My son came down from NYC for a visit in July, and having just watched Point Break he asked if I’d teach him how to surf. Since it had been a good decade since I’d climbed on top of a board myself, it became a great Saturday afternoon plan. So we pulled a couple of old longboards out from under the house, waxed them down, and drove off to the only street in town that allows summer surfing.
Alex and I paddled out into glassy, mostly wave free conditions, which honestly is a rather good practice field for someone’s first time on a surfboard. My old football coach soon popped into my head as we paddled between the micro-swells, and soon I was barking instructions like “stop paddling, sit” and “paddle again, quick!” Theoretically the sit/paddle drill helped him negotiate his center of balance, and occasionally I’d also slide off of my longboard as well to check depths, making mental notes.
I returned a few days later to bounce bucktails for fluke, and continued making trips along that stretch in later days and at various stages of the tides. As the mullet run began, I’d sometimes sit on the beach and watch the fluttering schools of baitfish funneling through a deep cut inside the bar. Watching where the waves broke, I was sure this my stretch for the fall, convinced that this was where peanuts and sand eels would get pinned inside that bowl by hungry stripers.
By mid to late September, I’d landed a couple of schoolies, a bunch of cocktail blues, and one chunky falsie that took a Joe Baggs epoxy jig on a blind cast. Nearly every morning in October I would start my morning along this stretch before work, making regular conversation with the beachcombers and morning dog walkers. One gentleman with a German shepherd watched the dawn every single morning near the path to the beach. “Nope, not today, maybe tomorrow,” I’d tell him daily, traipsing back to my truck as he stood watching the sun rise.
I don’t know, I must’ve made 10,000 casts, switching lures constantly from soft plastics to hard, poppers to tins. As November came, it got a bit frustrating. I knew I could chase fish and reports, perhaps head north where bass were piling on peanuts in the wash with more frequency; friends to the south meanwhile were having a terrific time along the sod banks at night, while still others tried coaxing me to the canal at ungodly hours. “If I have to bring a net, it’s not surfcasting,” I said jokingly to a buddy.
In early November while back on my little homestretch, I was casting an SP Minnow at dusk, lost in my thoughts as sanderlings skittered back and forth along the tide, the sun setting behind me over the tall dunes. On about the 100th cast I felt a jolt on the line that shocked me out of my plugging trance. In that instant, I was consumed with satisfaction, knowing that this was the place, it was the finally the time, and that little scouting project that began with a surf session with my son was about to pay off.
Instinctually, I set the hook hard and let out a “gotcha!” But as I did I nearly decapitated the tiny sanderling that had mistaken flown into my braid and caused my sudden start. The small rail bird fluttered for an instant, but continued along unscathed with the rest of its flock as I just stood there laughing at myself and yet another round of false excitement on my beach.
You’d think I’d learn by now. I haven’t. Sure, the 2021 fall run has been rather slow to materialize for some of us, but December is going to prove me right about my little stretch of home turf. Today’s the day, I know it.