I’m looking forward to building on this year’s goals and setting bigger ones for next year.
I felt like a better fisherman at the end of the 2021 season than the year before. I’m not giving myself an A+ because there’s room for improvement for next season and the one after and the one after that, and keep going with the ones that follow. More goals were met this year than weren’t. Remember, nobody ever catches a 40-pounder and stops trying for something bigger. I’m looking forward to building on this year’s goals and setting bigger ones for next year.
The When & The Why
One goal that I don’t ever think will ever get crossed off my list is knowing spots—the when, more so than the where. As a result of exploring and spots gifted to me by friends, my list of areas expanded. Some come with generic instructions, while others are a 300 piece jigsaw puzzle scattered on the dining room table. Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t work around tides which can make or break certain spots. In the past, there was a good reason I had the whole place to myself many times. I was skunked at a bunch at new areas but learned something, so they were good skunkings. I also came up with some nice catches from the previous year’s skunks. Those wins came as a result of getting to know a spot. The tide, moon, wind, and bait that would make it happen wasn’t glaringly obvious, but the time to figure it out paid off big. By the end of next season, I want to have a few more under my belt.
Write It Down
I am getting better season after season, keeping a log. Making it to the goal list for next season, yet again, is to improve on it. I take a ton of pictures and often scroll through my camera roll. Fishing may have been good this day last year but why it was is the question. A picture can say a thousand words. It’s the 1001-1500 words that can separate fishing from catching.
Years ago, I was on a blackfish trip on No Time Charters with Captain Nick Savene. We had gotten our limit quick at a few spots off Rockaway. With most fish coming up being shorts or the same size as our keepers in the box, we decided to switch to striper fishing. The birds were on pods of small fish busting on the surface. We wanted the jumbo migrators. My buddies and I took our lunch break as Captain Nick started to thumb through a black and white marbled notebook. He’d read a few pages, put that one back and grab another. We zig-zagged through the bunker spoon trolling crowd and the bird chasing center consoles stopping a few times to pull in nothing less than 25-pound class bass. There were decades of log entries in the captain’s stack of notebooks. Decades of entries resulted in finding the fish in a matter of minutes instead of a whole afternoon. I should have learned my lesson then and not after countless other times when I couldn’t find the fish on my turf.
A surfcaster never has enough plugs regardless of what the garage wall, friends, or family may say. I kind of lose steam each offseason after emptying my surf bag and truck, trying to make some sense of things. After a few plugs get new split rings and hooks, I say I have plenty of time until the fish show up. When they do, I realize the hooks on the popper I want that day couldn’t stick a fish made of Styrofoam.
Offseason maintenance is a critical part of success on the water. When the fat lady finally sings, the gear that plays hurt going down the homestretch needs a solid dose of TLC. Each year as my arsenal of plugs and rods builds, I fall victim to my own neglect, not having put in the time the previous winter. The braid on the light tackle rod wasn’t replaced, trebles on the indestructible pencil popper for early season blues are rusted, tail hooks weren’t swapped out for single hooks on go-to swimming plugs. They all lead to frustration and, in turn, less effective time on the water. Striving to be more organized with gear that’s organized and ready to go will be one of my big pushes this offseason.
Know Thy Comfort Zone
My ideal surfcasting scenario is a warm mid-October late afternoon on the beach. Kicking the crocs off and being knee-deep in the wash of mid-60-degree water throwing a bucktail—it doesn’t get much better.
In that scenario, I broke my personal best this season but an hour after sunrise when a 36-inch migrator smashed a 1.5 oz bucktail. The size of the fish was not the usual size I catch but is for those anglers that put in a lot of time at night. I took my first baby steps into night fishing in 2017—mostly at bridge spots that were well lit. I caught my first fish off the open beach under the stars and a waxing moon the following season. It was early June, and about the same size as most of the back bay fish I had been on for a few weeks.
It felt better though having pushed out of my comfort zone. With each night I’d head out, I’d have to convince myself to go. On the ride to the beach, I’d think it could be the night a 30-pounder was going to dance with me. I didn’t dance with anything bigger than just about slot size last season, but I did tune my senses. I could feel where my plug was, how the water was moving, and where the structure was. This past season I fished more nights than I ever had. My personal best from that October morning retained its title, but I did catch quite a few fish. One of them was a 31-inch weakfish that I’m convinced was the fishing gods patting me on the back for heading out after dark. There’s no debating how much better the chances are of big fish at night. I’ll be trying my luck a lot more come next season.
A crucial dynamic to that night fishing is time put in not fishing. Scouting spots in daylight at low tide is like having a cheat sheet. When I’m able to do it, my excitement for once the sun goes down gets to a boiling point. Remember, beach structure is constantly changing. Take note of chokepoints for bait on a later incoming tide to improve chances of solid catches after dark. This rings true especially in warmer months when the only real shot at fish is at night. I could have done more scouting this year with my proximity to the beach and finally having a sound truck in the sand—no excuses for slacking on it next year.
Trust The Process
Another recurring item on my list is trust in myself. I’m nowhere near graduating with my degree in figuring it all out, but I have some credits on my transcript. Often, I let frustration get the best of me during a slow stretch of fishing. I’ll leave a spot that may not line up to be lights out fishing, but there should be fish there. I’ll find myself defaulting to a comfy generic spot and still not catching or having any chance to. The knowledge I’ve acquired over the years from my own work and the generosity of other anglers sharing theirs is precious. This year I pulled into my driveway less frequently, thinking and knowing I should have fished differently than I had that day or night. In 2022, that trust in my knowledge is going to grow even more.
When I started getting serious and obsessed with fishing a dozen or so years ago, I believed and still do think there are those that fish and those that are fishermen. I constantly strive to be the best I can be at the latter. It’s been on every year’s list of goals and will be until my last time on the water. If you were to take fishing out of my life’s story, well, it would be a sad tale. The friends, the memories, watching my son catch his first fish years back and slot bass on his own this fall, and the list goes on of why fishing feels so right. I’ve seen fishing change the lives of veterans on the brink. This passion has power. I’ll always do what I can to share it.