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A Day at the Beach with Dad

An original story by Tom Schneider


I glanced at the thermometer as I set up the coffee pot in the kitchen:  50 degrees already!  It was probably going to be the last warm day before the long cold winter set in.  The reports from the open beaches had been good for the last several days.  I was hoping that with a little luck, I would be into some fish today. 

Earlier in the week I had invited my father along for a day of surf fishing.  It had been a long time since we had fished together, so I was elated when he said “yes”.  I knew how much he loved to fish and how hard it had been for him lately with the onset of arthritis in his lower back and legs.  The walk would be easy for him; get out of the buggy, walk 20 feet, set up a chair, throw out some bait and wait (I knew he wouldn’t like to wait though).

Today I had a special surprise for Dad.  Several years before I was born, my father was an avid surf fisherman.  By the time I was a boy he had moved on to fresh water bass fishing.  Although he had changed over to fresh water, his surf gear remained, gathering dust in the garage.  About five years ago, I sold my boat and took up surf fishing.  As I started getting into the sport, my father offered me some of his old gear.  One of the items I acquired was a 13 ½ ft single piece fiberglass surf rod.  I nicknamed it “the beast”.  When my father gave it to me, the perfection guides were taped in place and rusting apart.  I took it upon myself to rebuild and restore the rod.  I ordered a set of guides from a local tackle store; half perfection guides, half ceramic guides.   I wrapped the guides on and epoxied them like a pro.  It looked great when I was done.

My first surf fishing season, I used the rod to throw clams into the open surf with great success.  It was so large and heavy, that I only rarely used it to throw plugs, which is my real passion when surf fishing.

Today, during this early November warm spell, I reunited my Dad with his old surf pole.  This was something that had not been done for nearly 40 years!  It nearly brought tears to my eyes!

My Dad arrived exactly on time for the trip, as he had always done.  I had just about completed filling the Bronco with every piece of tackle known to man before he showed up.  Off we went to the open South Shore Beaches.  We made a quick stop to air down the buggy tires, before traversing the soft sandy beach to our fishing spot.  We arrived without incident to find a clear flat ocean.  Not ideal conditions for striper fishing, but beggars can’t be choosers!

I set dad up with the 13 ½  footer and a big chunk of bunker while I rummaged through my ever growing collection of plugs.  Before I even finished rigging up, I heard dad shouting.  I walked over to see what the problem was.  He told me he thought he felt something on the line.  I grabbed the pole from him and reeled in the slack line as I walked towards the wash.  I did feel something too, but it wasn’t very big.  Suddenly I  saw the outline of a small bluefish in the first wave.  He must have seen me too because the rod was nearly pulled from my hands as he made a run for it.  I backed up to my father’s chair and let him reel the fish in.   The look on his face when he held up that bloody bluefish was priceless!  He looked like a kid in a candy store.  I was quickly ordered to release the fish and put on another chunk.  I did so without hesitation and then went back to rummaging through my plugs.

Things settled down after this bit of commotion, and the steady pounding of the waves on the sand seemed to be the only sound we were conscious of.  I beat the water to a froth with my plugs without a bit of action.  I relaxed and enjoyed my surroundings, letting all my worries melt away.  This had been the first daytime trip for me since the summer.  I was not used to being able to see so much while fishing.  I began to notice a dark patch in the surf slowly moving towards us.  What the heck was that?  Was it seaweed?  All I could do was stand and wait for it to move closer.  It suddenly struck me.  I knew what that was; a school of bunker!  I got excited and plugged even harder than before.  The pod of bunker slowly swam by without upset.  Things settled down again.

The sun was getting low in the sky.  As it lowered, so did the temperatures on the beach.  I knew we didn’t have much time left. A familiar scent began to fill the air, kind of like watermelon, but not quite.  I looked down the beach and could see a “flat spot”.  Another pod of bunker was heading our way, but this time it seemed that they were being harassed.  I was about to warn my dad to get ready when his pole took an arc to it.  He reared back and set the hook with “the beast”!  The game was on!  I could see my father was having a tough time reeling the fish in from a sitting position, but I dared not interfere, especially after getting yelled at for almost reeling in his blue fish earlier.  I went over to coach my father and stand by in case he needed some help.  When I looked into his eyes I thought I saw fear, but it was immediately replaced by wonderment as this fish began peeling line off the spool at a steady pace.  It had to be a Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiice Bass!!!  My dad let the fish run and then began pumping the fish in as it tired.  The fish made two more runs, each run a little shorter.  Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, I could see the dorsal of a large bass in the first wave.  I pointed it out to my father and his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.  I told him to keep the pressure on the fish while I ran out and tried to beach her.  A minute later the white belly of a bass was on the sand next to my father.  What a fish!!!  My dad said it was the biggest bass he ever caught! I hung her on the scale, and the needle pointed to 31 lbs!!!  My father was beside himself!  I asked him what he wanted to do with the fish, keep it or release it.  He thought for a moment and then said “What the hell am I gonna do with all that fish?  The meat won’t even fit in my freezer!  Throw her back!  She did her job already, no use in killing her for that!”  I quickly got the fish back into the suds and let her suck my thumb as she revived.  Suddenly, she let go of my thumb and turned away from me.  Then as a final goodbye she thumped her tail in the wash and threw ice cold water in my face.  I watched as her dorsal slowly disappeared into the deep ocean beyond.

It was getting dark and cold so we decided to pack up and head home.  The ride home was silent, except for a few off remarks.  Both of us were reliving those few short moments when man meets fish and wondering when it would happen again.  As I turned into my driveway, my father finally spoke.  All he said was “When can I use MY surf rod again?”

Copyright: May, 2004

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