Monday, July 25, 2011

Night of Nights

Anyone who has targeted striped bass in the surf for a long time knows that the word "fishing" is better suited than "catching" because the latter usually makes up such a small part of our obsession. The hours spent reading, prepping, driving, walking, and casting far outweigh the time spent hooking, fighting, photographing, and releasing our quarry. The many fish-less nights make those few nights when we do very well that much better. For me, last Saturday was one of the more memorable nights of standing on a rock in Long Island Sound. 

The ferocious heat wave that had been gripping the Northeast showed no signs of letting up. Surf fishing the coolest part of the night made the most sense, yet the thermometer still read 80 degrees as we began our long walk from the vehicle. Wetsuits and water bottles were carried in backpacks and 15 good-sized eels, live but subdued from bags of ice, were brought along in two small buckets. It is no secret that fishing eels after dark is a proven summertime tactic and the wetsuits put us at an advantage for reaching deeper rock platforms that traditional waders won't allow.

Three of us were soaked with sweat head to toe upon arrival to the spot for the night. After a short breather and swigs of cold water, we located suitable perches and began casting eels and slowly crawling them back in. The tide was in its final stages of going out and a light breeze was blowing out of the west. The conditions were perfect for a light wetsuit and the water felt refreshing on the hot summer night. It didn't take long for the first signs of life. It was a hit from a small bass but there were fish around. It being Derrick's birthday, I fully expected him to hook a pig at any minute. Instead, a wave of bluefish soon showed up and sawed off half of our eel supply in mere minutes. The decision was made for a powwow on shore to let the tide turn and wait out the blues. 

The break turned out to be a good  move. After the switch to flood tide, we waded back out and the melee started. The next take of my eel felt like any other bass, but when I lowered the 10-foot rod and drove the hook home I knew it was a good fish. Her initial run almost peeled my footing from the rock as the braided line was dumping from my reel in long bursts. It was an excellent fight in shallow water and the few short minutes it lasted felt like eons. The bass made some last ditch runs and thrashes before tiring out and then Derrick put a kung fu grip on her jaw. Aaron was landing a teen-sized bass at the same time and came over to snap a photo for me after his release. There was no scale between us, yet a measuring tape let us know she was 42.5-inches long. Even without an official weight, I knew I had just safely beat my previous best surf-caught bass by a few pounds.
(Photo credit: Aaron Swanson)

Other than a small chunk missing from one its dorsal fins, the bass was in perfect shape with great color, thick shoulders and a nice belly. After a few photos, I walked her out to deeper water and started the revival process. Not surprisingly, the fight in warm water did a number on the bass. It took a couple minutes of cradling the fish in current before she kicked away with vigor. My partners went back to their rocks and I collected myself and put on a new eel. We all knew there could be more and bigger bass where that one came from.

Not much time passed before another amazing specimen found my offering. The foot-long eel had just hit the water when it was immediately picked up by a bass. Without hesitation I wailed back driving the hook home. Having just fought a nice bass, I knew this one was in the same league or better. Mist was shooting off my peeling line and it looked almost like smoke in the dark night. My rod was flattened out under the blistering runs of the fish and she finally surfaced out of sight, dispersing enough water to let us know she was huge. After gaining the upper hand, we put the beams of our headlamps on her to get a good look at my new personal best striped bass. Derrick grabbed the leader, lipped the bass and walked it to shore as I trailed behind in awe. The tape read 44.5-inches long and she felt noticeably heavier than the previous fish. She was even bigger than my best striper caught from a boat three years earlier. 

After a brief photo shoot, I walked the fish out to cooler water and gently rocked it back and forth, forcing water through her gills. Once again, it took several minutes before this fish regained strength and tail-slapped out of my hands. I would have paid serious money right then and there to have had a 60-pound Boga-Grip to know her true weight, but it didn't really matter in the end--I had just fought, landed and released a trophy striped bass in the surf. And it felt so damn good!

You'd have a crazy look on your face too...    (Photo credit: Aaron Swanson)
Floored is probably the best word to describe how I was feeling at that moment. I had just caught two of the best fish of my life within 30-minutes of each other with my best friends there to witness and assist. Now knowing a school of nice fish was in the vicinity, they hurriedly returned to their platforms and got back at it. I took some deep breaths and soaked it all in before returning to the rock that produced all the excitement. It was the birthday boy who hooked up next to my right in short order. Wanting to return the favor of landing a fish, I waded over and waited as he played a 39-inch bass to his feet. I lipped the healthy bass and we went about taking a photo and releasing her. It was a very respectable fish from shore in late July and on many nights for us it would have easily been the high-hook. 

Derrick added a 39-incher afterwards for good measure.

By this point of the night we were down to our last few eels and, as quickly as they left, another wave of bluefish moved through and ended our night sooner than we would have liked. The blues were so hungry that after being left with half of an eel, I tossed it back out, hooked up and was broken off on the very next cast.  After the last eel in the bucket had been used, Derrick resorted to his lone Slug-Go, which soon fell victim to the teeth of another yellow-eyed demon. He and I retreated to shore and watched Aaron stick it out for a while longer hoping for another cow to swim by. That proved to be it for the night, but what a night of fishing it was; one I will never forget! As always, it was a great team effort and it wouldn't have gone down the way it did without my buddies there that night. I know it won't be long before it will be one of their turns again with me behind the camera. 


  1. Great job on the Stripers! You always make me feel like I was there fishing with you! Your a great story teller! Thanks

  2. Awesome night kierran! great description as well. I will be out there shortly in my kayak

  3. Great fish guys. Relish the time you have now, someday you may not have the time to partake at the level that you do now. Keep up the posts, I am living vicariously through them these days.

  4. What a story, and a fish! I spotlighted your post on my blog, here:

    Too good not to share!

  5. Holy moly those fish are gargantuan. Nicely done fellas. Great pics and story to go along. Tight lines.

  6. And I thought I was having a good year.....way to go.WW

  7. Thanks, all, for reading and taking the time to comment. Best of luck out there!