Castin Hope Towards the Horizon

Amidst another spectacular sunset, the neighborhood meteorologists stood side by side admiring the ocean’s vastness and, with cross-armed assurance, proclaimed the onset of some hard core fall days. I stood there also, but I noticed the wind! It had shifted and was rolling up the beach with ‘southwind sereneness" as its calling card. The wind could warm the surface water only a couple degrees at the most, but water temperature variance is instantly detected in my quarries world. To a surf fisherman, it can be the difference between idleness and competition. No one else commented on the wind change. No one else was a surf fisherman!

Fishing the surf is angling at its rawest. Tide, wind, cold, wet, sand, debris, seaweed, no sleep and finally physical duress from handling heavy gear with numerous casts. These variables are in the fish's corner. Add the chaos of darkness and you have the makings of memories that inventory your manhood. I feed off of its severity!

'How can I call them to me?" A question puzzling all fisherman, which, when staring out at the ocean’s vastness. seems to border on supernatural phenomenon. Basically impossible! Yet for years I have tried and have photo albums storing some of my success in the pursuit of this grand game fish. They come from wherever, through millions of gallons of water and find my piece of bait... and by biting it, gave us the moment of looking eye to eye. When I win these fights, I usually offer a rematch. It is my pleasure to release them!

When beach walkers stroll by my "fishing spot', they seem almost sorry for me, For a half of mile before they reached me, I didn't have a bite, and now they are conversing with me and hoping…but to no avail. Their walk continues with concluding opinions of my futileness. Bites are rare. Hookups are rarer, and the consummate effort, landing and releasing the fish can be so uncommon that expectations can plummet.

This wind change has my expectations on the rebound. After a couple of tides of loneliness, no bites, no nothing, I wore discouraged as obvious as a red bandana. I have been there before during my tenure as a "Surfman" and a few fish will always turn me around I almost smelled their approach as they crashed the baitfish, leaving the victims oil on the ocean surface. a familiar odor under my nose. Like smelling the grace in holy water! They're coming!

The new breeze was from the southeast, and that wind direction will push more water from further out. to me. . that warm surface water! In that water exists the bounty of the ocean, plankton. With them, come other small animals in pursuit of the high protein meals that surrounds them. Baitfish purposely guide themselves to those "plankton eaters" and hence their needs are filled... Nature’s cycle remains in motion within our great seas.

Big fish eat a lot! They also prefer other fish, because they know by eating smaller fish they can get "the most for their bite", if you know what I mean. Eating among big fish is very competitive and some have chosen to swim the seas with few companions. These are the rogues.... the ones that are effected by the totalness of my approach in their pursuit. They will find my tempting piece of bait, as I cast my hope toward the horizon.

My first cast created a perfect bulls eye upon impact and its circles separated in unison. I waited. The first hour brought me to peak tide, and my desire to wait out the next hour was waning. A definite bite arched the rod against the ocean backdrop and my reflexes exploded to the strike. A miss!! The letdown is nauseating. Again!.. This time, pole in hand, the number 5 hook secured a place in this stripers jaw. It's small, but it's a fish. As I released it, it renewed my confidence in my predicted days scenario. I have become part of this day, this cycle ...I am with the fish, with the wind, with the sea, part of it!

Without even a drop in pulse rate. I re-baited and with a 'just watch me attitude. let another muscle cast assure me more minutes on the rod.

Small fish,"schoolies," stay in packs, hence the name. My first fish tonight had relatives and the rod genuflected again. With adrenaline still seeping, this novice adolescent was about to temporarily try fresh air. Another linesider, 22-24 inches. Full of life and boldness, Much different than my quarry. She being a master of stealth and cunning. A female, all the big keepers are, whose sole efforts include eating and staying alive to reproduce. Knowing how one effects the other, mistakes are rare, these females are fussy diners. I respect that and will act accordingly in my pursuit... Crabs ate my last chunk of bait and as my walk home led me into a sunset. I had one of those 'Knew it ' feelings.

What a lovely walk we had on the beach the next morning. Long, talkative and sunny. Just a lovely walk. To avoid dulling my soul mate with "fishing theories"' I remained silent on the topic, but I knew the fact that the wind was still southeast. I quietly talked to myself about it. The schoolies were the first wall of predators.... They are behind them. The rogues.' they are coming. My watch says 9:30 a.m. . . .my mind prepares for 7:30p.m... high tide. .1 will be ready!

I checked every knot, lubed the reels, put new hooks on and set the drag with my gut feeling, instead of the scale. I will only blame myself for defeat.. I needed more bait, just in case my predictions for the night panned out. This errand allowed me to stumble on a few fresh pogies she had for sale. "These are to messy for most of you guys," she said. Mackerel have long left these fishing grounds. They hold the hook well. and the popularity it has as bait comes from convenience, not striper preference. Pogies are the baitfish native to these waters. I don't fool with mother nature-I bought the last ones.

As I counted the 41 steps from my house to the beach, my eyes scanned the scene. Eight miles of beach, not a single person fishing, and an ocean so big it made the sky look small! Obsession emits power. I am different tonight. Layers of tanning oil have glazed my sun soaked body. Barefoot, in a ripped bathing suit, I am weathered, I am raw, I am ready. I too, am a formidable adversary.

My approach is to appeal to their sense of smell. Not color. not motion, not noise, - smell, diluted by infinite gallons of water. This will work tonight, but only if done in combination with my other approach... undetectable tackle.

My complete naturalness allows me to cross into the fish's existence... they will hear me... while unaware of my being. I am a surf fisherman; the talent is from within. I believe in giving the fish the advantage to the point where the confrontation will test the limits of my tenure. Tonight I will use the eight-foot rod and fifteen-pound test. If the schoolies bite, it will make it more fun. If a rogue chooses me, it will test the tackle's limits and the fisherman’s composure. I have prepared for these battles in vain more times than not... Tonight I have prepared again.

Over the years my persistent presence on the beach has provided any number of beach houses, walkers, etc free entertainment. They have waited with me and marveled at my occasional success. I appreciate that. Although the beach was empty this evening and the image of my fresh pogy hitting the water seemed only to be mine.. . it wasn't. Maybe they knew, so, from their ocean view windows, they watched a little longer tonight.

Having chosen the light tackle, I felt obligated to hold the rod. Sometimes the schoolies don't hit that hard at first. The oil slick was still cylindrical when I felt a very subtle contact. Although the bait was 80 yards away, I touched the line with the subtleness of a trout fisherman, and that forefinger became the detector for any further bites. I was magically connected from 80 yards away with a fingertip and a level of concentration that was scary. I felt the entire pick up, and as the fish sauntered away without detecting the hook, I lowered my rod tip and positioned my feet deep into the sand, ~ to apply resistance with the force of a life times of pushups. My abs tightened to anticipate what was next. Every fisherman's rush was here... the hook set As the slack line came taunt, I reared back with the force needed to take eighty yards of mono and bring it solid between fish and man. Contact was made and neither the fish nor angler gave one inch. I knew that instant-it was a rogue!

Stripers play in the rocks, feed in rocks and use rocks to their advantage. They will ram their faces into and along rocks to free themselves when hooked. The hook can easily become dislodged or the abusive rubbing will break the line, The hook set was solid and the fish won the first phase. I lowered the rod tip slightly as the drag whistled like a violin. The first run was a good 50 yards and its ease against the drag guaranteed its size. Ever so slowly, one turn at a time, I would regain line, but this fish used the "10 yard full thrust" for its escape route. Upon gaining line the fish would regroup and violently surge right along the bottom and rocks in such a way as for me to picture the fish grinding my frayed line to the breaking point. This procedure occurred at least 25 times...each run sending chills up my spine as I prepared for the line to break. The 25-minute fight was a grand confrontation of give and take.

The fish finally submitted to my tenacity and luck, so with timing, I guided it through a final wave and as the water slid back into the sea……………….. this great fish DID NOT!

Its demise was certain. It had swallowed the hook, and as I desperately tried to disgorge it or cut the hook off, the blood streaming from its massive gill, informed me of the reality. I looked eye to eye with her, sharing the deepest respect... and she died It was 35 pounds and 42 inches in length and competed the way I compete. My best. I knew she would come.

The once quiet beach erupted with humanity. Photos and neighborly congratulations were plenty and hearing their descriptive interpretation of the fight was appreciated because my reactions were instinctual and their story allowed me to look at the confrontation from the outside looking in.

3-MIKE-WITH-STRIPER

Holding the fish by the gill plate above my waist, I headed home. The linesiders tail left a unique trail in the sand... A documentation of her size. The 41 steps were harder than ever before. The swollen vein in my bicep, accompanied by a burning ouch rekindled my respect for this grand fish. As I passed by the neighbors, looking rawer than they are used to, it was to my advantage.... for my gruff appearance allowed my remorse for her death,  to go unnoticed.

Please practice Catch and Release.