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Surf Fishing For The Big Ones

Jeff Ell SmallIf you go to the beach this summer you should know about something that’s happening at night down near the water.

I’m not talking about teenagers trying to recreate the beach scene in “From Here To Eternity”, unless it’s your teenager, then you should definitely be aware of that.

What I’m talking about is fishermen trying to catch a big striped bass.

Up and down the Atlantic seaboard there are anglers who are devoted to landing a big striped bass through the surf. They fish the tides in the middle of the night, spending hundreds of hours on dark jetties usually with nothing more than dark circles under their eyes and twisted ankles to show for their efforts.

Taking a big fish alone in the night is not like bringing some some pelagic giant to the side of the boat in the Gulf Stream. There’s nothing wrong with shelling out a couple thousand dollars to a Rolex wearing charter boat captain who straps you into a high leather chair and babysits you like a toddler, but it’s not what we are talking about.

Catching a big striped bass in the surf means fishing alone in the dark while the windows of high-rise condominium twinkle along the coast like an old string of half lit Christmas lights that are left up year round at the trailer park.

Then the cast happens.

The plug, which seemed to be protected by a cloaking device that made it invisible to fish, is once again swimming peacefully back to the rod. Then without warning, without premonition, a jolt hits the hands of the fisherman so hard that it rattles his spine. The line stretches out to sea and the angler staggers off the slippery rocks holding his rod as high as he can while making his way onto the beach.

The rod bends and the reel whistles in the night. Somewhere beyond the breakers the fish is tearing through the open water with instinctual fervor. It knows this fight will not end with a snap shot of the smiling angler at its side. It knows it will not be lovingly resuscitated with gentle swishes in the water and released to give fishing happiness to another. It knows if it is caught it is going to die.

So it shakes its head and coils its body, trying in vain to shake the sharp tangle of trebled bronze that it mistook for dinner. But the hooks sink deeper with every run and flurry, their barbs cinching the brass noose tighter.

Back on shore the fisherman holds his breath with every run. Even heathen fishermen pray at this dark hour. They pray the line will not break. They pray they tied a good knot. After a time the runs becomes less violent and the line returns to the reel more readily. Now the fisherman is looking for the right wave with which to surf the fish onto the beach.

Surfing a fish onto land is tricky. The angler has to get the exhausted fishes head turned toward shore, and just when a large swell is about to crest, the fisherman must carefully pull the fish into the wave. Done correctly the wave will spit the great fish onto the beach awash in foam and leave it marooned when the waters run back to the sea.

The fish is flopping in the wet sand now. Stranded in the midnight air. The fisherman tosses his rod, and runs to its side, he slips his fingers into the gills and drags it up onto the dry sand before a wave can come to its rescue.

He raises his hands in the air and shouts. No one hears his voice. Eyes the size of quarters glow in the light of his head lamp. The fish flops over one final time, its flesh now dusted in a million grains of sand.

On the drive home the fisherman smiles. With the hose in the driveway he tenderly washes the sand from the great fish’s side. He measure it for a third time and puts it on ice until the morning photo shoot.

In the shower he feels an unseen merit badge being stitched on his sash.

He slips into bed and kisses his wife on the cheek. She rolls over and asks “did you catch anything?”

“Oh yea . . . caught a big one baby.”

 Jeff Ell is pretty good at catching, killing, picking, and growing things to eat. He regularly finds bemusement in the outdoors and enjoys telling his stories to anyone who will listen. Jeff’s the author of Ruth Uncensored, blogs at and can be contacted via Facebook or smoke signal.


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