In the mid eighties the stripers were a lot more sparse than they are now. The bluefish were my main quarry. I used to drive to where ever they were seen and cast till my arms nearly fell off in hopes of playing that surface busting game that only bluefish do so well. In those days I only had one week vacation on the ocean, so I made the best of it. I made sure that I enjoyed every second of that long awaited week, but there were a lot more activities than just fishing. It was during this period that I came up with a lot of tips for novice anglers.......because in those days....I was one of them. I was also, unfortunately, an abusive drinker and it effected nearly every facet of my life, as it does most abusive drinkers. Fishing was one of those areas. I simply went fishing, without getting into the "how to's" of fishing. For the most part I would use the same line all year.........big#8 , steel leader hooks, that were of course dull .....and the same drag system that was on the 704 when I bought it years before. The real sad part was that along with the crappy, uncared for, gear came a fisherman with either a belly full of Jack Daniels whiskey or the head that comes from drinking it the night before. It was a sorry state and one that I am glad is long removed from my life. Bluefish were perfect for old lush'es.....they bit solid and fought hard...and if they broke the line, there would be another that would bite soon after! Skill was not a factor in those days...not for schooled up blues.
And so it was that morning in 1985. A beautiful sunrise on dead calm seas. One rod with a piece of pogy on it and one rod in the holder with my trusty blue and white atom popper , ready to sail out to a hungry school. I would send out a piece of bait and loads of chum on the outgoing tide and wait for the choppers. When they came I would only use the popper and proceed to cast until my gear or myself broke. I didnt break easily!!!!!!....especially in those days.
I DON'T BREAK EASILY!
So as I gazed out with droopy , hung over eyes, I strained for the surface splashes that would announce their presence. The fresh days ocean breezes tasted like old whiskey and I felt out of place in this natural beauty, with the weakened state that I was in. Another precious moment that was flawed. Alcoholism is a powerful and destructive disease.....it will steal your living.....and eventually your life. I thankfully realize that now.....but in those pitiful days, I was forced to taste a breath composed of crest toothpaste and sour mash whiskey, with my nerve endings shattered from the previous nights consumption. What a shame! But I was a trooper....I was there.....I had a line in the water....I was fishing. I was a disgrace to my standards of a surfcaster presently, but like I said...I was fishing.
Not a ripple in the surface. The half sun that peaked over the horizon announced another hot , August day, and beads of sweat formed on my forehead as another indicator of a prolonged , hot day, hangover. The day had hardly begun and yet living it would be laborious due to the night before. Only one week vacation a year and another day is stolen from me and left inside an empty bottle of booze. ............It can steal your life!!
As mentioned I would chum heavily in those days. Partly because there was always old bait and guts left in the filthy bait bucket from the nite before due to the evenings follies interfering with proper cleanup from the nite tides. Old , rotten bait, makes great chum, but curls weakened stomachs the morning after. Mine was curling as I chopped up yesterdays pogies and hurled them out into the outgoing tide. At least that was one less duty I had that morning. I was determined to simply lay in the chair and wait. Waiting and hangovers are great partners. With the Seas still calm and obvious slicks on the chummed waters , I applied paralyzed patience! .
Waiting waned into sleeping, and it seemed that any sincere attempt at hard nose surfcasting was gone as my lids began to drop.
............... IT was the first TARPON I had ever seen this far north. Right in front of me , ....in the very shallow water, ...an apparent Tarpon came up and took a gulp of air from the sheet metal calm seas. I had only caught big stripers from boats and when my hung over confusion cleared, I realized my northern tarpon was of course a monster linesider. I was ejected from my beach chair. Grabbed the rod with the atom popper on it. Took that off and replaced it with another used , old , steel leader, hook.........and a tail piece of pogy....tail fin and all. It was hard securing my rigs with my shaking hands from excitement and anticipation...but I was ready and her dorsal rippling through the water signified her continued presence in the chum line. In fact she rolled slightly as she picked at the chummed tidbits and I could see her size. ALL OF FOUR FEET AND CLOSE TO 50 LBS......mother of god......its my lifetime fish....it was a legendary fifty pounder......"Lets have a good ., clean fight and protect yourself at all times"....the echoes from my Bronx boxing days echoed in the ear and I threw the first punch as the tail piece drifted, un-weighted, toward the beast!
As was the case with all my discarded, chopped up, bait.............she quickly sucked it in! Instantly she lurched forward, but my hung over reflexes were slow and I opted to allow her to take line before I set the hook. When thinking back to that moment I realized how clear it was to the great fish that she had an old steel leader in her mouth.......the old, rusty, prepackaged bluefish hook, was as evident in her mouth as would be a piece of the aluminum foil remaining from your Hershey bar ......and how we flinch when we bite the foil.................She lurched the same way. The dull hook stung her cheek and she rolled in the shallow , still water..and her weight stuttered my old drag and she rolled again in full view...........50 lbs assured! The crappy and obvious gear also rolled..............out of her mouth ......and the massive tail slapped the water as if to say......"you were no match for me, you hung over novice.....you and your un kept gear!".......and she was gone!
The high strung nerves that come with a whiskey hangover were at a violin string stretch. I tried to recast . One thing I have done my whole life, when I get knocked down.........I GET BACK UP........and so the recasts continued and of course to no avail. I wonder where that fish ended up? To a joyous angler....to a net...to old age? I wonder?
I am not a drinker anymore......cept some diet Pepsi. I am also greatly improved as a surfcaster and angler in general. I only use the best gear......Van Staal Reel.......Custom Surf Rod...Gamagastsu hooks......new knots and fresh Triliene. My reflexes are still fast and my determination just as riveted or more so. And you know what? I catch a lot of real big stripers as a result of this level of professional approach. But I think the real reason for all this detail in this sport, is subconsciously for one reason only. I GOT BACK UP........and I am waiting, perhaps a lifetime!!!!, for the one chance at...... THE REMATCH. I know it will not be her. but I hope for an equal . An equal in size and cunning and know how. I want the biggest and baddest striper out there....I want a REMATCH.
And so, like all of you, I remain at the top of my game..... I go countless times...at the oddest hours...in the harshest conditions...with the newest equipment and knots and bait........and HOPE. With all of these things, I have waited 15 years and if I have to wait 15 more, I will. I want to try again. I want one more chance at the fish of a lifetime.....maybe this year? The WAIT continues....... Be ready....use a clear mind and good equipment...fish for BIG FISH, and hope for even bigger ones.....good luck to you all.