Golden Years: Sage Advice Of A Senior Surfcaster - The Fisherman

Golden Years: Sage Advice Of A Senior Surfcaster

Surfcasters don’t fish to escape their lives, they do it to live life to its fullest potential, hopefully well into adulthood.

A Jersey Shore surfcaster looks at 80. 

Fishing has been my lifelong passion. I first got hooked on fishing in my youth when my friends and I fished a local pond for whatever we could catch. Some years later my brother took me on my first saltwater party boat trip for fluke, a half-day excursion on Raritan Bay. That converted my interest in fishing from fresh to saltwater. Party boat bluefish angling came next.

One day my brother convinced me to go with him fishing the surf at Sandy Hook. Once I tried surfcasting, I was hooked for life. I still fish freshwater and do some boat fishing but after my first surf experience, fishing the beach became an immediate fixation and an enduring addiction.

Dead Stick For Life

Like many, I went through an evolutionary process in my time as a surfcaster.  First was daytime fishing for fluke, then bait fishing for blues and stripers; jigging for bass and bluefish; overnight plugging for striped bass, and then challenging the southern exotics like false albacore, Spanish mackerel, and bonito. This journey took me through early season striper fishing both in backwaters and along the ocean shoreline, followed by summertime casual fishing, ultimately ending my season with striper plugging during the fall run. I always sought new adventures and challenges; nothing was ruled out. Now, however, I have exceeded the 80-year threshold and things that I used to love to do, and was able to do easily, are not always possible for me.

As a result of my advanced age, I have had to adjust my techniques to compensate for the physical limitations that aging has imposed on my lifestyle. I now use bait rigs more than I did during my prime but still have time and motivation to work some lures when conditions are favorable, and when I have the needed strength and stamina to do so. Fishing bait has enabled me to ration my limited energy reserves in a somewhat manageable way. Thankfully, I have found that bait fishing still appeals to me and still provides some significant returns.

Bait fishing is a waiting game. However, fishing bait with one rod and having a second combo rigged and ready should something erupt nearby has been a very sensible strategy for me. I do not mind telling you that I now often carry a folding chair onto the beach to help me manage my energy. When standing takes its toll, I sit down for a bit to recharge my energy. Doing so also enables me to more thoroughly survey the water in front of me to detect telltale signs of marine life movement and to enjoy the panoramic view more than I used to do.

The author helps pass along the traditions of beach fishing to granddaughter Caitlyn Riley. “Seniors who have gotten youngsters interested in, and even hooked on fishing find it very rewarding in their old age,” the author said.

Good As Gold

So I am in my 80s and still fishing the surf. In addition to my age handicap, I am a long-time cancer survivor and a veteran of heart bypass surgery. I do not fish anywhere near as often as I used to, and how I feel in the moment is the biggest determinant as to when I hit the sand. When I am able to get down to an ocean beach to fish, my effort takes into account my physical limitations and how best to make use of my energy. But I am still in the game. Something is always better than nothing; limited fishing is better than no fishing at all. And I am still having fun and getting satisfaction out of my beach time.

  • Accept your age and physical limitations
  • Adapt your fishing techniques
  • Consider doing more bait fishing, with some lure fishing also in the mix
  • Fish two rod combos, one actively with bait and the other rigged-and-ready with a lure
  • Use rod combos as lightweight as possible
  • Settle in one spot rather than making long walking adventures that tax your energy reserves
  • Bring a beach chair onto the beach to make your stay more pleasant, and enable you to stay on-site longer
  • Fish the daylight hours
  • Avoid night fishing, and less dawn and dusk fishing
  • Fish with a friend if at all possible
  • Fish the sand, avoid being on rock structure
  • Join a fishing club, for the socialization and to keep sharp mentally
  • Dress for the weather, whether basking in the summer sun or battling the cold
  • Know your limitations

We all hope to live to our retirement and through our golden years, when we can fish anytime we want to. However, while retirement leisure time is plentiful, your body often limits how often you can fish and how you can fish. Here are some common sense suggestions when your age and physical condition negatively impact your fishing efforts. Travel lightly. Use more lightweight rod and reel combos. Settle in one spot and work it intensely rather than making long walking adventures that tax your energy reserves. Fish the sand, and avoid being on rocky structure; work the daylight hours; hit the beach with a friend if possible. Join a fishing club, or remain active in a fishing club, for both the socialization and camaraderie that members enjoy; attend winter fishing flea markets and shows to keep current on new products and techniques.

Surfcasters get old and the aging process affects their ability to do all the things they used to do years earlier. However, accepting your physical slide does not mean that your surf fishing career is over. You just need to make adjustments to your efforts, and to effectively manage your fishing skills and remaining physical assets. Some fishing is better than no fishing at all. Odds are that if surf fishing has always been a dynamic activity in your life, keeping active somehow in the sport that you love will enhance your quality of life during your golden years. The same holds true if you are a freshwater or boat angler: Find a way to keep active somehow in the sport that you love, and which bolsters your mental health.

Keep moving, stay active, remain sharp mentally, and adapt your angling techniques. Remember that fishing the beach – however you manage it in your senior years – can help you to cope with the many mental and physical life challenges that you will experience in your golden years.

The author with his two sons – Kevin and Allen – after a jigging trip for blues and stripers aboard Capt. Whitey Morenz’s Miss Take II out of the Highlands during the early 1980s.

Pass It On

When I first got active in fishing that local pond many years ago, our gear was simple and primitive. No fancy rods or high-speed reels. Initially, we did not even use rods or reels; just a long branch with some thread attached to the tip fit the bill. Either we had small hooks or just used a bent straight pin to catch small sunfish, and catfish. Bait was either bread dough or live earthworms. We caught fish; we had fun.

After my early forays into fishing saltwater, a neighbor invited me out on his boat to fish for porgies, which was another true adventure that ultimately led me to the beach. My years of college put fishing of any kind on the back-burner for several years but I eventually came back to it with a vengeance. Fishing was not only fun but also a great diversion, a stellar way to handle the stress in my life associated with having a family and working for a living as a public school teacher.  Always remember to pass that torch, as it was first passed along to you.

Working the summer surf for fluke was very rewarding. Catching my first bluefish was an adrenaline rush. My adventures then became more challenging. Catching elusive blackfish off shore structure was a stimulating adventure. Fishing for bluefish and striped bass throughout the long season, both during the day and often through the night, became an obsession. Bait fishing was pretty much replaced with lure fishing, especially working plugs.  When I finally began targeting southern speedsters like bonito, false albacore, and Spanish mackerel, surf fishing became even more electrifying and rewarding.

Bait fishing the open beaches in September doesn’t have to be boring, not if you want to rake the shallows for sand crabs to use as bait. “It is a low-intensity activity that you can use to fuel your bait fishing,” the author advises.

Along the way, I got my two sons – Kevin and Allen – interested and hooked on fishing the surf. It was a wonderful feeling passing my legacy of working surf waters onto the next generation of Rileys. When my sons graced me with three granddaughters, I got them interested in fishing the surf at a very early age. They loved catching something, first snappers and then fluke. Admittedly, my sons and my granddaughters were never as deeply hooked on surf fishing as I was but they still excel at it when they have the time.

The high school where I taught had an Outdoor Education Club, which included an annual half-day fluke trip on the South Amboy party boat Misty Morn out on Raritan Bay. I served as an advisor on those trips every year. It was enlightening to see students who had never before been on a boat or gone fishing catching fish for the first time.

I take great satisfaction in knowing that I helped to get friends, family members, some of my students, and many young people hooked on fishing. My love of fishing now lives on in others.  Just remember that; always pass it on.



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