a reel seat 2 – No Reel Seat (Tape reel on) 3 – Plate reel seat (either permanent or taped on) The answers were pretty well divided. Here are my thoughts on the subject: (Reel Seats) I personally like the ability to easily take my reel off for service or to get it out of sight. Some of the down sides of a reel seat are if you fish the open beaches and get sand packed in there and don’t clean that fishing rod after every trip or close to it, you are gonna have one hell of a time getting that reel off come fall… The other down side I see, is guys try to tighten the knurl so tight they strip it leaving the reel to spin.
(No Reel Seat) Upside is reel can be positioned up or down the rod for different conditions in the surf. Downsides, you better get that reel taped up correctly or it will wobble, driving you nuts! Once taped on itâ€™s a P. I. T. A. to get off every time you need to remove the reel. (Plate Reel Seat) This is an interesting one. There is a love/hate relationship among surfcasters with these. They either love them and have them on all their rods or hate them and want nothing to do with them. I have had a few folks that had me change out their regular reel seats and install one of these. Most are open beach fisherman tired of dealing with sand. They are easier to keep free from sand. These, I usually wrap in with thread and epoxy and they are permanent. Some guys say they wobble but this can be fixed with a few wraps of electrical tape. They do take some getting used to and it feels as if the reel sits higher on the blank. I have small hands and these feel awkward to me, but thatâ€™s just me.
Well, there you have it. I believe there is no right answer. This is a personal preference and to each his own as they say Tight Lines, Lou
By the time you read this, we
Spring How Soon is Now?
should be well into the Spring Run - at least all locations south and west of Montauk. Like many readers, I grew up reading about the “50 degree rule” – that belief that bass would only take a bait or lure when the water temperature hit that magical 50 degree mark. I wish it were that easy. I’ve found fish eager to take a lure or fly while the water was still in the 40s. In other locations, I could not buy a fish until the water was almost 60. It is tempting to make predictions on when fish will show, based on unseasonable air temperatures in late winter or early spring. The most ambitious among us might make bold statements like “This year’s run of striped bass will be approximately two weeks behind schedule.” Granted, this all seems very logical – but only when seeing the world through the eyes of a warm-blooded mammal that spends most of its life indoors.
Rain or shine, hot or cold, I’ve actually found the calendar to be a much better indicator of spring migrations, all things being considered. In fact, the consistency by which fish show, always within a few calendar days, year after year, still has me perplexed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still focus my energies in the early spring at dusk, after a warm day, especially if that also coincides with an early evening outgoing tide. The strategy involves fishing the bays down-tide of a mud flat, which has hopefully absorbed enough heat that day to create a warm water outflow. But I would be foolish not to acknowledge that herring, bunker, squid and shad have likely taken up residence weeks ago, when the water was much colder. How early the first bass arrive in your area is a wild guess, but I urge you to begin putting in some serious time on the water, if you are not doing so already. Flies that I carry in early spring vary considerably. I will carry small deceivers and surf candies to mimic sand eels and spearing, but I also carry flies that “match the lures” that I have had repeated success with at this time of year. Unless I am convinced I need to “match the hatch,” which implies the fish are being very selective, I will start out with a four to five inch deceiver or epoxy. Like its lure counterparts (the 5 inch redfin and hellcat), these flies have worked in the early season on fish large and small.
My best advice is to test your own waters early and often, and challenge conventional wisdom as to when the fish will show, what they will be feeding on, and what they will take. Let me elaborate. It was early May 2004. I arrived in Montauk on a wind-swept Saturday afternoon. By all accounts, it was much too early to take things seriously on the South Fork. Most casters, the few that were even giving it an honest try, were primarily throwing small bucktails to first wave “rats” on the south-facing sand beaches. There had been reports of an odd “keeper” here and there, but I was totally discouraged to see the beaches completely void of fishermen on this particular afternoon. I wish I could offer you some rare insight for what motivated me to go fishing that night. It was this simple: (1) I had the night free – a bit of a rarity for a young dad with small children, (2) there were reports of a couple of fish in the ten to twelve pound class reported, just enough to pique my interest, and, (3) Plain and simple, I was just itching to swim out to a rock in my wetsuit. I pulled the wetsuit over my shivering body, duct-taped the legs and sleeves shut, and loaded a single row plug bag with larger plugs and darters. Yes, I know, this is a fly column, we will get back to that. As I swam out to a rock on this moonless night, I got a blast of frigid water over my head. This was not 50 degrees. “Oh crap,” I muttered under my breath, as the water gave me a brain-freeze. “What they hell was I thinking?”
As I pulled myself up onto a rock, I heard what appeared to be small fish jumping out there in the darkness, just out of my line-of-sight. Then I saw a large swirl, within 50 feet of me, then another. Was it a submerged rock? A seal? One thing I knew for sure, no way in hell was that a swirl from a bass, not a fish of that size, and certainly not this early. I put on a 2 ounce wooden â€œbottle-darterâ€? type lure that I was growing rather fond of after success with this lure throughout the 2003 season. No other special reason for the lure choice, just a guess that if there was anything even slightly better than ten pounds, this lure might be large enough to generate some interest. I had three strikes over the next 45 minutes, but all three strikes resulted in fish landed.
When I hooked into the first fish, I didn’t know what to make of it. Why couldn’t I turn this fish? Was my drag too loose? When I got the fish close enough to see it with my dive light, I expected to see a fish foul hooked, but instead I saw a large silhouette. My first thought was “40,” but common sense held me in check. I had no scale, so I tried to estimate the length against my fishing rod. My dive light was flashing in every direction as I struggled with the fish, but there was no fear of being seen. There were no trucks in the lot, not a single truck on any of the beaches, and almost certainly no one else fishing anywhere near me. After estimating the fish at shy of 50 inches, or so I thought, I let it go. About ten minutes later I had another fish, equally as impressive in taking line, and visibly larger than the first. Could I really be looking at a 40? At this time of year? Curiosity got the best of me - I ran a rope through the gill and out the mouth, and clipped the rope back onto my belt. I heard a few splashes almost a rod length in front of me, and I made a few underhand casts to no avail. Just before the tide ran out, I had my third and final strike on the same plug. By the time I got this fish in, I was sweating under my wetsuit. I set the fish free quickly after confirming it was larger than the one I had on my stringer. I will spare you the suspense. The fish I kept was weighed the next morning by Vinny Sorbal (the previous owner of the Montauk tackle shop now known as Paulie’s). The shop was empty and Vinny had to get his dial scale out from storage. He was not expecting a need for this scale just yet. The bass took the scale to just under 45 pounds. There was much to celebrate that morning, but in all honesty, this was very humbling experience – this lesson required me to re-consider everything I thought I knew about early spring patterns. Why did large fish move in as a school, and slip by the gauntlet of fishermen to the west, only to make landfall in Montauk? What were they feeding on?
I explained to a handful of Montauk’s local surfcasters that I would be cleaning the fish shortly, and invited each a chance to opine as to what this fish might have been feeding on. Squid, bunker, flounder and herring were all cited. In the end, Joe Gaviola (of Gaviloa’s Market) had the winning answer – Hickory Shad. There was no shortage of migration theories, but Joe further reasoned that these bass might have come in from off shore, perhaps trailing the squid that had recently appeared in local waters. We will never know why these fish appeared, but at least a couple of surfcasters connected with more large fish in the same location over the next handful of tides. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that I am fairly confident these fish would have taken a fly, had I swam out that night with a fly rod, instead of the 10 foot Kennedy Fisher. These large bass were certainly close enough, and not overly selective since my darter in no way resembled the huge hickory shad that were being chased. For obvious reasons, large flies and 40 pound shock leader material always have a place in my fly wallet, especially in early spring. Perhaps this is also why I am not so quick to tie on a small fly (or plug), even if it is early May.
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plugaholics ano nymou s dave anderson
It’s time now. There’s no more waiting—no more in-your-head exercises while the snow flies outside. Everything is in the moment now, every vacation day calculated for optimal fishing conditions (and some vacation days cancelled because of a predicted storm—wow, that’s a tough one to explain to the boss)! The spring season feeds us a steady diet of good baits and hordes of migrating stripers and as the wood plug revolution sinks its hooks further into the fabric of the surfcaster more people are jumping on the wagon and more people are being initiated into the world of dropped trophies.
Catching a big striper on a wood plug is not easy. Everything in this puzzle is against you. If you’ve lost a lot of fish on metal lips you’re not doing anything wrong—you’re doing it right—you’ve done the hard part in that you’ve gotten the fish to eat your plug. Losing fish is just the nature of the beast. I mean, think about it; you’re pulling one way with no stretch 50-pound braid, the fish is pulling another, your hooks are small compared to the jaws you are trying to stick them into and then you have the plug. This balky piece of wood is really the problem in the equation—don’t fool yourself into thinking that 12/0 hooks or overpriced Owner Stinger trebles are going to save you much heartache—in fact let me save it for you. Big hooks affect the action and those Owner hooks rust like a 1984 Datsun. Maybe if you’re one of those guys who painstaking rinses his plugs in fresh water after every trip those glitzy hooks might last a little longer, but when I get home my only focus is sleep and I want my hooks to love me no matter how badly I neglect them. Back to the lecture at hand. If your hooks are sharp then you already have a leg up. I prefer what most of you prefer: VMC trebles in 3/0, 4/0 and sometimes 5/0. They last pretty well and are cheap enough that they can be replaced when they show signs of rust or wear—sharpening is not necessary. Something that you might not agree with me on is that I favor the lighter wired VMCs (the ones you find on most custom plugs) I see a lot of guys replacing these with the 6X trebles. Sure that heavy wire is less likely to bend, but you have to set the hook like you’re trying to pull-start a flooded lawn mower and they also tear a larger hole which is easier for the fish to shake a hook out of. Thinner wire penetrates more easily—would you rather get your next flu shot with a hypodermic needle or a 10-penny nail? Enough said.
Now allow me to dispel another myth for you. Single hooks on the backs of most plugs are a detriment to your hookup to landing ratio. Exceptions are just about any plug with just one set of trebles on the belly. Let’s use a Beachmaster Danny as the example—one of my favorite plugs bar none—like the originals they feature two sets of trebles on the belly, that’s more than enough hook. Like I said above, if you’re losing fish on metal lips you’re not doing anything wrong. Adding more hooks is only going to make things worse—in fact I am experimenting this year with using just one hook on my metal lips, I’ll let you know how it works out. Here’s why more hooks equal more lost fish. Start with a Danny rigged the way I prefer with two cut 3/0 VMCs and a flag on the tail. When a fish takes that plug down, if both hooks stick they may actually stop each other from fully penetrating. Then when the battle begins the hooks work against each other as the fish swims off and shakes its head, veering left and right. The plug is twisting between the force you are exerting and the power of the fish. With two hooks stuck in the jaw, they very often nullify each other’s most useful attribute, the fact that they are shaped like a hook. Because they are impeding full penetration, they essentially become small harpoons tangled loosely in the jaw of the fish. In a perfect hook set, you want the point to go in one side and come out the other to take full advantage of the shape of the treble, when two work against each other, this is far less likely to happen and it results in more lost fish. Ever feel one hook pop loose when you’re fighting a fish but you stay buttoned with the other hook? This is a result of these opposing forces and you know as well as I do probably 80 percent of the times that happens, you lose the fish less than a minute later.
Add in a big tail hook and it gets even sketchier. I agree that if the tail hook is the only hook the fish grabs, you have a better than average chance of landing the fish—big gap, strong hook. It’s a good scenario. But because predatory fish shoot for the head, that trailing tail hook usually finds the flesh on the outside of the head of the bass. Now you have the forward treble in the jaw, and the tail hook outside the mouth somewhere on the cheek or gill plate. This creates a bad scenario as the plug basically becomes a crowbar. Now that the plug is stuck flat against the face of the striper and two hooks are holding it solidly in place—the plug can’t move and therefore it basically acts as a lever. As you pull back and the fish surges further out and away from shore, all of the energy is transferred to the head of the plug and these forces are multiplied by the leverage created as the body of the plug pries against the fulcrum created by the delinquent tail hook. Add in a tight drag, powerful rod and 50-pound superbraid and something is going to bust loose.
It also seems that the use of cut hooks is becoming popular again and while I use them when I have to—I’d prefer never to use them if I could get away with it. The only time I use cut hooks is when the layout of the plug I’m using forces me to. If split rings allow the hooks to entangle, then I cut them to alleviate this problem. I think a lot of surfcasters have gone back to cut hooks because old time surfmen told them split rings were weak. I have heard of a lot more hooks straightening out than I have split rings giving way. Cutting a hook reduces its range of motion which means when it’s pinned into a writing 40-pounder it’s quite likely that that connection is not going to last. The fact that most wood plug builders use barrel swivels as hook hangers does help but it doesn’t change the fact that the space between the hook point and the body of the plug is very short. Compare a VMC treble to an old open-eye Mustad and notice how much longer the Mustad shank is—this is important and nobody pays attention to this! That gap is the space you have to hook your fish. The shorter it is the worse your chances are. Split rings obviously give you more gap to work with. Furthermore, cut hooks should never be crimped onto the tail loop of a plug, you can’t even twist that hook one rotation and that equals a lost fish. Split rings give you leeway when your fish goes into a death roll—in fact I have heard of people using two split rings to get even a little more flex.
The meat and potatoes here is that people always seem to want to blame the plug or the size of the hook or braided line for their lost fish. The truth is you have the option to control all of this stuff and more. If you fish wood plugs and especially metal lips, you’re going to lose fish. However if you do everything you can to limit the ugly forces that give the fish the upper hand you’re going to land more of them. It’s simple physics. Going beyond plug logic, make sure your drag is set a touch lighter than usual—I love hearing guys brag about how tight they keep their drag, that’s just bad fishing practice. Your method should dictate your drag setting and after talking about all of these unseen forces that are at work when we hook a big fish on a wood plug it becomes obvious that plugging requires a lighter drag. I encourage you to take a plug in your hands and test the things I have told you. Crimp an open-eye Siwash on the tail hook and see how much you can twist it, simulate the forces of the fulcrum that is created when two hooks find flesh and see how obvious all this becomes. It won’t make you a better fisherman, but it will make you look better because you’ll land a hell of a lot more of the fish you hook and the last time I checked that was kind of the point.
TOP OF THE LINE
r e e B Fish
d e r e t t a B
Like many families on Nantucket, my folks spent the winter months bayscalloping. Next to an after-school session of shucking scallops, my least favorite activity would be to eat them for dinner. While that didn’t happen very often (they were too valuable to eat regularly) I never looked forward to it. Usually sautéed in butter with only a squeeze of lemon, I guess they were just too rich for my young taste-buds. The only way that I really enjoyed them was on the occasions when my Mom would lightly bread and fry them. Wow…I couldn’t believe how good they were! It’s not that frying hid their taste or texture but rather that it complemented them, adding crispness and a salty, caramelized flavor. Thrifty cook that she was, I even recall my Mom frying the guts; they were absolutely awesome! Served with “home-made” tartar sauce which was just mayonnaise doctored with chopped pickles, onion and lemon this was one of my favorite childhood meals.
This recipe for making beer-battered fish is different than my Mom’s method for frying but it’s the most consistently successful I’ve ever used. It forms a crunchy crust that stays crisp, tastes great and is easy to prepare. It’s so good that you’ll be rooting around in the refrigerator looking for something else to fry after you’ve run out of fish! I seriously urge you to make your own mayonnaise to accompany this (I like to turn mine into a tartar sauce but you can flavor yours any way you like). I’m not saying you’ll never buy Hellman’s again but I guarantee you it’s worth the effort and you will find many uses for it. There are two main variables to be aware of to get the best from this recipe: oil temperature and the size of your fish fillets. Fillets that are on the large side can’t be fried in oil that’s too hot or the crust will become over-cooked before the fish is done. Too cool a temperature however, and you’re going to get fish that’s not as crispy as it should be and probably greasy as well. Take the time to adjust these pieces of the puzzle and you will get something great rather than just good. I recommend starting with oil at 365F and doing a test-piece, then adjusting the oil temperature if necessary. If your fillets are a bit too thick or un-even, you can place them between two sheets of wax paper or cling-film and pound them lightly to make them more uniform. If you do a lot of baking you may already use a digital scale so I’ve provided the flour weight in grams. If not, remember to measure your flour by filling the measuring cups loosely and sweeping them level with a spatula or the back of a knife.
For the beer batter: 1Â˝ cups all-purpose flour (175 gr.) 6oz. beer 6oz. water 1 tablespoon dry yeast 1 pinch of salt Your choice of fish: Cod, shark, fluke and skate are all good candidates. If using a large fish like cod, cut fillets three-quarters to one of an inch thick so they donâ€™t take too long to cook. In a deep mixing bowl, whisk the beer and the water into the flour, yeast and salt until smooth, cover and leave at warm room temperature until doubled in volume (approx. 45 minutes). This will make plenty of batter for four people.
Fill a deep, medium saucepan with 3-4 inches of canola oil and heat to between 365F and 375F degrees. I would recommend frying one small piece first as a test to adjust batter thickness and seasoning and to determine if your pot is big enough to fry more than one fillet at a time. The test-piece will also allow you to gauge proper cooking time which may be anywhere between 2-4 minutes depending on the thickness of your fillets. Blot the fillets dry with paper towels before continuing! Salt and pepper your fish pieces lightly then dip them into the batter, coating thoroughly but not too thickly. Gently slip them into the oil making sure not to crowd the pot. Once youâ€™ve added the fish to the oil, let it get crispy and golden brown, turning it once during this process. Remove with a skimmer or slotted spoon to paper-towels to drain and season lightly with salt. Remember that the oil temperature will drop each time you fry a piece of fish and that it needs some recovery time in between batches. Serve with lemon wedges, malt vinegar or tartar sauceâ€Śand more beer.
Homemade mayonnaise: 4 egg yolks, 2 teaspoons dijon mustard 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar 2 teaspoons salt 2 cups canola oil
I like making this in a food processor because it comes out extra thick but you can certainly do it in a mixing bowl with a whisk. Add the yolks, salt, mustard and vinegar to your processor and blend briefly. Then start to add the oil in a slow, thin stream, mixing continuously. Do not add the oil any faster than the sauce can absorb and emulsify it. Once all the oil is incorporated, taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt and/or vinegar. To make tartar sauce, add: 2 tablespoons minced red onion or shallot Â˝ cup capers finely chopped Â˝ cup cornichons or dill pickles, finely chopped 2 tablespoons fresh tarragon chopped 1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, to taste
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Gets In Your ByHead Joe Malat
I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but the memory of my first visit to Hatteras Island is as vivid as if it happened this morning. Forty seven years ago Memorial Day weekend, my dad and I drove across the bridge that spans Oregon Inlet. The bridge had only opened the month before, and I was 13 years old when Hatteras Island became connected to the rest of the world. We made the drive from Richmond, Virginia. The trip was planned for weeks and during that time I checked and rechecked our tackle, rods and reels and made sure everything was ready. I barely slept the night before and on the first day of the long weekend we left our house at oh-dark-thirty, just ahead of a fast moving cold front. That morning was the last time we saw the sun for three days and as we arrived on the northern Outer Banks, a cold rain and 25-knot winds caught up to us. After finding a motel in Kitty Hawk, our next stop was the catwalk on the north side of the new Oregon Inlet Bridge. Yes, there are fishing catwalks on the north and south ends of the bridge. On the north end, from the catwalk that now overlooks solid sand and salt marsh and has been blocked off for at least twenty years, we fished in fast moving water deep enough for charter boats to navigate. After a few fishless hours at the bridge, we forged southward along Route 12 and noticed several four wheel drive beach buggies crossing over wooden ramps to the beach. At the time there was a vehicle access ramp (and a campground) on the very wide beach at the south side of the inlet. Four wheel drive vehicles were allowed to drive almost the entire length of Hatteras Island, including the beach within the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge from the northern tip of Hatteras Island down to the village of Rodanthe. Many years ago that beach was closed â€œtemporarilyâ€? to vehicles because of minor beach erosion. It remains closed to this day.
Beach driving was not an option with my dad’s Mercury so we looked for a hard packed piece of marl along the side of the road, parked the car and humped our gear over the dunes in driving rain and wind. The ocean was huge, dirty and out of control. Fishing was impossible. Undaunted and having nothing else to do, we hauled our gear back to the car and headed south, hoping to find a place we could fish. That place was near the Hatteras to Ocracoke ferry terminal. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but we were below Cape Hatteras and the beach had switched from a north-south orientation, to running east-west. There, with the northeast wind at our backs, we could fish but could have done just as well and been a lot more comfortable sitting in the motel room. We didn’t see a fish for three days. After lunch on Memorial Day we headed home, beaten by the elements and outwitted by the fish. But instead of vowing never again to return to that wet, cold, barren and fishless strip of sand, plans were made for our next Hatteras adventure. That’s how it happens. There’s something about fishing the beach at Hatteras that gets in your head. It surely got into mine. Big Joe (that’s what everyone called my dad) and I fell in love with the place and would head to Hatteras whenever we could. The first car I bought was a brand new four wheel drive Scout. That’s when we entered a new chapter in our surfcasting lives and discovered Cape Point, Hatteras Inlet, and the South Point of Ocracoke Island.
A location along the Outer Banks that gets the most ink and media attention is probably Cape Point, and for good reason. Opposing currents can stack the waves two stories tall and slam them together like a pair of freight trains crashing head-on. These waves can topple a man in a heartbeat and the currents can push him along so fast thereâ€™s no hope of touching bottom unless somebody thinks very fast. The Point is where baitfish congregate and big fish come to eat. The fishing can be epic and the major players, trophy red drum, monster cobia, big bluefish, mongo stripers and big, toothy sharks, make an appearance here at one time or another throughout the year.
But, thereâ€™s probably no fish that controls the minds and hearts of Outer Banks anglers like the red drum. During the spring and fall, when conditions are right as the day draws to a close, hopeful drum fishermen begin to trickle onto the beach at Cape Point like a parade of ants homing in on a piece of sugar. The men and women who fish here for drum share the same passion (obsession?). Clustered together on a wet and wild tip of sand, they all wear the uniform of the day: waders covered with a foul weather jacket, belt cinched tight at the waist. Most sport a gray plastic bait box on the belt, so they will have fresh bait available on every cast without having to return to their vehicle and lose their place in the picket line.
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E TO SURFCASTING By Joe Cermele
The Point is no place for rookies with their $39.95 rod and reel combos. The weapons of choice on this battleground are high dollar custom made rods, mated to smooth running, carefully machined reels. The gear is designed for one thing: to throw weight and place bait. The pros can work a 12-foot conventional rod and reel like a magic wand and it’s a pleasure to watch them cast. Distance isn’t always necessary, but it sure as hell helps. Many times I’ve watched the skilled distance casters take most, if not all, of the fish on a single tide. During the peak of the red drum runs on the Point, it’s in-your-face, full contact fishing, with anglers working the god-forsaken hours of the graveyard shift, standing so close they can touch elbows. It’s all part of the experience. It’s why they fish for drum and what makes their heart beat fast when a cry of “got him on!” resounds in the darkness, followed by the sound of monofilament snapping off the reel as a good fish pulls an angler down the beach. I got bit bad by the Hatteras bug and for years I made the long drive whenever I could afford the gas, bait and beer. That’s when I met a handful of folks who would mold my future as a surfcaster: Ray Couch, “Miss Kitty”, Bob Bernard and Ken Lauer. Another one was Bill Sales. He was almost as old as my father, tanned and toothless and he was a consistent, colorful fixture at the Point. At the shank of the evening, when the daytime beach fishermen were enjoying cocktails in their rental cottages, Billy would be putting on his waders for a night of drum fishing. One night as I found myself standing next to him, we talked. I discovered he was from a town near Richmond and we struck up a friendship. I saw him every time I was at the Point. I watched, listened and learned from him how to catch red drum in the surf. Oddly, I can’t remember the year it happened, but he dropped dead on the Point, getting ready for an evening of drum fishing. Pretty damn appropriate way for him to go, if you ask me.
Fishing at the tip of the Point isn’t for everyone. It’s my guess that most of the anglers who fish Hatteras Island never stand on the tip of the Point, never feel that kind of adrenaline rush, and never look a fifty pound drum in the eye before they push it back into the surf. These anglers, and there’s probably more of them than the drum chasers, come to Hatteras for everything else this magic strip of sand has to offer. At one time I was one of those drum fishing fanatics, full of piss and vinegar, who survived on three hours of sleep a night for weeks when the bite was on. Now, I’m a member of what I suspect is the majority of visitors who come to Hatteras Island to fish. We come to catch the smaller, but no less appealing stuff. Now my hands shake when I slide a speckled trout up on the sand. Not so much from the muscle strain of besting the fish in a toe-to-toe wrestling match, but because I’ve fooled a fish that’s both civilized and smart, and that excites me. I especially like the fact that trout choose to bite in humane conditions: a light wind and calm surf. Speckled trout demand finesse, not brute strength, to be outdone. It’s the variety of fish, the challenge of finding them and the freedom of being able to drive several miles of beach that draws hundreds of thousands of surfcasters to Hatteras Island. It’s not only the fish. A major ingredient in the mix is the unique beauty of the Outer Banks. For me, each fish has its own unique appeal. It’s a special treat when tropical visitors like Spanish mackerel and pompano arrive. In addition to these summertime visitors, there’s flounder, sea mullet, gray trout, speckled trout, spot, croakers, black drum and the smaller reds called puppy drum.
And then there are bluefish! I have always taken great joy in catching bluefish of any size. They bite hard, fight like the devil and will eat anything from fresh bait fished on the bottom to a top water plug. I’ll bet bluefish were among the first fish caught by most anglers who fished the Hatteras surf for the first time and I know I introduced them to plenty of rookie surf anglers. When I was guiding, on many days, bluefish were the only fish my clients caught and they loved ‘em. If my customers were happy, I was happy. Another reason I love bluefish. Like my first trip to the Outer Banks, I’ll never forget the first bluefish feeding frenzy I encountered. The event was an accidental dose of dumb luck and coincidence. My dad and I, now equipped with our own beach buggy, had little to show for our morning efforts on the North Beach so we decided to motor down toward Hatteras Inlet. As we approached the inlet, I spied a small cluster of vehicles in the distance. A dozen people were running from the water to their trucks. The sand at the edge of the ocean was alive and moving. I never saw my dad move as fast as he did when we both realized the "moving sand" was thousands of silvery menhaden, undulating in the waves, trapped along the shore by monster bluefish. Blitz! We both hooked up on our first cast. For two hours we beached fish, lost fish, lost lures, broke lines, whooped and hollered like crazy people. That day we killed what I now consider an obscene number, maybe a dozen jumbo bluefish. In reflection, I am embarrassed by our greed, but we never again kept more fish than we could eat fresh. That was the first of many blitzes my dad and I shared together when the big blues were in their prime on the Outer Banks.
Many of the pieces in the total Hatteras fishing experience are not found on the beach, but they all come together to make a visit to Hatteras a special time. There’s still several “mom and pop” motels with friendly owners who look forward to the same guests returning year after year, many family owned small businesses and some of the best tackle shops I’ve ever seen, equipped with the right stuff and knowledgeable staffs that will help a visitor catch fish. The local restaurants serve local, fresh seafood. Time on the beach is spent chasing fish, but it’s also a time for socializing and visiting friends, shooting the bull, telling fish stories when the action is slow. It’s not unusual to smell grilled burgers or frying fish when a few vehicles are clustered together. That, too, is part of the package.
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However, the winds of change are blowing across Hatteras Island. There was a time if someone owned a four wheel drive vehicle it was considered to be a work truck, a hunting vehicle or it was to be used as a beach buggy for surf fishing. Today it seems that every other family and soccer mom has an SUV. Most never see terrain that offers more of a driving challenge than the mall parking lot, but the availability of these vehicles has provided their owners with the ability to drive the beach. In my opinion, that’s both good and bad. Good for the local economy and good that more people are able to use and enjoy the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS)
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beaches for recreation. Bad because many of these newbie beach drivers do not have what I feel is a reasonable level of respect for the resource. On the Outer Banks the sheer number of vehicles on the beach coupled with the fact that the National Park Service failed in three decades to develop an effective management plan for beach vehicle usage has resulted in arbitrary and excessive closures of the beach. A couple years ago, as a result of a court mandated consent decree, some very strict restrictions were implemented by the Park Service to protect actual and potential nesting areas for shorebirds and sea turtles. This resulted in many miles of beach (including Cape Point) being closed to access during the spring and through much of the summer. Meanwhile, the CHNS staff has been working on developing a management plan, and released a draft ORV i Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement in November of 2010. As of th s writing, itâ€™s not clear when the plan will be finalized and implemented, but it may happen as soon as September of 2011. However, it is fairly certain access to the beaches of CHNS will continue to be governed by the previous consent decree at least through the upcoming spring nesting season, so visitors to CHNS should expect more of the same beach closures we saw for the past two years. Whenever the management plan is implemented, it is pretty much a sure thing that beach access within the CHNS for pedestrians and particularly mobile surfcasters will change forever, and not in a good way. To their credit, the National Park Service has been doing an excellent job of keeping the public informed. For the latest updates on the status of beach access within the CHNS, visit the website: www.nps.gov/caha. Several local groups, from the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce to the Dare County Board of Commissioners have gone on record opposing many of the beach closures and implementation of stricter regulations that will affect beach drivers.
Two very active groups in the continued fight, and yes, it has become a fight, for beach access are the Outer Banks Preservation Association, www.obpa-nc.org and the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association, www.ncbbaonline.com. Both need the help and support of surfcasters who value the way we fish. See what you can do to help by visiting their websites. I had the good fortune of living on the Outer Banks for most of my life and I had the extra good fortune of earning a living as a professional, full time surf fishing guide for several years. I appreciate what I was able to see and experience during that time. But, in many ways I think I experienced the Outer Banks and Hatteras Island at its best, thirty years ago. But, isn’t that true about almost every other coastal region? It’s still a beautiful, unique and productive place to catch fish in the surf, and once Hatteras gets in your head, it’s there forever and I love it.
Your fishing partner since 1986. O L D S AY B R O O K . C O N N E C T I C U T . 8 6 0 . 3 8 8 . 2 2 8 3
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Prepare for the Return
By DJ Muller
After a good morning bite, I stood at a small pull-off on the side of the road, looking at the Cape Cod Canal through the trees. A couple of local sharpies emerged from the walk below. Although I had never met these fellows, we hit it off immediately and chatted like old friends. “How’d you do?” I asked. They smiled and nodded their heads. I did like-wise with a smile, because we knew the canal was stacked with fish and I would be surprised to hear anyone say, “I got skunked,” especially on this particular morning. The canal was loaded with mackerel and big hungry bass were loading up like a group of hungry construction workers corralling the roach coach for the A.M. break.
I recalled watching the water at the edge of the canal ripple and turn black that morning with mackerel swimming for survival along the edge and hordes of hungry stripers nipping at their tails. The sight of exploding water and spraying fish were burned into your memory banks. It was a massacre and I was able to reap the benefits that morning with some nice bass--I think everyone did. After much small talk and war stories something one of the guys said really stuck in my mind. Sometimes stating the obvious can be profound. We were talking about the best lure options and he said, “As long as it has stripes on it.” He was referring to the lures we were throwing and to the vertical lines making the lure look, mackerel-ish. I agreed whole heartedly but as usual, (I think the majority of surfcasters think the same way) I felt that I didn’t have enough mackerel pattern lures (of course I probably did). Well, I said good bye to my buddies and headed off for breakfast but not before hitting the Red Top Tackle Shop for a couple more pencils that were about to get the Sharpie ‘make-over’ back in the hotel room. I was going to add the vertical stripes that I felt were necessary. The mackerel have made a mighty resurgence in the waters of New England. I saw droves of them swimming by my feet while fishing the canal. I also noticed a spike in my production on Block Island and Cuttyhunk throwing mackerel pattern lures. They clearly out-fished all other plugs. While on Block, I did exceptionally well with a loaded Super Strike needle in mackerel finish. I must have caught a hundred bass on that thing in a week. I know they call Block Island “Needlefish Island” but I feel also that it could be called Mackerel Island. Perhaps sand eels get too much credit. The long skinny profile of the lures we toss, supposedly imitating sand eels, could mimic mackerel of various sizes just as easily. Right? Look at the profile of a mackerel.
Stock Up The off-season for stripers is a good time to re-load or bolster the old plug arsenal. If you don’t have any mackerel simulators, I would suggest you get some, or prepare your own. This is, in all likelihood, not news to you but sometimes mackerel patterned lures are hard to come by, especially if you wait until the mackerel invade local waters, with big bass hot on their tails. Then it may be impossible to find a couple at the local shop.
Sharpie Modification A viable option is keeping a “Sharpie” marker in your back pocket. Take whichever lure you want to “mackerelize” and put some vertical markings on it. It works like a charm. It does the job well for a while. It doesn’t stick like paint, but it surely serves its purpose. I have modified North Bar pencils, Asylum’s Flat-Glide, Super Strike darters, Cotton Cordell pencil poppers and Red Fins. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do! Survival is for the fittest! If the bass want vertical stripes give them vertical stripes! Now there are lures available that are great mackerel imitations. I would suggest you seek these out before the season really gets going and you can’t find any. Here are some suggestions for some excellent mackerel imitations.
1. Asylum’s Flat-Glide Needle. This lure is special. Just look at this lure and the first thing that jumps out at you is its unique shape and how much it simulates a mackerel profile. The builder (Dave Anderson) told me how he kicked some serious butt with this lure last spring in the canal, often thoroughly out-fishing the guys around him. His comments did not surprise me even a little. I have had great success with this lure in the past. It ranks as one of my all-time favorite confidence lures. Number one is its shape; the next thing is the action. The lure suspends and glides through the water, a dead knock-off of a wounded, stunned, or shocked mackerel, abandoned by all his friends, left alone to be devoured. I am sure you have seen footage, somewhere along the line, of a school of bait fish getting circled-up by a school of tuna or sailfish. Maybe you’ve seen a school of bunker getting corralled by a school of bass. Anyway once circled up, a few of the predators will blast through the school, sending wounded or stunned baitfish “gliding” down and away from the school, where other predators on the perimeter happily wait, drooling like dogs at feeding time. The key word there was ‘gliding’. It’s what the Flat-Glide specializes in, perfect for this type of scenario. I mean you can’t get a better imitation of a wounded fish. Its deliberate life-less motion garners amazing strikes. 2. Super Strike’s Mackerel Pattern Needle. As previously stated, it is super effective. I’d be a fool to leave this one home on the workbench. I load this needle with lead shot to 2.5 ounces, and I put a single 5/0 or 6/0 VMC, or 7/0 Mustad hook dressed with black feathers on the back. This lure then does it all for me. It will cast far and drop down as deep as I want it to go. Last season I had the tail hook ripped off one time and straightened another time as bass pounded on this thing. At one point the tail hook was gone but I kept throwing it without missing a beat. Note that I have had this happen before with the SS needle. If the rear hook
goes, keep casting, you won’t miss a thing. It actually makes the unhooking process quicker. To hammer home my point about the mackerel pattern, when I switched to a solid color needle (I like to experiment while fishing) my productivity dropped tremendously. One other tip for the SS Needle is retrieve speed. With Asylum’s Flat-Glide you want to fish it slow with hard twitches or jerks mixed in sporadically to give it that gliding, darting effect. With the SS Needle don’t be afraid to reel it almost as fast as you can with your tip down. The mackerel is a speedster, so stripers are used to a lightning bolt pursuit. I have retrieved the SS needle at high speed for great results. 3. Canal-style Pencils with Mackerel Stripes. Two that jump immediately to mind: Afterhours and Guppy. Two awesome casting and retrieving pencils. Both builders make these things downright scary and both make them as “canal specials” or flat bottomed to reduce surface resistance. The lure “slides” across the surface. Guppy is a solid bluecollar plug that is available and ready for action. Casts great, works immediately, bass love it. OK that meets all the criteria. Afterhours is a longtime favorite plug builder of mine. Builder Don Guimelli goes to great lengths seeking perfection in his plugs. His Junior Blip Crackle Mackerel (2.5 ounces) is something special. It is one of my favorite canal pencils, Don made this thing specially for the canal or similar situations. What makes this pencil different from the next one? As well as the necessary casting and retrieving criteria that I mentioned it also sinks immediately, which most of the time aggravates me. But in the canal with the fast moving current and a good-sized linesider in tow, there are times when you need to drop the lure drop back (sink) into the face of a following, curious cow. At times, it is the only way to draw a strike causing you to go home with a smile on your face as opposed to a sour puss. It is a must-have in my book, another lure sometimes tough to find so get it now!
4. Modified Super Strike Darter. Another lure that I am building confidence in is my “Sharpie-modified” SS darter to which I simply add mackerel stripes myself (mostly because I couldn‘t find a mackerel patterned Super Strike darter). Super Strike does do limited runs on the mackerel patterns. If you see some, get them without hesitation! If you can’t get a couple, don’t sweat it just break out the “Sharpie” marker and go to town! I like to use it on the neon translucent yellow, which to me looks green. I again did well with my modified mackerel patterned SS darter recently when good sized stripers preferred this lure over other offerings. Could it be coincidence? Yes, but I don’t think so. As the area was a mackerel stronghold and success came as no surprise. I mentioned a few notable builders here with good mackerel imitators, but there are certainly many more. North Bar’s bottle-darters, come with two sweet mackerel colors, blue and green. Gibbs has beautiful mackerel patterns on numerous lures, they are sweet looking both to me and the stripers based on past experience.
Super Strike Needle
Modified Super Strike Darter
Canal Style Pencil
My emphasis is this: it is very important for you to know that mackerel patterned plugs are extremely difficult to find. With the increase in mackerel in our waters, if you see them at your local shop, show, or online, make haste to pick up a couple. Should you not be able to get a couple, make your own. I have â€œSharpie-modifiedâ€? a good number of my plugs to make them more mackerel-based and I am ready and anxious to see what a new season will bring.
“The Most Important Fish in the Sea”. It’s part of the catchy title of Dr. H. Bruce Franklin’s book on Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) called bunker by most of us. It’s a bold label that may be quite accurate when applied to the ecosystem of the East Coast. Anglers often devote a lot of effort to learning about the fish they target. Books, magazine articles, and seminars are dedicated to the gamefish that we pursue. But what about the baitfish they feed on? A greater understanding of the baitfish that fuel our fisheries can be a foundation for angling success. This article is the first in a series that will focus on baitfish. Bunker are up first. Let’s start with the basics, and then think about how bunker facts correlate to things we might observe on the water. Atlantic menhaden undergo extensive north-south migratory movements and are believed to consist of a single population. Adults move inshore and northward in spring and group by age and size along the Atlantic coast. Older, larger menhaden are typically found in colder, northerly habitats during summer whereas immature menhaden are found in largest numbers in inshore and estuarine areas from Chesapeake Bay southward. The population extends as far north as the Gulf of Maine, though it has been recorded that since the mid-1800s its occurrence has fluctuated tremendously from year to year from periods of great abundance to periods of scarcity or complete absence.
Figure 1) A plot of Atlantic menhaden abundance from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) 2010 stock assessment.
Spawning occurs all year in oceanic waters, with some spawning occurring in almost every month somewhere along their range. Buoyant eggs hatch at sea and larvae are carried by inshore currents to estuaries where they transform to the juvenile stage soon upon arrival. These juveniles are what anglers refer to as “peanut bunker”. Juveniles spend most of their first year of life in estuaries, migrating to the ocean in late fall. Adult and juvenile menhaden migrate south in fall/winter, and migrate north in spring. Menhaden mature by age 3 and can live up to 10 years. However, fish older than age 6 have been uncommon since the mid-1960s. An angler recently asked me how it was possible that there were so many adult bunker in his local bays last spring, but there were no peanut bunker in the months to follow. The angler’s question was an excellent one, and the above paragraph pertaining to spawning sheds some light on the answer. According to the spawning information, a bay full of big bunker in the spring is completely unrelated to the peanut bunker that may be there in the summer or fall. Those bunker that cram into Long Island’s South Shore bays, Peconic Bay, and other Northeast estuaries are apparently not there to spawn. The spawning occurs in open ocean waters and the larvae drift into the bays. This explains why a small creek near where I live, Wading River Creek, is sometimes filled with peanuts in the late summer even though I’ve never seen an adult bunker there. No nearby adults were required. The larvae drifted there from the open ocean.
So what makes for a good crop of peanuts? It’s the right combination of many factors. Temperature is important, with water temperatures above 74 degrees believed to be detrimental to breeding. Spawning occurs in water as cold as 40 degrees. Salinity is another factor. Even if temperature and salinity are in the correct range to produce a good crop of eggs that hatch into larvae, the larvae will need the right currents to carry them into the harbors, bays, rivers, and creeks where we’ll start looking for peanuts during the summer. A lot will need to go just right for us to find them there. So if those sometimes massive schools of adult bunker that pack our bays in the spring are not there to spawn, what are they doing? Bunker have three main things to think about – eat, don’t get eaten, reproduce. If they’re not there to spawn, then it must be one or both of the other two. I think it’s both. When I’ve seen bunker so thick in the western Peconics in early May that they’re depleting the oxygen supply, the bluefish are right on their tails, and it seems the blues have driven them as far as they can to the western end of the bay. But food must also be a factor. Adult bunker arrive in many of Long Island’s South Shore bays by early April. There’s not much chasing them at this point, and they’re apparently not spawning. All fish have to eat, so it’s reasonable to conclude that these waters provide the nutrients the bunker are looking for. What are those nutrients?
Itâ€™s a good idea to keep a snag hook in the surf bag or truck in case adult bunker show and the fish feeding on them wonâ€™t hit anything but bunker.
Bunker are filter feeders, and before I began doing research for this article, I thought that bunker fed primarily on plankton, which includes algae and other very small organisms that drift in our waters. Plankton is an important part of their diet, but after digging down a few levels into the resource Fishbase, the studies I found usually identified a significant portion of their diet as “detritus”. This is the term used to describe dead organic matter in the water. It includes dead animals, plants, and fecal matter. It makes sense that there’s a higher concentration of plankton and detritus in the bays than in the ocean, so the bunker are probably drawn to the bays for food. The detritus factor has me thinking. One of the best fishing patterns I know occurs on the Long Island Sound beaches near where I live. If there’s a good crop of peanut bunker in the Sound in the fall, those bunker will be on the beach the first day that it calms down after an onshore blow that’s strong enough to dirty the water. It’s as close to a sure thing as anything I know in fishing. These waters are very brown during the blow and generally not worth fishing effort. As soon as it calms down and the water just starts to clear, the bunker are right along the shoreline. If the second day after the blow is also calm, the water will be clean and the bunker will be gone. This pattern now makes a little more sense to me. I used to think that the bunker might be using the dirty water for cover, but couldn’t explain why they weren’t in the real dirty stuff while the water was still rough. It’s just an educated guess, but maybe the rough water has too much suspended sand, and this might irritate their gills as they filter the water. When it calms down, the heavier sand particles settle to the bottom quickly, but the stirred up dead organic matter that is nearly weightless remains suspended in the water. That would represent an easy food source. I’ve seen similar patterns on Long Island’s ocean beaches where relatively calm but brown water was the setting for adult bunker schools to be running the shoreline.
Bunker have many predators. They’re a major component of the diets of striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, and many other species that we fish for. Humans are their other major predator. Most of the commercially harvested bunker go into what’s called the “Reduction Fishery”. Atlantic menhaden are harvested primarily for reduction to fish meal, fish oil, and fish solubles. The following is from the website of the Omega Protein Corporation, the world's largest producer of omega-3 fish oil, most of which comes from menhaden. “The menhaden fishery is the oldest continuous commercial fishery in the United States. It dates as far back as the late 1700s on the Atlantic coast, the product then used as fertilizer for growing crops and, to a lesser extent, as food for humans. In the early 1800s, it was discovered that menhaden could yield oil comparable in quality and usage with whale oil, then used extensively for lamp and lubricating oil. This discovery was instrumental in turning whaling towns into menhaden towns along the Atlantic seaboard. Up until the late 1800s, seine and gill nets, set and hauled by hand from beaches, were used to harvest the fish. Soon thereafter, vessels were being used to follow the fish into waters farther offshore. This was the precursor to today’s menhaden vessels that ply the waters of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. In the early to mid 1800s came the innovation that revolutionized the harvest of menhaden - the purse seine. Instead of setting nets and hoping that fish would run into them, the purse seine is set by surrounding a school of fish, enclosing the lower end of the net (pursing), and unloading the school of fish on a boat. Purse seines are still used today to catch menhaden.”
Bunker packed into Peconic Bay in early May. Spawning likely had little to do with their presence.
According to the 2010 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Menhaden Stock Assessment, purse seine landings reached their high point in the 1950s with peak landings of 712,100 metric tons in 1956. At the time, over 20 menhaden reduction factories ranged from northern Florida to southern Maine. In the 1960s, the Atlantic menhaden stock contracted geographically, and many of the fish factories north of Chesapeake Bay closed because of a scarcity of fish. Reduction landings dropped to 161,000 metric tons in 1969. In the 1970s and 1980s, the menhaden population began to expand (primarily because of a series of above average year classes entering the fishery), and reduction landings rose to around 300,000-400,000 metric tons. Adult menhaden were again abundant in the northern half of their range, and as a result, reduction factories in New England and Canada began processing menhaden again by the mid-1970s. By 1989 all shore-side reduction plants in New England had closed mainly because of odor abatement issues. During the 1990s, the Atlantic menhaden stock contracted again mostly due to a series of poor to average year classes. Over the next decade, several reduction plants consolidated or closed, resulting in a significant reduction in fleet size and fishing capacity. In recent years (2005-2008), landings have averaged 154,980 metric tons. The aftermath of a spectacular peanutfueled blitz on a Southampton beach.
Sometimes the bunker are so thick that itâ€™s a challenge to get the bass and blues feeding on them to hit a lure.
Since 2005, the Omega Protein Corporation is the only operational reduction factory processing Atlantic menhaden on the Atlantic coast. They are the world's largest producer of omega-3 fish oil and North America's largest manufacturer of protein-rich specialty fish meal and organic fish solubles. According to their website, they use menhaden for â€œProducing fish meal and oil, both used in a number of important commercial ventures. The fish meal is used extensively as an additive in food for a variety of animals, including dairy cattle, swine, and fish in aquaculture facilities. In recent years, the oil has been refined to produce omega-3 fish oil products for human consumption, including food additives and capsules.â€? The Omega Protein website (www.omegaproteininc.com) is loaded with information from the commercial point of view that makes for some interesting reading. There is also the bait fishery. As reduction landings have declined in recent years, menhaden landings for bait have become relatively more important to the coastwide total landings of menhaden. Commercial landings of menhaden for bait occur in almost every Atlantic coast state. Recreational fishermen also catch bunker as bait for various game fish. A majority of the bait landings are used commercially as bait for crab pots, lobster pots, and hook-and-line fisheries. Total landings of menhaden for bait along the East Coast have been relatively stable in recent years, averaging about 37,100 metric tons during 2001-2008. Between 2001 and 2008, the percent of total menhaden landings attributed to the bait fishery rose from 13% to 25%. So what is the state of menhaden stocks? It depends on your point of view. Iâ€™m going to quote directly from the 2010 ASMFC stock assessment.
“In 2008, the population was not overfished and overfishing was not occurring. The overfishing threshold for menhaden is the instantaneous fishing mortality rate that should allow the population to replace itself. In earlier decades, fishing mortality rates were largely above the median (population replacement) line, however in recent years, rates have fluctuated around the median. Fishing mortality on ages 2 and older fish was just below the threshold in 2008, hence overfishing is not occurring. …The spawning stock in 2008 appears to be adequate to produce the target number of eggs, and thus the population is deemed not overfished. However, the number of young fish in the population has been consistently low in recent decades, indicating that high egg production may not be translating into high survival of young menhaden.” The “not overfished” part sounds nice, and you’ll see this information displayed prominently on Omega’s website. However, when the same report was written about in an article in the June 2010 issue of The Chesapeake Bay Journal, the title was “Atlantic Coast menhaden population at lowest point in 54 years.” Indeed, that seems like the most obvious interpretation of Figure 1, which was part of the 2010 Stock Assessment. What seems like a contradiction – lowest population in over 50 years but not overfished, is explained by saying that overfishing is not the cause of the low population. An article in the February 2010 issue of that same publication from a different point of view is titled “There's no problem with the menhaden population, only what is believed about it”. The controversy related to bunker isn’t limited to the state of the stocks. Because bunker are filter feeders, it’s been stated that they clean the water. Paul Greenberg is the award-winning author of the New York Times Best Seller Four Fish – The Future of
A bucktail is often a good choice when fish are feeding on peanuts.
the Last Wild Food. In a 2009 New York Times Op-Ed piece, Greenberg states “Quite simply, menhaden keep the water clean. The muddy brown color of the Long Island Sound and the growing dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay are the direct result of inadequate water filtration — a job that was once carried out by menhaden. An adult menhaden can rid four to six gallons of water of algae in a minute. Imagine then the water-cleaning capacity of the half-billion menhaden we “reduce” into oil every year.” However, new research summarized in The Chesapeake Bay Journal questions the effectiveness of bunker in clearing the water of algae. While bunker remove algae from the water, they in some cases excrete enough dissolved nitrogen to fuel new algae production that may replace what they consumed. The findings were first reported by Virginia Institute of Marine Science researchers who studied menhaden feeding patterns to help develop ecosystem models. During that study, they found that algae in Chesapeake Bay are often too small for many menhaden to eat. Rather than feeding like a vacuum cleaner, menhaden algae consumption "is more like running a sieve through the water," said Patrick Lynch, a Ph.D. student and lead author of the paper which appeared in the Feb. 22, 2010 issue of Menhaden swim with their mouths open so their gill rakers can catch particles. The fish consume those particles after they close their mouths and water is expelled through their gills. But much of the algae in Chesapeake Bay is actually too small to be caught on the gill rakers, and ends up being expelled with the water. Except for the youngest fish, those less than 1 year old, Lynch’s research suggests that menhaden may instead eat a lot of larger zooplankton and detritus. "The youngest fish, the age zeros, have the closest (gill raker) spacing which gave them the most potential for filtering smaller phytoplankton (algae) in our study," Lynch said. "As they get older, the spacing increases and they become less able to filter the smaller particles." The study found that small menhaden did remove
The bunker at Katieâ€™s feet are commonplace on Long Island Sound beaches some years, but absent others. Thereâ€™s plenty of debate as to whether their absence in the last few years is part of a natural cycle or due to something else.
nitrogen from the water when algae concentrations were high. But when concentrations were low, and menhaden were consuming a greater mix of food, the fish were actually excreting more nitrogen than they were removing by eating algae. That nitrogen, in turn, could produce more algae, possibly worsening water quality. Lynch noted that when menhaden remove zooplankton, they are consuming a small predator that would otherwise be eating smaller algae. The paper concluded by saying that the larger bunker may make matters worse by causing an increase in algae. The smaller bunker may make things better in localized areas, but likely play a minor role within the bay ecosystem as a whole. The research was funded by the EPA Bay Program Office and the Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment. What are some good lures to have in the bag when bunker are in the water? If they’re on peanuts I’m going to rely heavily on bucktails and swimshads. Bulky bucktails have such a good peanut profile that I’ll sometimes fish them without the usual pork strip or grub trailer. I’ll also have some small and mid-sized metal-lipped swimmers. I always carry Super Strike Little Neck poppers, and when there are peanuts around I’ll rely most on the 1 ½-ounce and 2 3/8-ounce models. I’ll also carry some big Kastmaster tins in case I need distance. I've rarely encountered peanut fueled fishing at night, so all of this pertains to daylight hours. I’ve had some very memorable night sessions where adult bunker were the primary bait. Super Strike darters and bottle plugs did the damage then. Day or night, I’ll always have some big metal-lipped swimmers in the bag when big bunker are around. With adult bunker nearby during the day I’ll be relying on 2 3/8ounce and 3-ounce Super Strike poppers, big pencil poppers, and big metal lip swimmers.
Weâ€™ve covered a lot here, including spawning, feeding, population trends, and ecological impacts. Because bunker spawn on the open ocean, adult bunker are likely drawn to our sheltered waters for food rather than spawning. Recognizing this and being aware of what bunker feed on can help us understand and anticipate bunker movements. I knew going into this effort that there was a lot of controversy surrounding the perceived state of the bunker stocks and their ecological impact, but the differing points of view were even more opposed than I had anticipated. One thing thereâ€™s no debating is the importance of Atlantic menhaden in our pursuit of gamefish. Theyâ€™re very high on the menu of most of the species we fish for, and learning as much as we can about them can go a long way in helping us put fish on the beach.
Fly Fishing the
By David Porreca
During the months of May and June, flyfishers from around the world flock to the Florida Keys in quest of tarpon. Many book their outings around the new moon in hope that the gravitational pull will increase the odds that they will find swarms of Palolo worms. I have caught Tarpon with a fly but I have not been fortunate enough to fish for them during this magical hatch. As a native Rhode Islander and saltwater fly angler, I spend May and June seeking cinder worms and striped bass in local estuaries. Cinder worms here in the northeast have the same effect on striped bass as do the Palolo worms on tarpon in the Florida Keys. However, our northeast cinder worm is much more consistent. As a fly angler and guide, once April comes to a close, I start visiting the salt-ponds along Rhode Islandâ€™s South County shoreline. Potters, Ninigret and Quonochontaug Ponds are great locations with prolific cinder worm hatches. Once the water temps reach the mid to high 50â€™s and a strong sun shines on mid-day low tides, we can usually expect cinder worms to emerge. The first few hatches may occur in late April and the ponds may be devoid of stripers. As stripers make their pilgrimage following the herring north, pheromonal scents pouring out of these salt ponds stop stripers dead in their tracks. Mating swarms of cinder worms usually occur in the further most sections of the ponds where water temps warm first and maintain the longest. As worms emerge in the afternoon and into the evening, a few consistent hatches will keep stripers hanging in the ponds for up to 6 weeks where the action can be fierce. In my 26 years of fly fishing this is the most optimal time when a wading angler can catch keeper size stripers on the fly.
To be successful it is important to do some scouting of various coves. Just as we do when fishing offshore, we rely on the signs of nature such as gulls sitting on the water in groups. From a distance you may see them dipping their beaks in the water They are actually sipping cinder worms that are undulating on the surface. This is a clear indication that cinder worms are present and stripers will be on the prowl. Once the birds begin to take flight it is “Striper Time”. Last year a cold front came through after several successful hatches. The water temps dropped almost 8 degrees and the hatch totally turned off. After a few days of sun and heat, water temps rose and the stripers were back on the afternoon feed. As for the gear, we use 8, 9 & 10wt fly rods with floating coldwater fly lines. Tapered leaders down to 12lb or 16lb test with flies that mimic cinder worms, in red, brown, tan, pink and white. Worms can range in size from 1 inch to 3 inches. It’s important to note that cinder worms are not fleeing from predators as do sand eels, silver-sides or other bait fish. They are just undulating in their mating swarm. Although you may have stripers breaking all around, cast your fly out a distance and strip your line painstakingly slow right to the leader. The longer your fly is in the water the better your chances of taking a striper. Strikes can occur at the rod tip.
On some occasions, the hatch can be frustrating. Worm swarms can cover acres or just be concentrated in smaller coves with massive hatches. If you find a hatch with just too many worms, try finding the edge of the hatch where worms are minimal. That way you will target stripers entering the action. On one evening last year during a slack tide and clear water, we had stripers cruising the flats, selectively feeding on a sparse hatch of large worms. All of the fish were 30+ inches and would not take an imitation for anything. For me this is part of the challenge and I may often switch to a non-worm fly. In many of the estuaries you will have varying water conditions. Some areas inside may be flat as glass while other areas may have a slight chop. If worms are present Iâ€™ll take the slight chop. The slight chop may make the difference in fooling finicky stripers as these fish may be a little leader shy. As the waters warm and May turns to June, you may find areas void of worm hatches. At this point, work your way closer to the outflows of the salt ponds. Water temps may be cooler and within the range of 56 to 62 degrees during the changing tides. Over the past several years I have followed the hatch from the back coves of Ninigret Pond to the S bends of the outflow. One evening last year a group of us hit the flats on the east end of Ninigret Pond and found a small group of cinder worms emerging in about a 50 yard radius. The fish were selective and concentrated in this area only. Stealth and maintaining a low profile were imperative and if you lined a cruising striper they would blow up and spook like a snook in the mangroves. Keep in mind that itâ€™s not always tough and not always easy. It is pretty consistent once the hatch occurs and is the most fun while targeting stripers.
For those looking to target spring stripers on the fly, the cinder worm hatch is your best bet. There are thousands of stripers in the ponds during these hatches and over the past 5 years I have seen good quantities of large stripers over 30 inches. If youâ€™re new to fly fishing for stripers, this is a great time to break in that rod with the experience of a life time.
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Richard W. Troxler
Nobody from around that time can now rightly recollect when he first appeared in our quiet little hamlet by the sea. Those of us still left can’t even agree if it was spring or fall. Collectively, all we can remember is that one day, long ago, we noticed his broken down old camper in the vacant lot by the bluffs. To us, it was a sight that grated like barnacles on raw skin. Back then, our perfect piece of Striper Coast basically flew under the radar and we didn’t much care for strangers, so the news of his arrival spread like wild fire amongst the local surf fishing community. Most of us were looking to put our kids through college on the money we made from striped bass fishing, so interlopers on our turf were not welcome. Same as it ever was on the striper coast during the glory years before the crash. I first heard about him down at Jim’s B&T. As I walked in that morning for a cup of java and the latest poop, Pete the plumber was railing about how Dave, our local sheriff, should arrest him for vagrancy, or whatever code violation he could scratch up. “No Johnny come lately got the right to stand on our rocks” he proclaimed between sips of his own cup-o-joe. Clearly, I had some catching up to do. “Who the hell are you talking about now?” I asked as I injected myself into the middle of the conversation. “Geez Ray, have you been sleeping through the tides again? I’m talking about that Injun just showed up on the town lot by the bluffs! He ain’t been here but three days and already he’s squat’n on everybody’s rock! He don’t even seem to sleep! It ain’t natural I tell ya!!” We all knew Pete as a hothead and a bit of an exaggerator, but I couldn’t resist anyway. “Injun, you mean like an American Indian?” “What are you deaf as well as stupid?” Pete exploded, “I said Injun, and a big sucker at that, what do you think I said!” I simply couldn’t resist.
“What, did he have feathers sticking out of his hair?” I asked. My grin drew a baleful stare from Pete. “You know Ray, you can be such an asshole sometimes.” Sensing that there was little more reasonable information I could get from Pete, I picked up some leader material and headed home. But if the truth be known, my curiosity had been piqued. Late that afternoon my curiosity got the better of me, so I took a ride down to the bluffs for a looksee of my own. I parked my truck just down the road from his camper, making sure to keep a safe distance so as to not appear nosey. None of us were fishing that day because it was the second day of a strong southeasterly blow and conditions were less than hospitable on the rocks we plied our trade on. Regardless, I casually pulled a rod out of my rack and made false pretense of fishing by loading and unloading my plug bag several times, all the while keeping a weather eye out toward his camper. As it didn’t appear that anybody was home, I made my way down the old widows path to the beach, to see if he was crazy enough to be fishing in this mess. Without any preconceived notion as to where he might actually be, I walked west, quartering the wind at my back. During my trek, my attention was mainly focused on traversing the boulder field at my feet, so when I finally got around to looking up, I was surprised to see him standing directly off shore from where I stood. In the fading afternoon light his figure pierced the raging sea as if made of stone. He stood erect, silhouetted against a mass of white water and a dark, angry sky, seemingly impervious to the elements that railed against him. I stood and watched for several minutes, amazed that any human could withstand the pounding that he was taking. But being a working fisherman, what really caught my attention was where he was standing. Even from my shore bound vantage point, it was clear that he was perched on a rock very far from shore. No one from our clan had ever stood on that one before.
As I stood there transfixed by the scene before me, I became aware that his stance had shifted slightly. He was now standing in a position that clearly indicated he was hooked up, and judging by the angle of his back and the bend in his rod, it looked to be a good fish. I watched the battle unfold with the same rapt attention that any real fisherman would have when watching another angler battle a big fish. You just gotta know, plain and simple. After several minutes, my suspicions on the size of the fish were confirmed as he lifted it from the wash to be unhooked. My best guess put it as at around 40, and locally I was known for having a pretty good eye where weight guesstimates were concerned. Right about the time my mental scale was done weighing his fish, I was surprised to see that he intended to release it. I had just assumed that he was following the bass for cash, so this was most unexpected. He knelt over the side of the rock with the fishes jaw clamped in his hand and held it face first into the rushing water. Wave after wave broke over his back, but his stance never faltered and his resolve never wavered. When the fish was apparently revived, he released it into the face of the next wave. Then something very strange happened. After releasing the fish, he stood back up and turned to face seaward. He placed his rod between his legs, raised his hands high above his head and looked skyward. Over the sound of the wind and waves, I thought I heard the sound of singing, but could not be sure. He held this position for several moments during which time a small crease in the late afternoon clouds let a ray of sunlight shine through, turning the crests of the dark waves the color of liquid gold. The sheer beauty coupled with the surreal nature of the moment was almost overwhelming. After completing his strange ritual and with the rod in his hands again, he turned completely around and looked directly at me, as if knowing I was there the whole time. My strange fugue was suddenly broken by his gaze. Distant though he was, I felt as if it was peering deep inside me, probing, literally touching my insides! It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.
Suddenly, I felt like the intruder, the interloper, and though I did not feel threatened in any way, I had an almost overpowering urge to run. I quickly turned and hastened off the beach. When I arrived back at my truck I was soaked in sweat and shaking uncontrollably. On the short ride home, my mind struggled to wrap itself around what had just happened. I mean, this is the really real world, isn’t it, shit like this only happens in movies, right? When I arrived, I let myself in and went straight to the cabinet above the fridge. I pulled down the bottle of Vodka I kept there for loosening up my cranky back after those really cold nights, and knocked down two quick shots. I was on my third when my wife Janet came through the front door. She was returning from the small hardware store we owned in town, as it was her day to close. She walked up and looked me squarely in the eye. “A little early in the evening for that don’t you think?” then her expression softened, “Geez Ray, you look like crap, is everything all right?” I figured now was not the time, so I lied. “Yeah, I’m OK, was out scouting the water and I got a nasty chill is all. I’m gonna take a hot shower and go to bed, I’m beat.” She kissed me on the cheek and went to hang her coat up, but I could tell she didn’t buy it for a moment. I didn’t really sleep much that night. I just lay there, replaying that afternoon’s scene over and over in my head. Early in the evening the wind finally laid down some and by midnight was coming out of the northwest. Conditions would be fishable by morning, but due to my lack of sleep I opted to take a pass on the early shift. I reset my alarm clock for 8:30 am, just enough time to get down to the store to open at 9:00 am, and rolled over on my side. Finally, about the time I would normally be getting up to go fishing, I drifted off into a restless, dream-filled sleep. Over the next several days I returned to my normal fishing regimen. Initially, I made a point to fish
far from where ever he happened to be fishing, wishing only to forget the strange happenings of that day. But as time went on and the days turned to weeks, the memory of those events began to fade, and I found myself worrying less about his location and more about catching bass. Denial can be a very useful tool at times. As a whole, we gradually began to get used to his presence on the beach. Whether by the illumination of moonlight, the faint easterly light of false dawn, or the brassy light of the noonday sun, he always seemed to be there. He was like a bizarre permanent fixture on the rocks, placed there to spite us by the humorless hand of fate. During the infrequent times he wasn’t fishing he kept to himself mostly. The only contact we ever had with him was when he occasionally stopped by Jim’s B&T for supplies. Even those encounters were brief and he seemed not to pay any notice of us at all. Much to my relief, he never once acknowledged my presence, nor gave any indication that he recognized me from that day on the beach. None of us knew his name, not even Jim, so we started referring to him using the mock Indian name of “Last Man Standing”, this for his penchant for being the last one to come off the rocks when the tide got too high. Despite our general apprehension at his presence, we had to admit that he cut quite a figure in person. He was a giant of a man, sporting old patched up Red Ball waders and a smelly oilskin parka cinched at the waist with some sort of animal skin belt. His long black hair was pulled back and braided, with only a tinge of gray around the temple, and his face was weathered and worn, yet strangely ageless. He was a truly impressive specimen of human manhood in the form of a vagabond fisherman. The only equipment we ever saw him use was an old 11 ft or so glass rod with most of the guides held on by friction tape. To this he had attached a beat up Penn Beachmaster or Squidder, hard to tell from the distances we kept, and he threw huge plugs, the type of which we could not readily identify. Yet despite his ramshackle appearance, he seemed to have an uncanny knack for catching big fish, and this single fact did not escape our notice. As word of his fishing prowess
spread, he became a frequent topic of discussion among our group. When we weren’t fishing, or tending to our personal or professional lives, we would often wind up at Jim’s comparing notes on where he had fished and what he had caught. Despite our growing interest in his fish catching abilities, there were still a few of the regulars that didn’t take to what they felt was an intrusion on their turf. One of those was Big Will McCarty. Like his name implied, Will was a big man, with a hot Irish temper to match. He worked on and off for a local contractor and had a well-earned reputation for being a hard ass. He often griped about how he was going to put a plug in the back of the Indian’s head, that for always standing on a rock in front of where he was casting. It took a while for their paths to cross, up close and personal, and I’ll never forget what happened when they finally did. That day happened to be a pleasant Saturday afternoon in early October. Myself and a few other guys were shooting the breeze at Jim’s, after the incoming tide had chased us from our rocks, when Big Will blew in through the door. He was obviously agitated and started right in. “He did it again!! I can’t believe that son-of-a-bitch did it to me again!!” Already knowing what this was about, I asked anyway. “Who did what to who Will?” “That freaking Indian,” he said. “He stood on the rock out in front of the one I always fish on in Jacobs cove. That’s the third time this week! I tell you, he’s really starting to piss me off!” As he stood there continuing his rant with his back to the door, he was not able to see what had caught our attention. For a giant, he walked very quietly, no doubt some leftover ancestral skill from his Indian heritage. He stood just inside the door for a few moments, listening to Big Will’s ranting, before walking over to the wall and picking a spool of Dacron off the rack. He then walked right past us, and the still
ranting Will, to the register area at the back counter to pay. Jim stood there looking like a deer in the headlights as I held my breath for what was coming next. It took a second for Will’s synapses to kick in and when they did his mouth froze in mid-speech. For several seconds everybody simply stopped moving and in that stone cold silence you could have heard a bird fart. Jim was the first to flinch. “That’ll be $2.99 please,” he said. As the Indian was pulling out a small pouch from inside his old oilskin parka, Will’s synapses went into overdrive. “Hey, how come you always stand on that rock in front of me?” he demanded loudly. The Indian paused momentarily as if considering the question, or what his next move should be. Will’s agitated voice went up a notch. “I ASKED YOU A QUESTION, HOW COME YOU ALWAYS STAND ON THAT ROCK?” Replacing the pouch in his parka, the Indian slowly stood to his full height, turned and walked over to face Will squarely. Standing more than a full head taller than Will, he looked down, directly into Will’s eyes. After no more than a few seconds Will’s defiant expression began to wilt and we all saw something none of us ever thought we would see. Big Will McCarty, standing there, looking for all the world like he was going to piss himself. “Because that is where the fish are.” We had never heard him speak before. His voice was soft, even, and without a hint of malice, oddly out of place considering the circumstances. He returned to the counter and paid Jim for the fishing line before continuing. Turning his attention to Will again he asked, “Is possession of that rock something that is important to you?” Will, who seemed to be struggling to recover from whatever it was that had just blind-sided him, simply nodded his head. “Then perhaps there is another way to resolve this conflict without resorting to the violence you so
wish upon me,” he said. “You and the others in this room refer to me as Last Man Standing, is this not so?” Our eyes scurried around, trying to figure how he knew this and who had let the cat out of the bag. “Perhaps we can put that to the test,” he said. He went on to propose that on the following day, Will and himself should meet at the cove and take up positions on a rock of Will’s choosing at 2:00pm, right around mid-incoming. As the tide rises, the last man able to keep his position on the rock wins the contest and gets sole possession of the rocks in that cove. “Is this agreeable to you?” he asked Will. With a small portion of his former defiance returning and sensing an opportunity to redeem himself, Will quickly agreed. Word of the showdown spread quickly, and come next afternoon there were at least 25 locals lining the shore of Jacobs cove by the time the town clock tolled two bells. Will, who overnight had reclaimed some of his cocky nature, had arrived early and was waiting impatiently for the arrival of his opponent. As if on cue, the Indian appeared on the beach, walking toward the crowd from the west, arriving moments later. Without speaking, they both headed into the water with Big Will in the lead. He climbed up on his favorite rock in the cove and staked his spot out on the highest point of the sloping rock. The Indian simply stepped up on the rock and turned to face the sea. The moderate swells, punctuated by larger sets, seemed to indicate that this would be a long, but interesting contest. I think we all knew what the outcome would be before the contest ever began, but we had to watch anyway. As the tide rose over the next hour or so, some of the shore bound spectators began shouting encouragement to Will, who stood resolute, leaning into the ever growing waves. The Indian never budged. Even though he was standing on the lower portion of the rock, from our
vantage point, he still seemed much taller than Will. To make matters more interesting, the late afternoon winds had begun to kick up out of the southwest and were starting to knock the tops off of the building sea. One way or the other, we knew it would be over soon. The end came swiftly enough as the first wave of a particularly large set crashed onto the rock. Will, much to his credit, withstood the initial brunt, but as the last of the white water rushed over the rock, the struggling Will lost his footing. He fell forward, disappearing from our view for a few moments before the receding water revealed his prone form miraculously clinging to the rock. But this small victory would not be enough. As he struggled to regain his feet, the next wave broke viciously onto the rock, it’s full weight smashing into the defenseless Will. The impact drove Will’s head straight into the rock, knocking him unconscious, before unceremoniously sweeping him off the rock and into the swirling backwash. The big Indian never hesitated for a moment. He jumped into the chaos, hands searching the water frantically in an attempt to locate Will before the sea claimed him as her own. On shore, we were not even sure of what had happened until moments later he lifted the still unconscious Will from the seething waters. He made his way swiftly to shore holding Will high above the water. Upon emerging from the wash, he placed Will on a small sandy patch amid the boulder field. He quickly bent over and listened intently to his breathing as the gathering crowd murmured their concern. After a short period of time, he seemed satisfied at what he had heard and said to no one in particular, “He does not have water in his lungs, this is good. One of you should go call an ambulance”. Several of the guys immediately broke off from the crowd and made for the path up the cliffs. It would be a little while before they made it to a phone and even longer before an ambulance would arrive from over the next town. Shortly after they left, Will began to stir, first with a moan and then sitting up holding his head. The gash on his forehead and scrapes on his face were bleeding profusely, adding to his already ghoulish appearance. After a few moments he looked up at the
guys standing around him, his face a bloody question mark in search of an answer. “What the hell happened?” Several versions of his header on the rocks were related to Will and they all concluded with the Indian saving Will’s life and carrying him to shore. Will, still dazed and struggling to wrap himself around the implications of what he had just heard, looked up at the Indian standing quietly off by himself. “You did this, you did what they said?” he asked. The Indian nodded assent and walked over to join our group. He looked down at Will. “Would you have not done the same for me?” he asked. He then glanced over at me, as if remembering me from the previous day at Jim’s, before looking back down at Will. Will offered no answer to the question, but met the Indians gaze as he spoke in the same soft, even voice some of us had heard the day before. “If you had won this contest, you would have claimed ownership of these rocks and forbidden my use of them, is this not true?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer he continued. “But this has not come to past.” He then looked up, addressing us all. “As victor of this contest I ask only that you hear me now and understand my meaning,” he said. “I know you are angered at my presence and I mean no offense to your livelihood. Anger of this kind always leads to conflict and no good ever comes of it. This I know.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “A man almost died today, this for the illusion that he might win possession of some rocks. Your own history, it is filled with evil acts, a result of your never-ending thirst for possession. Yet you still do not understand,” he said shaking his head. “Possession is like a rope made of smoke and mist. It binds only in appearance but offers no
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substance, and is gone with the first breeze.” He gestured towards our surroundings. “No man may claim ownership of a rock, as the Creator of these things does not permit dominion of this kind.” He looked back down at Will, “As I cannot rightly claim ownership of these rocks, you may fish here whenever the sea accords you the privilege. I wish no further conflict, so I will fish these rocks no more.” With that, he walked past us and headed back down the beach in the direction that he had come. After that day, the general attitude of the locals toward the Indian began to change. Nobody really carped about his presence anymore, not even Will, and to be honest, myself and several of the others, had come to admire his incredible stamina and ability to pull cows from the surf. Yet, we still knew absolutely nothing about him. We tried to get Jim to ask him his name, but Jim would have nothing to do with it, so it appeared even that would remain a mystery. That day also marked a change in the Indian. He didn’t say much, but he began acknowledging our presence whenever he came into Jims, sometimes making eye contact and nodding greeting to my tentative “Hello’s.” Despite all the distraction caused by the Indian, we were actually having a remarkable fall run, the best I could ever remember. The ocean was full of market-sized fish, as well as many outsized cows, and the money was flowing. This tended to put everybody in a good mood, and in the spirit of that old idiom about “making hay”, many of us began to fish around the clock. But the truth is that by mid October, it was no longer about the money. Money was just the excuse we used because we couldn’t walk away, fishing was that good. Despite the constant howling of my back, and warnings from my doctor about my premature hypertension, I just couldn’t stop. And so it was that I found myself walking a section of beach one night, somewhat west of my normal stomping grounds, while waiting for the tide to turn.
Somewhere around the witching hour I noticed a small campfire in the distance and began walking toward it. I knew several of the guys fished this stretch and the prospect of warming up by a fire became very appealing, so I sped up my approach and focused my attention on the placement of my feet. I guess my sleep-deprived mind never considered the possibility, but when I finally glanced up, I was shocked to see that it was the Indian who was sitting on a large chunk of old dockage, warming his hands. I stopped dead in my tracks and upon his seeing this, he motioned me over with his hand. Without a shred of a backup plan, I simply complied with his wish as he gestured to a flat rock near the fire. “Please sit, share my fire” he said softly. I quickly sat on the rock and began warming my hands and staring into the fire, unable to meet the gaze I felt was upon me. The awkward silence that followed was interrupted only by the sound of waves breaking upon the rocks. Finally realizing that I was being rude, I looked up and said the only two words I could think of at the moment. “Thank you.” He smiled and dipped his head in that “you’re welcome” kind of motion. I couldn’t help but notice in the firelight that his eyes twinkled in an amused manner. He held my gaze for several seconds, until seemingly satisfied with what he saw there, before looking down at the fire and resuming his hand warming. “You have many questions and the tide has granted us time, please ask them now,” he said. It was not spoken as a command, rather the warmness of his voice made it sound more like an invitation, one that was gladly given and long overdue. Still trying to get my bearings I lamely asked the first question that popped into my mind, “What’s your name?” He laughed softly,
“Well, I kind of like the name “Last Man Standing” but it’s a little late to change my union card now.” Still laughing, he looked up and offered his hand. “My name is Terrance Littlefeather, just call me Terry.” His apparent sense of humor went a long way in easing my awkwardness, so I leaned over and offered my hand in return. “Ray Halderman.” His hand was huge and strong, but his handshake showed restraint and was not over-bearing. “Halderman, as in Halderman’s Hardware in town?” he asked. I nodded. “I think I scared the crap out of your check out girl” he said. Against my better judgment, I couldn’t help but laugh at the image and was relieved to see that Terry was also laughing. Apparently, ice was being broken. As he settled back, he reached into his parka and pulled out the same pouch I had seen that day in Jims. From it, he took out a chunk of something, unwrapped it, and cut off a piece with the knife he kept sheathed on his animal skin belt. Before popping it into his mouth, he offered it to me smiling, “Buffalo jerky, very good, and very hard to get around these parts.” I held up my hand in declination and then began laughing at my own silliness. “We were beginning to wonder if you ever ate,” I said sheepishly. At that, his laughter rang out over the pounding surf as the last sliver of ice melted and evaporated in the rising breeze. “Then you do have questions that need answers!” he managed between bouts of laughter. After that, we danced around with some small talk for quite a while, until I got to the point where I felt I could finally ask him the one question I really wanted an answer to. “That day on the beach, the first day I saw you, what did you do to me?” I asked. He returned to warming his hands by the fire.
“I looked at you,” he said. Thinking that he misunderstood, I re-phrased my question. “No, I mean I know you looked at me, but what was that thing you did, you know, inside me??” He looked up at me and repeated his previous answer. “I looked at you.” Before I could interrupt, he held up his hand and continued. “The Indian word for looking means something very different from your definition,” he said. “It is much,” he paused, “deeper, yes, I think that is the correct word, but I don’t think you would really understand.” He returned his attention to the fire. “And that day in Jim’s store, you looked at Will also?” I asked. He nodded. “Among other things, looking can act like a mirror to the soul,” he said, “and what Will saw there was his own violent nature amplified back at him many times over.” Despite my returning nervousness I continued anyway. “Can all Indians do this?” I asked. He looked up and smiled as if to dispel the fear he no doubt saw in my eyes. “No, of course not,” he said. “Only a very few are taught this skill. It was taught to me by my Father, who is the spiritual leader of our tribe. He was taught by his Father, and his Father’s Father, so on down the line for
generations beyond count. We use it in place of your courts, to settle arguments among members of our tribe, to divine truth and falsehood.” Knowing the old adage about curiosity killing the cat, I pressed on anyway. “So how do you do it, how does it work, I mean this is incredible, how come we’ve never heard about this before?” He started laughing at my wide-eyed disbelief. “Indian culture is thousands of years old and it is not taught in your schools,” he said. “We know many things that you wouldn’t understand, or even believe.” In my excitement, I didn’t even stop to think my next question through, it just popped out. “Well if you can do all these things, what are you doing here?” There it was, the sixty-four dollar question, delivered with all the subtlety of an atom bomb. I sat there stunned and appalled at my complete lack of tact. As if already knowing this question was coming, he once again turned his attention to the fire, the humor fading from his eyes as he stared into the flames. After a time he began to speak. “I was to be the next spiritual leader of our tribe, and my training started at a very early age,” he said. “I was taught many secrets before my twentieth year, but was unable to master the secret of the trance. Without it, I would never wear the eagle’s feather and become spiritual leader.” He paused, as if remembering some long ago pain, before continuing. “My Father was distraught, so he met with the other elders of our tribe and it was agreed that I should go on a vision quest to discover what it was that blocked my path. The morning I left, there were tears in my Father’s eyes. I spend 5 days and nights in the desert with no food and little water. On the fifth night I had my waking vision.” His eyes looked deeply into the fire. “There was a single bolt of lightning and wild water,” he began.
“I could taste salt and feel the water all around my body. There was also wind, blowing very hard, and the sound of a bell tolling.” His eyes grew large. “A huge fish appeared before me, a beautiful fish of silver and black lines. I knew this to be my Guardian animal, the one that would provide the answers I sought, my life’s path.” He looked up at me suddenly, his voice urgent, almost pleading. “She spoke to me, but I could not hear what she was saying over the sound of the wind and waves. I tried to focus all my being on what she said, but I was only able to make out one word, “east”. He returned his gaze to the fire. “She slipped back into the water and my vision dissolved.” He paused again as his shoulders slumped. “The next morning I returned to my village with a broken spirit, knowing that I had failed my Father and broken the chain,” he said quietly. His head dropped, hiding the tears that clouded his eyes. “In my despair I fell to drinking,” he said, his voice wavering. “But no matter how much I drank, the spirits would not let me rest. They would speak to me, repeating that one word, “east”, until I thought I was going to lose my mind.” “Then one night, they came upon me in my hut and purged the alcohol from my blood. I wept at the loss, and seeing the depth of my despair, they gave me a song, my song.” His voice brightened. “They also gave me a task, a way of completing my quest, a path of redemption.” He looked up at me again and the light returned to his eyes. “I have been following that path ever since. I have traveled far and fished many, many places.” He pointed east. “Your village clock, it sounds like the one I heard in my vision, and it can be heard on the beach
most times. I feel I am very close and the spirits have offered many encouraging signs as of late.” As he concluded his story, I felt a deep sense of remorse at my shortsighted question, as it had obviously dredged up painful memories from his past. “Terry, I am so sorry for what I said”” I blurted. “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded, really.” His smile returned as he held up his hand. “Please, do not trouble yourself about this. I have been living in this skin a long time and I am quite used to it. I know you meant no offense as it is not in your nature.” As if putting my apology to rest, he reached down and threw another piece of driftwood on the fire, triggering a flurry of sparks that rose high up into the breeze before expiring. He glanced over at me. “So what do you think, too much “spooky” stuff for you?” he asked slyly. The unmistakable glint in his eyes and the half-smile said that he was back in the present with his humor intact. The sincerity of his story had impacted me greatly. Regardless of the spooky factor, few people I knew were capable of commitment at that level. We continued to talk for a long while, filling in the blanks so to speak. He told of how he laid steel in the winter, walking around on beams 40 stories up, and how he enjoyed seeing the world from the eagle’s perspective. He also spoke of how he hand carves his own plugs, and how he pretty much lives on jerky and honey. As I listened, I remembered the old adage about judging a book by its cover. Despite his run-down attire, his voice carried power and conviction, and when viewed through the shifting shadows cast by the fire he appeared, well, almost regal. After a while his warm, even voice, my lack of sleep, and the heat from the renewed fire soaking into my body, began making me drowsy. Before I knew it I was drifting off, nodding in and out of dreamland. I could still vaguely hear the sound of the waves breaking, the sound of the fire
crackling, and the sound of his voice in the background. In that relaxed state of half-sleep, I suddenly became aware of a very strange sensation. It felt like hands were touching me, all over my body, inside and out. I bolted straight up from my rock and looked around startled. “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?” I yelled. “HOLY CRAP, what the hell just happened?” Remembering where I was, and who I was with, I looked over at Terry. He was looking back at me with an equally surprised expression. “Tell me what you just felt?” he asked quickly. The sensation was still fresh in my mind. “MAN, that was creepy,” I said, “it was like, I dunno, a bunch of hands touching me.” I shuttered at the memory. Terry looked at me in utter amazement. “This is most unusual and I do not understand the meaning,” he said. “This does not happen often, and I’ve never known it to happen to one of your kind,” he said. He shrugged his shoulders. “I mean no offense, I am just very surprised and do not understand what this portends. I think maybe,….” He trailed off as in deep thought. “Terry, what the HELL is going on, did something bad just happen?” I demanded. Terry came back into focus and looked up at me. “No, no, it is not a bad thing,” he said, “it is actually a very good thing, a very rare and wonderful thing.” He paused for a moment as if trying to find the correct words. “You have been shown favor, it is a great honor.” I still had no idea of what he was talking about. “Honor, shown favor, by who?” I asked looking around.
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He just waved his hand. “You wouldn’t understand, but I think it is a sign that I am close, we should fish now.” I could clearly see that something had excited him and seeing no point in trying to press him further, I jumped at his suggestion to fish. After what had just happened I needed a dose of the really real world anyway, so I grabbed my rod and plug bag and followed him down to the waters edge. The quarter moon provided just enough light to see that the conditions were about as perfect as they could be. As we arrived at the waters edge, he turned toward me and handed me a plug. “Use this, it has worked well for me as of late,” he said. The plug was monstrous in size compared to the plugs we typically threw, and had 2 giant treble hooks hanging from it that looked like they were hand-made from Siwash hooks. I was skeptical to say the least, but the size of the deep crescent shaped marks around the front hook convinced me to tie it on. Besides, I thought, it’s been a weird night all ready, so why not? We made our way out to some near shore rocks and started fishing. Terry was on a rock slightly west and a little further out than the one on which I stood. I started fan casting toward what I perceived to be a deep hole to the left and out from our rocks, and was surprised at how well the big plug he had given me casted. I’m sure he probably explained why, while I was busy snoozing on my rock by the fire. It also seemed to dig really deep. We casted into seemingly lifeless water for a short while, and out of the corner of my eye it seemed to me that Terry wasn’t really intent on his fishing. He appeared to be very focused on what I was doing, watching me, as if expecting something to happen. It was actually a bit unnerving, then again the whole night had been just that so far. With the phenomenal fishing we had been having of late, I found the current lack of activity strange. Pulling fish on either tide can make you spoiled in a hurry, and as I stood upon my rock, my short attention span started kicking in. With the fish-catching prospects looking dim, I began
thinking about my exit strategy. It had been a long and interesting night thus far, but all things must come to an end, so I called it my last cast and started cranking a little faster, just to hasten that end. I ticked the plug off of a submerged rock just as I was figuring out what I would say to Terry in parting. Three cranks of the handle later, I got slammed. In spite of my lack of attention, I instinctively set back hard. How often this happens I laughed to myself, just when you’re ready to move, or leave, you get whacked. I leaned hard on the fish, determined to get it in quickly, release it, and make my exit, but the fish had other ideas. Despite the considerable pressure I was applying, it almost seemed as if the fish didn’t even realize anything was wrong yet. For the first handful of seconds, it just kind of moved off in an easterly direction, slow and deliberate. Then all hell broke loose. The fish headed straight up and broke the surface about thirty yards out, thrashing it’s head back and forth, trying to free itself of the plug now firmly attached to it’s maw. With the amount of water being thrown and the noise it was making, I knew that this was a big fish, a really big fish, and my legs started shaking from the infusion of adrenalin that was hitting my blood. Failing to free itself of the plug, the big fish hit the afterburners and headed east. My drag screamed as line flew off my spool at an alarming rate. Being a veteran of several 40’s and one 50, I had never encountered anything like this, and my mental comparisons quickly revealed that I was in uncharted waters. This fish moved with a power and purpose I never thought imaginable, veering, diving, changing direction, all the while running me dangerously close to being spooled. As the initial run progressed, I did something I never do and palmed the spool a bit, to try and slow her down some. The bucking of my rod showed that it had little or no effect. I increased the pressure even more when it became evident that I was down to last thirty or forty yards of line. I sensed a slight slowing of her forward progress, and in a last ditch state of panic at being spooled, I clamped my hand over the spool, leaned back, and held my breath.
The parabolic bend of my rod matched the shape of the bright crescent moon overhead, as her forward progress finally came to a halt. Now it was her turn to panic, and in the far distance I heard her once again surface, shaking her head furiously in a futile attempt to throw the plug. With a returning sense of hope that I might actually land this fish, I leaned even harder, keeping the line tight and removing any chance of her shaking the plug free. Having failed to free herself of the plug, she sounded, sulking in the deep while she considered her next move. It didnâ€™t take her long. She broke directly toward shore as my worse fears were realized. Being over one hundred yards downwind, she would have her pick of rocks to wrap me on when she reached the inside bowl of the cove. My only hope was to get her turned toward me and keep her headed in that direction, getting her as close as possible before she rested enough for a second run. I leaned with all my might to pull her off her course, and thankfully, her tired muscles betrayed her. As she turned in my direction, I furiously pumped and cranked back down, in rapid succession, regaining precious line while giving her little opportunity to make a move. But as she came toward me, her resting muscles began to shake off the effects of her initial run, and as she drew closer I could feel her renewed energy gathering itself. Without warning, she broke for shore. I leaned as hard as I dared, and while I was able to move her toward me some, I knew it wouldnâ€™t be enough. She was close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, so when she became parallel to shore, I waited for what I knew would come. The ping on my line told me that it had just managed to pass over the top of a rock. Moments later I felt that grating resistance that says you are getting wrapped and the end is near. I hung on for a few more precious moments. In a move divided equally between desperation and defeat, I opened my bail, dropped my rod tip into the water, and screamed at the night sky in disgust. Having completely forgotten where I was, I looked over to the rock that Terry was on. He stood there, rod at his side and facing in my direction, evidence that he had been watching the whole event unfold. I looked back down at my reel and in
the moonlight saw that no line was moving off the spool. In utter dejection, I figured she had spit the bit, so I flipped the bail and started cranking in the line. As my line came tight with a sense of life, my heart leaped out of my chest. Inexplicably, she had turned and headed back out into open water, and she had not shaken the plug. She had me beat, dead bang, but didn’t have the patience to stay in the rocks. Smiling at my ridiculous good fortune, I leaned back into battle and she responded in kind. Her second run was determined, but lacked the power and strength of her first foray. It also put her further into open water, sauce for the goose I thought, for if I played it right, I might now have a chance at putting the hook in her. I no longer tried to move her and let the rod and drag do the work. I didn’t want to spook her, just let her wear herself out, as she was still a little too green to be horsed into the shallows. Her circular runs exposed her desire for gaining deeper water, but were her ultimate undoing, for it left her few options other than to pull herself into exhaustion. Before long, the lactic acid did its thing and she began to feel more like dead weight than the knock down drag out fighter she had been minutes before. I stepped down from my rock and began to move her toward me. Lean, reel down, lean, reel down, she was near now. In the moonlight, I could see the wake her back was making as she waddled back and forth, and I mentally crossed my fingers that she wouldn’t start rolling or thrashing when I got her in tight. My whole body was shaking from nerves and exertion and I became aware that I was talking aloud, sort of a play by play of the end game. As she came almost within reach I waited for the last ditch battle, hoping that my line wouldn’t catch a rock edge and part. But the battle never came. She was shot and offered only token resistance as she rolled over on her side within a rods length of where I stood. I was stunned by the size of her, clearly a 60, maybe more, bigger than any fish ever seen around these parts. As I reached for my gaff to deliver the final coup de gras, I was startled to see Terry standing right next to me. In that soft, even voice of his, he said,
“You must not do this” With all the adrenalin in my blood and a huge bass at my feet, I had trouble understanding what he was talking about. “Do what? What are you talking about?” I asked. “You must not do this,” he repeated softly as he looked down at the gaff in my hand. The realization of what he was asking hit me with the impact of a gunshot. “Oh no, NO, NOOOO, WHAT, YOU WANT ME TO RELEASE HER??? WHAT ARE YOU NUTS?? I yelled. “LOOK AT HER TERRY, THAT’S THE FISH OF A LIFETIME, YOU WANT ME TO LET HER GO???” Terry held up his hand to silence my protests as my prize washed into my legs nearly knocking me over. “You must let her go” he said, “This is important, it is a test.” “A TEST?” I asked, “A test of what?” “A test to see if you are worthy” he said as he lowered his hand. “WORTHY? Worthy of what? What are you talking about?” Terry took a deep breath and I could see that he was growing impatient. “Worthy of favor. You have been shown favor. It is a gift, a very rare gift that must be repaid, to show that you are worthy.” Despite my desire to seal the deal, his sincerity stayed my hand from putting the gaff in her chin. “PLEASE!” he pleaded. “We do not have much time. I will explain later, but we must act now before it’s too late. You must trust me on this.” I stood there for several seconds, torn between two opposing actions, before the sincerity of his plea finally won out. I dropped my shoulders and looked down at the massive fish gone belly up at my feet.
“I can’t believe I’m actually gonna do this” was all I could say. With no apparent recourse, I set about the task of reviving the huge fish. The plug came out easy enough, but she was pretty well spent. Under Terry’s watchful eye, I held her upright and moved her gently back and forth in the wash, coaxing as much water across her gills as I could. For several minutes I thought that I was on a fool’s errand, as she did not seem to be responding at all. But right about the time I started entertaining the thought that I might yet get to keep her, I began sensing tension in her body, as well as her mouth clamping down on my thumb. A short time later her tail began to curl, her fins came up, and the pressure on my thumb began to get uncomfortable. With a quick shake of her head she freed herself from my grasp, swam slowly off into the dark water, and was gone. I stood there staring out over the ocean in the direction she had just departed, trying in vain to understand what I had just done. I felt a sudden wave of exhaustion roll through my entire body, and now wanted nothing more than to go home and go to bed. Without saying a word, I grabbed my rod off the rock, turned, and started walking toward shore. Terry walked beside me, respecting my silence, until we reached the shore and had walked a short distance up the beach. He put his hand on my shoulder, halting my progress and forcing me to face him. I turned and stared down into the sand at my feet. His voice sounded pained. “Ray, I know that this was a very difficult thing for you to do,” he said. “That is the nature of these things, they are never easy. But you did well, you did the right thing.” I looked up at him. “Yeah, well maybe I did the right thing, but nobody is ever gonna believe me now. It’ll just be another fish story without the proof.” The bitter tone of my voice surprised me and I think it caught Terry a little off guard also, so I added
quickly, Sorry, don’t mean to take it out on you, I’m just…” as my thoughts deserted me, I stared back down at the sand. “I understand your anger.” he replied and then paused for a moment. “But you should know that you can never tell anybody about what has happened here tonight. Ever! This is very important.” My head snapped back up. “What do you mean I can’t tell anybody?” I demanded. “Why not?” “Because you will have wasted what you did here tonight,” he said. “You will lose the favor you have been shown and be deemed unworthy of the great honor bestowed upon you.” I just shook my head. “You keep saying this stuff, what favor? What honor? Who’s testing me and why? I don’t understand any of this.” I threw my hands up in the air in disgust. “All I know is I just let the fish if a lifetime go, and I have no idea why!” Terry held out his hand to silence my tirade and then took a deep breath, as if to indicate that he had no idea where to begin, so I figured I would save him the trouble. “Yeah yeah, I know, I wouldn’t understand, right?” I said sarcastically. He just looked at me, seemingly sad at his inability to ease the pain of my decision. “Look Terry, I gotta go,” I said waving my hands. “I’m so shot that I can’t even think straight anymore. All this Indian stuff has left me with a spinning head, a nasty case of bass rash, and a story I can never tell. Great, just great.” I turned and began the long trek back up the beach to my truck.
Despite the highlights and lowlights of the evening, when I arrived home I fell into a sound sleep the moment my head hit the pillow. I woke the next morning around 11:00 am feeling strangely refreshed and to my pleasant surprise, without the nagging back pain that I had been saddled with over the last several weeks. Over breakfast, I mentally replayed the previous night’s events, and by the time I finished my second cup of coffee, I realized that I had concluded the evening by acting like a complete jerk. Being that I didn’t have to be at the store until 1:00 pm, I grabbed my jacket and went out to find Terry, hoping that I would be able to make amends for my previous night’s sour behavior. He is usually not hard to find and today was no exception. As I cruised down CR35, the old coast road, I spotted him just outside the town line about a half a mile from where his camper was parked. I turned my truck around and drove back to the town stairs and parking area that I had passed a few hundred yards back. Upon parking, I quickly made my way down the stairs and up the beach to where he was fishing. I guess he saw me coming because he was already waiting for me when I arrived. As I walked up to him I could tell that he was not sure what kind of mood I was in, so I decided to take it easy on him. “I hear some idiot caught a big fish around these parts last night” I said. The twinkle in his eyes said that he was catching my drift. “Actually, it was a very big fish” he replied. “And I hear that this idiot let it go, why do think he did that?” I asked. Taking the bait, he replied. “You wouldn’t understand.” With that, I just shook my head and smiled. “Terry, I’m very sorry about the way I acted last night,” I said. “I know that it was something very important to you and that you wouldn’t have insisted I release
that fish without good reason. It’s just that I don’t understand any of this, I don’t know what it is that you are talking about.” “Look, I’ll keep my mouth shut about catching that fish, I just wish I knew what I was doing it for is all.” Terry looked out at the ocean before turning back and addressing me. “You do not need to explain or apologize,” he said. “The nature of a test is to bring out the best and the worst of a person. But you are wrong about one thing,” he said. “What happened last night is not important to me, it is important to you,” he said pointing in my direction. “I do not know what form your favor will take, as it is always different for each one who receives it, but it will make itself known to you in due time.” He then nodded in the direction of the sea. “You should go get your rod,” he said with a grin. “There are plenty of fish around today and you get to keep these, maybe even make a little money.” The humorous barb was not lost on me. “No can do today, I replied. “It’s my turn to close the store and I have to relieve my wife pretty soon, or it’s the doghouse for me. But, I’ll probably be back tonight though,” I said as I turned and waved goodbye over my shoulder. With a sense of relief and the burden of guilt removed from my back, I left the beach and headed back into town. I made it to the shop with time to spare and sent my wife off early. The refreshed feeling that I awoke with sustained me through my uneventful afternoon shift, and was still with me as I locked the door at 5:00 pm and headed home. When I arrived, I was met at the door by a wonderful aroma that indicated my wife was well into cooking dinner. With my stomach growling in anticipation, I walked into the kitchen to say hello, and
more importantly, see what was on the menu. As soon as I started lifting the lids off of pots, I was ordered out of the kitchen and banished to the den. “Go put on the TV and see what you can find out about that storm coming up the coast,” she demanded. “Storm? What storm?” I asked. She stopped what she was doing and just looked at me with that I can’t believe what I just heard look. “You’re kidding right?” she said. “It’s been all over the news since yesterday.” Laughing at my no doubt dumbfounded expression, she resumed her cooking as I wandered into the den to get caught up. Various network news channels were carrying the story and in a period of about 20 minutes or so, I was able to piece together the details of the storm. It appeared to be a rather unusual storm in that it wasn’t very big, but was moving very fast. It was bouncing between being categorized as a tropical storm and a category 1 hurricane. It had its start as a tropical depression spun off the coast of Africa and lazily made its way across the Atlantic. Off the coast of South Carolina, it intensified into a tropical storm and was projected to make landfall somewhere near the border. Then it did something very peculiar. The storm actually condensed, intensified, and completely changed direction and speed. It was racing up the coast faster than any previously recorded storm and if it remained on course, was expected to make landfall right in our backyard, tomorrow afternoon. All the weather forecasters seemed at a loss to explain the storm’s unusual behavior. One weather forecaster referred to it as a “weather anomaly” while another called it a “storm with a purpose.” Regardless of what they called it, there would be no fishing for me tonight. After dinner, I called Will McCarty up and asked if he would help me put plywood up over the store windows and it was agreed that he would meet me there at 9:00 pm. I left for the store shortly after that to get everything ready for the boarding up party. The store was storm-ready by midnight and
I briefly thought about going fishing, but upon returning home I opted to go straight to bed instead. I figured tomorrow was going to be a long day. The next morning seemed like any other morning weather wise, sunny and pleasant, without any indication of the impending storm. As I arose and peeked out the window, I began hoping that the storm had made another radical departure from its projected course and was on its way to becoming somebody else’s problem. My hopes were dashed by the morning news. The storm was still racing up the coast, straight as an arrow, and it looked like our little town had the bullseye on its back. For the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon I busied myself with readying the house for the coming storm. During the process, I started thinking about Terry and the precarious location of his camper on the bluffs. After buttoning everything up around the house, I asked my wife if she would have a problem with some extra company when the storm hit. Although finding my request a bit curious, she gave her consent, and even though I wasn’t sure I would be able to talk Terry into it, I had to at least try. I left the house just before the leading edge of the storm made landfall. As I pulled up next to Terry’s camper, I found him standing on the bluffs a short distance from his front door, gazing in the direction of the storm. I got out of my truck and walked toward where he was standing. As I approached, I noticed that he was holding something in his hand, rubbing it slowly. It appeared to be something hanging around his neck, and as I neared, he tucked it back into his parka and turned to greet me. “It is coming.” He said. One look told me that something had changed. There was a look of excitement in his eyes that I had never seen before in the short time since I had made his acquaintance. I just assumed that he was talking about the storm. “Yeah, it’s been all over the news since yesterday.” I replied.
“I don’t have a TV,” he said smiling as he nodded toward the camper, “no AC.” “Well, radio then?” I asked. Again, the big grin. “Radio has been broken for nine years,” he said. I just shrugged my shoulders and laughed. “All right then, how the hell do you know about the storm,” I demanded. He glanced back out over the ocean for a moment before turning to face me again. “Nature will always tell you what is coming. You need only to listen to what she is telling you.” Smiling, I just shook my head and muttered something under my breath about more Indian mumbo jumbo. “What was that?” he asked. “You wouldn’t understand.” I countered. We both started laughing and he nodded toward me in a “touché” type gesture. After that bit of relief, I got down to the business that drew me there in the first place “Look Terry, I want you to know that when it hits, you are more than welcome to weather the storm at my house.” As he looked at me, his eyes revealed that he had been completely taken off guard. He bowed his head slightly. “I thank you, he replied. “I am truly honored by your offer.” He hesitated briefly before continuing. “But I think you misunderstand the meaning of this event.” Misunderstand? I asked perplexed. “Yes,” he replied. As he turned seaward, his eyes took on the hundred-yard stare we had come to know from his early days in our town.
“It comes with the storm,” he said. “The nexus that I have been seeking for so many years, it is finally at hand. It will happen today, just as it happened in the vision of my long distant past.” He pointed toward the horizon. “It is near,” he said. Looking out over the ocean I could clearly see the black wall cloud of the storm fast approaching from the south. “I must get ready,” Terry said excitedly as he walked back toward his camper. “Ready? What do you mean ready?” I asked still staring at the approaching storm. He stopped and turned to face me. “I must get to Boulton Beach by the town. This is where it will arrive. I am sure of this.” He turned once again toward his camper and went through the door. Moments later he emerged, rod in hand, and headed toward widows path. I ran over and blocked his way. “You’re going fishing, NOW? I don’t get this,” I exclaimed. As he stood there impatiently, I could see the excitement building in his eyes. “Please trust me Ray,” he began, “I don’t really have the time to explain it to you right now. You are welcome to come and bear witness if you wish, but I must go now. I must be ready.” He walked around me and again headed for the path as I called out to him. “Why don’t you just drive there?” Even with his back to me I could tell he was laughing. “And risk losing this prime piece of real estate, no way” he said over his shoulder just before his huge form disappeared down the path to the beach. He may be crazy, but at least he still has his sense of humor I thought to myself. As I walked to my truck I began considering my next move. By the time I climbed behind the wheel, I had hatched a tentative plan and despite having no idea of what was going to happen, I knew that I had to see it
through. In for a penny, in for a pound, thatâ€™s how these things work. I first stopped home and told my wife that I was going to keep an eye on the store during the storm. I am never comfortable on those rare occasions when I tell a little lie to my wife, and this time was no exception. After gathering some extra wet weather gear and doing a last minute inspection around the house, I hastily left hoping that my ruse had avoided detection. As I drove in the direction of Boulton Beach, I too began to feel a sense of excitement welling up in me. Whatever was going to happen, it certainly promised to be interesting I thought to myself with a nervous laugh. As I pulled into the parking lot at Boulton Beach, I could clearly see that the storm was at hand. Like two worlds colliding, the sunny pleasant world of five minutes ago was being swallowed whole by the black wall cloud racing in from the ocean. The transition was so sudden, my eyes barely had enough time to adjust to the loss of light. I jumped out of my truck, popped open the back, and put on my waders and dry top, snugging the hood up over my head. As I finished suiting up, I couldnâ€™t help but notice how warm it had become. It felt like the devil himself was breathing all over the beach. I made my way to the top of the long stairs leading down to the beach and quickly scanned the shore looking for Terry. He was there, slightly west of the landing, standing at the waters edge. As I began the long descent down the stairs, I heard the town clock toll one bell. That would be two thirty I thought to myself, so whatever is going to happen, I hope it happens soon. Upon reaching the beach below I began walking slowly toward where Terry was standing, unsure of what I would do, or say for that matter, when I arrived. When I was near, I walked to the waters edge and approached him from the side, so as to not startle him, even though I suspected he knew my exact whereabouts from the moment I pulled into the parking lot. I stopped when I was about ten feet away. Amidst the gathering squall he stood there silently, head cocked in deep concentration, looking as though he was tuned into
some alien radio signal that only he could hear. I stood and waited for him to acknowledge my presence. And I waited. After maybe ten minutes I began to think that maybe I had made a mistake and should leave. As if plucking my thoughts out of thin air, he stirred from his meditative state and turned his head in my direction. “Thank you for coming,” he intoned. And then just as quickly, he again looked to the horizon and returned to his silent vigil. Well at least he knows I’m here I thought to myself as I mentally settled in to wait for whatever was to come. Despite the amazing speed with which the storm came ashore, the wind was not overbearing yet, nor was it raining much. Also, with the new moon a week away and the outgoing tide, there didn’t appear to be much storm surge. I couldn’t help thinking that the water looked very fishable, clean and green, with lots of white water. As I waited with Terry, I watched the numerous herring gulls working the surf line, floating gracefully on the wind currents before diving down to pick a piece of hapless bait from the churning water below. Their calculated and controlled movements were in direct contrast to the chaos of the strengthening storm and their endless feeding forays provided a pleasant distraction. Over the wind, the familiar notes of the Westminster chime rang out from the town clock, followed by the tolling of three bells. The afternoon was wearing thin. Over the next half hour the storm continued to build. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was very impressive. Standing on the shore during any storm of this magnitude would never be my first choice, but I had to admit that it was a very exhilarating experience. It wasn’t raining much, but the wind had picked up considerably and was pushing a pretty good heave in its wake. And all the while Terry never moved, like a military man at attention, rod at his side, eyes forward. Right about the time my ears picked up the toll of a single bell from the town clock, my eyes picked up a band of light colored sky just above the horizon. The eye of the storm was fast approaching.
As the sound of the bell faded in the wind, Terry sprang to life. Without saying anything, he strode out into the wash, rod in hand. As he walked, he unhooked the huge plug he had tied on earlier, from its resting place on one of the rod eyes and reeled in the slack. When he was thigh deep in the rushing white water he stopped and the waiting began again. From the shore where I stood, he seemed to be actively looking for something, scanning the water for some sign that only he could recognize. After about ten minutes, he apparently saw what he was waiting for. He quickly strode forward several paces and laid into a long cast. The plug sailed outward, into the teeth of the wind, landing just beyond the first wave. Terry stepped back a few paces and quickly reeled in the slack. As the plug dug into the back of the wave, he slowed his retrieve and raised his rod tip, letting the plug wallow in the back suck of the now breaking wave. He didn’t have to wait long. He set back hard and the bend in his rod told the story, as it was clearly being stressed in a manner that it had not been designed for. This was a big fish, a very big fish. What was surprising to me was that Terry wasn’t playing this fish at all. It looked as though he was literally trying to drag it across the top of the water! There was a sense of desperation in the way he fought this fish that reminded me of a drowning man trying to pull himself out of a well. I feared he had little chance of landing her if he continued his present course of action. But as much as Terry was a large and powerful individual, his opponent at the other end of the line was equal to the task. She was reluctant to move and only gave ground grudgingly, straining Terry’s rod to the breaking point. But give ground she did, as Terry pumped her steadily closer, leaning with all his might. Before very long, he had her within range, still very green and beating the wash to a frenzy, about thirty feet away. But she hadn’t played her trump card yet. Taking advantage of a receding wave, she bolted toward the deeper water beyond the break line in a determined bid for freedom. As Terry thumbed the spool and leaned back to turn her head toward shore, a resounding CRACK signaled that his rod had finally given up the ghost, and had snapped
just below the gathering guide. Without a moment’s hesitation, he grabbed the cracked upper section of the rod with his right hand and discarded the butt section and reel. He quickly worked his way up to the rod tip and wrapped the line around his left hand. The upper rod section joined the butt and reel on the sea floor. Terry was now down to landing this fish with what amounted to nothing more than a hand line. The loss of his rod and reel did nothing to deter Terry’s intense focus and in a single-minded act of will, he began dragging the monstrous fish toward him. Hand over hand, one foot at a time, the fish grew closer to where Terry stood. White water exploded everywhere around her as she desperately fought to free herself, but her efforts were in vain. Within moments, Terry had the huge fish at his feet, thrashing wildly in the wash. He reached down with his left hand, wrapped the line around it, and pulled her head up out of the water. Then with blinding speed, he clamped his right hand onto her lower jaw, popped the front treble hook out with his left, and tossed the plug aside into the wash. His left hand joined his right on her jaw just in time, as the sting of the hook being removed set her off. Like two behemoths locked in hand-to-hand combat, the battle raged, but for the huge fish there would be no escaping Terry’s vice-like grip. He had her now and he wasn’t letting go. With the fish firmly in his grasp, Terry dropped to his knees. The wash was now up to his chest and he was taking on water. As the huge fish struggled, he drew her huge head to within inches of his face and stared directly into her eyes. Her struggles increased as if to avoid his gaze, but he held her fast, imposing his will upon her. Seemingly sensing the futility of further resistance, her struggling ceased and she became motionless and supple in Terry’s grip. Joined in some strange ritual, they held this position for several minutes, silent and unmoving, as the storm raged around them and the eye wall drew near. Then, as if some secret accord had been reached, the giant fish shook her head and Terry released his grip. Her huge head sank below the seething waters, and with a slap of her tail she bolted out to sea.
For the next couple minutes, Terry remained motionless, as if in a trance, completely heedless of his surroundings. During that time, the Westminster chimes could be heard emanating from the town clock, followed by the tolling of four bells. As the fourth bell tolled, he rose very slowly and turned to face the sea and the imminent arrival of the eye of the storm. Just as he had the first day I ever saw him, he once again raised both arms high over his head, looked skyward, and began singing. Over the sound of wind and waves, his voice rang out strong and clear, as if summoning the heavens to take notice. The song was short, simple and beautiful, and as it repeated over and over, I became aware that it no longer sounded like it was just Terry singing. To my ear, it sounded like many voices had joined in and were singing in unison. I suddenly felt every hair on my body stand up. Even the hair on my head was moving away from my scalp. What the fuc….ZAP, CRACKLE, BOOOOOMMMMMM. The bolt of lightning that dropped out of the sky couldn’t have missed us by more than fifty feet and the resulting crack of thunder was so loud, it stunned the senses. As it rolled off in the distance I realized that the singing had stopped and as I looked over at Terry, I saw that he was completely enveloped in the blue glow of Saint Elmo’s Fire. He turned and faced me and then raised his arm up to his line of sight, calmly examining the blue aura that surrounded him. As he dropped his arm back down, the plasma evaporated into thin air with a snap. The eye of the storm was now directly overhead and through the hole in the clouds, the sun shone down brightly and the winds abated. Terry walked over to where I stood and despite looking like a large drowned rat, it was apparent that a very profound change had taken place in him. His face looked somehow younger, more at peace. “Too much spooky stuff for you?” he said, the sparkle in his eye saying that he still possessed his sense of humor. I just shook my head and smiled. “Never a dull moment when you’re around, that’s a fact.” I said.
He laughed as we headed toward the stairs. Halfway there he stopped and as I looked up, he pointed west, down the beach. “I go this way, remember?” he asked smiling. “Oh yeah, I forgot,” I said. “Let me give you a lift back, you’re soaking wet,” I offered. He held up his hand to halt any further insistence. “Thank you,” he said, “but it is my journey and I must finish it on my own.” There was a sense of closure in his voice. ”So what now?” I asked. “Now?” he said. “Now I go home.” “Yeah, you need to get out of those wet cloths or you’ll catch your death,” I added. A sad smile creased his face. He stood there looking at me, as if trying to figure out what to say next. “I have something for you.” He said solemnly. He reached down behind his neck. After a moment, he pulled a small amulet from around his neck and stood there looking at it dangling from his hand for several seconds. “The sea has many faces, but no heart,” he said. “Wear this, and you will always find your way back to safe ground.” With that he extended his arm out, offering the amulet to me. “Geez Terry, I don’t know what to say,” I said. “You do not have to say anything,” he said, “as it is my wish that you should have it.” I took the amulet from his outstretched hand and held it up to my line of
sight. In the late afternoon light, it looked like a piece of smooth brown rock, or possibly bone hanging from a soft, thin animal hide cord. Surprisingly, it felt as light as a feather. “You should put it on now,” he said smiling. “I wouldn’t want you to lose it.” I complied with his wish, struggling some to get it down inside my clothing. Once settled around my neck, I realized I could no longer feel it against my body. “That’s odd,” I said, “I can’t even feel it!” In answer to the surprised look on my face, Terry just smiled and nodded his head as if expecting this very reaction. “Thank you,” I said. “No, it is I who thank you,” he replied as he bowed his head slightly. Now I was completely confused. “Me? What did I do?” I asked. The same sad smile I had seen a minute earlier, returned to his face. He stood there looking at me, as if trying to paint some mental picture of the moment in his head for future posterity. “You wouldn’t understand,” he said, and with a wink of his eye he turned and headed down the beach. Little did I know that those would be the last words I ever heard from Terry. I stood there for a short time watching his huge form grow ever smaller in the distance, while I silently reflected on the strange events of the day. I finally turned and made my way off the beach and back to my truck. As I shed my wet weather gear, I began to wonder if my wife had caught wise to my transgression. I mentally crossed my fingers, hoping that she hadn’t, because trying to explain this would not be an easy task. As I climbed in my truck, the sun was shining and the air was warm and humid. Considering that it was late October, it felt just like a summer day. Strange days indeed.
The backside of the storm never materialized, apparently blowing itself out over the Atlantic. Locally, there was no real damage reported, other than a few loose shingles blown around, and by the next day it was back to business as usual. Thankfully, it appeared that my wife had not discovered my little secret, and if she had, she never made mention of it. The next morning, after a remarkably sound nights sleep, I arose early and attended to the store windows, getting all the boards down and stowed away by the time we opened at 9:00am. When my wife relieved me from my shift at 1:00pm, I shot straight away for the old coast road and headed for Terry’s camper. As I pulled into the empty lot, the realization that he was gone caught me sideways. Apparently, I had completely failed to grasp the meaning of what he had said the day before about him “going home”. I got out of my truck and walked around the lot for a bit. Turning toward the sea, I looked out over the vista that Terry must have viewed many times during his stay here. I stood there for a very long time, working through a series of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I was happy for him, that he was going back to his true home to be with his people. On the other hand I was sad, as our little town, and my life in particular, would be a little less exciting in his absence. After a time I got in my truck and drove home. Nowadays, when I look back on those long ago events, I like to think that Terry had found whatever it was that he had been searching for. I also like to think that he had returned to his people and had taken up his rightful position as spiritual leader of his tribe. And I think this may not be far from the truth. Several weeks back I received a curious package in the mail. It arrived at the store and was addressed to my attention and had no return address. When I opened it, there were only two items inside, a big old hand-carved plug with monster hooks and a single eagle’s feather. I haven’t stopped smiling for weeks.
I’ve never really come to grips with what happened during those final days before he left. That night around the campfire, Terry said I had been shown favor and that it was a great honor. At the time, I didn’t understand what he was talking about, but I think I do now. For the record, I’m not saying that I buy into all this Indian hocus pocus, but ever since that night my back has never bothered me again, my cholesterol numbers are spot on despite my lifelong love affair with junk food, and I have the blood pressure of an eighteen year old. Terry called it a rare gift, my doctor calls it a miracle. As to why I was bestowed this honor, I will never really know. Perhaps it was simply because I befriended a man who badly needed a friend. As for the amulet that Terry gave me that afternoon after the storm, well, whenever my wife asks me why I won’t take that “ratty thing” from around my neck, I just tell her, “You wouldn’t understand.”
Dedicated to all Native Americans. Lest we forget, they were here first.
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Contributors: Roger Martin has fished the rocky beaches of Rhode Island, plowed through soft sand on Cape Cod beaches and navigated the treacherous rocks of Montauk. But most of the time, you'll find him close to home, on the sandy beaches or the back bay marshes of Long Island’s south shore. Over the last half century he has written numerous articles, authored a chapter in William Muller's book “The Secrets of Surf Fishing at Night” and given many presentations on the subject of surf fishing. He was taught how to rig eels by his friend, the late Al Bentsen, and has passed this knowledge on to many others. Roger and his wife Marie are co-editors of the Surfcaster's Journal and they are the ones who labor over our sloppy writing, bad grammar and terrible pronunciation errors. For that alone they should be saluted. Zeno Hromin is the author of two recent bestselling books, “The Art of Surfcasting with Lures” and “The Hunt for Big Stripers.” He is a budding angling photographer who has won numerous awards for his camera skills. He is one of the founders of the Surfcaster's Journal and a frequent contributor to the Surfcaster's Journal Blog. You can get more information about Zeno on his website www.zenohromin.com Email him at email@example.com Lou Caruso is a long time member of the Farragut Striper Club, Surfcaster's Journal official "Rod Guru" and one of the most well regarded custom rod builders on Long Island, NY. His web site is www.louscustomrods.com Tommy Corrigan is an insanely driven, ridiculously talented dude who designs the Surfcaster's Journal magazine from his head. No guidelines, no drafts and no boxes
into which to plug articles. Everything that you see is the result of late night inspirations on those nights when his better half makes him stay home. When he manages to sneak out you will probably find him on a local beach, plying his craft. His talents are vast and range from music CD cover designs, to posters, books and t-shirts. Don't be surprised if the design on the shirt you or your kid is wearing was created by our design guru. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Dave Anderson is an editor of “The Fisherman Magazine”, New England edition. You have probably read many of the articles on surf fishing he has written over the years for that magazine and other publications. What you probably did not know was that Dave is also a well respected plug builder who creates exceptional lures under the name Surf Asylum. You can receive his newsletter by dropping him a line at email@example.com Rich Troxler has roamed the south shore bridges on Long Island under the cover of darkness longer than he is willing to admit. A very observant angler, he spends many nights following the migration of baitfish in the back bays in order to gain a better understanding of the striper’s feeding habits. Rich is well respected among his peers for his tenacity as well as for his skills. John Papciak is a well known New York surfcaster who is equally comfortable with a fly rod or a surf rod. John is one of the most fearless surfcasters of this generation and one of the rare anglers who fish from the far rocks with a fly rod. As much as we all admire his fearlessness when swimming to the rocks in the middle of the night, we are even more impressed with his conservation ethic. He was one of the people involved in the Bring
Back Big Bass campaign in recent years and he has been always on the forefront of the conservation movement among the surf fishing community. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org DJ Muller is a surf guide and author of three books on surfcasting. His latest book, “Striper Tails” is a collection of surfcasting stories from along the coast. He is a frequent contributor to many northeast publications and one of the most sought after seminar speakers in the Northeast. To contact DJ please visit his website at: www.djmullersurfcaster.com Manny Moreno is considered by many to be one of today's most prolific big fish hunters. His exploits are well know regardless if you fish Block Island, Cuttyhunk, Cape Cod or Montauk Point. He is a contributing author of the book The Hunt for Big Stripers and possibly one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet at the beach. Just don't ask him where he catches all his big fish John Skinner is one of the most respected surfcasters on the striper coast. He authored “A Season on the Edge” and he also was a contributing author in the book “The Hunt for Big Stripers.” John is a stickler for details and his meticulous attention to detail has paid off over the years resulting in catches of some very large stripers. His propensity for obsessing over every little detail led him to develop the very popular “Fishers Log” software, which is used to record information on each fishing trip you make so that you can analyze past catches based on moon, tides ,winds and many other variables. His web site is www.fisherslog.com
Joe Malat has nearly 50 years of fishing experience. He is a skilled surf fisherman and has spent several years as a full-time professional surf fishing guide on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As an outdoor writer and photographer Joe writes about saltwater fishing along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, specializing in North Carolina’s surf, pier and inshore fishing. He is the author of four books; Surf Fishing, Pier Fishing, and Let’s Go Crabbing. Joe’s writing and photographs are published regularly in several national and regional magazines. Joe is an active member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. He has been the Director of the Outer Banks Surf Fishing Schools since 1994. This unique program offers classroom and on-the-beach sessions that teach the fundamentals of surf fishing. Joe also presents workshops, seminars and clinics about Outer Banks saltwater fishing. Visit his web site at: www.joemalat.com. David Porreca is a New England native who has fished throughout the United States, but he is especially passionate about fishing the varied and bountiful salt and freshwater fishing opportunities in his own home state of Rhode Island. He is a professional fishing guide and his enthusiasm for fishing and keen interest in learning more has gone from being a hobby to a way of life. Over the years David has instructed countless anglers in the art of fly casting, and fly tying, as well as insect, and water anatomy. As the owner of River Riptide Anglers, it is David’s privilege to share his knowledge and passion for fishing with anglers of all kinds from beginners to advanced, while offering the finest fishing equipment available based on his own experience and that of other fishing specialists. www.riverandriptide.com
SURF CASTER’S j o u r n a l