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Bill Wetzel
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      The December northwest wind shook my office window as daytime temperatures dropped into the upper twenties. Edna the secretary jokingly asked me if I was still fishing. “I’m going tonight I replied”. She looked at me kind of funny and said “in this”. That only added fuel to the obsessive thought patterns I was having to hit Montauk, MECCA, The End, The Beginning, Surfcasting capital of the world- sorry I’m getting carried away. My plan was to get out of work, travel 55miles to my home, take out the dog, hop in my buggy and drive another 55 miles to fish no more than 2 hours, to get home before my wife at 11pm.

    After taking out the dog I hopped in the beach buggy and headed out to Montauk. All day long I was thinking of the possibility of big fish. Not fish in the twenties or thirties, but big females with bellies full of herring in the 40s and 50s. My obsessive thinking brought me back to a night in the late eighties when the big girls came to Shagwong during the second week of December.  For those of you who are not familiar with Montauk, Shagwong is on the north side of Montauk, and is notorious for late season stripers, especially with NW winds.

     It was an extremely warm night for that time of year with temperatures in the low 60s and gale south west winds. I was targeting the north side that night, throwing primarily needlefish into what seemed to be a lifeless ocean. I worked my way from the bluffs to North and False Bar, made a stop at Rocky Point, then drove my buggy around Oyster pond into Shagwong. Upon my arrival a gentleman came over to me with a very impressive cow. “Ya got a scale?” he asked. It was an even forty as I recall. The gentlemen told me that big fish were all over the place, and there had not been a fish taken under thirty pounds the whole night. The gentleman advised me to “Throw Super Strike yellow darters.” Words that haunt me to this day. Back then I thought I knew everything and began to throw my stand by, a black with gold tint 7” bomber. What I did not think about was the fish were no doubt feeding on herring. Surrounding me were shadows of bent rods from the strain of big cows as I was going fishless. After about 10 minutes of frustration I tied on a yellow Gibbs darter. The big girls would not touch it. I thought maybe it was not digging in properly so I switched to another Gibbs darter. No fish. They wanted the little extra dig that the Super Strike provided, but I had none to throw. Everyone was into large that night but me. That night has haunted me to this day, and driving out to Montauk on a night like this reminded me to keep an open mind and pay attention to my surroundings.

    As I pulled into the Shagwong parking lot to gear up the 25-knot merciless northwest wind pounded my buggy with an end of the season vengeance. Temperatures had dropped into the low twenties, who know how cold with the wind chill. I backed my buggy into the parking lot so the wind would hit the front of my buggy, and I would have at least a little shelter while getting into my neoprene gear in the back. Aqua skin neoprene top and hood, neoprene gloves, 5ml neoprene waders, I was bullet proof, or at least I had a false sense of security that I was, but a sense none the less. I hoped back in my buggy and made my way to Shagwong point. As I entered the beach the wind blown sand sounded like a billion ants trying to eat away at every nook and cranny of my truck. I looked out of my salted drivers side window and saw the bright moon light beat against the big white water, as my buggy rocked from the hard winter winds. I reasoned that Montauks surf was daring me to fish it. That seemed reasonable at the time. Nobody on my right, nobody on my left, nobody on the firing line. Shagwong is a fairly easy place to fish but in conditions like that if you screw up and fall, with nobody around, your ass is grass. With that in mind I stuck my chest out, hoped out of my buggy, grabbed my 11 foot Lami, with a Gibbs bottle plug tied to 50lb braid and screamed at the top of my lungs lets go you mother *&%$#@’s. To make matters more challenging the point had completely changed from just a couple of weeks ago, and now stuck out about 50 more yards into the Block Island Sound. The outer bar had also shifted to the North side of the point creating a huge slough way between the point and bar. More dangerous and more fishy.

    On my second cast I had my first bump. Honestly, I was surprised to have any bumps on such a brutal night. About 15 minutes later, yet another bump. Twenty minutes into the night, my fingers became completely numb. I got back in my buggy to warm up and phoned my fishing buddy Charlie Ruger. I let Charlie know there were still fish around. Charlie had a chuckle and told me to be careful, as he did not want to “loose a friend”. With that in mind I worked my way out to the newly formed point. Deeeeeeeeep relatively calm water on my right side, and wild, white, and fast on my left. Gotta get a little wild if you want the big girls. I guess I got a little too wild as a wave crashed over the point and took out my knees. I managed to get up immediately and move back from the point. I was lucky; if I were not lucky I would not be sharing this evening with you. After a couple more minutes I had a nice fish take some line with her on her migration route to some secrete location that we will never know. I managed to beach her with her gills flaring and her dorsal ready for action. Stripers fight hard with all that oxygen in the water.  She weighed out at 23 lbs. Not the biggest striper, but there is nothing on this planet that gets my adrenaline flowing like catching fish in those conditions. I landed two other upper teen fish before it was time to head home in time for my wife.

    Thank you Montauk for this night, and all the other nights, days, mornings and evenings you have challenged me, and made me a better surf fisherman and a better person.

Copyright, Dec.2003

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