Tag Archives: Montauk

The Seven Most Beautiful Places that I’ve Ever Fished

LakePowell
Lake Powell on a calm day can seem like a mirror.

I have been enormously fortunate, thanks to anglers all over the United States, and the editors at Outdoor Life, Game & Fish, and B.A.S.S., to fish a host of different waters from Maine down to the Florida Keys out to San Diego and up to Seattle. These days I am working on finishing my Master’s Degree, and I’ve been lucky to help out a tremendously talented artist in Salem named Joe Higgins who runs Fished Impressions, but thanks to a number of people who’ve had faith in me over the years, I’ve had the chance to travel and fish more than most. Any time that we can get on the water, it’s a beautiful day, but there are some places on the American landscape that have stood out in my memory as particularly gorgeous. I haven’t fished everywhere, but I’ve tried, and these are places that belong on your bucket list if you’re an angler.

The Florida Keys: The sunrises are surreal. You’ll swear that the ocean is temporarily alight with fire when you see one from a flats skiff. But the variety of species that are available for an angler to target here is almost enough to overwhelm you the minute you get on the Overseas Highway that will lead you out of Miami. Tarpon are the big draw out of Islamorada and Key West, and rightfully so, but yellowtail snapper, barracuda, spotted sea trout, permit and bonefish are all available depending upon the season you choose. Waking up in the Keys is something like waking up on Christmas morning, on repeat, for any fisherman. There are a host of beautiful places in the lower 48 to fish, but you’d be hard-pressed to make an argument that any are, in any sense, ‘better’ than the Florida Keys. The guys at Bud N’ Mary’s are the ones to talk to if you find yourself Keys-bound.

New Orleans: Start an argument in the Southeast about who has the biggest redfish, and you’ll never hear the end of it. Having that said, the environment in New Orleans, the potential forage base, and the climate all give it as good a claim as any Southern city to “Redfish Capital of the World.” Fishing out of New Orleans is such a memorable and incredible cultural experience, that even if, let’s say… Texas had bigger redfish, it’d still be tough to argue that New Orleans is the single best place to go if you want to fish for them. Both Gregg Arnold and Rocky Thickstun are excellent New Orleans guides, and you can’t go wrong with either.  The city is overflowing with art of all varieties, from music to artwork to photography, and where the city stops, the natural beauty starts.

Seattle: Seattle gets a reputation as a rainy city, and it is, but all that water creates an environment rich with life. Whether you want to chase king, silver or chum salmon, it’s hard to imagine a place more beautiful to do it in than Western Washington. If you do get there, try fishing for sea-run rainbows on the fly, too. It’s an incredible experience, especially from shore. The lush greenery, the mountains and the crystal-clear water all make for absolutely stunning scenery. The Seattle expert to talk to, hands down, is Chris Senyohl. 

Montauk: I’ll first say that during the prime striper months, like May, June, October and November, Montauk gets crowded. This is the place to travel to and set wader boot on for striper fishermen in the spring and fall. It is true that more striped bass pull closer to the end of Long Island, here, concentrating in a way that they do in few other places, but the culture is really what makes Montauk memorable. It is seemingly, for a few months anyway, a city built on striped bass, or at least the pursuit of them. Whether you love the crowds, the competition and the frenzy, or you can’t stand it, Montauk is a place to experience as a striper fisherman at least once in your life. The sun rising and casting the day’s first light on all the wader-clad, or wetsuit-wearing fishermen who have been fishing all through the night is simply a sight to behold.

Grand Lake Stream, Maine: This isn’t the southern part of Maine that most of Boston flees to in the summer months for their bumper stickers (although that part of Maine is beautiful, too). Grand Lake Stream is about four hours north of Maine’s southern border, and has some truly rugged and wild country. The landlocked Atlantic salmon that you’ll chase, and perhaps catch, in Grand Lake Stream are every bit as beautiful as the scenery. The crew at Weatherby’s are the guys to talk to if you’re headed to GLS.

Apalachicola: It might seem unfair that I’ve put Florida on this list twice, but the state just has that many unique and amazing opportunities for fishermen. Traveling through the state, many visitors never make it to the Panhandle, which, in the Panhandle, is just how they like it. The Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce has actually trademarked the name, ‘The Forgotten Coast.’ The Panhandle of Florida feels very different from the remainder of the state: The attitude of the locals is more relaxed, the sand on the beaches is even a lighter shade, and they take oysters much more seriously. Offshore fishing out of nearby Destin is popular, but I’d fish with the Robinson Brothers again for redfish if I ever made it back down: Those guys are the best.

Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah: This one might surprise a few people, but this lake itself, thanks to the surrounding geography, is absolutely stunning. Oh, and the smallmouth bass that inhabit it are a blast to catch on topwater. Seeing the rock formations that have been carved and weathered by time, wind and water reflected in the lake’s mirror-like surface on a calm summer afternoon is a sight that you’ll never forget. Danny Woods at This Side of That Guide Service is the guy to talk to about fishing here, no doubt about it.

Many of us, as fishermen, are hesitant to admit that the beauty is a big part of the reason that we love the sport. But I don’t think any of us could deny that it’s integral to the entire experience, either. If you get a chance to fish in any of these places, take it.

The Best Part about Being an Angler

Hip-Deep in the Fall Run
Taking a breaker in the chest while fishing the Montauk surf.

I have a vivid memory of my first time fishing the Montauk surf in a wetsuit. I remember, vividly, because I was fishing with a guy named Mike Coppola, who is about the most extreme surf fisherman you’ll ever meet (‘extreme’ here meaning crazy in a way that yields incredible results) and I was trying to follow Coppola out into the surf in a borrowed wetsuit.

He’d climbed up on a boulder off the beach, and was casting, when a wave caught me, picked me up, and pounded me on the Montauk sand hard enough to rattle a few ribs.

But I got up. I kept fishing. I share this story not to brag about some intense fishing experience, because truthfully I was pretty terrified, but because I think it demonstrates one of the most important things we learn as anglers from almost the first time we pick up a rod.

Fishing demands of us, more than anything else, that we be self-sufficient, resilient, that we bounce back. It’s very rare for any angler to catch a fish on his first cast, but even if he does, his ratio of casts-to-fish, even if he’s good, will be about 1,000-to-1 after that if he keeps at the sport for the rest of his life.

And more likely than not he’ll get pounded on the beach, fall through the ice (2003), get swept off a sandbar (2001, 2004, 2007, 20… you get the picture), lose his footing in a river (2004), get stuck in an electric storm (2010) and be closer to a hurricane than any human being without a death-wish would ever want to be (2012).

Which is to say that if you’re older than 12 and still love to fish, you’ve probably been battered around, soaked, frozen and exhausted.

And the reason these experiences are so valuable to anyone navigating this ‘life,’ thing we’re all stuck in, is because they’re demonstrative of a greater truth: No one, anywhere, attains anything worth pursuing without a little punishment or sacrifice.

And as fishermen we come to understand this fairly quickly and that truth becomes ingrained in us. So when we… say, apply for a job, ask out a girl (or guy), try out for a team or try something like… raising money to find a cure for cancer... we do not expect, at first, that we will be successful by any measure any more than we might expect to hook a fish on a first cast.

We understand, in fact we’re certain, that consistency, resilience, and faith are absolutely necessary in any endeavor we undertake.

And if that means picking ourselves up off the beach, getting a few ‘No’s, or even ‘no thank yous,’  being passed over, turned down or ignored, we understand that that’s no more personal than a fish passing on a lure, it’s just life. What’s more important, we understand that the reward after the effort is almost always worth it, and then some.

And we make another cast, effort or attempt. And then another.

The Second Greatest Game Fish… Ever: The Miraculous Striped Bass

 

Hip-Deep in the Fall Run
Fishing Montauk’s coast during the Fall Run.

If you’re an angler who grew up in North America, it’s almost guaranteed that your first love was largemouth bass. For some, it might have been trout, instead, but largemouth bass are almost undoubtedly “America’s Fish.” And for that reason they’ll always hold a special place in our hearts and be tough to top. Your first fish was probably a largemouth, you most likely catch up with your oldest friends while targeting them, and those really old pictures that your mom breaks out, where you’re wearing a Batman bathing suit and have a bowl cut… you’re probably holding a bass in those pictures.

I’d never question or challenge the lore of the largemouth in my, or any American’s, personal past. It’s been an honor, a privilege and a pleasure to target them from Oklahoma to Florida to South Carolina following the B.A.S.S. trail and I certainly learned how much there was that I didn’t know about catching them in the process.

But you know what makes that place you went on family vacations as a kid so special? Perhaps a bunch of things, but foremost among them was that you had to come back, you had to return, it was a limited-time, expiring offer which made every second seemingly more magical.

And I believe that all of us have that fish that, if not first in our book of sacred species, is a close second, and that fish for me is the striped bass.

I was lucky to target stripers from a young age, because our enormous Irish-Catholic family (six aunts, one uncle and a dozen-plus cousins) rented and shared a house on Cape Cod since 1989. Later I’d live on the Cape, then New Jersey and now Boston, and continue to fall in love with them, but it was those first stripers that were caught before I could even drive that endeared them to me more than anything.

And I’ve asked myself repeatedly what it is about these fish that makes them so utterly lovable. Sure, they’re beautiful, they taste great (should you decide to eat one), they fight hard and grow to pretty impressive sizes, but that’s true of a lot of inshore species. And claiming an undying allegiance just because Field & Stream Fishing Editor Joe Cermele designed me a striper tattoo when I interned at F&S seems like a cop-out. There was a reason I was so willing to have a striped bass on my shoulder forever, and it was formed in my soul long before the tattoo artist left the image of a striper on my skin.

I think the thing that is so endearing about stripers is that they bring the mystery of the Atlantic right to our wader boots. These fish, which swim enormous distances from Maine to North Carolina, and range far offshore beyond any angler’s cast, have the curiosity, the decency and the courage to come right within casting distance of any angler with a rod and good timing.

For that moment while we’re connected with one, we’re connected with something more: everything the fish represents, the beauty of the migration, the mystery of the Atlantic, the incredible ability for the species to survive and thrive despite hardship imposed upon it by human beings, and we are connected by the thinnest of possible measures, only a line. When a striper hits a bucktail or a bait, it is almost like hearing a faint whisper on the wind in response to a prayer. We cast, and we pray, with almost certain knowledge that it matters, but that does not change the fact that every surf striper, like every answered prayer, still feels like a miracle come true. And it, I believe, is for one simple reason. No matter how strong our faith in God, we must rationally allow for the possibility that he does not exist, that we are animals, products of evolution, and nothing more.

And along those same lines, every cast we make into the surf is one that might very well be into a portion of ocean empty of striped bass. They may have migrated further down the coast, or be offshore, out of casting distance. On a lake or pond, the body of water is finite enough that it stands to reason that bass must be somewhere, and if we fail to catch them, it’s a reflection upon our inability to do so, not their presence or lack thereof. But with striped bass, no matter how resolute our faith, our rational brain must admit that our attempt might be an exercise in futility. So, every time that it’s not, is though a miracle has transpired before our eyes.