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A break in the solitude of a night alone in the surf is welcomed when a large striped bass makes her presence known.
By Toby Lapinski
Tags: surf
What could posses an angler to swim out into a foreboding ocean, alone, in the middle of the night?

Atop a barnacle-encrusted rock at 3 a.m. for a midweek tide, wetsuit-clad and alone except for my thoughts as the tide sweeps past my feet; I am at peace. These are the times that I find ways to cope with all that strives to pull me down, to subdue the demons that set their sights on my soul. There are no deadlines to meet, no traffic jams to fight; it is just me and my surroundings.

As I make cast after cast, I blindly stare out at the ink-black horizon where only a slight glimmer of light breaks up the blend between ocean and sky on this moonless night. My eel does its best game of hide-and-go-seek with the local striper population and my mind wanders off from the task at hand. So easily I drift away imagining how many sets of eyes might be staring back across Long Island Sound at me. I can not see them but I know that they are there, going through the same actions as I. Our goals are the same and our reasons to forgo sleep this night alike; we are drawn to the shore by the lure of oversized striped bass. I stop myself when my arm goes up as if to wave to them in a gesture of good luck for the tide.

Like an assembly line robot I continue to go through the motions of the task at hand: cast, let the eel sink, come tight on the line and follow its progression down-tide and over the drop-off, on into the deep hole below. The drift ends as my eel is pulled back toward the surface many yards down-tide of my cast. I crank the eel to my feet, check for weed and repeat the process. Over and over I go through the motions as my mind again drifts off to another place.

I set my mind to a project that awaits me at home—perhaps the bathroom remodel I began several years earlier or the painting project that my wife keeps bringing up. “When will I have time for that?” I ask aloud, almost startling myself by the unexpected break in the silence.

I quickly snap back to reality as I feel the tap-tap-tap of a striped bass as it takes my eel. I pause, drop the rod and wait for the line to come tight—SET—damn—a swing and a miss. “Must have been a small fish,” I mumble aloud, no one there to hear me aside from the raccoon poking around on the shoreline a few yards behind me. He is startled by the sudden break in the silence of the night and stops chewing on the green crab that he dug out from beneath a small rock.

“Must have been a small fish,” I mumble aloud, no one there to hear me aside from the raccoon poking around on the shoreline a few yards behind me.

I retrieve the eel, inspect it and re-set the hook. I fire off another cast, this time with more zest than my last few casts as a new found level of hope seeps through my veins. I know there is life in front of me now; my foe has given away its presence. The next three casts go uninterrupted and I once again fall off into dreamland. “Why haven’t I opened up a tackle shop? I could do that. I love to fish and I know people,” again speaking to no one, my soft words ring out into the peaceful night—that raccoon must think I am certifiable by now.

I find myself justifying my actions to the raccoon when I once again feel the tap-tap-tap of a striped bass toying with my eel. I drop the rod, this time giving a touch more line as I lean forward and—when the line comes taught—I lay back with all my might. This time my hook finds solid purchase and I immediately know this is a good fish. She thrashes on the surface for a moment trying to dislodge the invisible trap that has taken hold of her mouth. “Can my fellow angler across the Sound hear the commotion?” I think to myself.

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