By Dave Anderson
In its own way, this project is a dangerous one. It’s dangerous because I have made this sound like it’s a goal—but it’s not. This undertaking is a 50-50 split—it’s half for your entertainment and half to get my ass in gear. The project is about the pursuit and not about the result. I chose to make it about breaking 50 because that’s a romantic number in striper fishing. I have caught one 50, but I’ve never caught a 49—it’s kind of funny that if I do that in 2019, I’ll add a notch to my belt and some will still perceive this project as a failure.
My strengths as a fisherman are in my understanding of the water and how fish use the water to their advantage. I also—seem to—have a good grasp on how and what the larger specimens of the bass species hunt and how they gauge danger and risk and reward. I am not the best big fish surfcaster on the planet—I am far from that. But I am one of those people that understands that success does not come at random. I fully accept that my best seasons were a direct result of the same things that caused my worst ones—my willingness to work for success.
Many of you know that I am a relatively new dad, and my fishing has changed because of this. This is not an excuse and it’s certainly not a dig at the family life. It’s a shift in priority, it’s one that I have a happily and willingly accepted. I have been lucky enough to be able to stay home and raise my daughter from birth until now—she is a reflection of me… well, a reflection of me that loves doing cartwheels, and wearing pink and performing impromptu ballets. I wouldn’t dream of trading that for anything on this Earth. These last five years have made me accountable, she has relied on me to be present, to be man enough to step above my fishing priorities and to focus on her and on being awake and patient and willing to teach her and care for her—not cranky and half asleep because I stayed out all night long five out of seven again.
But I feel that it’s time for me to refocus myself as a surfcaster. Don’t get me wrong, I have fished a lot in these last five years, but I have spent many of those nights just trying to catch a few fish and have fun. Who can blame me for that? After all, fun is the basis for why we all do this. And I have gone through stretches where I knew the chances were higher than normal for a big fish and I (and/or my fishing partner) have taken some nice fish during those periods. But the relentless pursuit of a big fish is just different. It’s still fun, but the game feels more intense, the stakes seem higher even though the prize is the same: personal satisfaction. I wanted to take on this challenge to reawaken that fire inside myself. To focus on hunting big fish and big fish only again. It’s one of those funny things, it’s an instinctual thing for me, but I have often ignored my instinct in favor of enjoying some fun fishing. This year I plan to do a lot less of that.
These ‘in pursuit’ blog entries are probably going to be pretty heady. So much of how I conduct myself as an angler comes as a result of intense thought. Some might be surprised to learn that I don’t use a fishing log. I used to be embarrassed to admit that, but now with 20 years of surf fishing behind me, I have come to realize that not relying on notes has forced me to become instinctual. It has taught me how to cross-reference location—looking at a place I’ve never been and building a profile of it based on past experiences in places like it. These experiences LIVE in my head and have to be fresh for reference at a moment’s notice, if they were tucked away in a book from 12 years ago, I don’t believe they would do me much good. For better or for worse, everything I do is based on feel and I have honed my ability to make decisions using this ‘sense of feel’ through all of these 20 years of surf fishing and the decade of freshwater fishing that preceded it. Looking back, I wish I had logged it all, there would be a written account of more than half my life there, but I might have become a different type of angler because of it. I feel good about where my instincts have taken me so far, in a way, this will be kind of like logging... maybe I’ll like it.
I’ll say it again, don’t let that number—50—cloud your vision. I honestly don’t care if I hit it or not. I’m looking at this as an opportunity to document my thought processes. Fifty is just a number and the value of a significant catch cannot be measured in pounds. Each big fish is equally significant, personal bests are just a footnote. In fact, when I talk about my PB, I always shy away from the weight, calling it ‘my big fish’ instead. Because she came along as a result of working hard to find big fish—if she was 49 or 59, everything else I did would have been the same. Do you get where I’m coming from here?
I am excited to take this on and I am excited to share what I believe is the best path to lead me to that big fish. The biggest challenge in this whole thing will be writing the blog. It’s going to require a lot more focus than just staying in the big fish mindset. I won’t be giving any locations away—but I will be talking a lot about why I’m picking the types of spots that I am as the season progresses. And I’ll be going into great detail about presentation and mindset and the turmoil that comes from gritting one’s teeth and focusing on one thing for eight months. Someone asked me the other day, “What if you catch a 50-pounder before the end of May, what will you do then?”
“I guess I’ll start looking for a 51.”
By Jerry Audet
The first of my projects, as previously eluded to in the post describing In Pursuit, is to finally get a 25lb striped bass, from shore, on the fly rod. If you missed that post, you can find it here. For the next couple weeks, I'll be starting each post with this standard statement so those who missed it can catch up.
I’ll make this first post a mental download of where I’m coming from, just to get the ball rolling.
I started fly fishing in the salt, from shore, in 2014. I had a fly rod as a kid, and caught a few dozen small trout on the fly over a decade or so years, but I most of that time I was fishing worms because- frankly- fly fishing was hard. I then set it down, and didn't fly fish again for at least 5 years.
Anyways, I didn’t really fall in love with fly fishing until pretty recently. In 2012 I decided to make the commitment, simply because a cycling friend convinced me I was missing out. He saw how obsessive I was about...everything...and he thought I'd love it. He sold me a decent 8wt setup for real cheap, because he hadn't used it for a few years. I was really, really busy at the time, and struggled time to get out and fish at all. But, I could walk outside in the evenings to the field behind our apartment and cast for an hour. So that's what I did. I spent 4 months casting over grass before I ever went near the water.
Soon after, once things quieted down in my life, I started catching all kinds of freshwater fish on the fly rod in rivers, lakes and ponds, both from the Kayak and also from shore. This honed my skills, and taught me a lot. And for the last 7 years, I’ve been 99% fly only in sweet (fresh) water.
I had also been surf fishing for several years at this point as well, but I never even considered fly fishing the surf until much later. It just never really crossed my mind. At that time, I was still just trying to lock down a few reliable spots, catch whatever would eat my bait (I chunked a lot then), and was definitely not looking for a challenge.
Anyways, the first fish I caught on the fly in the surf was, strangely, during a work trip to Florida. I packed the rod on a whim, knowing my hotel was just about on the beach. I didn’t have a travel spinning rod at the time, so the fly rod was all that would fit in my carry on. I had no striping basket either, and discovered very quickly that fly fishing the surf was about 10 billion times harder than fishing a pond from a kayak or fishing a river from shore. I was constantly tangled, I couldn’t cast more than ½ the normal distance, and my fly (a small clouser) was constantly hitting the beach behind me and getting snagged.
Then, I got bit off twice by…something. I was beyond frustrated at this point, and even at 5:40am it was crazy hot (it was August) and I just thought to myself…fuck this!
So I started walking back to the hotel, when I saw nervous water right on the other side of the wave. I couldn’t resist, so I stripped off my line again and made a cast. The first cast I had a tiny bump, and I strip set the hook. YES!
I finally landed a feisty little Blue Runner, which is a sharp toothed little bastard that looks like a tiny Blue Fish. I was breathless with excitement!
I released the little guy, fixed my fly, and as I began to cast again I had one of those super cliché moments that feels more like a movie than reality.
The sun peaked over the horizon, and I saw there were multiple 100lb tarpon right behind the first wave, hanging motionless like mini chrome submarines! It was a moment I will remember forever, the rolling surf, the suffocating heat, and those haunting shadows just sitting there seemingly waiting for me. I frantically changed my fly to a bigger pattern, and then casted to them for a while, heart pounding, and eventually one took the fly. It didn’t jump, unfortunately, but it did break me off almost immediately. I didn’t even get the line out of my hand. I laughed manically for at least a minute, getting stares from the early morning joggers and dog walkers passing by me.
That’s the day the addiction really kicked into gear. I came back and that season caught a few dozen schoolies during the fall on the fly rod. I didn’t do it much, just a couple times, but I could see the potential.
The following spring, I didn’t fly fish the salt at all. I guess, you could say I kind of forgot about it. Which is...wierd since I was crushing large mouth bass near my house on my poppers I was making (you'll learn more about these soon).
But then in 2015 I took a trip to the Florida Keys and I caught my first bonefish on a fly, and some barracuda, jumped a few Tarpon (hooked them but lost them), hooked and lost 1 permit, and had a few other strange by-catches like a Box Fish, Hound Fish, and Snappers. I worked my ass off (at least 80 hours in 10 days) trying to catch the 2 bonefish I eventually landed, and the 6 I hooked, and it was a real game changer. No guide, no boat, no advice, no idea what I was doing. I just went, and did it. Trial by fire. It was windy as hell, and everyone said the fish were scarce. They certainly were spooky...and there were monster bull sharks I had a couple close calls with. And, Carly (my wife) and I both had black tips and nurse sharks literally bump into us. It was less a vacation, and more a boot camp in flats fishing. A dumb Yankee blundering into success through pure grit.
I came back to MA on fire about the fly rod. And that year I had maybe 30 or 40 schoolies on the fly rod to just short of keeper size (yes, I measured a 27” fish because I really wanted to know!). I broke two fly rods in half, and ruined a couple reels too. I had a ball. But it was just something to do when I wasn’t being serious. Not a focus at all.
In 2016 I caught a lot more stripers on the fly, more than 100, and a handful of keeper size fish. Then, in 2017- the year of suck for me overall- I got my first few low teen bass on the fly rod during a magical blitz at Cutty. I’m not sure how many fly rod fish I had in 2017, it’s in my logs but it’s not that important, but I’m guessing it was maybe 100 or so again.
Last year, I had a pretty good year overall- fly and spinning. I had probably closer to 200 fish on the fly, roughly 25% of my total, and probably a couple dozen in the low or mid-teens to about 18lbs. A lot more fish around and at keeper size. And in more places too- I caught in several places I hadn’t before.
However, even last year, fly fishing has always been the “other” thing for me. It’s a thing I do if I’m bored, or if I can’t find big fish, or if I needed a break from working hard and just want to go mess around. Or if there’s a daytime blitz, I’ll put down the popper and grab the fly rod. It’s just never been a priority. Plugging has always come first. I fish the best tides and moons and bites with the spinning rod. After all, fly fishing the surf is really damn hard and it takes even more commitment than plugging, in my opinion, to really do it justice.
But this year, I am committing to changing all that. I want to make fly rodding come forward in my rotation, and make up a far greater percentage of my total catch. It may not be the priority still, that’s still to be determined, but I want it to represent more than just a fill in. I want to save some of the best tides just for the fly rod! Because, quite frankly, I absolutely love it. It’s just so damn hard, every fish is a trophy!
And as part of it making up a larger percentage of my fishing, I want to also finally get a real quality fish. For me, on the fly from shore, that is 25lbs (especially in the current fishing climate). So, that’s the goal!
This post got long fast!
I’ll be tagging these posts “Fly25” so you can follow along with me.
Next few posts I think I’ll do a quick look at my gear I use, and what I’ve changed up to get myself positioned for success. Because preparing for this, has been important.
By Dave Anderson & Jerry Audet
The fishing season is now upon us and spring striped bass seem as close as a “second bar” blitz—just a few casts out of reach. We’re no different than the rest of you; the season is calling. As writers we look for inspiration in everything, and in every season. And sometimes the best stories begin as conversations.
Just a few short weeks ago we were standing in front of a small crowd at The Saltwater Edge in Middletown, RI. Just an hour before, on that Thursday night in February, we were hammering out some seasonal planning. Jerry was dead-set on finally committing a season to busting 25 pounds on the fly rod. Dave was feeling ready to dig his heels back into hunting a giant striper - another 50 - in 2019. The conversation evolved into a dual-edged dissertation of sorts, with minute—almost microscopic—details of each pursuit suddenly being batted back and forth. In an instant we realized how serious the conversation had become; this was like planning the Normandy invasion, only we were talking about catching fish!
In one of those ‘head explodes’ moments we came to the realization that THIS was the nuclear reactor that fuels Outflow Fishing. Not these specific pursuits themselves, but the obsession—the tunnel-vision driving straight for the cliff, the uncontrollable, unconscious thoughts that dominate the totality of every day. It’s not any one fish or any one person. Rather, it’s the one thing that churns within us all, the one thing that we all refuse to let go of, that thing that keeps us up at night and wakes us up early in the morning.
The brief, raw, therapy session that occurred that night boils down to this—we, anglers, are connected by our addiction; the compulsion to pursue the next really big fish, that drive to get a little better every time we wet a line. It’s seeing that little blue line on the eastern horizon that tells you that you’ve stayed out all night, or the swampy smell of farm pond in late-summer that begs you to throw a frog. It’s the whispers in your head that wake you before the 3 a.m. alarm sounds—even on the fourth consecutive day—and even though you know you’re straining the tolerance level of your spouse.
It’s why you’re awkward at office parties, or with the other parents at your kid’s soccer practice—most adults, they just can’t understand us; they let the line go limp on their dreams forever ago. There is no passion left in the tank and all that remains is small talk about their new car, or their kid’s certificate of achievement or their recent promotion to partner—thanks, but we’ll pass! This is also why some dude wearing a t-shirt with a fish on it beckons like an oasis in a desert of stale conversation. “This guy understands me, this guy gets it.” It might be sad, or strange, or even callous; but it’s our reality—and it’s probably your reality too.
This addiction, this striving for improvement, these pursuits— whatever you want to call it—will be the main subject of this blog throughout the coming season. Success or failure? That doesn’t matter—it’s the obsession, it’s the rituals, and it’s the thought processes that go into attempting to reach these goals that we hope will make chronicling our pursuits both entertaining and educational. And we plan to add other pursuits to the game plan as the season progresses and develops. These posts will be honest, frequent and very real—totally raw. In the coming weeks we will introduce the projects and, from there, we’ll provide regular updates on the journey. In an attempt to make these posts easier to track, they will all be tagged with the label “In Pursuit”. You will be able to find this permanently linked on the blog roll on the upper right of the website.
Along the way, you—the reader—will gain access to what goes on in the heads of two obsessed outdoorsmen who live for the next deep thump in the dark of the night, the next rise to the fly at dawn, the next explosion on the frog in the pads. The season moves so fast, once it arrives, and there’s a lot to be done before the first cast is made. That’s why we decided to launch this now—the ramp up is every bit as interesting and important as each moment spent on the hunt. We knowingly accept that there will be frustration and failure along the way—but we hope there will be triumphs as well. Either way, we’re inviting you to come along with us and, we hope, you’ll feel right at home.
Or, maybe you’ll just seriously question our sanity.
By Jerry Audet
I was wandering around a local surf show this past weekend- the Narragansett Surf Fishing Club’s annual show- when I had something of a profound moment.
This show is 90% flea market, 10% vendor show, and I really enjoyed myself. I love yard sales, and I used to hunt for “investments” a lot at thrift stores and pawn shops. As life has gotten busier, I’ve had less time to do so. But, this show felt something like that- it seemed like I could potentially stumble upon something special.
Anyways, I was hunting through some bins of old Gibbs and Atom plugs when I stumbled upon a few beat up containers of saltwater flies. The man at the booth clearly wasn’t pushing these as they were buried under a pile of other more lucrative items. The bins were marked “2/$3”, which for a saltwater fly is a steal.
There were dozens of flies, of various sorts mostly pugsili, clousers, and deceivers- but also more than a few epoxy flies and sand eel imitators. Typical stuff for inshore stirper, blue fish and albie fishing in New England.
I rummaged through them, excited at first because I could tell the materials and hooks were of superior quality. I started doing math in my head and I figured I could probably talk the seller down and buy 12 for $15. I’d start by offering him $12 though…
But as I dug through the boxes, I became less enthusiastic. Clearly, these flies were tied by someone who was either amateur or not into the details. Many of the flies were crooked on the shanks, and some of the hook points had been knocked off somehow, despite them looking new. Also the eyes were falling off some, others the thread was burred, and on still others the epoxy was sporadically or haphazardly gooped on.
“If you buy 10 I’ll sell them to you for a dollar each,” the guy said suddenly. He must have seen me solemnly, methodically, examining each one.
“You tie them?” I asked, dumping what I had in my hand back into the bin. I was assuming these were his, that he was just trying to make a few bucks from them on the side.
“Nah, I don’t fly fish. These were from an estate sale. Guy died, I just bought them. I know nothing about them, or fly fishing,” he replied, paying little attention now to me, and far more interest in the man next to me making a pile of used $5 pencil poppers.
I paused, about to close the lid of the last container. I gazed over the 60 or so flies scattered in the bins on the table, and thought to myself- “this was a lot of work. This was more than just a weekend warrior. This guy, although a little weak on the details, cared about these.”
I felt compelled to go through them again.
As I searched, I started thinking about a podcast I had listened to a few years ago about death, and dying, and what it means to really be dead. In it, they discussed the physiology, and evolution of medicine; how it used to be that when your heart stopped you were dead, but now, we consider it the brain.
But in the discussion, they also had a long piece on the fact that there are other kinds of death too. Personal, or I guess what you might call “societal” types of death. These are my words; it’s been a while since I listened to it. Regardless, the one “death” I found most compelling was: we only truly die when our name is finally forgotten. When history complete erases us, and there is no record of our existence.
And, of course, just like biological death, this happens to everyone. Depending on the life you lead, the connections you have, it may take more or less time. But even Einstein, or Hitler, or Plato will be forgotten eventually. It may take ten thousand, or a hundred thousand years, or a million, but eventually time will erase us. I guess if we ever do eventually conquer the stars in some kind of Star Trek type scenario, it could be much, much longer. But it’ll still [very] likely happen. After all, humanity is a tiny moment in galactic time.
As I stood there, lost in these thoughts, I started pawing through the flies again, thinking of this man I didn’t know. Thinking that this was a way for him to live on. That, while I didn’t know him, he was continuing to exist in some theoretical way, through me, my interest and the utilization of his flies.
Who was he? Maybe he was a sharpie, an unsung diehard striper fisherman with several 50’s under his belt. Maybe he was more of a casual angler; a Dad with a good job, who liked Golf but lived for Saturday sunrises in his boat, and his two week vacation on the Cape. I don’t know- how could I? But I felt a connection to him regardless. I could see what he was trying to do. I could see that he loved this thing. Fishing. It gave me a tiny glimpse into who he was.
It made me think about my writing, too; how I hope that my pieces educate and entertain, long after I have forgotten them. Long after, I hope, I am even gone. That in some small but significant way, I will continue to live on through those that internalize my work. They carry me with them into the surf; onto the trails; along the river banks. At least, this is how I feel about my favorite authors and teachers- both those alive, and those now gone.
Then, I thought- these flies could have ended up in the garbage; discarded and forgotten. I frowned deeper, almost a scowl, thinking of that. That thought felt uncomfortable. Hell, given the lack of interest in them, a bunch of these flies still might end up int he trash.
I made a renewed effort to find a few I could use. I don’t have money to waste, now more than ever, but I had a sudden feeling of duty towards this long-passed stranger. I felt compelled to carry the torch a little further.
I ended up picking out the 3 flies pictured in this blog, which all were quite straight, well tied and well epoxied. I closed up the boxes, and made sure to put them on top of the beat up plastic rebels and red fins. I wanted them to be seen. I then took one more moment to look at the flies in my hands- I knew they would catch, I even could make a good guess when...
Come late May, I will make the same pilgrimage I always do to a spot I love more than any other. It’s not always dynamite, but when the tide and weather are right, it's almost a guarantee I will find teen bass practically at my feet. This spot has taught me so many things about surf fishing- like how to fish a bucktail, or how to fight with land owners, or the bait phases of a full season. It’s where I landed my first shore caught striper on a fly rod. I have a painting of the spot hanging in my bedroom, loving done by my wife for my 30th birthday.
Holding the 3 pieces of fluff in my hand, I thought "I know these flies will do well there".
And when they do, I’ll take a moment to thank this fellow angler.
Gone, but not yet forgotten.
I noticed the guy at the booth staring at me, as I had clearly drifted off for more than a moment. I gave him my most charming smile.
Since I was buying $8 worth of used lures from him anyways, I held up the flies too and said “Give you $10 for all this?”
“Sure,” he didn’t even hesitate, or pause to add up what I was holding.
Damn. I could have bought it all for seven.
By Dave Anderson
It’s kind of odd, being a Dave myself, how many other Daves I have fished with extensively—maybe Daves just like fishing… I don’t know. Dave Read was one my fishing mentors, I don’t have any photos of him but he looked kind of like a tougher, redneck version of Peter Griffin. A round, but solid guy, wearing cutoff camo shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. He was my younger brother’s best friend’s father and when he heard how much I loved fishing he offered to take me out in his Crawdad. Before long we were fishing together a couple times per week. I think I was 10 or 11 when he started taking me along on most of his fishing trips.
I was a pretty good fisherman, even at that age, but I was very raw. He taught me about the importance of placing my casts—he was a very accurate caster—and through his urgings and tutelage I too, became a bit of sharpshooter with a spinning rod and a spinnerbait. I think he liked taking me because I was up for anything, I’d go try new ponds, I’d use all my scrawny muscle to help him hurry the boat through some tangle of bramble to get into a place without a ramp. Looking back now, he may have a played a bigger role in my fishing style than I even realized—I have rarely let challenging access stop me from getting into a place I wanted to be.
In this photo Dave and I were out on Lake Chauncy in my hometown of Westboro, Massachusetts. I remember this day well because it was the day I landed my first northern pike, it was small but I was very excited to add that species to my budding list. I also remember that he hooked a pretty decent one, probably low 30-inch range, and when he had it at the rail, I got very excited. Mr. Read was and is a merciless ballbuster, so he played it cool, and with the fish still hooked up he opened his cooler and started eating his cappicola sub. I just about dove over the side, I just wanted to SEE that thing! But his nonchalant delay cost him, the fish rolled and broke off his spinnerbait—we used Hank Parker Classic spinnerbaits and they were not cheap—at least by early 1990’s standards. I broke into fits of laughter, taunting him for trying to act like it was no big deal. (I guess he taught me a little about busting balls too).
The fishing was really good that day, I recall there were thunderstorms in the forecast and I’m sure that approaching front helped us. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the fish kept biting. It was getting slower, so we were playing the old ‘five more casts’ game, but we kept getting bit. There were no cell phones in those days, so there was no way for us to tell my mom that we were sticking it out. As we paddled the northern shore of the lake, we finally went five casts each without hooking up. Dave switched the trolling motor on and we headed for the ramp.
But as we were nearing the bend before what the locals called ‘back beach’ I saw a piece of structure I couldn’t resist throwing at—in the darkness I overshot the cast and hung it up in a bush. Dave was not amused, but he wheeled the boat around and started heading back toward the snag. I was able wiggle the bait loose in the meantime and it plopped down right where I hoped the bait would land on the initial throw. I snapped into angler mode and reeled double speed to keep the bait swimming at optimal speed despite the boat still moving toward it. And wouldn’t you know it, bam! I hooked up with the last fish of the night—I don’t know the weight, probably 2-1/2 pounds? But that was the first bass I had ever landed in full darkness. I remember thinking it was probably a rare occurrence. Little did I know that I would spend decades night fishing for everything from largemouth bass to brown trout to striped bass to white perch and beyond.
A rare occurrence? Oh how I wish I could tell myself the truth now.
By Jerry Audet
One of the things I find most rewarding about fishing is it's constantly challenging me. What is one of the largest challenges faced by fisherman? Everything is continuously changing: hourly, daily, yearly; whatever metric you want to use, it's in constant flux. It’s a great feeling when you find, nail down, and then leverage a pattern several years in a row- but even those are not certain. Even a series of conditions that you’re “absolutely sure of” can leave you skunked and dejected, laying in bed staring at the ceiling thinking: I know nothing. Fishing isn’t a video game- if you input down-down-back-back-up on a controller, fish aren’t just going to hit your lure. No matter how well you know a body of water, or a lure, or a fish species, there are constantly surprises.
That’s what makes it so intoxicating for me. That’s what sends me off into day dreams while I’m supposed to writing- I’m perpetually trying to get just a little bit closer to “knowing” what’s going to happen the next time I cast lure X into spot Y for species Z.
I never will know of course. Ever. And that is really special. My ignorance, my inability to compute the answer, is what feeds the beast. It’s what gives you the big fish shakes when, after 5 years of trying, you finally land that 6lb largemouth bass. Yeah sure, the fight is fun too, but- at least for me- it pales in comparison. Never quite knowing what's going to happen is something that is really special about fishing.
Along the same lines, in most bodies of waters you don't actually know what you're species you're going to catch. Sure, it's probably going to be a striped bass if you're in Rhode Island fishing at 2am under Beavertail light...but what if it's a shark? Or a tuna? I bet you're more likely to win the powerball than that; but just like the lottery, if you're in the game it is possible, however remote. Not a perfect analogy, but I think it makes my point.
I really like fishing in the freshwater of places like down east Maine because you never know what you’re going to catch. Could be a bass- of either species- could be a pike, could be a trout, could be catfish- etcetera. It’s what’s appealing about offshore saltwater fishing too, or wading the flats of Florida. Cast your lure, your bait, your fly out there, and when the hit comes, there’s always a moment of “what is it?” And as likely as it may be that it’s a stocked rainbow, it could also be one of the last Atlantic Salmon.
I stumbled upon a photo last week that I took about 5 years ago of a massive black crappie I had caught on my 4wt fly rod and a green frog popper. It’s at the start of this post. I was putting it up on Instagram as a “throw back Thursday” simply because I like it (follow us, if you’re not! @outflowfishing), and while I was making the caption, this post came to me.
Yeah, sometimes crappie aren’t the most fun fish to catch. If the water is warm, they tend to just roll up on the surface. But where I grew up, we didn’t have these massive-mouth-monstrous panfish. So to me, they are still exotic; even after catching them now for fifteen years. I still get that twang of excitement when I see one come to the surface next to my kayak, or as I lift it out of the water as I wade through lily pads. And they’re a wild card; they represent perfectly what I’m talking about in this post. I don’t target them, I catch them while casting a lure designed for bass usually. Yet, I catch them anyways. I am not in control of the situation- I may want to catch the 5lb small mouth, but I’m not all knowing enough to be able to guarantee when I cast the popper I won’t catch the crappie. Or the shiner. Or the pickerel.
And I, or we, as fisherman, never will be. But that’s what makes fishing great. No matter how “dialed in” we get, it’s still partly random; a little bit, or a lot, a mystery. I will never, ever have it figured out and so must continually work hard to get better. And, even more importantly, I will constantly be surprised. That surprise is what makes me feel like a little kid still when something crushes my plug, my fly, my bait. It is that moment that feeds my addiction.
By Jerry Audet
I really like to get outside on a daily basis. I think a lot of outdoorsmen and women would define it more as a “need”. I shy away from this language because, if for some reason I can’t get out, I don’t like feeling like I’m doing something wrong, or harming myself in some way. But regardless, I try and do something outside every day. I run, I fish, I ski, I walk, I take photos. I try to do something “significant”. For me, this is usually defined, arbitrarily, by being out moving in the woods, or on the shore, for at least an hour. If I do this, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. No matter how many things I’ve written, or read, or how many meetings I’ve had, or all the things I’ve fixed at work, nothing makes me feel like my day is complete like going outside and “doing something” for an hour or two.
But, it gets hard sometimes in the winter. I feel the “need”, but also feel all the factors working against me. Luckily, being from northern VT, temperature isn’t usually an issue. I’ve run when it’s been -10 outside, and think nothing of going for a walk when it’s +10. But fishing is complicated by water. Wet and cold is something that presents a whole number of other problems compared to cold alone.
One annoying problem that plagued me for years was frozen guides. No matter what kind of fishing you do- fly, spinning, conventional- it can be a problem. But as a fly fisherman, it’s especially obnoxious. I will admit, that since I didn’t fish so much during the winter until more recently, I just tried to deal with it. I’d fish until they iced- sometime in just a couple minutes- then just stop and break it out. I never looked up solutions. I knew you could buy some products to help, but it seemed like a waste of money for how little I need it.
This year, I stumbled upon an ingenious solution. Cooking spray.
Yep, like the Pam cooking spray you use making pancakes on the skillet.
I was skeptical, and decided I wanted to try it out on an especially terrible day. I had a chance to do that recently. While it’s actually been pretty mild since we got over that terrible hump in November, my brother in law and I recently went out when it was only 15 degrees, and the wind was honking. We poked around a local pond looking for a staging pickerel or- very optimistically- a bass. When I found a good looking little cove, we put down our stuff, and I began to work the edges of a steep drop off. Within only a couple casts, my eyes were completely blocked with ice.
So, I broke out the spray. Trader Joe’s, because that’s we had at the house. I didn’t really think about the bottle not spraying in the cold…which is what happened. It just dribbled out instead. So I dribbled some onto the guides of my little ultralight setup, and just for good measure, a little onto the line that was on the spool as well. Why not?
I began to cast again, noting that the spray on the 6lb braid in no way affected the performance. And the best part? After 10 minutes, I still had no ice! It worked great!
I only had one more little episode of ice the rest of the 30 minutes we spent casting, which was remedied with another spraying. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a single hit, and my hands were freezing (I hate fishing in gloves) so we decided to hike it back to the car.
Still, I felt the trip was a resounding success.
In winter, we have a lot of excuses to not get out. We have fewer hours of day light, and still the same daily requirements. Motivation wanes, as angling opportunities become far more “miss” and far fewer “hit”. We don’t need any more excuses. Eliminating as many extraneous complications as possible is essential. I hope this tip I’m sharing with you now is exactly that- one more extraneous complication eliminated. Or, one less excuse.
And I’ll throw out one more, potentially much more important, thought. This short post is a great example of a bigger lesson: there is always a way. If you want to fish, you should. Don’t let things like frozen guides stop you. Find the excuses, and eliminate them. If you don’t want to go, you shouldn’t. But if you do, you shouldn’t let logistics stop you either.
By Dave Anderson
There is no time of year that I think about plug colors more, than the winter. During the fishing season, I don’t trouble myself with such trivial issues. But the cold of winter and the pain of the long dark nights and the fact that I’m passing my time building plugs—forces me to leave the comfort of my usual philosophies on color. I’ll start thinking about the big rock on the corner of the cove where I know there must be piles of juvenile blackfish and then I’ll find myself mixing eight different shades of blech to match a tiny tog. Then my mind will wander again to this one spot where I have now landed five nice sea bass from the rocks at night, the next thing I know I’m driving to JoAnne Fabric trying to find the perfect bolt of thule to match their scale pattern.
Then I’ll have the ‘what the hell is wrong with me?!’ epiphany again and that will change exactly nothing about what goes on in the echoey halls of my fish-clouded brain. I know I am not alone in this twisted game of tug o’ war. And I’m quite certain that my level of color mania is mild compared to many of the plug lovers out there. I have said, countless times, that if a striped bass looked closely enough to detect scale patterns, holographic eyes, hand-carved fins or the 93 shades of pink you used to create your squid pattern, they’d see the obvious things that you just can’t hide—like the hooks or the lip or your leader or the hook rash or the lifeless eyes or the fact that it actually swims nothing like a real fish.
The most important part of plugging is not that your piece of wood looks like a real fish, it’s getting the plug close enough to the fish that they will take a shot at it. This may sound more than just a little presumptuous, but you have to consider the fleeting nature of just about any potential meal that passes within striking distance of a striped bass on the feed. It’s one living creature versus another—fear and speed versus instinct and ambush. A striped bass—feeding in an ambush situation—simply doesn’t have time to check to make sure the color is right before she strikes. In her many years of life experience she has missed more than a few meals because she didn’t react in time. If you ask me, this is the root of the reason that fishing with lures works at all—honestly, it really shouldn’t work! The fish have to react on first sight or risk missing out entirely. And this hold true for any predatory gamefish that uses ambushes to feed.
And now we come back to the variable of color and how much it really means. If I believe my theories to be correct than there really isn’t any reason to paint plugs at all or it shouldn’t matter what color they are painted. I’ll be honest with you, fishing on a new moon night with a moving tide, swinging a darter or dipping deep with a loaded needlefish, I don’t think the color means all that much… to the fish. But there is a deep psychological aspect to fishing with color. For instance, I would feel a lot more confident fishing an unpainted plug than I would fishing the same plug painted mauve over tan—because I personally find the bare wood plug to be more pleasing to the eye. It matters more that I LIKE it than whether or not it looks like a fish. So, in that way, the fact that a color works or doesn’t work is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We fish the colors we like more often and we keep them on the line longer because we—ourselves—like them better than the other choices available. This may also shed some light on the reasons why you can ask 10 different expert striper fishermen and get 10 different answers regarding their go-to colors for different situations.
As I wrote in the intro to this linear thought on color, I like to keep my colors very simple. It’s basically four food groups—light, dark, bright and simple natural. In the light category I would fish—with equal confidence—white, yellow, bone, cloud, old school herring, wonderbread, white/pink stripe… etc. In the dark category I would fish black, blurple, dark gray, black/silver scale, root beer, wine, midnight massacre, etc, interchangeably. In the bright category I’m a little more focused—I basically mean anything with a lot of chartreuse or fluorescent green—parrot, Block Island green, solid chartreuse… etc. In the natural category it’s about having that dark back and silver flanks; so literally any dark color (black, blue, gray, brown, olive, green) over silver. I tend to fish my light colors in daylight, the dark and bright colors at night and the natural tones in fading light situations like heavy cloud cover or twilight. Why do I use these colors? Because they work in those situations… or, they have worked enough that I have built up years of confidence in them.
Does all this matter? You’re going to have to decide for yourself, I won’t judge.
By Jerry Audet
This week is the first since sometime in early April that I haven’t surf fished. Therefore, understandably, rather expectedly, it’s a sad week.
It’s been a cold and windy fall. Exceptional, really, in a many regards. Too cold, with too low a success rate, to reasonably expect anyone to continue fishing the New England surf at this point.
But this isn’t about anyone, this is about me. And therefore, logic and reason seem somehow to not apply.
So instead, or rather in spite of, this reasonable assessment, I balk, and dive into brooding rebellion. I am moping around the house, forlorn; I get irritable. “Guys just give up too soon!”, “I’m more committed!”, “Remember that 40-pounder caught on the Cape in December? I can be THAT guy!”. Proclamations of a desperate man, illogical delusions.
Humans are drawn to consistency, to behavioral patterns. Daily, weekly, and seasonally. It’s good for mental health; indeed good for physical health. Studies have shown this - I know, I have read them.
So with the end of the season, I’ve lost my pattern, and with it, my stability. And as such, I feel unstable; or rather, perhaps, unwell. The rituals stop suddenly; the wetsuit doesn’t have to be rinsed again. I no longer have to check my leader, or prepare my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the car ride home. Wherever my favorite yellow darter got to in the car, it can just stay there until May.
And so idleness, and emptiness, invade the places these daily and nightly conventions usually hold.
The end of the season, for me, is a lot like preparing for death. You know it’s inevitable; that it’s coming no matter your most fervent wishes it wouldn’t. You know, implicitly, at your first cast of the season that it will, eventually, end; but you push it away anyways. Denial. Seven months, after all, is a long time when viewed in the future.
But it feels so cheaply short when looking back.
And so the end doesn’t come suddenly, but it always feels like it. Again like the coming of death, or perhaps rather like aging, toward the end, I do not suddenly stop, I just do it less and less. I fall back on what I can do, what is available to me, filling in the gaps- things to prop me up as a huge part of my life fades away. I start running more; a lot more. I trout fish and hunt for bass and pickerel before the ice comes. I start trying to reconnect with my friends whom I’ve neglected and disappeared from over the last seven months. Part of me comes back into view, even as another part of me slides away. It’s good, I know, but it takes some time for me to actually believe it.
I know I cannot will the season to last; I do not command the relentless march of time. I will never be that much in control; so it is to be mortal. Yet, it doesn’t make it any easier when the final days come.
And so, while October offers seven day-per-week fishing windows, November, by some measure, is less- especially at the end. And December defines “inconsistent”; it is the end.
And it is, suddenly, here.
Still, until last week, every chance I got, I continued to hit the surf. I saw an extra sunny and “warm” day, and canceled a scheduled run I had, and fished the night tide. Nothing: no hits, and no fish. Then, I went again on a particularly calm night, despite knuckle-crippling cold. Everything felt oh so right that night. Yet, again- no fish. I left that particular night frustrated- my head and my heart arguing over what to do next. The former knowing the end had arrived, the latter refusing to believe it.
And, this week, there were no windows. It has been so cold; the tides are all wrong. I caught a cold and was waylaid for part of the week. In consequence, I have work piling up; and all my favors- begged, borrowed, and exchanged- are expired. So I am stuck playing catchup. And then, my wife asks me sheepishly, for the first time in years, to stay home and not fish. To help her decorate the house for the Holidays. How can I reasonably say no?
And so it goes. I always say, “this year, I will cut it off”. I will implement some hard deadline, predetermined in April; to mitigate the suffering at the end. Or rather, give myself some kind of parameter, something to motivate me; or end the suffering, depending on what the situation might be. And yet, every year instead, I just tail off. I keep a glimmer of hope burning that maybe there’s one more bite to be had. Herring moving along the coast, 40’s hot on their tails. Maybe an exceptionally stable sand eel bite. A push of teen bass through my area. So I go from five days a week, to three, then to two, then I’m dragging myself to the coast one night of the week out of spite and mutiny against something I wish wasn’t true, but I know that it is.
“You can’t catch them from the couch!” I tell myself, as ice forms in my guides and beard.
Then, the end really comes in ultimate finality. Sometimes I really don’t plan it, a couple weeks of bad weather and despite my best intentions, I never get out again.
Other years, it slips more slowly into the past tense…”the surf season was”.
But this year, today, I have made a choice.
The truth is, I am ready. Sadness, denial, loss- sure, I feel that. But also, acceptance. It’s time. For the first time in years, I’m making the choice, early, to stop. No tailing off. No final “one last trip just to say I did”.
The season could have been worse. I tell myself this to soften the blow. 740, or so, bass is a substantial number. Seven fish over thirty pounds is a number I can be proud of. I worked damn hard for those numbers. I’ve earned this rest. I can stop.
I can; I don’t want to, but I am; I can let the season go.
Consider this post acceptance; my formal resignation.
Until next season then. Until screeching Red-wing Blackbirds and deafening peepers. Until suicidally determined herring, and rich, sweet blooming Forsythia.
By John P. Lee
In the morning before school we walk down and check the pond. The pond is close to our house, a 50-second walk, cutting through a corner of our neighbor’s property. The boy looks into the pond. He is interested in ice. We do this almost daily, father and son. The water is very clear, I tell him that all the algae, the zoo- and phytoplankton have died. The water is clear because it has no life in it. He both listens and doesn’t. My words to him are meant to be osmotic—I want him to absorb things. Things that I have learned. I have no idea how I’m doing with this. Is my life—all 48-years of it—being properly downloaded onto his processor? Normally when we come to the dock there is always a fish, a small finger-sized largemouth or a sunfish. He looks hard, an ‘I spy’ game. But the fish are gone, slid out off the bank and into deep water. “When is the ice coming?” he asks. He wants to crush the ice in the shallows with his feet, the sound of cracking glass. He wants to stomp and throw rocks out and across, listen for that sound, the reverberation. I tell him soon. There is mist on the pond. We watch the mist. He asks about it, ‘why is it there?’ I tell him the pond is losing its heat, the air, colder than the water, is pulling the heat away.
We don’t know who our children will become and we don’t know if we will be here to see it. As a parent I too look for fish, I too look for ice, independently of him. But I want him to be this and that. Already in my mind he has become something which today he is not. We often lean too far into the future, warped inside the parent prediction machine. We walk back up the hill. The leaves on all the trees, including the big oak, are down. It feels like winter. “The ice will be here soon?” he asks. “Yes,” I tell him. “Tomorrow I bet, if tonight gets cold enough and the wind dies out.”