By Frank Blasko
I am a terrible surfcaster. I am also a liar. I am a terrible fisherman because I truly only hook about 40% of the hits I get. I am a liar because if you ask me how many fish I catch, I will tell you none. I will tell you the truth about what I didnít catch though. Every single time. The best part of my night out is when everyone else goes home. It is part of the condition of being a surfcaster. More than an obsession it is a compulsion that merges addiction and the elements.
Picture Grizzly Adams stumbling out of an afterhours bar. Give him a ten foot Lami and you have the makings of a fine surfcaster. One who welcomes the snot and piss of Mother Nature like a child on Christmas. If you are a surfcaster you have a little or maybe a lot of this condition yourself. It increases with age. You are also a liar too. If you told me you slept with my wife but didnít catch anything last night, I say you were lying through your teeth. At least about the fish. Because I have priorities you know. If you do not have any of these symptoms, you may not be a surfcaster. If you are a surfcaster and donít have any of these symptoms, you are just getting started, or just wrapping it all up.
I am drawn to the surf for many reasons: as an angler, an outdoorsman, and most definitely as a miscreant. I enjoy the solitude of 3 am rainy back roads peppered by October leaves. I get excited when I wake to the drum of rain on my windows in the wee hours when my alarm rings. I enjoy the surf when extreme weather is forecast and not simply due to the bite it causes.
I like knowing I will be alone. Each trip into the surf is its own odyssey regardless of whether or not I catch. While catching is the ultimate objective, the drive out to the beach, gearing up at the truck and each consecutive cast all capture the essence of surf casting. For myself, all these aspects combined with natural elements and the allure of stripers tight to the rocks or in the wash all conspire to wake me from sleep before the alarm sounds. Many nights I try in vain to sleep when I know I only have a 3 or 4 hour window of rest before I catch the tide prior to work, and having fished 4 or 5 nights previously, I am still too excited to sleep.
I am motivated by gear prep and trip planning; itís investing my time wisely and committing to a course of action. Weather, moon phase, and time of year all contribute to choice of location. Once Iíve selected a location, I then gage my success based on my catch. It varies with the season, catching 5 fish to mid twenties over the course of a tide, I may be very satisfied if it is early spring. If itís mid June, Iíll probably be disappointed. Mainly I fish for personal satisfaction and nothing more. I do not keep logs; I keep a general awareness of bait migration, but I do not let krill or sand eels shape my night. I do believe these things are necessary to a consistent bite, but they arenít essential to my angling. What I mean by this is I have had many a fishless night that has been satisfying nonetheless.
When I arrive at the location and the wind is right, confidence rises. I donít usually expect immediate hookups, but when I do connect, it is rewarding. If the wind is not what I had hoped, or I did not catch the tide and I still manage to catch, it is an even greater success. Currently my favorite part of the cast is the moment just before the strike, when you know youíre totally in the zone, and WHAM, youíre on, itís like electricity running through the line. I love that buzz I feel right before the strike. Itís strangely intuitive and thoroughly rewarding.
I am almost 40 and have been fishing since I was a child. I cannot answer what drives me in a few simple sentences. The urge to fish can be stronger than sex. Itís my fish drive. And it is not simply a matter of fishing; it is a necessary function. When the moon is new and the wind blows from the southwest, I have trouble sitting still. The urge is far more than simply fishing. If all I wanted was to catch fish, I would buy a boat. Surfcasting challenges all of your skills as an angler, many of which you never truly master, some evolving as quickly as you can understand them, which is what keeps the chase in the game. Many aspects of bait and gamefish arrival and feeding habits are predictable as they move up and down the coast through the season, but what works one night may be a bust the next. And thus the call to the surf begins.
Solitude is golden whether or not the bite is on. I will admit to a small sense of ego when I am fishing among others who are not hooking up and I do, though I have been on the down side of this more than I care to say. The satisfaction here lies within the knowledge of a location: how to fish a piece of structure.
One spring night I headed to a somewhat popular bridge to catch the last of incoming. One other caster was working what I considered the wrong side of the bridge with the wrong lure. This bridge has very specific structure which is a real tackle buster. If you donít put you cast in the right spot with the right retrieve one of two things happens, you loose your rig or you donít hook up. I donated well over $100 in bucktails to this piece of structure to get my presentation just right. The other nice thing about this location, is that regardless of how many other people are there I rarely have trouble getting my spot, as it is known for eating tackle and most are not willing to sacrifice jigs to work out the details. I am stubborn. I know it holds and I am willing to sacrifice my gear to prove myself right.
I waded out to the bar and lined myself up between the shadow line and the bridge support. Judging by the current and tide stage, I put on a 3oz yellow bucktail. A little on the heavy side but I didnít have a 2 Ĺ oz and I wanted it free falling on the back side of the structure. The window in the cast was very small but I only needed three casts to hook my first fish. As I was waist deep, I was able to keep the reel under water so the other caster would not hear my drag. As the fish got close, it surfaced and broke the calm of the night, grabbing the attention of the other caster. I had just released the high teenís fish when he came charging through the water; literally splashing through the trough to my location.
ďWhat are you throwingĒ he asked excitedly. ďA 3oz Go Fuck YourselfĒ was my first thought, but knowing this guy wouldnít have one or would loose it in short order, I figured what the hell, tell him and see how fast he gets stuck. ď3oz yellow bucktailĒ I said with a smile. He looked at me for a moment before I turned away from him and made a cast. Sensing I was done talking and wasnít giving up anything else, he turned and went back closer to shore. He exchanged the popper he had been working along the shadow line for a jig of some sort. Iím not sure what it was because after his first cast, it never came back. Some grumbling accompanied the sharp snap of his line, which was further accented by my chuckles. He retied his popper, made a few more fruitless casts then left discouraged. I managed a few more fish before I called it a night myself.
When the shore gets too crowded, I put on fins and start skishing. This allows me to reach fish out of casting range and continue to connect when the bass move deeper during summer months. While extreme, it is not something I do exclusively, as it is simply another tool in catching. There are many different approaches to surfcasting, each having its place at one time or another. Knowing which one to opt for is part of the fun.
Whether I am on a rock, skishing, or on a sandy beach, I enjoy the surroundings and trying to better understand the fundamentals of stripers. Why I am obsessed with catching the biggest fish possible, I could not say. But the fact that these fish are so influenced by conditions of nature adds to the attraction and challenge. While most normal people are asleep at 1 am on a rainy November weeknight, I will be in my truck heading to Montauk with a smile.
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