By Dave Anderson
There are probably 8-million ways to lose a big fish, but nothing hurts more than losing them at endgame. I have one particular painful experience that happened in the Canal about nine or 10 years ago. The tide had just turned east and it was late-May and I was throwing a pink mackerel Guppy pencil popper. The fish hit way out at the end of the cast and I knew, instantly, that it was big. She made two good runs and I was lucky that the tide was slow or else I don’t think I would have had much of a chance of even coming close to landing her. Finally I had her close, and she made a wide circle around my position on the shore. I could feel my heart beginning to race a little as she sounded and laid on her side, to this day I feel confident saying she was at least very close to 50 if not over. She was all of 50 inches and built like Magnus Ver Magnusson, as she glided toward me, I stepped into the water so I wouldn’t have to strain any of my tackle trying to drag her onto the rocks. I could see that the fish was only hooked on one hook point and it wasn’t exactly a rock solid connection, but I didn’t panic. I had her coming in, the line was tight, the plug was visible, she was barely a rod length off the tip and appeared to have given up. Then she rolled over and tried to turn to dive. She disappeared for a minute and then… the pencil, unceremoniously, popped up in the widening rings of her last splash. Gone. I was so crestfallen that I called my fishing partner at 5:45 a.m. when he was away on a family vacation to Florida. Given the fact that he was going to Disney that day, and most certainly would have preferred dental surgery, never mind fishing a hot tide at the Canal, he didn’t provide the type of sympathy I was hoping for.
So much has to go right before you even get the chance to screw up the landing, and because of this, we don’t get enough opportunities to practice landing giants in the surf. This is where so many hearts are broken. And too many of them break as a result of complete panic. I once took my aunt, Betsy, on a fishing trip aboard a friends boat in the Housatonic River. We were catching stripers in December and as the morning turned to afternoon, the bite cooled off. I think Besty kind of tuned out for a bit and was just, kind of, dangling her small soft plastic over the side while daydreaming when her rod went down with authority. This fish put on a real show, ripping drag, staying deep and really putting her to the test. Then the fish surfaced, it was not a striped bass, it was an Atlantic salmon! Betsy totally lost her shit! She actually dropped the rod and practically dove over the side, for a split second, I thought I was going to have to grab her ankles! I insisted that she CALM DOWN, grab the rod and let me land the fish, which, luckily, we were able to do.
So, how do you prepare for this moment? If you haven’t—yet—landed what you consider to be a real giant, (and just to be clear, there is no cut-and-dried definition of ‘giant’ here) then let me just tell you now, it’s not likely to be a ho-hum moment, unless you’re heavily medicated at the time. Big fish, look HUGE when you compare them to the average catches that all surfmen make on a typical night. And if that doesn’t get your heart racing, then… why the hell are you doing this? This factor is only multiplied when the fish is caught in full dark, and only comes into view when it glides into the halo of your light.
This may sound like the musings of a person who has totally lost touch with reality, priority and what really matters, but when the season gets close I use visualization to prepare myself for that first big one of the season. For the sake of the exercise, start by stretching a tape measure out to 50 inches and look at it, I mean really LOOK, now imagine the width and girth and power of a fish that size. Now imagine the mouth of that fish, the eye, the gills and then remember that it will be alive and pissed off when you reach for that jaw to land the fish. This is the moment that so many people botch, because they are not mentally prepared.
I visualize this moment all the time, usually as I’m trying to fall asleep. I concentrate on the size of the fish and the visual impact of seeing that big fish. I also concentrate on diminishing the moment, making it more of a routine, the same routine that I use for every fish. Using these visualizations helps me keep my excitement in check when that moment comes—because it is a really exciting moment, every time. But I have learned through practice and through these brain exercises, not to get excited until I have a firm hold on the fish, because—as that day at the Canal taught me—the battle really isn’t over until you are holding that fish.
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 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 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 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 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
Darkness falls so fast in October. I almost had to skip dinner to catch my tide. When I arrived at the beach, the wind had come up hard, forcing a change of plans. My phone buzzed impatiently, it was my buddy Keith—he was mowing pasta and giving me a report. He said that the whole area had been hot for bass—schoolies to the mid 30-inch class and a single 28-pounder. In addition there had been large albies and some bluefish mixed in. I drive by that beach every day after I drop my daughter off at school, but on this day I kept the blinders on so I could tend to things at home. While the fish blitzed, I was at home picking up around the house, doing the dishes and working on writing and editing deadlines. Being responsible sucks.
I told him I was sitting on the corner of the beach in my wetsuit at that very moment—I heard the rhythm of his chewing increase as he spoke—I pictured a wig of spaghetti hanging from his mouth as he choked out his words, “I can be there in 30 minutes,” he gulped punctuated with a hard swallow.
I agreed to wait for him.
The beach was deserted. Just one month prior there would be cars lining this little strip of prime public real estate—couples enjoying wine on a blanket, fogged windows of college kids ditching their roomates for a quickie. The ocean breathes life into anyone that stops to receive it—many stop without realizing why. This night felt cold and blue. I stepped out of the car and listened to the wind playing an eerie tune through my braid and leader—the rod racked on my roof. I looked into the last vestiges of sunset, the trees, the beach houses, the telephone poles all in silhouette—black, brown, blue—the occasional steady eyes of a passing car. I snuck a quick leak before zipping up my wetsuit. As much as I grit my teeth over navigating the grocery store when the ‘summer people’ are in town, the loneliness of the nights after Columbus Day do bring on feelings of melancholy—not because I miss seeing 40- and 50-something women who think a mesh shirt over a bikini that begs for youth is suitable attire for the deli counter, it’s because I know what comes after this.
My fall striper season has been dismal. Before hurricane Jose barreled past it had been good and the Canal had been hot enough to keep everyone else glued to the easy fishing. Since then, there had been repeated skunkings, slow nights and (probably too much) worrying about the season passing me by.
Keith arrived and we walked to our spot—he was rattling through the blow-by-blow of the daytime fishing, a mix of sea herring and peanut bunker fueling the fire, supposedly bigger splashes out of reach. As we toed the edge of waves, Keith laughed and said, “Welp, ready for another skunking!?”
To make a long story short, we did pull a skunk in one of the highest-probability spots that I know. Mid-October on the night of the new moon… ouch. On the way out I said, “Man, I used think I was pretty good at this!” Where did all those fish from the daytime go?
It was early enough that I felt like I could hit another spot and still be present as a father and all around person the next day. My mind began working through the reports from Keith’s daytime exploits. The fish had moved steadily west throughout the day—staying with the bait. There were several logical stopping points to the west; I picked the one that seemed like the approximate middle.
And after a short walk, there were fish, from the first cast through the fourth hour of the tide. Needlefish crawled through the shallow break drawing strikes. None of the fish were impressive, but a few in the mid-teens came out of what seemed like a sea of shorts. Other times I might have moved after a half-dozen schoolies, but I was hoping that the building sea would draw in a few bigger fish, it didn’t. My meager success still served to ballast my listing confidence and instinct; I had been right about their movements. Hopefully the next push will bring something bigger.