It has been a couple of weeks since 16-yearold Joe Rera went missing from the Moriches Inlet jetty at Cupsogue. Sadly, as of this writing, despite an extensive search, the Center Moriches High School student remains missing. According to his close friend since kindergarten, 16-year-old James Debler-Seidel, fishing was Joe’s passion. “That’s all he ever talked about, all he ever wanted to do.”
In creating a GoFundMe page (https://gf.me/u/y7ugfy), the Joseph Rera Family Fund, James wrote: “We together, are the friends and family of Joseph Rera. We all know Joey as an avid fisherman, spending countless hours fishing since he was probably old enough to stand. We are devastated that he is missing at this time; he has brought our whole community together in prayer and support.”
It quickly became apparent that Joey was one of those kids everyone liked and wanted to be around. He was simply doing what he loved to do most, when tragedy struck. The Rera family has asked that others be spared a similar fate by being made aware of the dangers that can be associated with surf fishing, especially in inlets like Moriches where Joseph spent much of his time. Those dangers can be magnified during the spring and fall when water temperatures drop below reasonable survival levels.
We have addressed this topic many times over the years, often following tragedies like anglers being washed off jetties at West End Two and Breezy Point, and we find ourselves in that same position again today. Given the recent influx of new anglers coming into the sport, now is an ideal time to remind all of us of the need to keep safety in mind during our forays in the surf, and that no fish is ever worth risking your life.
When fishing inlet jetties, the first question should be is it safe to go out on the jetty in the first place. This is probably the biggest reason people have lost their lives, and many others have had close calls, while fishing these rockpiles. Take the time to study the ocean swells and where they are breaking on the jetty before heading out. Always know what the stage of tide is because what might look safe at one point in the tide might not be safe later. Also, be aware that the biggest swells often roll in during slack water periods.
Dressing for jetty fishing should always include some type of metal studded creepers like Korkers. Felt bottoms do not cut it on lower moss covered rocks. Ideally, waders should not be worn when jetty fishing, which is not always practical when fishing adjacent sand beaches. If you are strictly fishing a jetty, foul weather pants and a top make the most sense. If you do find yourself in waders, a pullover foul weather top should be worn over the waders and a belt fastened tight over the bottom of the top to seal out water should you end up in the drink. The same rule applies when fishing sand beaches where it is possible to step off a drop-off or have your legs pulled out from under you by a strong backwash.
It’s always a good idea to have someone with you, especially when fishing jetties or rockpiles, but that too is not always possible. However, I can think of at least three instances involving people I know who would not be with us now if they were fishing alone on nights that could have easily turned tragic. At the very least, make sure a family member knows your plans before you head out, and when you plan on returning. Cell phones make it very easy to keep loved ones abreast of any changes in those plans.
Jetties are not the only source of danger found around inlets. Some inlets will have sandbars build up on the inlet side of the jetty at times. These sandbars are often unstable with shifting sand, and frequently feature a sharp drop-off created by the strong currents present in most inlets. Any of these sandbars that immediately drop off into deep water are at risk of collapsing at any time as currents scour out the sand under the bar. One night at Fire Island Inlet’s Sore Thumb, myself, my buddy Richie Simmons, Al Bentsen and a friend of Al’s were fishing the sandy stretch between the two rockpiles remaining from the eroding structure. Thirty feet of water stood at the edge of the sandy shore we were fishing. I had wandered off to the cove on the backside of the Thumb to find big bass crashing bunker and went back to get the others. When we got back to the cove, Al’s friend realized he had left his surf bag where we had been fishing and went back to retrieve it. The bag was gone, along with a ten-foot wide swath of beach that had collapsed into the inlet. If we had remained there, there is little chance any of us would have survived the strong outgoing tide in our waders.
Be smart, use common sense and always remember that no fish is worth your life. And please keep Joey Rera’s family and friends in your prayers.