By Jerry Audet
In the next installment of “Casting Cork” I figured I’d give you a little snippet of my thoughts on the hook.
Obviously the hook is important. The most important thing about it is it has to be strong enough for your application. If you’re going to throw a bigger popper, I think you need to consider saltwater grade hooks. However, if you’re making smaller poppers (like size 4 I’ve show here), you can get away with very typical freshwater stuff. In fact, using a slightly smaller hook can help in casting, further decreasing the chance of spinning, which I’ll talk about at length in the next video. I also believe a smaller hook can also help in situations where the fish may be pressured and leery of hitting an fly or artificial. When I first started using these, I lived on a highly pressured body of water, and I found using a size or two smaller hook than “typical” resulted in more strikes. So a thinner wire hook can be an asset, even though I'd rather err on the side of thicker than thinner.
Next, the hook has to be long enough that you can tie feathers (or bucktail) on to the back of the hook before it starts to bend downwards. This allows the feathers/bucktail to stick out straight behind the popper, which allows for better casting and better action (and a more realistic profile).
That's really it! Beyond that, if you’re trying to do this on the cheap like I am, it really comes down to what can you find that is the best deal! You do not need special popper hooks. I like to scour discount and closeout retailers to find hooks that will work. You might be surprised by some of the fish I’ve caught on my poppers, where the hooks cost me less than 10 cents each! In fact, for my small poppers, I like Eagle Claw hooks that cost less than a cent a piece.
Again, these are meant to be cheap and easy to make. It doesn’t have to be complicated. And, as you'll see in the coming months, the fish don't seem to care at all.
Next week look for a new installment of "Fly25" from me.
By Dave Anderson
So what does it take to catch bigger fish with some level of consistency? A word that jumps right out at me is ‘dedication’. But I feel like dedication carries too much of a positive connotation. When you’re dedicated, people look at you give that little fist-pump look that tells you that they respect your devotion to the cause. And people admire you for putting your heart and soul into it. Dedicating oneself to catching a big fish really doesn’t earn that same level of admiration. You’re more likely to get that look of not-totally-sincere sympathy, more like they feel bad for your parents or your wife. I picture mothers whispering to their sons through cupped hands while staring at you with big, worried eyes—the implication being that they are telling them, “don’t end up like him!” I get it. I’ve always said that if I had gotten obsessed with the stock market instead of fishing, I’d be growing a nest egg past $10 million by now. But I chose this instead.
So maybe a better word would be obsession. The basic definition of obsession is having thoughts that continually preoccupy, or intrude upon, a person’s mind. Yes! This sounds about right. If my life can be used as a model, then obsessive is a perfect adjective. My days are filled with vacant stares that foretell constant in-head conversation. I’m always thinking about some plug design or a needlefish modification or how I can better position myself in that rip or where the body of fish I’ve been chasing might show up next. These constant mental contortions—I truly believe—keep me deeper in the game than the average guy. I always have a toe in the water and keeping my mind churning over these things that mean NOTHING to almost anyone else keeps my finger on that pulse all the time. Even when I go through slumps or periods when I can’t fish for some reason, my mind never seems to deviate from these thoughts.
Then there is that dirty word that no one likes to hear in the same sentence as obsessive… compulsive. If you’re compulsive, you have urges. Urges that you can’t help, feelings that spurn you on and—almost—force you to do something. I believe that when the surfcaster is at his best, he is both obsessive and compulsive. I believe these urges are a result of sharper instincts; they are brought on by things that we can’t always put our finger on. Things like the wind, temperature changes, a smell in the air… suddenly there is this burning fire that compromises all other thoughts. And our minds set themselves to figuring out how to get out of the house—as fast as humanly possible. I have learned through experience that these compulsions are almost always valid and you should listen to them whenever they grace your mind with their presence.
The last word is another that you might not want to hear in a sentence with obsessive and compulsive and that word is committed. Obviously, I don’t mean being committed to an institution for your obsessive/compulsive nature. But if you really want to up your big fish game, you have to be committed to actually doing that. Like I said in my last blog post, you can’t do both, you can’t fish for bites and target giants at the same time, they’re two very different choices. So if you really think that you’re cut out for hunting big fish, then you have to ask yourself if you can commit to catching far fewer fish in a season in exchange for a higher CHANCE of catching a big fish, because it’s certainly not guaranteed. As I have progressed through my life as a surfcaster I have found that ‘just catching fish’ does less and less for me, it’s still fun, but it’s just not the same as having to think, and ruminate and TRY. I get the most satisfaction out of targeting big fish—that’s just who I am.
If you think you have it in you, I applaud you. If you don’t, I totally understand. They don’t call it a grind for nothing. The fact is you probably already know the basics of targeting big fish, but 95% of anglers just can’t commit at the required level to implement what they’ve learned. It’s one of those things that you’ll instinctually know it when you’re truly in—if you’re enduring a tough season but still sticking it out for that big fish reward, regardless of whether it comes or not, you’re well on you way. Fishing for big fish is like taking on a second, full-time, job. Are you willing to take that on?
If you are, I’m excited for you and I may owe your spouse an apology.
Tell her I said, “sorry”.
By Jerry Audet
By Dave Anderson
To follow up on Coleman’s Law, the next thing I wanted to talk about is what basically boils down to staying in practice. One of the reasons that I feel like I want to talk about this is that a couple weeks ago I caught myself, not staying in practice. I don’t mean that I wasn’t fishing enough (is there ever enough?) what I really mean is practicing the mindset of targeting big fish exclusively. I’m a big believer in the idea that you can’t do both, you can’t fish for numbers while also targeting a trophy fish; everything about those two practices is completely different. This doesn’t mean you won’t catch a big fish here and there when fishing for bites, you will, but those catches are purely coincidental, a random result of time spent fishing. If your goal is catching bigger fish consistently, then you have to make a change and focus on actually targeting bigger fish.
The other day, I caught myself leaning off the wagon. It’s April now and there’s no chance of catching a big striper in local waters, this is when I shift my focus to the ponds. I do this because bass are bass, the motions and thought processes and the way I’m looking at the shoreline and structure and even how I’m presenting to these things is largely the same. Also, I don’t want to wait and go into the prime of the season feeling rusty. I want to be in the mode. I want to have a good feel for presentation and have my head in the right place as far my expectations go. And this is where I faltered a few weeks back.
I went out with the sole intentions of just catching some fish—sue me, what a terrible idea, right? In truth it’s not such a terrible thing, as long as you don’t do it too much. If you do it too much though you can—unconsciously—ratchet your expectations in the wrong direction. I went out there, threw some jerkbaits, caught a handful of fish, all around the 2-pound mark. It did feel good to bend the rod, but when I was thinking about it later that night—I found myself scheming a way to get back there to catch more fish. I was starting myself off on the wrong foot, I was fishing for bites. Using these methods (jerkbaits, jigs) is a way that I feel I can guarantee some fish, but I’m just hoping that a big fish will show up and take my offering, it’s hoping not targeting. And this ‘hoping’ business undermines the mindset. So the next time I went out I brought only swimbaits, and I’m not talking about Keitechs, I’m talking 2- to 5-ounce baits, 6- and 8-inch Huddlestons, 8-1/2 inch Glidebaits… these are not the biggest baits on the market, I’m not throwing a 13-inch Hinkle Trout, but these baits are big for New England and they are large enough that 90% of the fish they swim past will not attempt to eat them—only the bigger fish will feel that they’re able to take them down. This is targeting bigger fish—these baits mimic alewives and trout and large yellow perch, the stuff that these weighty prespawn females will expend the energy to eat. And I left myself no fallback plan, I couldn’t wimp out and throw a jerkbait because I wasn’t hooking up, I only had big baits in the bag.
Then I proceeded to fish for an hour without a single hit. But there’s an electricity that comes with targeting big fish. It’s a vibration that keeps me alert and focused, I feel excited with every crank of the reel. This is being invested in the method; this is the stuff that I live for. I know that I’m giving up dozens of fish but I feel excitement in my chest, and I know that when that hit comes, it’s going to be a good fish, and if I do it enough, I will connect with a great fish.
Then I came upon an area where there was a change in the shoreline; I had an instinct that a good fish would be there. I know the spot well, it’s deep with a steeper incline than the rest of the shore around it, it’s also a noticeable change in the continuity of the bank—it’s more of a bump-out than a point but it’s different enough to draw predators. I threw that Hudd out there and felt so connected to it because I had been practicing for an hour, observing the bait in the water—seeing its reactions to different movements with the reel and rod. A Huddleston is a lot like a needlefish or a darter in that it doesn’t give much input back, you can’t feel it working, you just have to trust that it is.
So I whipped that Huddleston out there and I let it settle right to the bottom and I starting working it in slow lifts, swimming it five or six feet at a time and letting it settle back down. As the bait neared where I believed the rise to be, I lifted my tip a little and guided the bait up the embankment and—BAM—I hooked up with a decent fish. It wasn’t the biggest fish of my life, it was a 4-pounder—but it was a quality fish and bigger than anything I took on my last trip and it made the whole trip worth it. By the end of the day I had only one other hookup—another solid fish—that came off. But I felt great about the results because I stuck to my plan and the plan worked, I had willingly gone in knowing that I might only get one chance and I caught one solid fish instead of a handful of buck bass.
My whole reasoning for doing this is that I know it will carry over into the surf when it’s time. If I was going for numbers all spring long, my brain would be subconsciously programmed to expect a certain level of action and when you’re programmed to expect something and you don’t achieve it, your concentration suffers, you begin to question your methods, you start to zone out and look for shooting stars… or whatever else you might do to when your focus is compromised. Then you’re no longer fishing, you’re just casting, going through the motions, you’re not ready, you’re not invested, and it’s all because you, unknowingly, taught your brain to expect more action. By staying with the tougher methods that target the bigger fish you have lowered your action threshold and raised your patience level—both really good things if you’re serious about trying to ‘go large’. You’ve given yourself to the method and accepted the fact that your numbers will go down significantly, while also knowing (believing) that the end result will be more big fish and just maybe THE FISH you’ve been hoping for all these years you’ve been fishing the surf. This is the foundation on which the big fish mentality is built and it doesn’t come easy, but it’s totally worth it.
By Jerry Audet
The first of my projects, as previously alluded to in the first post describing “In Pursuit”, is to finally land 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. The short-premise of In Pursuit is that it is an honest, informal, journal-like documentation of a season’s worth of chasing specific angling goals from both Dave and Jerry.
I was driving home this weekend after a less than successful night-trip fishing for holdover striped bass (only a couple small fish), half listening to Howard Stern on the radio, and started thinking about this “In Pursuit” series. I was rolling it around in my mind, and started considering why I haven’t already begun fly fishing for stripers in 2019. After all, these fish I’m targeting are likely very catchable on the fly for a few reasons. As I have proclaimed to Dave several times, “this spot would be PERFECT for fly fishing”…as we continued to bang away at it with Redfins.
As I mulled this over, I started to come up with all the reasons why this location in particular fit very well as a “fly fishing spot”. As I built the list in my mind, I had a very simple- but likely critical- thought which popped into my brain.
The theory goes like this:
I have a handle on what big fish want, and have been successful in catching them on plugs. I know I need to fish the moons, tides, and certain (specific) conditions. I know these things. They have become so ingrained in me, they are essentially instinctual. This instinct helps make me a better angler. Dave and I have talked a few times about what makes a great fisherman. One of the things we agree on is that the better the angler, the faster and more effective they are at dissecting and capitalizing on a new spot. While I am not insinuating that I am the best by any means, it has been very satisfying in the past few years to identify new spots on satellite imagery or nautical maps during the winter, show up in person in the spring, and have success (albeit more or less, depending on the season and the spot). It makes me feel like I know something- even if it also feels like the more I learn, the less I (we) actually know.
However, for some reason, I tend to just throw all this knowledge, intuition, and instinct away when I fly fish in the surf.
This is what occurred to me when I was driving home at 1 am on Sunday. It dawned on me that for the last few seasons I have been subconsciously categorizing my spots. I definitely already knew I was a spot “collector”. I like to have all kinds of options with different kinds of terrain and conditions, covering the spectrum of striper habitat. I like this because it gives me options, and allows me to, as John Skinner puts it, “have a play for any condition”. And, I’m always looking for special spots which very few, or no, anglers fish for a whole host of reasons- which could be an entire series of posts in itself.
What I hadn’t realized up to this point, at least overtly, was that I was also building a hierarchy of my spots; spin vs. fly.
That is, I have identified and sorted some of my spots as “fly fishing only” spots. As the name insinuates, they are places I only fish with a fly rod. For the most part they are locations I have deemed 1) to only hold small to moderate sized fish, and 2) places I feel I can cast my offering easily into some kind of deep (relative) or moving water. This means they often are sidled up next to a drop off, or at some kind of outflow, and are sheltered from strong winds.
And this has worked great…for catching numbers of fish. It’s served my purpose so far really well. I have become adept at casting, fighting, and landing fish on the fly rod in these spots; or dealing with a stripping basket when I have to wade up to my belly button; or how to fish moderate current with a sinking line; or how to use a popper in a seam to draw strikes deep into the night. Etcetera. These select spots have lead to hundreds of fish, and some great memories.
What they haven’t led to, and likely never will, is landing a really big fish on a fly.
The key thing that occurred to me while driving: if I didn’t fly fish I likely wouldn’t fish many (or any) of these spots every again. One in particular I am thinking about has yielded exactly 1 39-inches fish (on the spinning rod, 5 years ago), and everything else has been 36-inches or under, with the vast majority under 28-inches. It can be a fun “hit every cast” spot if conditions are right, and it’s one of my oldest spots to boot. So I continue to fish it for nostalgias sake, but only because the fly rod has made it justifiable; that is, it has made it fun. I think, otherwise, it would feel like a waste of time. At the very least, I would fish it a whole lot less.
But therein lies the problem. As I stated in my previous post, fly fishing has always been the second class option to the plug and surf rod. Moving forward with this goal of finally getting a quality fish on the fly rod, I need to find ways to integrate it into what I’m already doing with the surf rod. There can no longer be this huge dichotomy in my “fly fishing spots” and “surf rod spots”. Sure, there are definitely spots at which I will never be able to effectively use a fly rod. One I can think of I’ll never reach the fish, ever. Not even shooting 30 yards of backing. Another, I believe I would struggle to get my line down deep enough from shore; the combination of deep water, good current, and a very consistent swell would make it exceedingly challenging even with very heavy sinking shooting heads.
However, I need to get creative at all my other spots. The challenge is often casting distance, especially with very large flies. The runner up is not getting broken off once I hook a big fish. To combat both of these, I think I will need to really focus on calmer nights as the a) lack of wind will allow me to cast further, and b) the calm surf will allow me to wade/swim out further so I can get around structure that would break me off from casting perches closer to shore. I think this will allow my surf spots to be more accessible to the whippy stick. Further, it will likely even strengthen and support the use of the fly rod, since the calm conditions often call for a more subtle and nuanced approach.
The hard thing will be giving up those prime tides when I “know” I could be landing big fish on the plug, and instead chose the fly. There is certainly some risk there- risk of both smaller fish, and less fish overall. However, when I made the switch to hunting bigger fish on the plug, I had to change my mind set- and at first, it also lead to fewer fish. So why wouldn’t I have to do the same thing as I make the identical transition with the fly rod?
And so, I think my mantra for the up-coming season will be: There are no fly fishing spots; It’s all just surf fishing.
By Dave Anderson
Here's the first video installment of my "Pursuing 50" blog marathon. And the inspiration for this video came from an article written by legendary surfcaster Tim Coleman more than 10 years ago. These days everyone wants to get the next big secret and too many don't want to be bothered with the details, the minutia... if you want to be successful as a big fish hunter, no matter what the species, the details should be where you live--100% of your time.
It was late-May, 2011 and I was fishing in the now defunct Red Top Striper Derby. It was after midnight on a Friday and my fishing partner and I had the whole place to ourselves. We split up for a while and when I came back to find my fishing partner, Dave Daluz, he informed that he was into fish pretty good on my needlefish, the Flat-Glide. I took the rock closest to him and we began hammering in fish into the upper-20s. Then the batteries in my light died and I didn't have a second light or any way to get more batteries. What could I do? I had to keep fishing without a light.
After about five fish, I ran my fingers down my leader and felt considerable damage to the lower 10 inches of the leader. Without a light, tying on a new leader would be pretty tough, I thought, so I clipped off the damaged portion of the leader and re-tied the snap, blind. I changed plugs and went to a Glidebait I was prototyping at the time, and on my first cast I felt a titanic hit--the kind of hit where you can tell the fish has completely inhaled the plug, I knew the fish was big.
She headed off into the tide and a short battle ensued... we were still in the 'give' phase of 'give and take' and the line went limp. I reeled up and felt my biggest fear--a pigtail--at the end of my line. My knot had failed me when it counted most. I'll never know how big that fish was, but I will ALWAYS know that I controlled my own destiny in that moment and I failed to pay attention to the details. Check out the above video to start getting yourself into the big fish mindset now, before the big ones show up.
By Jerry Audet
The first of my projects, as previously alluded to in the first post describing “In Pursuit”, is to finally land 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. The short-premise of In Pursuit is that it is an honest, raw, journal-like documentation of a season’s worth of chasing specific angling goals from both Dave and Jerry.
When it comes to surf fishing and my gear, I try to ascribe to the KISS principle- Keep It Simple Stupid. What rod is the cheapest, which can throw the biggest plugs I use, and stand up to the abuse I dish out? What is the fewest number of plugs I can buy that cover the widest range of profiles and water depths? You get the idea. Once I’ve found what works, I don’t feel a need to find something new, until I get into a situation my “tools” are no longer effective. Then, I’ll go buy something to mitigate this limitation.
Now that isn’t to say I’m not trying to improve what I have. Sure, if I see a lure that is clearly superior, or provides something new, I’ll buy it. And, using lures as another example, I’ll pay good money for something that I find has increased efficacy- yeah I fish some $50+ lures, and if I found an $80 one that I thought was really going to make a difference, I’d fish that too. I wouldn’t hesitate. It’s why I buy the best, most expensive braided line- because I think it makes a difference.
This principle has applied even more substantially to my fly rods. When I first started I was buying cheap combo rod and reels, and they were more than sufficient for the freshwater fishing I was doing. When I first started, I really liked my Redington Crosswater combos, and I stuck with them for a while. Actually, I still have a 7.5ft 4wt Crosswater rod, and I still enjoy using it for largemouth bass, trout, and panfish when precision isn’t necessary. It’s a sweet little rod, which was like $80 with the crappy reel that came with.
And more to the point, I don’t find rod choice is exceedingly complicated for freshwater fishing, especially pond and lake fishing. I’ve found even for heavy, weedy structure, a variety of rod lengths and weights can work for bass fishing from 5 to 8wt. And while I’m certainly not a trout expert, I’ve had no problem catching trout on rods ranging from 6ft 2wts to 9ft 7wts. Yes, there are times it can make it easier to have a special rod- especially when delivering small dries or drifting nymphs. But honestly? For me, I just don’t see that big of a difference between weights, lengths, and brands…and cost. They feel nicer, and some cast better, but really you can get away with pretty modest gear and catch a lot of trout, bass, and pickerel in most situations. Line matters a lot more, and I’ll talk about that in the future.
But surf fishing is not freshwater pond and river fishing. Pond fly fishing is a mall parking lot on a Tuesday, and surf fly fishing is nuclear World War IV.
All this is leading me to this one point: I know a lot of guys that fish for stripers use an 8wt rod, and there is a lot of consensus out there that this is a suitable weight.
I think that’s a bunch of bull shit.
Sure, if you’re catching 20-25” fish on a sandy beach, in a river, or in a boat (HUGE difference from surf) that will work. It’s extremely fun, and in the summer I do still occasionally partake in this extra-light tackle fishing with small fish in the 20-25” range. The 8wt is plenty capable of casting a size 1 to 2/0 deceiver or clouser with a good line, even in a breeze, and that’s pretty much all I use when targeting schoolies at night (I’ll have a whole post about this later). If you’re in an estuary, it can work too.
However, I think an 8wt is dumb for larger stripers, especially in the open surf. Look, if you’re a plug or bait guy, think about the lightest rod you use when targeting big schoolies or keeper fish (forget about actual big fish for a minute). I can virtually guarantee, that rod you’re thinking about, is stronger, stiffer, and thicker than even a 12-14wt fly rod. Even if the spinning rod is 7ft and rated to like 1.5 ounces, it’s a telephone pole compared to an 8wt fly rod. The worst way, in my opinion, to kill a striper is by undersized gear. What a terrible way to die; I think it’s irresponsible if you’re trying to catch anything but very small fish. And, yeah, obviously right here in these posts I’m telling you I haven’t caught a truly big cow on the fly rod from the surf. But I’ve caught plenty on the surf rod, and a bunch of 14-18lb fish on the fly, and I’m telling you- fighting a teen bass on an 8wt takes forever. I can’t imagine trying to fight a 25 or 30lb striper on an 8wt from shore, especially in boulders or current! I would never land a fish that size in the places I fish. You know, the places you actually still have a chance of catching a large fish in this fishery…
However, I’ve held and casted a couple 13-15wt fly rods and they’re pretty intense. They are really stiff, obviously physically heavier, and the action on the ones I played with was extra fast. This all makes for a tiring rod. If I was chasing big stripers (40lb+) from a boat? I would have a 13-15wt rod, no question. I’m seriously considering getting a shorter (8ft) 13-15wt for the surf for using in heavy structure, from boulders, and in inlet-like situations, even given the above noted limitations. However, since I’m in the surf blind casting (not sight fishing) 95%+ of the time, I need a rod just heavy enough to be strong enough to handle a 25lb fish and cast a big fly into a wind, while at the same time being light enough I can cast over and over and over for 3-5 hours straight. I get crazy sore after a night or two of casting, especially if I get into a couple dozen big schoolies and fish into the teens; or worse if there is a stiff breeze. I have to take this into account, because if I do get into a good bite, I’m certainly not just going one night! I’ll stay on it for multiple nights, and this can be really hard on the body. I weight lift in the winter just to prepare myself for it; and yet I never seem to be completely prepared. My wrist and biceps hate me after a few nights.
So, given all this experience and data, I settled on an 11wt. A 12wt would be just as good, or better, but I got an 11wt because I got a great deal on it. I still think it’s a bit undergunned for the fish I am now setting out to catch, from the surf, in current, in the wind…but it’s a compromise. It’s got some good backbone, but it’s light enough that my wrist isn’t about to fall off after a few hundred casts a night. Just to reiterate though, I am still worried it’s a bit underpowered for what I’m doing now. Especially given the size of the flies I’m now using…and I get broken off with my 11ft surf rod and 30lb braid semi-regularly. And that thing is a freight train in comparison to the mini-cooper that is my 11wt fly rod (an 8wt would be a Radio-flyer wagon in this analogy).
Another reason I like this rod is it carries a 25 year unconditional warranty. This might not matter to some of you, but I think for me, in the surf, it’s important. It’s an incredibly unforgiving environment, and stuff breaks (just wait until I write about my reel experiences). I’ve broken my 11wt rod three times, it was fixed twice, and then on the 3rd time, they just sent me a totally new rod as a replacement. Yeah, it’s not free- companies that offer this usually have some kind of handling fee of $50-75- but that’s a hell of a lot better than shelling out another $500-1000 every time! Several companies offer this sort of service on higher-end rods, and I would highly recommend investing in a brand that offers this. I won’t specifically mention a brand by name, because fly rod preference is like ice cream flavor inclination- it’s very personal.
MUCH more to come on gear in subsequent posts.
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.