In surf fishing circles, “The End” refers to Montauk’s bass rich, boulder studded shoreline.
I’ll preface by saying that for many of you, this is describing a way of life you’ve already been living for a much greater time than I. It’s nothing new. It’s stating the obvious. But for others it sheds some light on the mental and physical obedience it takes to operate in accordance with this lifestyle. It seems though, for my generation at least, that there are less guys coming into this sport taking up this caliber of wetsuiting. It begs the question, is this a dying breed?
I’m often asked what drives me to do what I do – to fish the way I fish. Every night to put the hours in I do in a place that’s a good distance from home. Spending 50 to 60 hours a week, swimming out 100-plus yards to a boulder you can’t see but know is there. Never content unless you’re perched on the outermost reaches of the reef – the last rock. The outside fringe. Taking swells over your head, getting tossed around like a rag doll, muscling your way back up onto your rock, only to do it again five casts later, the entire night. Sunset to sunrise, standing on often just one stone, or floating around until you find one further out that you can hold onto. Then there is dealing with the increasing number of sharks that are going for your fish but have no aversion to taking a chunk out of you in the process. Or getting sucked off your rock hoping you can get out of the rip and avoid a trip out to sea.
My answer would be that mentally, it’s not something that can be taught. Physically, yes, you can train, you can build your endurance, you can improve your swimming skills, you can build on certain techniques that improve the amount of time you’re actually fishing and not fumbling around. But at the end of the day the drive has to come instinctively. It’s a combination of obsession and insanity I believe. The reason I find it so easy to operate non-stop all night every night is because I’m driven to stick that next big fish, that next trophy, or to place in whatever tournament I’m in. I’ve personally always looked at it as just status quo, a normal night, my daily routine. I was always surprised by the reactions I got from those that know of my grind. “This kid’s insane,” is one I hear a lot. Yeah it’s partly a confidence thing. The more you do it, the more adept you become, the more comfortable you become swimming out further, pushing the limits, exploring new rocks or withstanding certain nasty conditions. However, there is also a fearless component to it. You need to be willing to face the possibility of injury for these fish. And it’s reflected in your fishing style. If you can’t find peace knowing that because of these fish you may get yourself in trouble; hurt or worse, then you won’t push it hard enough, swim out as far, endure certain conditions, stay out as long, or deal with the other various risks. And that’s 100 percent acceptable. I’ve never thought less of someone whose surfcasting style didn’t align with mine. There’s no pecking order, just different styles. There’s guys who have never touched a wetsuit and are some of the best Montauk fishermen I know. I personally just love what I do and I accept these certain risks. In my mind I believe the rewards greatly outweigh the risk. I want to be out there as far as I can be in that money zone for as long as possible. Despite everything and anything.
Furthermore, there’s an important distinction between wetsuiting and swimming. They don’t always go hand in hand. I would venture to say most guys I see out in Montauk who don a wetsuit, only a fraction will actually swim to the outer reaches. While many casters wetsuit Montauk, the legitimate swimmers are becoming few and far between. Maybe this order of surfcasters is becoming a dying breed because of all the reasons discussed above. Maybe that lifestyle just doesn’t appeal as much to my generation. Or maybe the state of the fishery does not justify putting in this kind of effort. Maybe it’s just become antiquated. I know a lot of guys who believe that this style of fishing no longer serves a purpose. Maybe it’s a lack of work ethic – kids wanting instant gratification. All i know is it really does require devoting yourself to tides, wind and these very special fish.
To better understand the devotion that goes behind this level of surfcasting it might help to look at competitive sports in general and draw comparisons between the two. I spent most of my youth playing baseball. The parallels I see are obvious. Dedication and obsession, followed by hours and hours of training, and honing in your skills, leading finally to “the game” where it’s time to execute all of your preparation. Those of you who played sports know it all comes down to the game. It’s what you train and live for. The surfcasting scene is a little different because the “game” is every night. Every single night from roughly April through November there is a “game,” and just as in any other sport, I have no intentions of missing out. I hate sitting out. I hate staying in. Knowing there’s a “big fish” bite on, bass to be caught, personal bests to be broken, tournaments to be won, memories to be made, when put in those terms, hitting the Montauk surf nearly every night doesn’t seem as insane, does it?
Another facet of the game that, for a lot of us goes hand and hand with this level of wetsuiting, is tournament surfcasting. I wouldn’t say I wetsuit just to compete, rather it is a means to an end. It’s a passion in and of itself. That being said, with the amount of hours put in, the mind boggling miles spent driving back and forth, the money spent, the anxiety it causes, the tournament scene is deserving of its own article. Every one of these guys has his own general formula for success or a mindset he operates by in these tournaments. For instance I’ve heard before from one successful competitor to “fish harder not smarter.” And I’ve also heard many fishermen talk about fishing “smarter not harder.” I personally believe the perfect formula takes both of those aspects into consideration equally. If you have the capabilities and means, why compromise on any of those components? My MO is to fish as hard as my body allows and as smart as my knowledge guides me. Every season I aim to grow endurance-wise as well as intellectually. That’s just part of the mentality I believe it takes to fish at this level, and to be successful in these tournaments. At the end of the day, I commend all of those who compete in the Montauk Surfmasters. These are guys that lived through the hay day, caught their trophies, made their marks, and are still pounding it and producing despite the diminished fishery we have now. For me? This is the only fishery I know. I feel like at the end of the day it’s made me a better fisherman, to learn the sport during this era. Where patterns aren’t playing out as they should, bites aren’t manifesting when they should, big fish aren’t showing up where they should. In this fishery your T’s need to be crossed and your i’s dotted for you to have consistent success. That leads me to a motto I’ve come to operate by every outing; make every cast as if you really believe you’ll be hooking into a 60 pounder, the fish you’ve been after your whole life. Make sure that every point of failure is taken into consideration with your gear and you are physically and mentally ready to hook into the fish of a lifetime. Every single cast. If not for this way of thinking you might find yourself losing the only big fish of the night, the week, the month, or even the year. And believe me I’ve had that happen more than my share. At the end of the day, because of the these tournaments, I’ve fished a lot more and a lot harder and as a result caught a lot more big fish.
Some may say this is dramatizing the surf scene for more than it’s worth, and yeah you’re preaching to the choir. I’ve never personally viewed this as “extreme” as others might. But I’ve been pounding the Montauk rocks for the last five years ever since I got my driver’s license and I’ve begun to realize maybe it’s not all that common, anymore at least. From my observation there seems to be fewer and fewer die hard wetsuiters, real swimmers, coming into this sport. This is a far different scene than a couple of decades ago. Now, a lot of those outer rocks are covered to the brim in algae growth. There’s no mad rush down to the spot to get those rocks. More often than not, everyone is casting behind me, and on some of the reefs, I can go weeks without seeing a soul. That’s not to say there isn’t a dedicated group out there keeping the passion alive. They were the bellwethers for me. They paved the way for my generation. It seems that it’s already becoming a lost art and with the current fishery and new regulations, there’s no telling what the future holds.