Old School Reminiscing: Gatekeeping BSM (Before Social Media) - The Fisherman

Old School Reminiscing: Gatekeeping BSM (Before Social Media)

A “plug” for the old school ways in the information age, and just a few moments of solitude.

“Stay off the phone and go fishing!”

As another solid 2024 spring season is coming to a close, one can only sit back and think of all the memorable seasons before it that were enjoyed in secrecy and a lot less crowded spots. In a time when social media can be utilized as a tool, some of us have other feelings towards it.

As each new season arrives, it becomes harder and harder to find a spot all to yourself or you discover that the spot that produced well in the past for you is suddenly, burned.

Let’s dive into a time before social media, as some may say “the good ol’ days.” Now keep in mind, this is from the perspective of an almost 30-year-old surfcaster, who grew up in the age of the internet—I just have the appreciation from all the old salty fishermen I surround myself with and the stories they tell me.  As all new-age fishermen would freely admit, it’s easy to hop on Google Maps to preemptively scout locations you’ve never fished before or scroll through Instagram and Facebook groups to catch a picture of an un-blurred background and find out where the bite is at.

Creeping while you’re sleeping, it’s the nightshifter who are often on the best bite that no one will ever hear about.

Code Talkers

In a guest article in The Fisherman last year by Giancarlo Baldan (aka LureWalker), the words of Billy The Greek were quoted, words that speak volumes of the old school ways – “We wouldn’t even tell our own mothers where we were catching fish.” Being a surfcaster that rings incredibly true; it’s not as easy for us to hop on a boat, have thousands of dollars of electronics ready to go, and get on a bite. You have to put your time in, do your research, know your moon phases and tides, and check your spots at both tides – most importantly, you need a network. I don’t mean a social media network, I mean a network of fellow anglers up to your caliber who have a mutual respect for you as a fisherman and for the fish, who can trust you with info on the bite. By respect, I mean they know you’re about the game and they know you don’t have loose lips or post everything on social media, and most importantly, don’t burn spots. That is a part of the old-school traditions that still live on today.

Circling back to what Billy said, fishing used to be secretive, there was no social media, and you only had to worry about word of mouth back then, and boy did they keep their circles small and the information shared minimal to combat that. The respect back then was if they knew you were as hardcore as they were, they would go out and fish with you in a known spot and put you to the test, if you came correct and they liked you, you joined their inner circle and would get invited to fish their spots and they expected the same access on your end. There was also an unspoken rule of law, if you were shown a spot by someone you wouldn’t fish that spot without them, ever.

As one of the youngest members of the Hi-Mar Striper Club, I discovered in conversation with some fellow members that “back in the day” members would speak in secret code over VHF to alert other members of where the bite was hot. Imagine, it’s the early ‘90s you’re out on the Raritan Bay and you hear a bunch of guys speaking in code, having no idea what they’re saying, what/where they’re referencing, and what’s going on—they were some real hardcore fishermen with a few tricks up their sleeves.

Food for thought for the “new school” and even some old school guys out there today, pick landmark locations that only your group knows what they are, it can be as simple as the location of your marina and come up with code words to direct those in your circle on where to head out and where you’re on the bite.

Old times on the beach with a network of good friends, as Capt. Harry Browne, Donald Jones and Joe Damianoe snack between casts.

Secrecy Reborn

With the recent buzz over the last 2 years in terms of striper regulations and how the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has been handling our beloved morone saxatilis fishery, secrecy amongst fishermen seemingly is a thing of the past that perhaps needs a resurgence. A major problem we constantly hear about is “overfishing;” one can attest that this could be due to a rise in fishermen targeting striped bass, who knows?

In any given town up and down the Jersey Shore, it’s not hard to see on social media where the bite is at and join in on the fun. A quick 40-minute ride in either direction from Central Jersey (yes it exists) one can be on the bite with the masses, and that’s a problem. Back in the day guys could be on a bite for weeks and you wouldn’t hear about it until two months later because they didn’t want you joining in at their honey hole—or to know where that spot is.

Growing up on Long Island and now living in Jersey, I understand the struggle of finding good spots for surfcasting. The popularity of certain spots can lead to overfishing, and as I’m almost certain you’ve noticed, you have more and more company each year as you head to your spots. Fishing pressure is a real issue, and popular spots can get crowded fast. During the off-season, I scout new areas with friends and test them out in various conditions, using different lures and checking different tides and moon phases. By finding new fishing spots, we can preserve the old-school ways of fishing and help prevent overfishing, instead of crowding into the same spots with dozens of other fishermen. This could drastically help to benefit and ensure the sustainability of our fisheries for generations to come.

At one of our monthly Hi-Mar Striper Club meetings, I was talking with my good friend, local charter captain and fellow Hi-Mar member, Capt. Harry Browne of the Muscles Magoo about how things used to operate back in the day. “Back in the ‘80s when I started surf fishing, we would make it a point to spend money at a bait shop and really get to know the owners and ensure we became part of their inner circle,” Harry told me. That holds true today because you will easily get misdirected if you aren’t a regular—pro-tip, always remember to shop local.

As the conversation continued Harry said “I started my surf fishing in the mecca, Montauk, and back then they were truly some salty fellas. If they didn’t trust you they would walk right up to you and cut your lines because you just didn’t belong there”. This of course goes back to respect. I asked Harry exactly how he and his crew would communicate back then in regards to getting on the bite and he said, “we would all get dropped off at our spots and plug away and when the bite was on we would utilize pagers and would page each other when things got hot.”

Philip Sciortino, Jr. with his eldest son Philip, III, passing it forward, generation by generation.

Just Fish!

According to Harry, the same rules that applied back in the ’80s rang true into the early ’90s and 2000s when he got a boat and started fishing down at Barnegat on Long Beach Island. He became very good friends with local shops such as Fisherman’s Headquarters in Ship Bottom, as well Chuck Tyman Many; the pair would hit every tackle shop and seminar and make relationships while retaining information to ensure that “our network was killer.”  As wrapped up our conversation, Capt. Harry wanted to shed some light on the importance of having that network as mentioned earlier, adding “I’m a charter guy and I joined a fishing club, why? Because of the network, I love exchanging information with other respected anglers that I know will keep the info within our circle.”

I recently visited the Tackle Box to catch up with my good friend Phil Sciortino, Jr.  And how exactly is Phil such a “good friend” you ask? I’ve been going to his shop spending my hard-earned money since I moved to New Jersey.  As the owner of a tackle shop that I had gotten to know, I now have the personal/professional privilege as a friend/customer of getting his insider knowledge. “When I first started running my own boat, I was using a Lowrance paper graph machine and had to find the fish and figure out how to get them to bite every day,” Phil told me when asked about how fishing was for him back in the day.  “It took time and patience and the ability to try many things—talking to your elders and asking them questions, that’s what earned your respect,” he added.

As Phil explained, there was no social media to tell you what, where, why, and how to fish.  “Social media is a double-edged sword, it’s so much more rewarding to figure out and catch a fish all on your own, believe me,” Phil said.

Now, if that conversation with Phil doesn’t get the point of this article across to you hook, line, and sinker, I don’t know what will. Things were much better back in the day, you had to be a real fisherman to get on the bite; it wasn’t as easy as scrolling through your timeline and getting your info, and heading out to an easy bite.

If there’s a takeaway in all of this, I guess it’s just to be cognizant of what you’re posting (and when), create real relationships with people, be a sponge, create a network, ask questions, retain information, and put it to the test.

Lastly, stay off the phone and go fishing!

Find the author on social media @redacted_surfcaster, but just don’t expect to find electronic breadcrumbs to his favorite spots!


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