This past week I managed to get skunked at Round Valley Reservoir, lunch hour, twice, and to finish at Seaside Park fishing the night surf with my brother Rick under a moonless sky as Orion rose very slowly out of the ocean. Rick promised that on this night we would catch stripers. The man--I'm not much of a regular and don't know his name--at Betty & Nicks pretty much assured the same. The past couple of weeks have been billed as the greatest in 50 years and so on and on. Beaches have been lined almost shoulder to shoulder at daybreak. But leaving Bedminster at 4:19 p.m. I felt very sure the same bad luck would haunt me. I've fished five nights for stripers and caught none.
The fact is, no matter how good striper fishing along the Jersey coast gets, it's always local. My brother and I had a long conversation with another angler on the beach and Rick mentioned that over a hundred bass were weighed in Friday at Betty & Nicks.
"Yeah, but more than 500 fisherman were after them! I know! I was out here!."
Rick had made the point to me earlier that most of the action was resulted from buggy runners. If you do have 4-wheel drive and a permit, when bass are around, it can be pretty simple so long as you have miles of beach at your disposal. You sight the birds, stop, get out and throw metals, plugs, or paddletails to nail the bass.
Rick's had a lot of success at night. He doesn't have the time to be a real beach hound with the cell phone ringing reports in all day, but he's caught bass in the 20-pound class in the fall surf at night, and hooked one he thought was over 30. Some nights he catches 20 bass in a couple of hours, others disappoint him. He usually catches something.
I've caught my share of bass, and lost one over 30 pounds--by day and in June. This fall every night I got out was warm, little wind--beautiful, lush. I'd be happy to fish in a 30-degree breeze and catch a few keeper size. But it's a long drive from Bedminster--Seaside Park 140 miles round trip. Sandy Hook and down to Long Branch is closer, but most of the fall action is Point Pleasant and below.
I had thought of writing another reflective piece like the previous on contemplation and fishing. This would be on freedom and fishing, although I decided to make the title subtle instead of obvious like that. But I'm not in the mood tonight. Come to think of it, after last night I just don't feel like it. It was cool watching Orion rise. Rick saw a meteor. Best of all we took our loss lightly and ended the night in real good spirits.
But there is more to fishing than either contemplation or freedom to feel release from routine--catching something often enough is of course very important. Rick and I fished two-and-a-half hours. And after a half hour or so my paddletail bumping bottom seemed worse than lonely; it is the fact, often enough, that the surf, perhaps for many miles, is completely devoid of stripers. At least when you fish a lake for bass you know, if you know how to find bass, some are down there near your lure. And to contemplate the absence last night, especially when so many have been caught recently, was opposite to freedom. The philosopher Nietzsche asked what freedom is for instead of from. And last night it was for nothing at all but being out there together.