Tag Archives: Fire Island

Friday the 13th: Are you Superstitious?

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Open All Night: The hat features lyrics from a favorite musician, Brian Fallon, and it has been lucky to say the least.

Superstition typically isn’t an impactful element in our everyday lives. Sure, we might notice if a black cat walks by, and we might not walk under a latter, but for the most part most of us believe in cause and effect. It helps us navigate an unpredictable world to believe that, with a few exceptions, things happen because other things have happened in the past that set a series of events in motion that caused them.

This belief, however, stops immediately where the water meets the land. I have never met an angler who was not, to some degree, superstitious. And anglers, for the most part, I’ve found, are more superstitious than most. I’ve never met a fisherman who wasn’t aware that bananas are bad luck on boats, but that’s only the most commonly held belief, and there are countless others that vary by region, body of water and individual angler.

I’ll share a few of my good-luck tricks (tactics?) but I’m honestly more interested in hearing about yours.

First and foremost, I always carry two things in the pocket of any pair of pants or shorts that I’m wearing. The first is my father’s watch. It’s a gold Bulova that he wore for decades. My father wasn’t a man who who cared much for flashy attire or stylish clothes, but the watch was a gift  that my mother and I gave him when the one he wore finally gave out. He treasured it, and so do I.

My aunt, Bridget Roberts, collects all sorts of antiques, and she has an incredible collection of antique marbles of all sizes and colors. She selected a half-dozen for me a few years back, placed them in a velvet case, and gave them to me. Of course the running joke about “losing your marbles,” has followed me ever since, so I’m sure to keep the physical ones on hand for luck, and to remember that I have a wonderfully crazy family that cares about me.

I have two rings that I’ve found to be relatively lucky: One is a hand-carved ring with ocean waves from the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, and the other is from a Harley Davidson store in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

This past year I was fishing Fire Island with former college roommate and long-time friend Curt Dircks, and was wearing a new hat I’d bought at a Brian Fallon concert (Fallon is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter if you’re interested in finding some more great music). We’d fished all morning, and most of the evening, without landing a keeper striped bass. The six that I’d caught, despite being undersized, might very well have convinced me that the hat was good luck anyway… but when I caught a 33-inch, 11-pound striper right after last light… any and all doubt about the hat’s powers were erased.

So, whether I’m on the water or not, I’ll typically have the hat, marbles and watch for good luck. What do you carry, and why?

Patience, Faith and Tradition

fire-island-surfI got back this weekend from fishing the surf on Fire Island with former college roommate and longtime friend Curt Dircks. There were fish, but that, in my mind, wasn’t the important part.

Every year we make it a point, no matter what we are doing in our lives, to take a weekend and hit the surf on Fire Island, a small barrier island south of Bayshore, New York.

The tradition started at Syracuse University where we were undergraduate students from 2004-2008. It doesn’t take long, in any setting, for two fishermen to start talking about the sport and it didn’t take us long, after being placed in the same residence hall, to start planning a trip.

On that first fateful trip in 2005, we caught two fish, drifting eels, that weighed more than 15 pounds each. That’s all it takes. A tradition was born.

We’d make the annual pilgrimage each fall for those four years. After graduation, life took us in different directions. I’d wind up first in New York City, interning with Field & Stream, then at On The Water Magazine, as a copy editor, then I’d fish the country from the back of a Jeep for Outdoor Life before landing an online gig creating fishing content for a website. Curt would work in New York City, then go on to continue studying in San Diego before moving back to the East Coast where he’s currently the Director of Admissions at the College of Mount St. Vincent.

Suffice it to say, many things have changed, but the tradition has stayed the same. Like any anglers will, we discussed the weather, the presence of bait, local reports and trip timing as October approached.

Driving through New York City, after visiting my grandmother in Upstate New York for her birthday (today, actually), I ran into more city traffic than I’d anticipated, and nearly missed the 4:30 p.m. ferry I’d promised to catch. I grabbed my gear and ran through the parking lot as the boat was readying to leave Bayshore, N.Y.

But, by a matter of minutes, I made the boat. We fished until sundown Friday night and were in the surf before sunrise the next morning.

The allure of the surf is magical. Sealed from head to toe with a dry top and waders, you can almost completely immerse yourself in the waves crashing on the sand. You can scan the beach in both directions searching for feeding birds, signs of bait, or fish pushing baitfish up onto the beach.

The casting, moving and searching becomes rhythmic, and everything else in your mind fades into the background. There’s just the rod in your hand, connected to a bucktail that you’re working through ocean, hoping to imitate a wounded baitfish.

Waves pound the beach as the sun pulls itself higher into the sky, and you’re completely and wholly immersed in the beauty of it. The clouds shift and change shape and color, birds fly low over the waves and the wind moves the sand over the beach.

Between tides we’d discuss the plight of the Red Sox, women, rehash old college stories, and talk about… of course… fish.

On Saturday night, after catching a few smaller fish in the surf earlier in the day, the sun was sinking into the ocean. I promised myself that I’d keep casting until last light. I’d been working the beach for hours, and had caught and released a few smaller stripers between 20 and 25 inches.

Right at last light, in that magical moment of twilight, the bucktail I was retrieving stopped cold about 30 yards from the beach and started going the other way. As the rod bent and I stepped back out of the surf, I could only think: “This is perfect.”

The fish turned out to be an eleven-pound striped bass, measuring 33 inches. I’m all for catch-and-release, but some fish, in keeping with tradition, are meant for the grill.

We filleted the fish on the back deck as the autumn chill started to sink in. I had to run my hands beneath warm water for a few minutes to get them to the point where they’d properly operate a fillet knife.

Watching playoff baseball with freshly grilled striped bass, I couldn’t help thinking: It’s not the fish that keeps us in love with the sport, however much fun they might be to hook, land, fillet and eat…

It’s everything that leads up to that moment. Christmas Eve is always more exciting than Christmas Day itself, and until that first fish is on the beach, we are all, in some sense, our inner kid staring at wrapped presents… staring at waves crashing on the beach…

Dreaming of the incredible possibility.

 

Appreciate the Little Things: We’re All Lucky

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Even the craziest of catches is a story, and we’re all lucky to be doing this.

I was fishing on Fire Island with a friend this past spring, heaving a bucktail into a beautiful churning surf, when… about 50 yards out, the bucktail stopped cold.

“This is it,” I thought. “This is the 20-pound striped bass I’ve been waiting for. This is the fish that I’ve dreamt of, the fish that I’ve driven miles for, the fish that I woke up before sunrise for.”

Seconds after the rod bent, I knew something was wrong. I wasn’t snagged on bottom, but it wasn’t a fighting fish at the end of the line. Whatever I was pulling in was coming in slowly and awkwardly. I thought at first that it must have been a clump of mung or seaweed.

Five minutes later, I had my answer. I’d somehow snagged a skate in the surf and I even brought it to the beach.

At the time I was, as you can imagine, terribly disappointed. We had caught striped bass to 20 pounds on Fire Island, we’d run into bluefish blitzes where we’d caught and released dozens of fish, many more than 10 pounds. But as I look back I can’t help but laugh. What are the odds that, casting from a beach, I’d hit with a bucktail, a skate on the ocean’s floor, hook it, and even manage to bring it to the beach?

As we sat on the back deck of his cabin between tides, we Googled “eating skate,” just to see if there was any precedent for actually targeting, keeping and cooking this species.

When the weekend was over and I returned on the ferry back to mainland Long Island and then back to Boston, the sentiment of disappointment (despite one small bluefish that we killed, kept and ate, I might add) subsided.

I’d snagged a skate in the surf: Something that I’d never done before or even thought was possible. And more importantly, I was out there, hip-deep in the crashing Atlantic, doing something that I loved.

As I prepare to head back down for the annual Fall trip, I’m still hoping we run into a bluefish blitz or that stripers are pushing bait right up onto the beach.

But… I’m not cursing the skate. It was an experience, a story. How lucky was I, how lucky are we, just to be out there, doing something we love, especially in such a beautiful place?

How foolish does it seem to consider a lack of cooperating fish, or the target species in any event, as “bad luck”? Being diagnosed with an incurable illness? Being the victim of the violence that’s sadly becoming more prevalent in our country? That… THAT is “bad luck.”

Roaming a beach, heaving a bucktail into a beautiful sunrise? That’s a winning lottery ticket whether we realize it or not. And fish? Fish will come and go, and if we’re out there enough, we’ll get our share, or more than our share if we’re “lucky.”

But I always wonder: “What if I were brought up in a household where I was never exposed to this stuff, never got an appreciation for it? What if I lived in a country where this type of activity or passion wasn’t even feasible?” “What if I hadn’t met other people who share the same enthusiasm for the sport?”

All of which got me to thinking: Whether it’s a blitz or a seemingly fish-less ocean that you’re dragging a lure through… whether it’s 65 degrees and sunny or 45 degrees and pouring rain… whether you’re using the latest G. Loomis GLX rod and a Van Staal reel or a decade-old, banged-up, Walmart-bought rod and a rusty Penn reel…

If you’re out there, if you’re in it, immersed in the natural beauty of the environment and the excitement of the sport… you’re “lucky.” Damn lucky.

The Surf

10498073_10101737155687926_2101954513048375227_oI’ll be the first to admit I don’t fish the surf as much as I’d like, but it’s absolutely my favorite type of fishing. And it’s hard to say exactly why, but I’ll try.

It doesn’t have as much to do with the fish, for me, as one might guess. Don’t get me wrong — that feeling when your bucktail stops and line starts peeling off the reel in the opposite direction is amazing — but that’s not quite it.

Putting on still-wet waders before sunup isn’t terribly pleasant, and neither is trying to get the feeling back in your hands after an hour on the beach on an October morning.

But that first moment when you walk down to the beach, and see the sun pulling itself up out of the ocean, with perhaps a few birds diving off in the distance… for a moment… absolutely anything is possible. If you remember that feeling when, as a kid, you saw a handful of presents underneath the tree on Christmas morning — presents that might be anything — you might know what I’m talking about.

Mark Twain said: “Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.” After a few casts, depending upon the day, the fish and the lure you’ve chosen… you might start to understand how the remainder of the day will go…

But in that first moment of setting a wader boot on the beach, absolutely anything is possible. Maybe there will be so many bluefish pushing bunker up onto the beach that they’ll be flipping from the surf onto the sand. Maybe you’ll cast fruitlessly for hours, or, like I did on this past trip to Fire Island, maybe you’ll snag and land a skate.

But no matter what happens after that first cast — it’s what precedes it that is absolutely magical. For a frozen moment in time, you’re on the edge of absolutely anything. And if you love catching striped bass and bluefish, you’re on the edge of, perhaps, one of the best days of your life.

Travel: The Heart of our Love for The Sport

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These images capture the country as best I could, from the Outer Banks to the Keys to Montana.

There’s no right answer to the question: “What is the essential, defining element that makes us love outdoor sports like hunting and fishing more than any other single factor?”

But I just returned from an annual trip I take with a friend and former college roommate to Fire Island, N.Y., where we’ve been fishing the surf since meeting as freshman in college at Syracuse University. Curt Dircks and his family own a small cabin on the island and we’ve had some spectacular years chasing striped bass and bluefish there over the past decade. The island, where most residents and visitors take a ferry from Long Island and commute either by walking or bicycle, is a unique and beautiful one. The whitetail deer, which walk over the ice in the winter to reach the island, alone make it a unique environment.

Prior to that trip I got to spend a weekend at a camp my aunt and uncle, Tom and Bridget Roberts, have had in their family for as long as I’ve been alive... and much longer before that. The cabin-style camp is in Old Forge, N.Y., near the base of the Adirondack National Park.

It’s a common occurrence to see black bears roaming within a stone’s throw from the cabin, and a trip without a deer sighting is almost unheard of. The cabin itself is mostly unadorned, basic and beautiful in a rustic way. On the front porch you can see the Adirondack’s Fulton Lake Chain spread out before you and behind the cabin there’s an enormous stone fire-pit that I can remember sitting at almost every summer for as long as I’ve been alive.

These beautiful places I’ve been blessed to see and revisit have convinced me that, more than any other single factor, travel and exploration are the basic elements of our love for the outdoors.

A fishing rod seemingly has a fairly simple purpose, but in reality it’s something we get to point at the next place we’d like to visit, see, explore, or return to. It’s a means, an excuse and a justification for exploring as many of the truly unique, breathtaking and memorable parts of this country and this earth as we might, given only one lifetime.

Had I not picked up a fishing rod, and in many respects held onto it, early on in my life, I might very well have still sought out these places, these experiences and the incredible wildlife that calls each home.

But I don’t know that I would have, and I’m certainly grateful every day that I did.

Fishing Friendships: A Line Never Broken

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Curt Dircks and I intercepted a bluefish blitz off Fire Island in 2012.

I was talking with an old friend, a former college roommate from Syracuse University, and we were setting up our annual striper fishing trip for the spring. Every year, since 2004 when we met and later became friends and then roommates, we’ve made an annual spring and/or fall pilgrimage to Fire Island, a barrier Island south of Long Island where his family has a small cabin.

As we tentatively penciled in this year’s Spring trip, I got to thinking about the strength of friendships built on or around the water.

When you’re a teenager, or in your early 20s, you make more friends than you might for the rest of your life combined. Whether it’s all the new people you meet as an undergraduate, high school friends you stay in touch with, or those first people that help you on your career path… it’s a time when you meet people you’ll remember forever.

I was lucky to be born into a large Irish Catholic family, and my cousins back in Upstate New York are some of my oldest fishing friends. Joe Critelli, two years my junior, dutifully helped me load our Pond Prowler into my first used Dodge pickup to explore ponds all over Upstate New York. Everett Lockwood, only a month younger than me, would spend summers on Cape Cod with me tracking striped bass and bluefish when the tide was right and using that same Pond Prowler on as many Cape ponds as we could. Joe’s younger brother, Chris, three years younger than I, got the road-trip gene and has traveled via motorhome throughout much of the lower 48, but I was able to catch up with him on the first Catch a Cure, and we’re never too far apart to remember some hilarious anecdote that usually involved teenaged stupidity or overconfidence.

Our lives diverged on different paths (congratulations again to Everett Lockwood, now a husband), but we’re never too far apart or too busy to share a fishing picture, a story, or a memory. There’s an almost endless number of stories that could finish the ones that start: “How bout that time we…”

I even found a fisherman at Emerson. Classmate James Spica was kind enough to invite me down to South Carolina and hook me up with a guide that put me on my largest redfish of all-time.

But as we penciled in this year’s striper trip, I couldn’t help but think of how powerful fishing is in keeping friends together through anything that life throws at them. It’s been eight years since I graduated from Syracuse University, and I’ve worked in New York City as an intern for Field & Stream, at On The Water as an editor, traveled the country blogging for Outdoor Life, worked from Florida as a full-time content creator for a website, traveled the coast fighting melanoma for both Game & Fish and B.A.S.S.  and now I’m back in the Northeast, in Boston, finishing my Master’s Degree at Emerson. Curt has lived in New Jersey, New York City and even San Diego.

And we might not be in touch on a daily basis, sometimes we won’t see one another for months or even a year… but when the spring rolls around, we set up the annual trip. Making plans this year I was reminded of how profoundly important fishing is in our lives, and for so many reasons.