By John P. Lee
When I was in fifth grade, we moved back to the States from Hong Kong. Everyone in my new school thought I was going to be Chinese—I don’t blame them, look at my last name. I think I disappointed many: Bruce Lee, the master, was the action hero of that era. When my neighbor, a boy my age, came over to greet us, forced by his father to do so, what he saw wasn’t a Chinese martial arts master but a dorky, American kid with a Red Sox cap pulled tightly down over his head making his ears Dumbo out like palm leaves.
Only three years, that’s how long we lived in Hong Kong. My dad got a job with a small investment company that wanted footing in Southeast Asia, so we moved halfway around the world from Newport, Rhode Island. I was already a watery kid. But what Hong Kong did was combine water with a huge city and this, I am certain, shaped who I have become. Not that it made me wildly interesting, a scholar of Chinese history or culture; but my time there did give me the strange blend, almost verging on the impossible, of loving both fish and nature as well as the industries that seem to exploit them.
Hong Kong Harbor and the ships and the fishing junks—they got deep into my little head and stayed there. The seaport, back then as well as now, centers around the harbor. The whole city seems to face it. When you walk downhill you always end up there. Water was a draw for me: it was so alive and crazy and busy, so full of color and sounds. And the thing is, I didn’t even know it, didn’t understand how charged-up it made me. Kids don’t really know what gets under their skin. Rumination, to a kid, is like breathing. It’s constant. Or it was with me.
But there was no intellect. Just feelings and energy, a kind of rawness and presence, which, unfortunately, is easily lost when we grow up and act like grownups. My fuel was visual that’s how I made sense of the world (still do) and Hong Kong Harbor was as visual as any place can get. Ships from all over the world, tugs, junks, sampans of a hundred different styles. It was also loaded with things adrift. Every kind of flotsam was in Hong Kong harbor in the 1970s and I stared at it, hoping to see something, I’m not even sure what.
In the 1970s everything on the planet was made in Hong Kong and even today, it ranks as one of the world’s busiest seaports. I never knew what I might see. One day I saw a cow’s head, another I saw the entrails of some animal trailing off like a massive jellyfish. I saw plastic toys and a dead dog. I saw all kinds of wood and bamboo. Crates and baskets and buckets. Styrofoam that formed in drifts along the bulkheads. I saw little fish along the ferry docks and watched the Chinese fish for them with handlines. All this may sound a bit off-putting: a kid into garbage, and I’m sure even I thought that, but it also held some mystery to me. To this day I am unable to walk by water without staring into it. What I’m looking for, I still don’t know…
The other thing that I think I carried back to the States was a fascination with fishing boats and life at sea. Again, it was completely opposite of reason and intellect, and had to do with the unknown. There was a part of Hong Kong called Aberdeen and this is where the fishing fleet tied up. This fleet made New Bedford look artisanal, like a cute New England painting. The boats went on for what I perceived as miles, one tied to the next in a long chain of wooden junks. These junks were homes. The owners, after a fishing trip into the South China Sea, did not head back to their apartments for some rest and family time. The boats were it, all-inclusive. The whole family—generations deep—lived aboard in floating villages. This was sensory overload for me. And it was more than fascination it was something I felt, as if I swallowed it whole. And the fish they caught, many of them alive in tanks in open-air markets held a strong pull for me. I had to peer in. These markets were the very opposite of a Whole Food experience in Manhattan or Boston, where everything is clear, bright, smoke-free and no one is yelling. Again, now years later, I am still more at home in a fishing port with fish being handled and trucks and ice and pallets, shouting people, than I am at the beach, mall, or fancy marina.
One of my favorite memories is from that time and it’s the kind of memory that I wouldn’t mind revisiting when I’m laying down to die. We would often go off into the hills after school and hike around. Hong Kong had both temperate forest and also this savanna-type grass that would grow on wind-swept faces. The funny thing is, even though Hong Kong was incredibly dense with people, there were also large sections where no one lived; so we’d hike around, go exploring.
I can still picture this one particular day, sunny and clear, dry. I was with my brother and maybe another friend. My brother being in charge, as the big fifth-grader. I recall standing on a big rock watching the wind blow the grass, and on three sides of us stretched the South China Sea, beyond that, the land of China. Seeing the hills of China way off in the distance—China was an enigma, a hard nut to crack. Hong Kong was under British control when we were there but China had closed borders and was under communist rule, the era of Mao Zedong had just ended—and to my little head, a third grader, China was as bad-ass as any place could possibly be. So there we were, on the edge of nowhere, on a map that didn’t exist to us, following trails that few people ever walked—parent-free and wild.
Photos taken by my mom or dad.
By Dave Anderson
Nighttime is my time. I love fishing at any time, but I feel the most at home in darkness. When color is removed from your field of view you perceive the landscape using different senses; on one hand your eyes begin to hone in on nuance, picking up the subtle color changes of a gentle rise on the surface or the dark stain of a recent break. The black expanse of a grove of pines is given depth when your hearing fills in the blanks. Hollows gape and echo in a light wind, pine needles soften while leaves hiss – almost ring – in the breeze. When you really tune in and your subconscious takes over you may find that your mind is practically on fire, processing sound, using sight only on an ‘as needed’ basis. It’s these times when your mind takes the wheel that it is easiest to believe that we only use a tiny fraction of our brain’s potential.
Winter is a tough season for the night angler—unless you target holdover striped bass exclusively or maybe, walleye. For those of us that hunt trout and freshwater bass, the hits become fewer and the chances of blowing that opportunity become much more likely—complacency comes easy in the third hitless hour with your fingers frozen in the positions of holding a rod and reel.
I covered a lot more ground than usual last night, more than I ever had in this particular pond and I only had one solid hit and two nudges to show for it. Maybe it was the fact that it was a Sunday night, after a weekend of increased fishing pressure, or maybe it was the cooling waters and threatening stare of the super moon foreshadowing the whiteness of the coming winter. A light wind rose from the west, I wished I had worn one more layer.
I turned around after covering, what Google Earth tells me was, almost exactly one mile of prime shoreline (it felt like twice that!) and began walking back toward the car. As I rounded a shallow bend in the shore I heard the low calls of a pair of owls in the trees. When you spend a lot of time outside in the quiet darkness you learn that owls all have a unique call, not to the species but to the individual. These two were keeping a good rhythm going one of them was low and somber, with drawn out annunciations, Hooo-Hooo-H-Hoo-Hoo, the other was playing for style points with a much faster and complex call, Hoo-H-H-H-Hooo-H-Hoo-Hoo. Each one replicated to a tee during each round, each one sung in a “woe-is-me” minor key.
My mind snapped to a conversation I had with my friend Keith’s wife, Lauren. She works for the Audubon Society and conducts regular owl walks for groups of bird enthusiasts. I could hear her voice in my head telling me that owls can be brought in by playing—or in some cases—vocally imitating their calls. She uses an iPod and speakers to broadcast actual recordings of owl calls and they come to investigate—almost—without exception. Since I had a captive audience that was, clearly, feeling the night vibe and comforting each other with the dialogue of mated pair. I cupped a hand to my mouth and did my best to throw my own vocal stylings into the mix.
The pair went silent. The light wind seemed to bend with their confusion as a deafening silence crossed the pond like a sudden gust of wind. Their calls cautiously resumed as I did my best to move quietly along the gravelly bank. I called again, they called back—in sequence. I called again and the first owl rushed to fill the space at the end of my phrase, the other followed. I took a few more steps and called out, again the space right at the end of my phrase was filled. It was starting to feel like a competition. For a split second I felt a flutter of nervous excitement blooming in my chest—an osprey once tried to attack me… in the dark I might never see them coming! I weighed the risks and called again—they called back quickly and, once again, in sequence.
This continued with intermittent steps until I could tell I was right below the second caller. Hidden by the blackness of a tall, gangly pine I heard the call. I don’t know why, but I assumed that this owl was the female—low and somber, not as brash and braggadocios as Mr. Style Points. She called, I called back and she took to the air, crossing the clouded corridor of the full moon as she flew, I watched the black dart, soar across the pond and settle into the treeline. I pulled my camera, knowing (hoping) that he would follow her—he didn’t. I called again. I heard the snap and rustle of the foliage as he dropped into an iron cross and glided slowly through the same lane, I snapped the best shot I could. His slow movement sent a message of warning as he surveyed the area before crossing the water to join his mate.
I could hear them consoling each other for the rest of the night, the rhythm and phrasing unchanged. Even after taking several casts on the way back, in some of the most productive spots in the pond, there was not a fish to be had. The owl encounter made my night. It’s the incidentals that make fishing what it is to me. I have already shared this story with my wife and daughter and I will tell it many more times in my life. If I had caught a fish, I would most likely forget that fish within a few years, but this owl encounter will stick with me forever.
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 John P. Lee
I found two sinkers in a valley between some cobble stones. I was swimming back to shore, after spearing some blackfish, around this time last year, maybe a bit later, the water cooling down, the migratory runs already well in swing. Two sinkers—who gives a shit? You can buy them anywhere. Why have these two globs of lead been awarded a spot on the sill above my kitchen sink? For one, they are from a different time, how long, I’m not sure, years, decades, many tides and winters. And two, they were found randomly, as if dropped from the sky. There was no active search, no forethought.
When I’m coming in from deeper water and I’m getting ready to haul out and the water gets shallow, my view of the ocean floor becomes more focused. There is no real space between the surface and the bottom. I pull myself along with my hands and let my fins go limp. It can be a very relaxing part of the dive, the work of spearing is done, and the work of getting out of the water, dragging myself across the rocks and humping my gear to the car is yet to begin. So I slow right down and enjoy the easy glide.
I was looking down and then there they were, two sinkers. I grabbed them and looked at them. The lead had been worn to a smooth polish, like sea glass, like moonstones. The other thing that struck me—two sinkers side-by-side near where the surf line breaks on a cobble beach—no way those sinkers were lost on the same day, in the same spot. They had rolled across the bottom on very different courses, and ended almost touching. That kind of randomness is what I love—more so if it involves a found object tied to the sea. I came home and put them on the sill. I told the story to my wife, my son, and stepson. As I expected: none of them game two shits. A clump of lead. “Keep it away from the kids,” my wife said. Some things in life are never meant to be understood by our own families.
Here we are once again coming into blackfish season. I’ll go back to that spot and make the long swim out to the reef, the good bottom, close to where the blackfish boats anchor and fish. Fish will be killed, sinkers will be lost. And who knows maybe 50 years from now another man or woman will find two sinkers, worn to polish, washed up together in the cobble.
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.
By Dave Anderson
The nights surrounding the August full moon are some of my favorites for largemouth fishing after dark. Unlike the surf, where darker nights seem to bring bigger fish and more consistent fishing, bright moon nights have been far more productive for me in the ponds. I am big on feel, I try to rely on instinct to tell me when and where to fish. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes my feelings are wrong. My belief is that we, as human beings, have undergone hundreds of years of un-training; we used to be much more instinctual creatures. Evidence surfaces when a random image of someone you haven’t seen in 10 years emerges from the back of your skull and the phone rings, guess who? Or when your kid gets into a bad spot and you are miraculously there to catch her as she falls. But one of the most common manifestations of our fading catalogue of natural instincts has to do with being watched. It’s almost mind-blowing how often we feel eyes on us and can then turn and immediately lock onto that set of offending eyes. Even the fact that we can lock eyes and feel that electric connection is something that I believe is left over from the instinctual creatures we once were. Try locking eyes with a deer and see what happens, as soon as that connection is made, she’s gone in a flash of brown and white. It’s an animal instinct, we can all feel it.
A few nights ago, I was on foot, stalking largemouths in a pond a few towns away from my house. Sunday nights are some of my favorites to fish in the surf because no one is fishing, but on this pond with a single road tracing the north bank, I came to realize that not only is no one fishing on a Sunday night, no one is doing ANYTHING on a Sunday night. Less than eight cars rolled by in the time I was there, during the daytime, that street would be alive with the perceived importance of daily life.
Wading softly through the calm water, the smell of stagnant silt and pond weed filled my nostrils and brought me back to my youth, growing up on a great bass pond in Westboro, Massachusetts. Fishing has that effect on me, when I’m in the mindset I feel as though I could be any age. I was fishing a large wakebait, one I made for myself, throwing an 8-1/2 inch bait in freshwater can be a lonely proposition—most of the bass in any given pond are only a few inches longer than the lure! The feeling of hunting something big makes it very engaging and enjoyable when the explosion comes.
But, for the first 45 minutes, I felt very much alone.
It had been a long day and I told myself I was only going to give it an hour, unless it was going off, clearly, it was not going off. Worst of all, I had hedged my bets by fishing the three best spots first, and they were dead. I walked back to where I started and looked back at my car. “Fifteen more minutes,” I said to myself and I walked past my entry point to a place where I had only caught three or four fish in all my times fishing there. It’s a shallow flat with a single and distinct rocky edge that drops down about 2 feet and then continues on as a long, gradually-sloping flat. The next 15 minutes would produce five fish—no big ones, but all nice ones in the 2 to 3-1/2 pound class. This was enough to get me to stay, at least until midnight.
There was a distinct pattern in the five fish that I caught on that flat, they were all relating to prominent changes in that edge, large rocks, bump-outs and small submerged points. And the pattern held for most of the night.
My last stop was a an area where a marshy river entered the pond, it’s a hard spot to cross, so I pretty much always end my nights there when I fish this pond. The incoming stream has carved out a wide cove, I can just barely reach the other side with a good cast. When I arrived on the small delta of debris the stream has pushed up over centuries, I could hear something rustling in the reeds across the cove. This was not something small like a raccoon, and it wasn’t a deer because I had made enough noise on the mussel shells and gravel that a deer would have been long gone. A carpet of clouds had filtered the moonlight, leaving me in a hazy shroud of almost darkness. I heard the rustling getting a little more intense, so I whistled to it, like a dog. It stopped.
I began casting and, within a few minutes, hooked up with what would be my last bass of the night, another solid fish, just over 3-1/2 pounds. After that, the fishing tapered off and the night seemed to reach a new level of quiet and dark. The rustling was back now, but moving along the opposite shore, slowly, like a child learning to tip-toe. It was moving in toward the stream. It took this animal 10 minutes to cover about 250 feet of shoreline—that’s pretty slow. Then I heard it quietly slipping through the reeds and then splashing—very softly—through the river, and then through the reeds on the other side.
In that moment my senses were firing like the processors on a supercomputer. I felt like I was seeing in 360 degrees as my ears aided my mind’s eye. This animal, which at this point I was pretty sure was actually two animals, was now right behind me. I am not the type to get spooked by wildlife, if I was fishing a stream in Wyoming, yeah, I’d have been reaching for the bear spray, but in Southern New England, I know where I sit on the food chain. But that didn’t stop my brain and body from reacting. I could feel the eyes on me and my body reacted with a chill on my back. Some people equate this to fear, but again, this is a warning sense, left over from the thousands of years ago when our ancestors hunted and fished out of necessity and these senses told them when danger was near. I’m sure you’ve seen a dog with its “hackles up” when it can sense danger or an intruder, that chill is the same thing.
I never saw my stalkers, but I heard them shadowing me for over 100 yards on the walk back to my parking spot. Coyotes have much sharper instincts than we do. Any time I’m with a friend that gets spooked by their howling, I remind them that we don’t smell like food to them, we smell like deodorant, and shampoo and danger. But they are curious and bold in the dark and they will stalk you; they step when you step – they stop when you stop. It’s eerie, but also fascinating—instinct is amazing, a sense taken for granted and ignored. When you feel the silent nudge of eyes on your back, or the wary zing of a chill up your spine, don’t shake it off, listen. These instincts are the last vestiges of your sixth sense, exercise them, keep them sharp and virile; be glad that your survivor instincts are still awake and functioning inside you, because this world and the lives we live are doing everything they can to take them away.
By Dave Anderson
My daughter is 18 months old and, as any dad with a surfcasting addiction should do, I take her to the beach every chance I get—which translates to pretty much every day. A couple weeks ago we were out running errands and I thought we should swing by a beach that overlooks one of my favorite sets of rocks—she could play in the sand and I could hang from the eyepieces of my binoculars looking for signs of life.
I was hungry and I could tell that she was too. The stash of Goldfish in the diaper bag had been exhausted, so I stopped at a local bakery to look for something we could share. I settled on a cinnamon bun that seemed to be calling me from the street. We hit the beach, spread out a blanket and shared that twisted miracle of dough, butter and cinnamon—it was the best cinnamon bun I’ve ever had. Hands down; and I’ve had many. I didn’t see any signs of life but Lila kept me entertained by repeatedly trying to pet seagulls—attempting to call them over like you might call a cat. It was a good day.
A few days later it was Friday and I called my fishing partner, Dave Daluz, to weigh the options for the night ahead; should we fish early in the night and hit spots A and B or should we head out around 4 a.m. and hit spot C? We elected to do the morning thing. To make the details of a very slow trip less boring; I dropped a good fish in the dark and Dave caught a 30-incher about 80 minutes after sunrise. The minutes before and after were sprinkled with rapid plug changes, glances across the point at one another, silent cursing of various boats coming too close and endless minutes of ‘in head’ wondering and self-flagellation about what our fate might have been had we elected to fish the night tide instead.
Mercilessly, one of us declared that he was going home and the other made the requisite “last cast” and followed closely behind. As we were walking out my mind wandered to that cinnamon roll. I know Dave likes quality baked goods as much as I do; he should know about these! Food is one of our top five subjects of conversation when driving long distances—the others being fishing, adolescent stupidity, present day stupid people and Kate Upton—not mentioning these cinnamon buns seemed like a violation of the bro code.
I should add that in the intervening days I had been back to the bakery no less than three times and each time they hadn’t made the cinnamon rolls! This had built up quite a jonze. This had also given me the chance to get a feel for the place; it was run by a group of college age girls, there were rarely any people in there and, I don’t know, maybe I’m overthinking things, but… well you’ll see.
I headed straight for the bakery on my way home, I half-expected Dave to follow, but he was nowhere to be seen. I was still in my wetsuit and I had a moment of mind-stutter when I thought about walking in there as their only customer, wearing a wetsuit. I didn’t want to make these girls uneasy. Might they think that I thought I looked good (Hey ladies, yeah I fish in a wetsuit…) or tough (Check out the pipes…) or maybe that I was trying to show off my 35-year old ‘dad’ physique to a bunch of college girls on a Saturday morning (Who needs help with their homework…)? For the record, none of those things are my strong points; and I am well aware of, and at peace with, these facts. In the middle of the night I’ll walk into almost any place with my wetsuit on, but for some reason, this place at 8 a.m. on a sunny day, made me stop.
So, I reached over and grabbed a pair of gym shorts, my worst pair too. You know the ones… the pair with the worn out elastic, paint smears on both legs, the pair you have to tie so tightly that the waistband looks like a diaper leg when you’re done tying a knot that you wish you had a third hand to properly cinch, the pair with at least one ‘mystery stain’ that you really don’t want to remember… yeah. I don’t know what made me think this was better, but I put these horrible shorts on OVER my wetsuit and wore them into the bakery.
The absurdity hit me when I was about two steps away from the car, but now I was out there (Jerry) and now I had to own this. I prayed that Dave would not show up, I caught of glimpse of myself in a window reflection and I had to grit my teeth to keep myself from bursting out laughing. Then I heard it--beep beep--it was Dave, F! I HAD TO OWN THIS. I turned with a straight face and gave a short nod and a nonchalant wave, like nothing was odd, like I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, like I always wear terrible ‘swishy’ shorts over my wetsuit into public places. I would normally wait for him, but I quickstepped through the doors; owning it like a boss!
The girls were all down in the kitchen and I didn’t see any cinnamon rolls on the counter. There’s a partition that’s close to five feet high separating the work area from the retail space. I walked over and asked one of them if they had the cinnamon buns, they didn’t. As I surveyed the area it became apparent that, because of said partition, they couldn’t see much below my neck anyway… I could have walked in there wearing a t-shirt and a gym sock and they wouldn’t have been any the wiser. I walked toward the door laughing at myself and then I remembered that Dave was waiting outside. Shit!
Owning it while walking toward the truck was not going to be as easy—there would be no opportunities to pull myself together between looks. He was on the phone, probably telling his wife about my self-induced wardrobe malfunction—(in hindsight, I’m just glad he wasn’t taking video!) But despite his broadcasted play-by-play of my humiliation, the fact that he was socially engaged might offer me the opportunity to get out of there without too much interaction! I looked down to gain my composure and then looked straight at him, I made a matter-of-fact face while shaking my head and giving the ‘thumbs down’. His window was cracked open so I just said robotically, “No cinnamon buns” and tried to dash into my car. I felt like I had dodged the humiliation… I really HAD owned it! But then I looked back to see his automatic window creaking slowly open, in this instance it was like a principal’s curled index finger beckoning after you THOUGHT you got away with something.
I did NOT want to roll my window down, but I did. In my last attempt to slide out from under the embarrassment, I spoke up first and authoritatively, hoping to drown out any blossoming sarcastic remarks, “Ahhh, sorry man, no cinnamon buns today…” I turned toward the wheel and fished my phone out of my terrible shorts—just to have SOMETHING to make me look occupied.
I wasn’t getting off that easy.
He rode over my little charade like an M-4 Sherman tank, like he didn’t even hear it—I might as well have said nothing. “That is one badass outfit you’re wearing…” he said with a smile and a heavy chuckle.
For a split second I rushed to come up with something to defend myself but I just sputtered and then closed my eyes and shook my head… I no longer owned it, I never owned it, I had been outted and there was NO dignified slant play I could run to save face. I felt a Stimpy smile unfurl as my stupid mouth hung open in surrendered embarrassment. I tried to explain about the girls and the superhero spandex suit… he wasn’t having it. Without speaking any words, my face said, “Listen, I know l look like an idiot, I know this was a terrible idea and I know that these shorts should have been burned in 2006…” then my face morphed into a look that begged for mercy. Which, as any good friend would, he gave me after one last smirking head shake, a wide laughing smile and then a few short seconds of additional laughter.
I deserved it.
I laughed the whole way home. What else could I do?