It was a very humbling experience, to say the least. I’ve always respected the waters and living things in the waters that I’ve fished. This whole experience changed my entire outlook on it though.
I’ve been working the surf for some years now. Enough time where I’ve compiled some interesting experiences doing what I love. Some are more interesting than others. Some you can even call bad experiences. It has to be expected when fishing predominantly at night in the surf. My style of extreme fishing in some scenarios does not help that case either.
The rocks, currents, deep water and waves are enough to put someone on edge alone. But what about the other living creatures that lurk during these dark hours that I fish? Even though I look pretty scary at three in the morning fueled on coffee and no sleep to most, these things put chills down my spine and most other casters as well. Do we try to ignore the thoughts of them or are they closer than we think? Normally I’ve tried to go about my activities without trying to think about them too much. When you lay your eyes on them though, that’s when things get awfully real, awfully quick. Remember, we are in their home, not ours.
The next series of events I’m going to talk about all happened in the same area in continuous days. Let’s just say I haven’t gone back since.
I’ve hooked into many of these through my time surfcasting and I’ve seen others hook into them as well. It’s a telltale sign you have a skate on when you just get that constant pull on your drag with just about no slowing down or hesitation, but just a slow peel of line. When they get bored they seem to just suction cup to the bottom, making them near-impossible to move at that point. Most of the time hooking into them is an accident. We’re not going out targeting these rays. Our tackle is much outgunned when we do by mistake. I’ve seen rods explode, lines snap and hooks bend out because of them. Most of the time we don’t even get to set our eyes on them. They just leave you with your much open in shock. If you do happen to land one you will be shocked by the size some of these can reach. By luck, I’ve beached a few that were nearly the size of the hood on my truck with a barbed whip-tail that is nearly 6 feet. On top of that, I ran into an angler last season that was impaled through his leg by this barb and described it as one of the most intense pains he’s ever felt. Intimidating out of the water but what about in the water?
This first encounter wasn’t the most threatening but it definitely was a sign of things to come now that I look back upon it. My fishing partner and I were off on our nightly summer fishing trip. We had a pretty good tide and had an idea that we would most likely run across some fish if we fish it out. In our wetsuits and waist-deep we were wading out to a set of rocks not too far off the shore. It was a calm night. I don’t think we had any wind at all. We didn’t see anyone either so he and I were the only ones around.
We got to our rocks and started fishing. At first, it was immediate action with a great pick of fish all night. As the tide rolled in the bite leveled out but we still managed to pick away. It was enough to keep us coming back for more. When the bite died we decided to call the trip over and agreed to give it a shot the next night. At this point in time, we were feeling pretty good after catching some bass. Nothing else crossed our minds. This is when we turned around and lit up the water just to see one of these giant rays about the size of my truck hood sitting right behind our rocks. I’m not even sure if the ray knew we were on those rocks but it certainly gave me an uneasy feeling.
The lights from our neck lights must have disturbed the creature and it lazily made its way away from us into the darkness. We were a bit on edge now walking back to the shore, going slowly and scanning the area with our lights. Once we got back on land a little feeling of relief came over us. After a bit of debate, we decided that we would try it again with caution.
Our next tide rolls around and we head off. When we arrive it’s still light out. Part of our agreement was to try and fish a little earlier in the tide to see if the fish were in the spot before we got to it the previous night. We gear up and make our way towards the water. Once we arrive put aside the previous night’s events and we both make our way out to the rocks. On our way out I see something that I hate. A big seal head pops up in front of us not too far away. I’m not talking about a small seal either. This was a large male gray seal, well over 600 pounds and looking right at us. Under he goes and now we’re just about frozen where we stand. Gaining some courage we continue our way out.
Typically these seals don’t mess with fishermen much but they do become curious and sometimes come a little too close for comfort. The seal pops up again to the right of us now. A little closer and staring again. Finally, we make it to our safe spot and the seal pops up one more in front of us just looking very curiously. I know these seals aren’t typically aggressive towards humans but the sheer size of this beast will get your nerves going. Well, at least mine.
We think the seal moved on as darkness came because the fishing was quite good that tide. Still, that eerie feeling stayed with us as we could not see much around us in the dark. It left us on edge once again. Thinking this creature was around us and not actually knowing was an extremely uneasy feeling. We made our way in unbothered and really had to determine if going out again one more tide for the next tide was really worth it. It was only a stingray and a seal, right? They are more afraid to see us than we are of them is what we told ourselves. Even though we both knew this probably wasn’t true. What else could possibly happen?
I’ve always said to be a surfcaster you have to be a little bit crazy. Call us crazy then because we went back again the next night to capitalize upon this bite that we were on. You would think that we would take notice of the warnings we came across the nights before with stingrays and seals as deterrents. Nope, we didn’t. I learned a lesson after this one.
So once again we hopped in the truck and set off. Same spot, right around that same tide. Geared up once more and we were ready to roll. We got to the water and cautiously made our way to our spot. So far so good; no stingrays, no seals. The fishing was very good to boot. A nice healthy pick at stripers with some bluefish in the mix too. Now my buddy was knee-deep in the water and I was above the waterline. Keep that in mind.
Later in the night, we both hooked into bluefish at the same time. During the day I enjoy catching them. It’s not much of a hassle. At night it’s a different story. Standing on rocks with hooks all over and throw bluefish into the equation. It can become an annoyance very quickly. These weren’t huge blues but I’d say they were middle road fish. About 8 pounds or so. They can be tricky to unhook at night with treble hooks involved.
So my fish swam off to my right and my buddy got his fish in close. I turned my light on just to see where it was at and tailing behind the blue I saw something that made my stomach turn. It was a shark. My light wasn’t strong enough to make out the size of it yet but I knew it certainly wasn’t small. The fish on my line was calm and I kept it farther away to keep this shark away from us. This is when I turned to my Friend and said “Hey, um a shark is behind my bluefish” His reply was “What do you mean?” Well, I think it’s pretty straightforward when you tell someone a shark is 15 yards from us.
In his defense, I think he thought I was messing with him at first. This is when I assured him that I was in fact being very serious. Then I noticed this thrashing bluefish he had in front of him, looked back at the shark and put two and two together. All of a sudden my fears started to become reality. Uninterested in my calmer fish, the shark turned off of it and started swimming towards my friend to see all the commotion with his fish. At this moment I got a better look at the fish and realized the true size of it. This wasn’t a little sand shark. The shark going right towards my buddy was about 9 feet. It wanted the bluefish that was tangled up with his.
At this point, the shark was at my feet right in front of me and I made a split-second decision to give it a sharp jab in the head with the butt end of the rod. My buddy was only 10 feet or so to my right. I guess this jab discouraged the shark from pursuing because it turned right around and headed back off into the abyss. I yelled over to hop up on my rock right away which he did quicker than I could bli0nk my eyes. We waited that tide out a little longer than usual and eventually make out was back to shore quickly. The shark never showed again.
Obviously, the shark was after the bluefish but that blue was right next to my friend. Too close for comfort was when I first laid my eyes on the shark. Being up next to him would have been a different case. I’m relieved that it turned around after I hit it. I didn’t want to find out the events that could have taken place.
We didn’t go back to this spot. It was a very humbling experience, to say the least. I’ve always respected the waters and living things in the waters that I’ve fished. This whole experience changed my entire outlook on it though. Not even just the shark experience but the events leading up to it as well.
The sea is their home, not ours. We’re just visitors to it.