A Couple Of Fish

The exhaustion of the very late tides had finally gotten to me and with groggy eyes I smashed my little toe in to the edge of the counter and for all practical purposes..........broke it!  As I sat pale in the chair I said to myself.  If that doesn't take the cake....brutal tides..no sleep...no food...no fish to speak of, and now I can hardly walk.  I was, as we used to say in days long gone,   BUMMING OUT.

"Sea Freeze" was a company that sold mackerel and they froze their catch at sea.  It has always been the freshest bait and apparently no one can get  that any longer.  Add that to the dilemma.....no good bait.  I had caught four keepers early on some old sea freeze I had  and a herring head.  But the good bait was gone so I went out to scout for something fresh.  I rolled into Belsans Bait and Tackle to shoot the breeze with Pete and discuss this bait problem.  It pays to have connections and without getting into detail,....... Pete set me up with some luscious bait and my spirits were re-newed for the evenings tide.  I limped home....literally, and tried to calm down so I could at least sleep a couple of hours before the darkness dance of the upcoming Friday morning tide........3 AM!  The fact that the weather channel assured rough thunder storms for early morning almost deterred me from getting up because getting soaked would only add insult to the injury of  a nibble less night......But I set the alarm , and peacefully dozed off with stripers in my dreams.

One thirty came all to soon and when I jumped up at the sound of the clock, the realization of my broken toe also sent out an alarm.......OUCH!. I choked down some coffee from the day before....got on the waders......grabbed my rod....no make that two rods....got some of belsans bait and hobbled off to the "spot of the day".  Oh yes, I brought hope with me also.

I have a menagerie of surf rods and reels....some for this and some for that.  I like very old equipment and in the case of my new custom 11 foot rod and Van Staal reel, I also like top of the line, new equipment.  I had retired a fifty year old custom corning fiberglass rod with metal guides that are slightly corroded and its accompanying mint condition Garcia Mitchell reel.  It landed a 35 incher last year, but the abrasive guides worried me during the fight and I decided to end her career with a success.  For some reason on this morning I reached for it again, the excuse being that maybe I will throw lures with it at sunrise if schools bust near the beach.  So off into the moonlit blackness of July ,and unlike my nature when  night fishing, I brought the very old setup and the very new one.  I think back and wonder if the poor success I had recently had tempted greed and I was really bringing that smaller rod with the intention of keeping two lines in the water...I do not suggest it at night, but sometimes times I don't even do what I suggest others to do...Striper Mike can be like that!

I am addicted to the lure of surfcasting because of its proximity to the fury of the ocean.........your in it!  But the truth is that the absolute top tingle for a surfcaster is the NIGHT.  The misty ..eerie, moonlit periods where you stand alone in the days darkness.  It is solitary .....pensive...and god awful exciting.  So with this spiel running through my tired mind as a motivator for another round on the sand...............As previously mentioned, I stuffed my broken toe into my waders....picked up my load of gear......new mackerel..... a last gulp of old coffee, and limped off  with a hunched over gait of exhaustion...............into the darkness.

When arriving at my predetermined spot for these tides, the rocks seemed more dense than normal and I fumbled with the 2" gray pipe I use as rod holders.  I fumbled because I could not get them pounded into the sand very deeply due to the rocks and I do not like pounding in the night for fear of spooking my quarry.  The first spike went in loosely and that would have to hold the light antique set up.  It are times like these that make me realize how appropriate the name is for my little town.....HUMAROCK....surely not HUMASAND!  I had to drive the other spike in deeply.  It would hold my new rod and reel.  The cardinal rule for all surfcasters....DO NOT LET THE REEL TOUCH THE SAND!  I drove the pipe in with piston pounding and for some reason it seemed to slide by the intruding rocks below and sank firmly into the sand.  This deep set would be home for the big unit.  I set up the van staal first. My face felt smiley, when I saw the pinkness of belsans mackerel and eased it on to the # 6 circle hook.  With Al Smiths custom built rod, just for striper mike, I cast that bait nearly to England!  As with the dreary nights before,.........I began the wait.

Two thirty rolled around quickly and nothing even nudged the bait.  I was convinced that they just were not around this week and the million , useless, reasons why started to filter through my mind.  You can know the world about fishing.........doesn't mean they will bite.  And they weren't!  Greed took over and I rationalized that I was tired and there were no fish....so why not go for it. I would bait up the old rod and cast that out also.  So I did.  It landed behind the second curl and I held that rod due to the flimsy spike meant for it.  I rebaited the new unit and recast it to far beyond.......tightened the line and put it in the more firmly established sand spike .  

The predicted thunder storms for early morning began to rumble in the back ground and it seemed like a bass backup for the eternal renditions of Solitary Man , by Neil Diamond and Running On Empty , by Jackson Browne.....that I kept humming in my head over and over and over.  This can be a lonely avenue for adventure.  "What am I doing here?"  " nothing is biting ...my toe is killing me...and I am blindly exhausted"..........What am I doing here?"

The insult of a tiny crab nibble on my bait was detected in the old rod as I held it.  Night time brings incredible sensitivity because without sight, the other senses are dramatically enhanced.  So I noticed the crabs tiny tugs...............until it nearly ripped my left arm right off!  I arched the old fiberglass instinctually back and felt a familiar reaction......and it wasn't a crab.  The old spring drag system on the antique Garcia reel offered trusts of line as the cow raced off down the beach.  She felt loosely hooked but maybe it was extra give in the flexible rod.  I felt my breathing pickup and that is a good measure ..for a good fish.  And this was a good fish!  Although the moonlight offered some visibility , I could feel the odd sound of the line passing over the corroded guides and I wondered how long the green trilene would hold  before heating up and snapping........I softened the drag and settled in for the 20 min haul.  It was obvious that with the lighted drag, I would have to chase the fish down the beach.  So before moving down the shore I reached over and loosened the drag on the firmly spiked Van Stall just in cast something were to bite that rod.  Many setups have sailed into the ocean when left unattended in loose spikes and with tight drags.  That rod was Hand wrapped by a true friend of mine...Ed Norton...and I would rather loose my Jeep than that outfit.  The wide open drag assured that it would stay put until this battle ended...........limping to my left and down the beach, I chased her.

About ten minutes into the tug of war she spun back to the right, and I found myself back to the original area where all my gear was.  I glanced up at the moon so I could silhouette the other rod against the night orb ......just to be sure that all was well.  The breeze was from the east.....yet the rod was dipping toward the ocean in a pulsating fashion and the faint whine of the drag made me gasp at the thought..........ANOTHER HOOK UP!

When I start to get flustered I have learned to calm myself by breathing through my nose. It seems to monitor the amount of oxygen I take in and can helps maintain my composure.....but all of this in the darkness and loneliness of the moment was to much for this strategy and I sucked in air like I was sprinting to a finish line.  The moment deserved this chaos.  As you would expect, I ran to the side of the spiked rod....with the other cow still yanking the hell out of the sputtering Garcia.  Sure enough, the line was racing off of the Van Staal and that was no crab either!  

Sometimes I love being ME!  What will I do?  Following Along?   Good.  Because here is what I did.  The other spike was to loose to hold the first rod and hooked fish.  She would dump the outfit in to the sand.  So......I stuffed the butt of the old rod down inside my waders....picked up the big outfit...tightened the drag....and buried the hook home on what was obviously a pre hooked fish.  This hookup was as solid as a rock .  and this fish also felt like a big lady.   Well ......no bites for days..and two fish on in 10 minutes. ......together!...I laughed out loud from nervousness and the insanity of it all.......Would I loose one or both of these???

When I put the big rig back into the well established spike, I held my breath to see if it would hold the pressure of the fish.........It did.  The first fish was winding down and I felt her start to ease toward me.  Again, I stuffed the small rod butt down my waders and picked up the custom unit to further analyze what was attached to the end of the line.  I tightened down the Van Staal drag even further....cranked in about 10 turns and repositioned it in the spike......it still held!   I was going to make the move toward landing the first bite.  So as the pumping , spiked rod, faded from my view as I pursued the other striper....I prayed the spike would hold.

Down to the surfs edge....and the 15 minute tug of war ended as the silver beauty slid out of the licorice ocean....and lay exhausted on the sand.  NICE ONE!......I whipped out my measuring tape and laid it down her length.  37"....with decent weight.  One hell of a catch on such a small and older rod and reel.  I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and with pride.......slid her back home.  

I did not think I could run on a broken toe, but I did ,as my pace took me back to the rod in the spike.   The throbbing seemed slack and I sort of knew that would be the case.  These great game fish can get off when you are holding the rod and amidst the fight.  An unattended outfit with all the options for escape available to the striper, is easy pickins.  I reeled in the slack line, only to have it retighten instantly.   She is still there!  If a yellow fin tuna wandered close to shore, I could land it with this rod and reel.  Even in the rod holder, the rod had whipped this foam feeder on its own.  From the time I picked up the outfit till when I felt her give in, were mere minutes.  Could I possibly get this fish also??????  I rolled her through the last curl with ease and went down for another meeting with my opponents.  When I picked her up by the lip , I felt the back of my hand get raked by her teeth.  I saw the darkness of the blood in the muffled moonlight.....and didn't mind it.  I was huffing and puffing from sheer lustful thrills, but even though no one was there...I acted as if I was composed.  What a showoff.....!  Again the measuring tape came out.    and believe it or not.....again it was 37 ".  I positioned the tape next to her and tried to take a dignified photo to remember this moment by.  After exchanging another smooch, I carried her gently to her soothing sea, and literally sat down in the shallow water to watch her swim away.  A moonlight glance at my watch said 300am..high tide.....and in an almost symbolic fashion, a lightning bolt accompanied the ever approaching thunder storm.  I smiled....and then actually laughed at just how cool that was.

This is why I prefer surfcasting.  It is rugged, spontaneous, sensual, confusing and naturally breath taking. My toe still hurt on the limp home but the instant replay that was unwinding in my head made all the ouches, painless.  I had caught 2 or more keepers on many tides......but never at the SAME TIME!

All my gear was rinsed off by the downpour that soon followed and as the sun rose and the clouds faded away, it was as if nothing ever happened.  That is usually the case with night tides.  You fight the fury with no beach fans to cheer you on.  And so, sipping on another coffee , my neighbor Jim came out.  My first reaction was to retell this incredible saga to him.  But I knew this would eventually be a Striper Mike Story (Jim is an avid reader of Angling Lore) and pairing that with some ongoing vagueness that all fisherman have, and that includes Jim and I, my face formed a smile instead of words .  "Did you fish last night"........Yeah, I went out for the incoming tide........"Did you get any".....I paused..........and with a snicker on my face, knowing he will read this, I said...."I GOT A COUPLE OF FISH"......!

Strain your senses and your skills.....NIGHT FISH FOR STRIPERS.....please practice catch and release. ......Striper Mike



.........close to 35 lb 43"...hot July night.