This post was cross-posted with Surfcasters Journal at www.surfcastersjournal.com/blog on March 23rd, 2020
I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I have had a perpetual sense of holding my breath for at least the last week. I’m out of work, as I know so many others are right now. The timeline of this unprecedented threat keeps changing, keeps stretching, keeps getting more frightening. It seems like every morning when I wake up and check the news I cross all my fingers and toes that something will be different. But, so far, it never is; or rather it’s never different in a good way.
Unless you’re in NJ, who is already seeing a steady stream of schoolies, we’re all still some measure of moons away from getting our first fish in the surf. If you’re on Long Island, it might only be another week or two (after all, there are reports of fish already on the very western portions of the North Shore). Up here in Southern New England, I’d say it’ll be one and a half moon phases- I won’t be surprised this year if we see some little rats after the first Moon of April- during the week of the 15th.
I believe all this, yet, I still found myself fishing the surf last week in Massachusetts.
To be fair, I started in the back waters of a documented herring run. I’ve never fished it this early before, but I had heard whispers that there were already herring in this spot. I knew that even if there were (spoiler alert: there weren’t), the chances of even a hold-over fish being in this area was unlikely; or maybe even some measure beyond that. Impossible, no; more like, improbably uncertain. It’s not deep, it’s not connected or even close to a major river or anything like that. In days gone by, when there were more hold-overs and migrating fish came earlier, maybe. But not anymore.
Yet, I had to go. Right now, I think I speak for so many of us when I say I’m just craving some kind of structure to my life. I’m looking for something to ground me and pull me out of the constant negative news and media cycle (albeit justifiably morose). I’m looking for something familiar, to remind me that this won’t last forever. That things will be OK. I needed to get out of the house and do something. Go somewhere.
So I went fishing. I packed big herring plugs, and lots of plastic swimmers that look like spearing. I ignored that overpoweringly logical portion of my brain that was practically screaming at me how ridiculously frivolous this endeavor was. I went because I needed to get out. I went because I needed to remember something good. I went because I didn’t know what else to do.
It was warm and calm, and I had the immediate feelings I had when I was here last. It felt almost identical; déjà vu. The last time I had fished here, in late November, I had landed a surprising 15-pound class fish on my fly rod deep in the night. So, for at least a half hour, I kept feeling like that could happen again. The current was right. The barometric pressure felt right. The whole vibe of the place felt oh-so-fishy. At one point, I actually started to utter the words “come on, come one” like I do when I’ve had a few fish and am trying to nail a perfect drift. I really believed.
I didn’t catch anything. Didn’t even get a hit. Didn’t see a single bit of bait.
But as I fished, a knot in my chest started to loosen. I hadn’t even realized it was there; had been living with it for a couple of weeks and had grown accustomed to it. Like after you cook fish; that smell you don’t notice in the house, because you’ve lived with it for so long; until you leave to go outside and check the mail or go for a jog. Then you come back inside, and realize it’s strong. It was like that. I had left the anxiety of the news and social media behind, immersed myself in the night, and suddenly realized I was more stressed than I had realized. As I fished, I found myself unwinding, coming out of a daze.
I walked the estuary further than I’ve ever gone before. I figured this was my chance to explore. But ultimately, it was all quiet; dead isn’t the right word, because there were crabs and Geese and Owls. Just no bait fish or hungry Stripers. Not yet, but soon. After only ninety-minutes I was starting to feel my concentration lapsing. I wondered: what if the Herring are just out further? Waiting to make the run up inside? A very small part of me knew this was an excuse to stay out longer; all the rest of me didn’t care.
I decided to take a longer walk, and head out towards the open surf.
As I mentioned, it was calm last week when I went. I couldn’t really hear or sense the beach until I practically stepped onto the sand. When I did eventually turn the corner from the estuary and emerged into the tiny breaking waves of the surf, I felt the sounds and smells descend on me suddenly like a comforting presence. It felt good, it felt right. It was familiar; an old friends voice speaking words of comfort. It reminded me that soon the fish will be back. Soon, I will be struggling to keep up with “everything else” as I plunge into the sleep deprived world of striped bass surf fishing.
It reminded me that there are still things to look forward to. And there always will be.
I walked a bit further, enjoying the sounds the sand made under my boots and the luscious humidity of the warm night. I worked my way along a deep section of beach and made many hopeful, but futile, casts. I could have cared less whether the fish were there or not. The act of fishing- of casting and walking, of observing and reacting- was enough. I was beaming from ear to ear. So many memories came to me in that small stretch of time casting. Good memories; really good memories. After some hours lost in nostalgia, I made the long walk back to the car and drove home. I slept better that night than I had in weeks.
Go fishing. Who cares if there are fish. If that was all it was about, we’d all have boats and be fishing in stocked trout ponds. Go reconnect with your spots. Maybe try something new; spot, species, or technique. “Hey, you never know” as the saying goes. But don’t worry about your chances of catching something. Go, because to go is familiar in these times that are riddled with uncertainty. Shake out your old gear, test whatever you have that’s new. Warm-up casting muscles long neglected over the last four or more months. Reinvigorate a mind distracted and burdened with “the real world”. Spend some time in the places that spark imagination and let you disconnect from reality for an hour or two.
Go fishing to remind yourself that there are still bright spots in these dark times.