Eleven years ago I was the same. Longer hair, and a little different here and there, but for the most part the same....Intense and rugged! I fished this area with the same passion as I do now and my trips were as frequent and with the same determined approach. You have to be like that to fish the surf.
On the times that I decided to fish Humarock Beach, I would do it in the same consistent fashion. A white bucket in those days, with heavy gear and lures and on and on. Every now and then, when I would get out of the tunnel vision for stripers, I would notice, off to the side, a KID......watching me pass by. Philip was 9. He was slightly out of character from the other neighborhood, ruff and tumble rugs rats. A little taller than most but with the extra weight as part of it, put him out of the "athlete" norm of the neighborhood. He was and is a faithful friend to his brother, who faces huge personal challenges each day. He was a good kid..........when I finally got to know him.
I believe it was in the year 1988 or 87, that Humarock was blitzed by a massive school of chopper blues. They shattered atom poppers and averaged 15-17 lb.. Arriving each day at the same part of the tide cycle, they were a compulsion to a fishaholic like myself ..... and I was there waiting for them each day. After the first day of incredible action and fury, there was someone else waiting for them the next day
"I have this fishing pole, mister"
"Let me take a look at that, son. What's your name?"
"Philip, and I like to fish,"
" Do you know how to fish well enough to catch one of these?".......he eyed a big blue on the beach, a fearsome fish.
"I would like to try."
On the spot, I gave him his own atom popper and told him to start casting it as far as he could.....He did, over and over and over again. Each cast far short of the raging school that were crashing our plugs on every cast. He kept casting and that brought out a tough part of him, that I am sure the local toughies had not seen.
The waves knocked him down on many occasions. He would rise again, with the only change in him being the blushing face of embarrassment for being tossed around like that. Keep in mind he is 9. I began to feel for his futility. I had him practice with one of my hookups and gave him some assistance with my 10ft rod...He loved it. The fish gave him a beating and strained his undeveloped biceps. Immediately after the bluefish was beached, he returned to his casting. It was then I realized I had influenced his life and future. This was in his blood and just had not been tapped. The casting continued.
Suddenly he said he had something. The rod was bent, but the huge blue was not pounding him. His short cast had convinced a 26" striper to bite his plug and the more passive fish ended up being a personal success for him.....no help. After convincing him about the need for releasing it, the day came to a close and a prouder young man, I have never seen.
"Are you going tomorrow Mike?" with a glancing nod of approval from his mother, "Yes Philip, I will be here a 5 am" To a nine year old boy, .. 5AM does not even exist. We will see just how engrossed the young man really is.
Two coffees and both hands loaded , I headed down even earlier than 5 to get a rod holder set up for Philip and a few other incidentals.....He was standing in the dawn light on his porch, waiting! He silently descended the stairs and fell in to the speechless march to the beach. He seemed to know how to immerse himself into the moment. He seemed to be a surf-fisherman. The rod and bait and bucket was far to heavy for him. I never offered help,.... he never asked for any.
The morning fog was cold and the surf was a bitchy gray and unusually high. Tough conditions for me and monumental for a pudgy 9 year old. They began breaking water right after that and I prepared for the war. He stood there. Exchanging glances between me and the roaring surf. I was hooked up before he even took a step toward the water. I noticed his facial grimace as he witnessed the strain put on my equipment by these monster bluefish. Fear is a great motivator. He walked toward the waves. Shivering, wet and scared to death about what was about to happen, was the moment in time where he showed courage, a brief step into manhood.
As you would guess the bait was forced in closer and the enviable happened. I saw the 18lber crush the atom I had given him. The steel leader assured the lockup and the fish, nearly brought him to his knees. My impulse was to help him and his watching mother lurched forward with the same knee jerk reaction. As the drag screamed, he re stabilized himself and took on the posture that he had so intently watched me do over and over before........and he began to gain line!
The fish ripped the rod down like I divining rod and he strained to reposition it, ...but did. I had taken a stance next to him at this point, just in case it became to much. The fact is the whole event was to much, but not more than his determination. When it was close enough for a valid catch, I went down to the waters edge and retrieved this 39 inch blue A true trophy in the species. He was hyperventilating, pants were half way falling off, and he still ran toward his house with the fishes tail in both his hands. He seemed to fall countless times as he faded over the wall to show his family the catch. The photo was taken and the picture was promptly put on the family refrigerator........and remained there for 11 years!
We fished together many times since and he has become more accomplished over the years. But he had the respect for me, the fish and the environment, and does to this day. Two years ago a couple of things happened to allow this saga to enter another chapter. When stumbling down to the beach one morning, I broke the crest of the dune, only to see Philip talking to and teaching a 10 yr. old how to fish. He eventually allowed the youngster to reel one in. I felt old..but I knew the time was now for the cycle to continue. He was me and the kid was him. The moment was priceless..
The real Philip
Later that week he came down when I was locked on to a 37" striper. His surf rod was elsewhere and he ran back down with a 6 ft freshwater outfit. We ended up with 37 inch twins....and as I watched him, tactfully, ease this big striper in with inadequate gear, I whispered to myself, you have learned well. Philip is a college graduate now and continues to be a good young man and now, One hell of a good surfcaster.
Find your own Philip, or let him find you.