It’s 3:30pm on Monday. I’m sitting on a foot-high piling along a jetty surrounded by total chaos: fishermen casting over each other, birds attacking the water, baitfish spraying out of the surface, with big striped bass and bluefish breaking the surface all within an arms reach. This is the moment we have been searching for all these years, yet I can’t lift my arms, my back is a crumpled mass of pure ache, my brain is fried. I’m staring into my lure bag, head spinning, moving slowly, a puzzled look on my face. I never saw this coming – feeling too warn out and exhausted to care about catching yet another giant fish from the surf. How did it all come to this?
Earlier that morning
The previous 2 days had called for pleasant weather and mediocre fishing at sunrise, which led us to not bother setting an alarm for pre-dawn. We slept in and took the day as it came. However Monday was calling for a perfect fish-catching combination: Simultaneous outgoing tide, sunrise, moonset, and “gale force winds” blowing out to sea so we made sure to wake up early so as not to miss our best opportunity. The first two days of scouting had given us a good idea for where to plan our stakeout: the north end of the boardwalk, where a nice sandbar revealed itself as the tide went out. I hiked out to the bar and took a few casts, and quickly made my way to the edge of the bar where I could cast to my left into a deep pool of water. The flat mirror-like surface of the predawn water reflected the foggy mist above, whose calmness was suddenly shattered by the violent splash of a feeding striped bass. I could hear J’s voice in my head. “These are pencil poppin’ conditions”. I pulled out my new lucky pencil popper which I had found washed up on shore the day before. This is a style of lure I have never caught anything with, but I know many of J’s most epic fish stories involve this magic lure so I am dying to catch a fish on this lure and discover the faith for myself. It’s one of the most labor-intensive lures to use. It’s big, heavy, and as legend has it, “if you’re not making love to the pencil popper it’s not going to have the right action”. A saying which never made any sense to me until today with the fish crashing on the surface. Are you getting spastic? Make love to it… It’s a rhythm thing. Like Isaac Hayes, smooth buttered soul. Ohhh yeah, there it is. WHAM! A big striped bass rose out of the water and nailed the pencil popper in plain site.
After a bit of a fight, the fish and I made our way to dry land. He measured just over 28 inches. A keeper! Losing my mind with excitement, I wanted to get back out there and catch some more. I carried the fish back to the surf and let him go free. As soon has he swam off, “stupid! why did I do that?” I thought. I don’t have too many opportunities to keep a fish like that and I may have just blown it for the trip. Lucky for me, a few casts later, I caught his brother which was also over 28 inches. After a total of 3 fish, soaking wet in my leaking waders and the strong, chill wind, I went and found J. We returned to our hotel, and cooked up an early breakfast of fish. Yum!
Monday Afternoon – Round 2!
Tired by noon, conditions and reports were still looking good so we headed straight back out again. And that’s when things really got intense! We made our way up the beach stopping every half mile or so to look around with the binoculars. We find a promising spot, and gear up and start fishing. Before long, J battles a gargantuan bluefish to shore! Followed by another!
Here’s a quick look at the lures that were successful for me on this trip (SP Minnow in bunker color, a bomber, a snag hook, and the pencil popper):