Gone are the days when I used to get all fired up for the first schoolies of the season; these days I’m totally focused on freshwater in the spring. But every year, there comes a time in early May when I feel the need to put my first striper on the beach. Today was that day. A raw morning with a relentless NE wind driving a heavy mist into every pore. When I walked outside, I went right back in to add another layer.
I started the season at the same place I always do, a choke point way up inside a tidal estuary, I knew as soon as I saw the water that it wasn’t going to happen—the tide was lower than I expected and the water was murky from the rain the night before. I made the required effort though probably 40 casts with a few different offerings and then hopped back in the truck for a ride to another likely spot; a river mouth that opens up to the ocean.
It’s a decent walk into this spot and when I was about a third of the way there, I saw the silhouette of another person walking toward me. In these crazy COVID times I always worry a little about other people, will they give me a hard time for not wearing a mask? Science has proven that transmission is pretty much impossible when you’re outside, so I do not mask up. But this woman was wearing a smile in the place of a mask so I knew I was good.
The wind whipped down the trail and I felt droplets hanging from my eyelashes, I’m sure my beard looked like a geranium covered in morning dew. When we were close enough to speak I said, “Good morning!” Her smile grew wider and she replied, “It’s beautiful out here if you’re dressed for it!” she then put her arms out showing off her complete set of rain gear and boots. I made the same gesture with a nod and a smile displaying my Simms Waders, Stormr Top and severely tattered Korker Boots. She wished me ‘good luck’ and went on her merry way.
She was more than 100% correct and it made me realize how easy it is to forget that there is simple beauty in what most would consider a crappy day. Rain, wind, cold… these are roadblocks to enjoying life. They are reasons not to go out, excuses for why we chose to stay home. But when you step into the weather and feel its power and how it changes the experience of being outside, you will long for the dozens of days you missed because you made an excuse to stay in.
The trail lead out of the trees into the low brush behind the dunes. When I finally broke free of the foliage and saw the ocean stretching out below the mist and disappearing into the fog, I involuntarily gasped and whispered ‘wow’. The sight of that water and the promise of the weeks and months ahead washed over me, for moment, it felt like sensory overload. This is what I live for. This is why my adolescence still lingers so close that I can graze it with my fingertips.
I fished for an hour without a hit and the cold wind exploited every weakness in my waterproof covering, neck, sleeves, even the hole where I hooked my jacket a few years back. But it was not enough to knock me off my game. I hiked further into the river and made, what felt like, 100 more casts, on what must have been the 99th, I decided I needed to go home, eat and be productive. I watched my floating Super Strike Popper rafting through the incoming tide and when it drifted over the hump where I had caught 1000 fish in the past, a small bass smashed the plug, found the hook and so began my 2021 striped bass season.
It really is easy to forget how closely connected we are to that little kid we all once were, standing at the rim of the Atlantic, feeling its bigness for the first time—it comes back every time and the excitement never wanes. Aren’t we lucky that the ocean is always waiting there and willing to remind us?