Tag Archives: flats

That One Fish… You’ll Remember Forever

We all have that one fish that we'll remember forever, and this one's mine.
We all have that one fish that we’ll remember forever, and this one’s mine.

Perhaps the best thing about our sport is that there is so much more than simply the size, weight or species of a fish that goes into its “value,” to us as anglers. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer larger fish to smaller ones, and some species (striped bass, bluefish) over others (rocks, docks and bottom).

But it’s the story behind a fish, the effort that went into catching it, and maybe even the odds against it being caught at all… that give it so much personal value to us.

Growing up, I was fortunate in that my extended Irish family all chipped in and rented a house on Cape Cod for a couple weeks every summer, and at about age 12 I fell in love with the Brewster Flats.

On the flats, at low tide, an angler can wade out 3/4 of a mile and fish a deep channel that runs between two sandbars for a period of time before the tide returns.

When I was 21, it seemed like, for all intents and purposes, it would be our last family outing on the Cape. I’d be off to intern at Field & Stream in the Fall, and the real world would start.

I’d waded the flats every day for those three weeks that weather would allow, walking the mile and a half round-trip to fish during low tide. On some days I was lucky, and I’d catch and release a few schoolie stripers or small bluefish on the circle-hooked sand eels we’d use, but on many I was skunked. The walk alone is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever taken, so there’s no wasted trip on the Flats. The hermit crabs, sand eels and horseshoe crabs remind you of the You who came to the ocean for the first time, the You who was fascinated endlessly by all of these small wonders.

As luck would have it on the last day of our vacation, the local Brewster tackle shops were out of fresh sand eels, and I’d busted my  7’6″ G. Loomis Greenwater rod the day before.

All of which meant that I’d be fishing with artificials and using a 6’6″ spinning rod meant for freshwater.

Just as the tide was about to push me off the flat, as it rose to a level that would prevent safely walking the distance back to the beach, a 17-pound striped bass hit a Texas-rigged pink Hogy I was skipping over the top of the channel. At the time I was more “relishing” a last few casts than I was actively trying to catch a fish, which of course made it all the sweeter when the Hogy exploded from underneath.

On our last day of family vacation, on one of my final casts, after running out of bait, the largest striper I’d caught in more than seven years of wading those flats  every summer religiously… decided to eat.

I’m fairly confident that, no matter what I do for the rest of my life, that fish will always hold a special place for me, because of all the circumstances that surrounded its being caught. I know we all have that fish, for us, and I’d suspect that yours is neither your first or your biggest, or even your most exotic.

I’ve loved fishing magazines for as long as I can remember, and I want to start one with your help, for that reason as much as, if not more than, any other: It’s the stories that matter.

Why Fishing Makes us Better Human Beings

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The Brewster Flats on Cape Cod at low tide.

When my cousin, Everett Lockwood and I, were in high school, we were lucky to spend a few weeks on Cape Cod every summer, and of course our foremost priority was chasing fish. Since we lacked a boat, we eventually discovered the Brewster Flats, which offer a rare and unique opportunity for anglers to wade out almost a mile during low tide and fish a deep drop-off where a channel cuts about 17 feet deep through two sandbars and flows out to deeper water. Baitfish leaving with the dropping tide push through this channel and set up a virtual buffet line for waiting striped bass, bluefish and flounder.

If we stayed on the Cape for three weeks, we’d fish those flats 20 times if weather allowed. We lived for it. I learned a great many things from that experience as an angler and a young man, about safety, respecting the resource (we got good enough to catch keepers, and then smart enough to release them) and appreciating the little things in life, like the incredible ecosystem we got to witness on the walks out and back.

If I had to tell you how many striped bass, bluefish or flounder we caught in the ten years we spent wading the flats, I couldn’t even wager a guess, but one I do remember.

I’m from a large Irish Catholic family, and have more than a dozen cousins. A few would drop in for a week or a weekend during the summers and fish the flats with us, but I remember Dylan Wheelock’s first flats striper specifically.

Dylan is almost ten years my junior, which would have made him 12 or 13 the first time he waded the flats with us. As luck would have it, he caught a striped bass. It wasn’t big enough to keep, even had we wanted to, but I can still picture him, a young guy who, like me, had grown up mostly landlocked in Upstate New York, a mile from dry land, holding up a striped bass.

I was over at his mother’s house this winter and saw that she still had that picture hanging up in their house. It’s not a great photo, photo-wise: He’s off in the distance and the fish is barely discernible as a striper. It was probably taken with a disposable camera that we somehow kept dry.

But there’s a 13-year-old kid from Upstate New York holding a striped bass on the Brewster Flats, grinning ear to ear. I remember that fish, because it meant more to me to share that experience than it ever did to keep it all to myself. What, in this world, is worth anything if experienced or enjoyed alone?

That fish, a decade ago now, was probably the first wave of realization coming over me that there was something even more gratifying in this sport than anything we might attain from it of our own accord, alone: Sharing it with others.

Since then I’ve been blessed to have caught more fish than I ever dreamt I might in my entire life at that age, but I find increasingly that it’s the ones I see others catch that are meaning more and more.