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 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 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 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
Standing at the edge of the stream, full dark, fogged in. I heard the approaching sloshing footsteps of my fishing partner’s boots treading the marsh, no rods… still March. He stopped a few feet away and we listened. The wind came up from the northwest, driving the cool fog down the neck of my jacket, I hunched over and leaned away from the wind, I listened harder. The tiny freshwater brook ran through a series of riffles, humming a consistent pitch—babbling a constant rhythm. Then we heard what we were listening for; the splashy bursts of herring tails beating hard against the current, preparing to run the shallow riffle ahead. It’s a sound that’s as indicative of the spring season as Christmas carols are to the holidays; at least for me. This shallow run is imprinted on the instinctive DNA of every herring born in this waterway; I know this because the fish only run at night here; they’re too vulnerable in daylight and they know this. It makes this stream unique.
I’d heard it hundreds of times before, but this time the sounds of those herring powering upstream, sparked an epiphany—well, let’s call it a potential epiphany. The beats of those tails and the fish’s unwavering devotion to completing their spawning tasks sent my mind into a silent dialogue about instinctual drive, predatory behavior and the way we all typically fish a herring run.
These herring are born in the pond, then spend a good portion of their lives offshore in vast schools, their instincts call them back to the stream to spawn. Impressive doesn’t even begin to describe that drive to procreate. If there was a way to translate these instincts into human thought, it would probably be something more intense than anything we have felt. This, it occurred to me, should weigh heavily in how we fish a herring run.
When we are fishing near the mouth of a run, those herring are in the home stretch, after hundreds of miles and a whole year or more at sea, being pestered by untold numbers of predatory fish, diving birds, nets, seals… they run riffles and climb fish ladders, they surge through flood waters and leap obstacles and here we are throwing a lazy Danny plug. In a rush of inspired thought—admittedly augmented by the sudden exercising of the fishing part of my brain—I saw the light on fishing the runs.
I have always been one to fish away from the run itself, favoring a deep cut or prominent obstacle in the shoreline nearby, my reasoning was that predator fish could use these things as an ambush and they also forced the herring, which often run in very shallow water, to swim over or around an area that made them vulnerable to predation. It worked, but it never worked great. Then I thought back to a full moon night in early May, standing at the mouth of a run, making a few obligatory casts before moving to one of my more classic locales. I heard bass blowing up on herring—I clipped on a Danny—nothing, as usual. One of my casts was fouled with weed and I burned the plug in, about 8 feet off the tip a fish blew up on the skittering Danny, but missed. I tied on a 2-ounce Pencil Popper and worked it wildly in the waning current sent seaward by the herring stream. I hooked up on my first cast with a smallish bass, right around keeper size. I had a couple other hits, but passed it off as a full moon anomaly.
My herring run epiphany has since told me otherwise. The instincts of a spawning fish put that task above all other things and when they’re nearing the sanctuary of their natal stream, you can bet that they are going to run that predatory gauntlet hard and fast. Every cautious swirl I’d ever had while fishing near a run flashed across the screen in my mind’s eye. I always chalked it up to there simply being too much bait, but I have seen the light. Now I feel that it’s more likely that the bass were confused by atypical behavior. In a lifetime of hunting herring in the runs every spring, a slow, lazy herring just didn’t seem right. And so, they followed, but ultimately ignored it. In all aspects of my plug fishing I have long felt that mimicking the attitude of the bait was a key to success, somehow I had missed the boat here.
As we prepare to enter the herring season—in some places it’s already begun—my focus for this exciting time of year is going to be on plugs I can fish fast. Tops on my list will be the Sebile Magic Swimmer. Instead of trying to mimic some battered herring on its last leg, I’m going to be trying to channel that instinctual drive to climb the stream and get it on. Casting that swimmer out there and burning it in, throwing a big wake and daring any bass in the area to pass up on the chance to take it down. I think it’s going to work.
What do you think?
By Dave Anderson
August 2017 came with the some of the best fishing... probably ever, in the Cape Cod Canal. An abundance of bait and bass presented anglers with the perfect storm that evolved into an endurance test. It also presented me with a very unique opportunity in that I was able to capture a wolfpack of stripers working an eddy and their reaction to pencil popper that included a fully committed strike. We hope you will enjoy the video and learn something from it; I know I certainly did.
By John P. Lee
I’ve had codfish on the brain lately—I hear the bite has gotten good around Block Island, maybe I’ll make a trip soon and put some fresh fish in the fridge. With my thoughts steady on cod (am I ready to go? Do I have my gear in order?) I re-read a post I wrote a number of years ago about a winter cod trip off Block Island. Even years later, I think it's still worthy of a read. I hope to see you out there. Enjoy.
I’ve had time to review the moment and I still don’t know what it is I’ve learned. Something lost.
A fishing rod, the best I’ve ever owned.
I broke it Christmas Eve morning, 2011. A day cold enough that without gloves on you would’ve lost your hands.
We were codfishing east of Block Island. I wish I could say it happened dramatically, the boat taking a heavy roll in a breaking sea, spilling bodies, water blowing through scuppers, and me—or someone—landing heavily across the spine of the rod, snapping it.
It broke almost by itself. The rod was leaning against the rail of the boat. The cod bite was on, a fish on every drop. Terry, the captain of the Tiger Jo, was steaming back to the north’ard so we could make the same drift again. When he throttled back down and the boat slowed, I reached for my rod, and the second my fingers touched it, it split in half—a clean break as if it were cut by a diamond saw.
I looked down at my busted rod. I was calm without trying to be. That was the odd part: calm without trying to be. There was no impulsive, staccato swearing, no grandiose announcement to those onboard that the day was now officially “completely shot, a total fucking waste of time.”
Pure temperance. Every parent knows the feeling. No school can teach it, no book. The important thing is that it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes we cave in and tip the scale wildly the other direction. Bless the moment when the scale hangs dead even. It’s rare.
It’s a rod, John, not a son.
Even so: I’ve seen grown men act badly when loved machines and fond objects go bust.
The rod was 20 years old. A West Coast salmon rod made by G.Loomis. I forget the model number—if I ever knew it. BBR, something like that. I bought it when I was a student at the University of Rhode Island, figuring it’d be good for striped bass. It had the right length, just over 8 feet, for both surf and boat fishing, and, more importantly, the power to handle the trophies I pictured myself catching.
I liked the cork handle, the trigger reel seat, the lightness of the blank, and how balanced it felt with a small conventional reel on it.
Then, three years after the purchase, the electric seatbelts in my 1988 Ford Escort lopped 8 inches off the tip. I was furious at the seatbelts, cursed the engineer who designed them—clearly not a fisherman, for a fisherman would never design a device so foolish. I sold the car shortly thereafter.
That break was the real birth of this rod, my ownership of it. I don’t think I could’ve planned exactly where the seatbelts broke the rod. The break was in the perfect spot and made it a supreme boat rod, perfect for drifting with heavy bank sinkers and large baits; perfect for deep water and strong tides.
Years went by. Seasons, fish migrations, salt spray, hard falls, sun, rain and snow, six roommates, six different rentals, a bought boat, a divorce, a sold boat, home ownership, the passing of my father in a car accident, and finally a lovely pregnant wife.
The rod surely didn’t give a shit about any of this, this history. The rod leaned, inert as a stone, in the garage awaiting spring, like Paddington Bear waiting for the little girl to come and buy him, and when she did the bear came to life and brought her joy.
It became my favorite rod, indispensable. I loved when people held it and said, “Nice stick.” I loved how faded and gouged the cork handle had become; loved all the scratches, the patches of rust around the guides.
The rod had become so far removed from the G.Loomis catalog, the high-gloss photography of beautiful rods and grinning faces, archetypal bends.
After I broke it I threw the two pieces overboard. If the birth was when the seatbelts shortened it, then the death was this, the slow-sink to the bottom off Clay Head, Block Island.
The codfish came to us as if summoned. Clam bellies on dropper-looped hooks, ten-ounce bank sinkers. My hands on the cork, pressing, waiting for the tap tap of a cod on the bait. Banter was high, a stolen day from chores at the house-- Christmas Eve, in fact--our wives at home wondering what the hell we were doing out there in the freezing cold and “Really—Christmas Eve?”
I didn’t sulk when the rod broke. I rigged up another man’s rod—the horror—and dropped a bait down. My concentration, though, was shot. I don’t think I put another fish in the boat. Every cod bite I missed.
When the rod hit the water, I watched its cork handle bob once on the surface, then sound. I’m not the most sentimental person. I threw it over, an act fueled partly by annoyance, partly by the need for a mystical sacrifice.
I could’ve sent the broken rod back to Loomis and they would’ve sent me a brand-new one. A friend—who knew the rod—told me this on the phone after the fact: “Loomis has a return policy like L.L. Bean’s.”
When the rod sank, I heard Jason, my friend and shipmate, say over and over, “That’s gotta hurt. That’s gotta hurt.”
As the rod kept sinking, now well out of sight, I mumbled words of remembrance and hope—a wish for a good future, for health. I gave thanks. I do things like this from time to time. It helps. Crazy as that seems.
By Dave Anderson
This little false hint of a January thaw has awakened that need to drive to the ocean and just… see it. Any spot will do, it’s that inherent energy that the ocean holds that makes these short trips therapeutic. Today, after I dropped my daughter at preschool, I found myself following a familiar road, heading out of my way to a place that holds many memories. Following the footprints of a much younger and greener me, into a place that would become a major part of my story.
I first walked these beaches in the winter of 2005 when I found my way into a very exclusive neighborhood; as I skipped out onto the exposed ledges, I found a spot that screamed big stripers. It had everything; deep water, drastic depth changes, changes in bottom composition… The first time I fished it that spring the fishing was amazing with fish from 28 to almost 40 pounds. The next night was even better.
Needless to say, I became a regular at this spot. But as spring gave way to summer, I learned very quickly that a security guard was stationed in the neighborhood so that the ‘summer people’ could enjoy their high-priced paradise without worrying about any of the ‘underprivileged’ population sneaking in to enjoy a quick peek of the breathtaking view or—worse—marring it by leaving footprints in the sand that weren’t left by a fellow millionaire. It’s funny how money cultivates feelings of entitlement, but I’m jumping the tracks here.
After a few years of being asked to leave in the summer, I finally found a way in that only required that I keep the use of my light to a minimum. I was parking in a hayfield about a mile from the gate and walking in. By that time I knew exactly where the guard parked his vehicle and that he spent almost the entire night sitting in there listening to the radio. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he had a job to do and he could not be persuaded to look the other way. The only tenuous part of walking in was that I had to pass within 200 feet of his vehicle, but if I ducked into a driveway and walked a short distance behind a stone wall and some shrubs, he could not see me unless he was really focusing on that one area—he never saw me, not even once.
There were a few times though that his intuition seemed like it told him that someone had avoided detection and was out there exploiting the land and water he was there to ‘protect’. His downfall was that he seemed to be afraid of the dark; he NEVER shut his ginormous flashlight off. The jittering beam would precede his arrival by as much as five minutes, like a freight train rounding a bend on a moonless night. It never occurred to him to look on any of the rocks out in the water, and I’m sure training his eyes on that glowing beam killed his night vision anyway, so he never made me—again, not even once.
One summer night I was in there, hitting all of my usual spots, slinging eels—near perfect conditions, I’d only have wished for more wave action. I was on a short boulder that jutted out from the gravel beach when I saw the beam, waving like a lightsaber, 20 feet over my head on the bluff. I wasn’t worried, but I moved to a lower spot to make the most of the height of the boulder behind me. He walked down from the bluff and looked around for 10 minutes, I kept casting while he stumbled and searched just 25 yards behind me. He climbed back up and disappeared. I moved down the beach, further from where his car was parked and resumed my nightly ritual.
The fishing was just not coming together, and Mr. Rent-A-Cop was really testing his training. He showed up again, right behind me… it was a dark—no moon—he didn’t see me. The lack of fish was bothering me, half of me wanted to leave but the other half wanted to take on the challenge of salvaging the night. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t risk walking back down the road because Chief Wiggam was on the prowl, so I decided to fish my way down the mile of shoreline that lead back to the field where I had parked.
It should come as no surprise that my decision yielded zero fish and zero hits. As I stood at the shore, making my final casts, I hoped that I had lined myself up in a way that would offer a direct route to the car. I climbed the steep embankment and saw that I was roughly in the right spot, but that a thick patch of bramble and briars separated the shoreline from the field. Looking left, I saw that there was a long section of mowed grass leading from the water to a large house up near the road.
I thought about the hour, it was very late. I thought about the walk back and having to ninja my way through the neighborhood to avoid the guard. I decided I would walk through the yard and hope for the best.
When I do something like this I often find myself locked into a cyclical inner monologue. I imagine what might happen if someone caught me and then I think about the best story I could tell that would diffuse the situation and disarm my accuser. I always settle on having lost my way and selling the desperation of being ‘lost’ and ‘in a panic’… worried wife… work the next day… you get the idea. The reason for repeating it over and over, I think, is to get the tone and inflection right, make myself believe it before I have to say it out loud.
So I was walking up this million dollar lawn, sometime after 1 a.m., muttering and refining my excuse as I went. The house was white, standing out stark against the shadowy darkness of the trees around it. As I approached, I noticed that the property line was pitching in, forcing me to walk closer and closer to this modest vacation home—it was summer with a light sea breeze, windows would most definitely be open. My stride modulated to half speed as I concentrated on placing each step. My main concern switched to being exposed by a motion-activated flood light, luckily they didn’t have one. As I tip-toed past the east wing of the sprawling estate, I was passing a set of tall windows when a light flicked on inside, my body went cold with dread as my eyes instinctively fixed on the figure inside. My synapses were firing at record speed, processing worry, readying an excuse, fighting the urge to run… but the rush of emotions fell dead in the height of the moment. My brain was short-circuited by the amount of flesh I was seeing. Here was a man, probably late-60’s. Bald on top with wild bed head gray hair wrapping the sides. His face wore the grimace of trying to stay mostly asleep—he was the opposite of alert. He was short and portly and moving slowly. He was also bare-ass! And I saw it all. Everything from his alarmingly dangly testicles to his scruffy—steel wool—chest hair. He turned and I instantly felt bad for his proctologist. “Should’a been a podiatrist..”
All of the drama leading up fell flat in a whispered, yet exasperated, muffled huff, “Jesus-fucking-Christ!” My new challenge was trying to get out of there before bursting out laughing. As I rounded the pillars at the top of the driveway, I knew I had made it. The cold chill of alertness was replaced by the seeping warmth of fatigue. I felt like I didn’t know what to do with that mental image; all I could do was laugh. I don’t remember what year that was, but we all have memories that never leave us; the birth of a child, big fish caught or lost, little league home runs, falling in love… and unfortunately, this man’s… everything, seems be stored on that same kind of encrypted memory. So thanks mystery millionaire, you don’t know it, but I own a part of you and I cannot—for the life of me—get rid of it.
By Dave Anderson
My parents used to tell me all the time that you can’t understand, fathom, quantify the love you have for your children until you have one of your own. These moments made me squirm in much the same way that catching my parents kissing made me squirm. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to hear… but I didn’t need to hear it three times a week! Looking back, I was lucky to have parents that made it clear—all the time—that they loved and supported me, my brothers and each other.
Christmas was always a phenomenal time of year, we weren’t rich by anyone’s standard, but my parents put a lot of emphasis on making sure they always maintained that Christmas magic. And my mom was obsessive about making sure that they spent the same amount on each of us—I’m talking down to the penny—AND that each of our piles of presents was roughly the same size. It was almost as if she thought we’d be going through catalogs after opening all our presents, tallying totals, billing for discrepancies.
This went on for much longer than it should have, but my parents didn’t want to let the magic go either. I remember Christmas 2002, I was already out of the house living with my girlfriend 80 miles from home on the shores of Buzzards Bay. That year marked my first real fall run. My gear was not intended for someone that put in the kind of time that I did that fall. I’d like to tell you that I had it all figured out, I did not, but I learned a hell of a lot. I had two surf setups; a schoolie outfit that consisted of a low-end Penn reel and an 8-foot Shimano Blue Runner rod and I had another of the same Penn reels in a larger size clamped onto a 10-foot Ugly Stik. By the time I made my lasts casts in November, my reels were in rough shape. This was about 50% due to the fact that I didn’t do much to preserve them and 50% that they weren’t intended to be fished four times a week and submerged 30 times per trip. Corrosion was visible on many parts of both reels, the anti-reverse only worked when I didn’t need it to and they sounded like those old crank egg beaters.
I had a long list of things I wanted that year, most of it was more important than a fishing reel. I needed tools and clothes and other things to make my first year out of the house go as smoothly as it could. My parents did the right thing and got me all of that stuff I needed; tools and a toolbox, some decent winter clothes, a pair of boots, I can’t remember all the details. But as I sat there surrounded by crumpled wrapping paper and dodging more being thrown at me by both of my brothers, I did feel a little disappointed that I didn’t get the reel. It seemed like just as much of a need as any of that other stuff to me.
Then my mom handed me one more present. I knew the size of the box was right and I could see the sparkle in her eye, she was excited to give this to me. My dad chimed in, “Open it!” I reasoned for a minute, maybe it was something else that came in a reel-sized box. For the first time in my life, I looked around myself and added up a rough tally of what they had spent on me. That’s when I knew there was no way it was going to be the reel, the one I wanted would have cost more than all of the other stuff combined!
I looked at my mom and said, “This better not be what I think it is!” I didn’t mean a single word of that sentence. I opened the package slowly, I knew exactly what the damned box looked like, I’d seen it on the shelves of every tackle shop I’d been in since I knew I wanted it. I saw the cream-colored cardboard and the maroon printing on the side. It was the reel. A Shimano Stradic 6000, at the time, it was a $220 reel. I was ecstatic inside, but also feeling a little guilty. I knew my parents didn’t have gobs of extra money floating around. For a minute I acted a little angry, “You guys! You shouldn’t have spent all this extra money, you already gave me what I needed!”
“You will never be able to understand the love you have for your children until you have one of your own…” My dad quipped with a wide smile. I gave in to the moment, I could not have asked for a better Christmas. It was a time when I was just finding my footing in the world; I wouldn’t have been able to buy that reel before spring. Odds were that my un-rinsed reels would have seized up by May and then I’d be really stuck. My mom and dad made that happen because they wanted to keep that Christmas magic alive, my happiness and surprise in that moment was worth every extra penny.
Now it’s my turn to crank up the magic and keep it alive for as long as I can. My daughter is three this Christmas and her excitement has brought all of the electricity of the holiday season back into my life. Every house with crazy Christmas lights brings out gasps of astonishment from the car seat behind me, we have to spend at least 20 minutes absorbing the wonder that is the Christmas section at Target… every time we go there. Everything must be related to the Holiday… from cookies, to drawings, to anything else you can think of. And if I am up in the morning before she is and she comes down to find that I have not lit the tree… you wanna talk about a dirty look?
I get it now. It’s not just one day, it’s at least a month of enchantment for a little kid and as an adult, you suddenly find yourself thrust back in time, living each second again through a different set of eyes. And when Christmas morning arrives, the pinnacle of their existence—at least as far as they’re concerned—you want that day to feel like a 24 hour fireworks display. Did we spend way too much on her? There is no doubt. But I don’t feel a stich of remorse, these years will go quick and the magic means more to me now than it ever did. I think that’s what it’s really all about.