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.
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.