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.
By Dave Anderson
Most striper fishermen have heard of Danny Pichney, it’s his name that is attached to the timeless wooden swimmer known as the Danny Plug. Metal lip swimmers had been popular with striper fishermen since Creek Chub introduced their Pikie swimmer in 1921; several manufacturers followed suit through the 1940s and 50s, many striper anglers would argue that Danny perfected the surface swimmer with his line of Danny Plugs sometime during the 1970s. Danny passed away in 1988 at the age of 66.
Back when I was working as the editor of The Fisherman Magazine (New England Edition) I received an email that said it came from Dan Pichney. Knowing the Danny was no longer with us, my immediate reaction was that one of my ‘friends’ was trying to dupe me with a bogus email account and when I clicked on it I was ready for a laugh. But when the text popped up on the screen there was no elaborate hoax, no silly photo or ‘gotcha,’ instead I was drawn in by a thank you note of sorts from Danny Pichney’s son, Dan. To this day, it stands among the most thoughtful notes I have ever received, and I will never forget it. Dan said that someone had given him a copy of one of my articles detailing how to build a replica Danny swimmer along with some of the history behind the plug. He said he wanted to thank me for helping to keep his father’s legacy alive. After trading emails for a few days, Dan invited me to his home on Long Island to see some of the plugs his dad left behind. As a student of the plug making trade, an avid surfcaster and devoted follower of surfcasting history, I jumped at the chance.
I arrived on a still and overcast day in early May at a small house that looked like the idyllic 1960’s home. The exterior was immaculate, fresh paint, a manicured lawn, flowers bursting from the perimeter… it felt like family, like home. Dan greeted me in the yard and brought me inside where we sat at the dining room table. Dan disappeared into the basement and emerged with two boxes of history. When he set them on the table I found myself looking into the mind of one of the most respected plug makers in the history of striped bass fishing. There was a small armload of packaged plugs, a few projects in progress, some papers with plans and notes scrawled on them and lots of unfinished plugs. But the things that really grabbed my attention were what appeared to be some of Danny’s master copies, plugs made to spec for duplication and gauging the placement of hardware, lip angles, length of line tie. I held those old plus in my hands as my mind descended through the past to a time before my birth. I have always felt an intrinsic connection to history when I can hold it in my hand, touch it—it’s a rush, something that blossoms from an otherwise inaccessible corner of my brain. It feels like all the atoms in the universe align for a split second and my mind can see through time. Holding these plugs, that were essentially tools for duplication, lit that same fire. Danny Pichney had long been a bit of hero of mine, and these were made for a purpose, written on by his hand, used to replicate thousands of others made and sold.
Dan had never gotten into plug making like his father and he wasn’t sure what a lot of the plugs were or what they did in the water. Our conversation transformed into an equal passage of knowledge—Dan was giving me unknown history and I was filling in the blanks on the names of the plugs, their approximate value and how they swam, etc. It was a very enjoyable day to say the least. I think I was there for more than three hours—and I could have sat for three more—but I had a ferry to catch and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. I thanked Dan for his time and hospitality and told him that I had a boat reservation.
As we stood to shake hands, Dan was not putting things back into their boxes he was just standing there, looking over the legacy of his father sprawled out across the table. He looked up and asked if there was anything on the table that I’d like to have. Talk about fighting with the Devil on your shoulder! Of course there were things on that table that I’d like to have! But the Angel won and I told him that I didn’t feel comfortable taking anything from the small collection of things left behind from his father’s passion.
Dan was adamant that I pick not one, but a few lures to take home, saying something like, “I wouldn’t even know what these things are.” I chose a 2-ounce Darter in herring color because it exemplified what a Pichney plug should look like and I chose a green mackerel Diving Danny because I thought the color was really cool. He urged me to pick one more.
There was a small plastic tub containing these very small lures that I had never seen anywhere before. I asked Dan if he knew anything about them and he said that he believed his father had made them for himself. “He used them from the piers in the city to catch small stripers in the springtime,” Dan told me. He said he didn’t think his father had ever sold them. There were less than a dozen of them in the tub painted in two color patterns—one was silver with black stripes drawn onto it and the others were the classic Pichney green/silver. There were only two of the silver ones so I asked if it was okay if I took one of the green ones, he nodded. Dan then picked up a few unfinished bodies and handed them to me—I think he thought I would finish them and fish them, but I still have them.
I have never gotten the pier plug wet, but I think it might be one of the earliest attempts at creating a paddle-tail shad. The body is heavily weighted and, as you can see in the pic, the line tie is on top of the head. A small aluminum blade is attached to the tail with a split ring and a single #1 treble hangs from the belly. My guess is that the plug sinks and the tail flaps side-to-side on the retrieve. One of these days I might have to make one just to see what it does.
This little ‘no name’ Pichney plug stands as one of my most prized possessions. Several ‘high-line’ plug collectors have tried to get me to give them Dan’s email or phone number, I refused. Those boxes of striper fishing history will come out when Dan and his family are ready. I just couldn’t let the wolves in.
This was a truly special day for me and one that I would never have experienced if I hadn’t taken the chances to work as a writer and editor. I don’t love writing about myself in this way, but hearing that my little article on the Danny swimmer reached the Pichney Family and that they were happy with it, made all of the research and agonizing over sentence rhythm and comma placement worth it. And I have never forgotten that. Thank you Dan.
By Dave Anderson
When I think of the fall run, I think of panic. It’s hard to describe the feeling—in some ways, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this. Unlike the summer, when I’m content to miss a few nights or mornings, even several in a row if the conditions suck—the fall rushes in with a sudden sense of urgency and the constant nag of being late. Late for something that may not even be happening. And I don’t do much to help the situation… in my mind I feel certain that at least five locations are going off—and inevitably, I find out that I was right about at least one, the fact that I was “right” only serves to compound the urgency. My everyday responsibilities begin to feel like royal pains in the ass, writing deadlines and other work-related promises live in the pit of my stomach, while my fishing brain fights to turn my head away from what has to be done in favor of doing what it knows I want to do.
This battle is easily won. I have become a master at rationalizing fishing trips. I am also a master at making myself believe that I can complete an impossible amount of work—tomorrow. I know this about myself and yet, I still do it.
I was out just last night and the fishing was good. Too good. I know these fish were at least in migration mode—they very well may have migrated already. I probably could have had them for a week. But I held my fire. I don’t like big surf, and the surf was big last week—I fished freshwater. I know a lot of people love a good heave, but punishing waves have rarely been good to me and nearly all of my big fish have come from calm to moderate seas. But in this case, I know I missed out. (Or at least I believe I did.)
These fish were on a pile of bait. I know because of the way they were taking the plug—many of the fish were choking on it. I also know because of the speed they were relating to, they wanted it fast and wild. Rapid retrieves with a lot of tip action were swimming my glidebait in a wild, jittery to-and-fro; the hits were thunderous and final.
Even in this early stage of the fall run, more than one third of September is already behind us. To some it might seem like we have all the time in the world, but I feel like I’m trying to suck spilled water out of desert sand. Yes, I know there are many pushes of bass to come. Moons and winds and rains and tides will trigger movements of baitfish as the many migrations ebb, flow and collide. But the fall is not a hopeful season. It’s not like the spring when the fish are welcomed like a long parade. The days of the fall run peel off the calendar like the minutes leading up to a root canal. The end of the fall run is the end of the year. The end of daylight savings, the end of flip-flops and the end of manageable heating bills.
Some might think I’m being melodramatic for effect. But the romance of the fall run cannot exist with complacency. The fish are moving constantly, bites flare up like forest fires but move like the same. The urgency is just as much about having a constant pulse of what’s happening as it is about slowing the race. The urgency needs to be real. Mine physically hurts, while taxing my heart with unnecessary—and totally invented—stress. But it drives me to fish and removes none of the joy. I actually like these feelings… how sick is that?
By Dave Anderson
It's probably obvious that John Lee and I weren't totally ready to launch this blog, but extenuating circumstances are what they are, we needed a place to run this tournament from, I had the domain and a shell of a website in progress so we took on the trial by fire and here we are. We'll do our best to keep things interesting as the tourney progresses. (Hopefully a few of you will want to read it!)
If you're still not totally sure what this whole Owenstrong Tournament is all about, it's a benefit for a fellow angler, John Hanecak's, son who was recently diagnosed with Leukemia. He's not even 18 months old yet and he's strapped with battling this terrible disease. The great news is that treatments are very successful these days. The hard parts are the expense and the duration--Owen's doctors estimate that it will take 3-1/2 years to complete the treatment. As I've written before, our main goal is taking the heat off of the Family a little bit so that they can be where parents should be when their child is in need of their support; right by his (or her) side.
Every cent raised by all of the great people working together on this event will go directly to the Hanecak Family. My friend and fellow editor (of The Fisherman Magazine) Toby Lapinski has been integral in getting this event off the ground, "Grampa" Greg McNamara has also played a huge part in seeing it through. We have the support of the Connecticut Surfcaster's Club, their officers and membership have played a critical role in securing a venue for the banquet, collecting donations and streamlining the process of putting this together through collaboration and sheer manpower. Jared Clairmont and Chris Blouin have also played a big role in making this tournament happen--I'd like to personally thank all of these people for putting in their own sweat and hours to make this benefit a reality. Our growing list of sponsors and private donors is too long to list--please look for a complete list being added to the OwenStrong Page in the near future. The initial support has been overwhelming and now it's up to you to sign up and fish this thing! The entry price of just $30 could easily be twice that and still be acceptable given the fees for most fishing tournaments, but we wanted to set a price that was right for everyone that loves to fish the surf.
John told me today that he and Karyn have been floored by the support of the surfcasting community and have been feeling extremely blessed by all of the notes of encouragement and acts of kindness aimed at supporting their young family. Surfcasters are a small group but we are passionate and we are connected by that passion. I feel like the small size of our group makes us close--maybe we don't all love each other--but when something real happens, we come together in ways that very few other 'special interest groups' can, will or could. This makes me really proud to be a part of this group.
We have rods, reels, surf bags, jackets, gift certificates, other types of gear and hundreds of plugs to raffle off in the CT Surfcasters Fundraising Event, (taking place at the awards banquet on October 21st in Clinton, CT). In addition to that, all attendees will be well fed and have the option to take in two excellent striper fishing seminars from top anglers, Capt. Jack Sprengel will be one of those presenters and we're working on securing the second one. The event will run 12 to 4:30 p.m. and is open to the public for a $10 entry fee, participating anglers enter free.
I don't think I could express how excited we are to see this thing take off and to raise some money that will help a family do what families are meant to do--support one another no matter what. Please follow this link to the OwenStrong page and sign up today.