These are the moments we… or I, anyway, wait all winter For
- Bunker Scent: If you are not a striper fisherman, this might not be a smell you’re familiar with. If you are a striper guy, there is one scent that is separated in your head from all others: The smell of bunker being shredded beneath the water’s surface. Now, if you’re not a surf fisherman or a saltwater fisherman, it might sound absurd initially to suggest that you can actually ‘smell,’ bunker (atlantic menhaden) being diced by stripers and bluefish in a blitz beneath the water’s surface. But here’s the thing: You can. When bass or bluefish are blitzing on thick schools of bunker and thousands of these fish are being torn to bits, there’s a certain odor in the air — because they are a very oily baitfish, that is immediately recognizable. Certain guides will tell you it smells like watermelon rind, but what the hell does that smell like? The truth is it is a distinct, memorable odor that — once you’ve detected, you’ll never forget… because it very likely signals a fantastic day of fishing ahead. And the first sign you might be in for a great day in the surf is that smell.
- Jacket-less Trout Fishing: Don’t get me wrong, I’ve grown to love winter trout fishing. And with Underarmour layers, a neoprene dry top, two pairs of socks and a wool cap, it’s not that uncomfortable… for the first half hour, anyway. But that first day in April when you can wade that same stream in a short-sleeve shirt and feel the sun and wind on your face without stopping to tuck your hands beneath your armpits for warmth… that’s going to be a damn good day.
- The First Brook Trout: Don’t get me wrong, I love brown trout. In fact, if you pressed me to decide between a 20-inch brown and a wild, native brook trout, I’d be hard-pressed to make a call one way or the other. But the cool thing about brook trout, for me anyway, is that they are rare and unexpected. So, when you’re having a great day on the water landing and releasing brown trout, and then you land a brookie… it’s like your team winning on your birthday… It would have been great anyway, but now…
- The first Striper on the Sand: I do not know why I love striped bass so much, to be completely honest. I could probably write you a short book on how being in the surf, with the NorthAtlantic crashing at your knees, whales breaching in the distance and birds diving on bait just out of casting distance for me feels like everything on the inside of you reaching a type of harmony with your surroundings… how it feels damn near perfect… but here’s the thing… it isn’t perfect… not quite anyway. When the bucktail stops and the rod bends… that’s pretty close. But when that first striped bass… that fish you’ve been dreaming, reading and writing about for months… is on the sand at your feet… that is perfect. It feels like… “Okay… the rest is gravy.”
- The first Better Brown: Stocked brown trout are incredible… They’re fun, you can catch a mess of them, and each one looks slightly different. Perhaps the coolest thing about them, though, is how they lull you into a relaxed state of catching and releasing 10-inch fish so that, when you do hook a 15-, 17-, or 21-inch brown… it is almost more shocking than it would have been were it not for the stockies caught prior. That first brown you send a photo of to friends and family, though, that’s a Spring moment to look forward to.
- New Water: Last year, despite not having fished there for almost a decade, I went back to surf fish the Jersey shore and sheerly by divine miracle, I’m convinced, I found and caught stripers. Technically, it wasn’t ‘new water,’ per se, since I’d caught stripers on the Jersey shore in my twenties, but it’d been a decade, so it felt brand new. While laid off during the height of the Coronavirus, I started exploring trout water around my native Upstate New York and found a few stretches of water that I’ve since fallen in love with. I don’t care how confident or experienced you are, there is always some trepidation when you’re exploring new water. Show me the angler who says: “I’m going to fish here for the first time and crush them,” and I’ll show you an inflated ego. Part of the beauty, mystery and excitement of being an angler is finding and exploring new water, and I’m looking forward to that as much as anything this Spring.
- The ___________ (Unexpected Miracle): We were striper fishing on Long Island a few years back and I looked up and saw humback whale breach about a quarter mile off the beach. It was June, and I was fishing by myself at the moment, so I immediately texted my friend who was back at the house to come down, and then I went and found the nearest person, who happened to be a toddler playing in the sand, and told him to look offshore for a minute. The kid saw the whale, and had the exact emotional reaction that I was trying to seem too cool to act out… there was a lot of pointing and yelling…. from both of us, actually. The breaching humback whale is one example of the type of miracle you never know if you’ll see on any given day on the water. It could be a bolt of lightening hitting the surface of a lake, it could be a double rainbow, a breaching humpback, a great blue heron, a rising moon so Orange that it looks like a basketball on the horizon… The fact that you don’t know what it will be, on any given trip, and that it could appear at any moment, in a myriad of forms, is what makes it so incredible every time it does.