Tag Archives: Summer

The Last Summer Night

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The Sun sets on summer on Jekyll Island, Georgia.

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ~ John Steinbeck

There are any number of opinions on summer’s end, it’s transition into fall, and in New England we have more than most. Some relish the cooler temperatures, changing leaves and sweatshirt weather. Others can’t help but mourn summer’s passing.

I’ll tell you that as a fisherman I look forward to the fall, the migration of striped bass that it brings, and the promise of bluefish and stripers pushing bait right onto the beach.

But it’s certainly not the case that I’m “sick of summer.” Summer to me is trips to the Adirondack Mountains where my aunt has had a camp for decades, open windows and nights spent on my parents’ back deck, taking the top off the Jeep and watching fireworks with family.

I think looking forward to the fall has more to do with a mindset, an idea, or an ideology: Change is a positive thing.

I think life has a way of sorting people into two camps: Those who embrace change, and those who fear it. There are things that some of us, some of my friends and family, have experienced that have given them every right and reason to fear change and to fear the unknown. Life can be a terribly unfair process.

Change in of its very nature is uncertain, and uncertainty can be terrifying. Whatever our current circumstance, our location or our position… even if it’s not ideal, it’s at least familiar. And with familiarity comes comfort.

And you’ll hear these reasons, and I’ll not discount them, but for me it’s not “changing leaves,” “pumpkins,” or cooler temperatures that make me look forward to, embrace the beginning of a new season.

I’m hoping that I’ll run into a blitz of bluefish that I’ll be rehashing with friends for decades. I’m hoping the Red Sox will make an improbable run to the World Series and I’ll share that moment with all of the Boston fans cheering along, and friends and family too.

But I’m looking forward to the fall because the summer has passed, because I lived it and loved it and it was amazing, but now it’s over.

I’m looking forward to the fall, yes because striped bass and bluefish will be running, campfires will be a little more comforting, the scenery throughout New England and New York will, for however short a time, be stunning…

But mostly I’m looking forward to the fall because it’s in the future, and the future always holds the promise of being the most rewarding and fulfilling period of your existence. And although that optimism requires faith, or some of it at least, which means investing yourself emotionally in in something uncertain… I still believe that the investment is worth it.

Best of All He Loved the Fall

Hemingway's Grave.
Blood from scraped knuckles digging up Hemingway’s grave in Idaho in 2010.

In today’s world, we’re inundated with the emotions, and everyday thoughts, of almost everyone in our “social network,” which is becoming a term that’s less and less clearly defined.

As August fades into September, we’re bound to see those people who are mourning summer’s end. Kids will shuffle back to the bus stops, the sunsets will come a little earlier every day.

One of my favorite passages that I’ve ever read came from a eulogy that Ernest Hemingway gave for a friend, Gene Van Guilder. Everything that Hemingway has ever said or written has been analyzed to death, and this one is no exception. Some scholars speculate that the words that he spoke were ones that he intended as much for himself as he did the late Van Guilder. Hemingway was only 40 at the time he delivered the eulogy. He still had a Nobel and Pulitzer-Prize winning novel to write (The Old Man and the Sea). He still had a plane crash to survive in 1954, a crash that some have speculated caused him a pain that made writing (the one constant throughout his life) more difficult to do than it was ordinarily for him.

He still had marlin to chase in the Gulf Stream, lions to hunt in Africa and characters and places to immortalize with words.

But there is an underlying sense both of hope and enormous, perhaps even insurmountable, struggle in almost everything Hemingway has written. The one defines, and necessitates, the other.

What made him, in my opinion, such an important, memorable and significant writer in American history was his ability to have a feeling for what defined masculinity, strength and courage, all without losing his sensitivity to the simple, yet beautiful parts of life that hide in the details.

I don’t know that there’s a passage of his that combines those two elements better than his words for Van Guilder did, and as we head down the home stretch of summer, I thought I’d share them with those of you who haven’t already found them yourselves:

“Best of all he loved the fall… The fall with the tawny and grey, leaves yellow on the cottonwoods, leaves floating on the trout streams, and above the hills the high blue windless skies. He loved to shoot, and he loved to ride and he loved to fish.”

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.

Where is Summer?

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Overlooking the dense forest that starts in Old Forge and extends through much of the Adirondack National Park.

I was talking with an Aunt of mine today, about heading up to her camp in the Adirondacks this month, and it got me thinking…

My Aunt, Bridget Roberts, owns a small log cabin in Old Forge, at the foothills of the Adirondack National Park, and although this place isn’t a mansion, it’s absolutely EVERYTHING you dream about when you think about getting away in the summer.

The cabin was built more than a century ago, and when you first walk in you can smell the pine and the embers of the ashes from last year’s fire… almost. There is a fire-pit they keep out back for larger, s’more-making campfires, but there’s a stone fireplace inside too, for those colder June nights that you have to go pretty far North to even experience.

Inside the camp, there’s an intricate portrait of the landscape that their daughter (a very artistic person in her own right) etched on an enormous mushroom.

On the camp’s front deck, you can overlook the Fulton Lake Chain in the Southern Adirondack region, and on a late-Spring morning at sunrise… My God. All the talk about melting glaciers forming lakes is just hot air sailing over your head in high school until you see these bodies of water poured out so beautifully between mountains, and you can almost picture the mountains of ice melting to create them.

The deer that wander by look at you the way we look at deer in most other parts of the country, with an expression of “Hey, didn’t expect to see you here…” There’s not the trepidation or instant fear that you see in the eyes of wildlife almost everywhere else, but rather an “Oh, hi” glance before they move along.

Cell phone service is spotty, there’s no cable television and certainly no Wi-Fi. You can’t help but think, while you’re there: “Before man was staring into his phone, checking Social Media, updating his status, texting, tweeting or photographing… maybe he was just… observing, appreciating, relaxing, absorbing…”

On her front porch at sunrise you see that lake chain poured between the mountains as the sun soaks the trees and slowly changes their color to your eye from shadows to breathing greens. Your pocket feels empty without a phone, your hands feel almost odd interlaced behind your head, but when you breath in the crisp air almost feels different in your lungs and the last thing you want to do, even for a second, is blink.

For all of us, perhaps, summer is not just a season but a place we go, a place we return. I’ve been lucky to visit many different ‘summers,’ over the years, but this one is truly incredible in almost every sense of the word.

May: The Greatest Month to be an Angler

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A pair of late-May bluefish were blitzing the beach on Fire Island in 2011.

Now, undoubtedly this is going to be a controversial topic, and largely a location-dependent argument (and I’ll stipulate that I’m only discussing the Northeast here), but since the internet was born to, above all other things, spark, fuel and then fan the flames of debate, I’ll go ahead and strike this argumentative match by claiming that May is the greatest month to be an angler. Now at this point you’re either thinking: “Yep, he’s right… for once…” or, “Hold on there buddy!” For those of you in the latter crowd, allow me to make my argument, and keep in mind this is coming from a guy who has spent 28 of his 30 years living in either Massachusetts, New Jersey or Upstate New York. Without further ado, May is the best month because…:

Striped Bass: Yes, it’s true, some stripers arrive to the Northeast in April. Holdover fish become more active in the rivers, and in the latter parts of the month states like New Jersey, where I lived for almost two years, will begin seeing what anglers call “fresh fish,” or migratory fish that, being smarter than the anglers chasing them, spent the winter off the coast of Virginia or North Carolina. But I’d be surprised if any serious striper fisherman considered April a “striper month.” May, however, is a different story. It’s in May that we begin to see those first full-on blitzes off the beach where schools of fish are crashing sand eels or bunker. If you were at a bar discussing the month’s exploits with a bunch of striper guys in the Northeast, and admitted you hadn’t hit the water in April, you might get some cross looks from anglers questioning your commitment. If, however, you said the same thing at the end of May, you’d immediately be shown the door.

Bluefish: Go ahead and curse them all you want, and I won’t even touch on their taste when grilled, but if you can tell me that you’re above bailing bluefish on the beach when they’re blitzing at your feet, then you’re far too good for my social circle. Legend has it that the bluefish show up on Cape Cod on Mother’s Day, and while they’re not always punctual, that’s usually a pretty accurate prediction. I’ve caught a few stripers in the surf, but by far my favorite surf memories are of days when you couldn’t get a plug back to the beach without a bluefish stuck to it.

Largemouth Bass: Here, we have a fish that anglers might not consider a “May” fish, because they’re typically in the Northeast considered more of a summer species. But for all intents and purposes, we’re just seeing the final ice come off the water in April, and May offers the first real shot at spending a comfortable day on the water in pursuit of bass. And show me an angler who doesn’t like largemouth fishing and I’ll show you a liar.

Trout: Here again, April is the month when anglers celebrate this fish, but May is the month we have the best shot at catching them. Don’t get me wrong, April 1 in my native Upstate New York is like a fisherman’s Christmas. The popular trout streams and rivers are as crowded as they’ll ever be. But, if you subjected anyone to a Northeast winter, and especially an Upstate New York one, for as long as we usually get them, it doesn’t take much to get us excited just at the prospect of being outside. When I was about 15, I had an opening day of trout season that might echo the sentiments a lot of my fellow Upstate New Yorkers have about the season’s first weeks. I was wading Nine Mile Creek with two cousins when I took a wrong step, and, in hip waders, took a spill into water that had only recently become something liquid, instead of solid. Drenched and shivering, I sat in a friend’s old station wagon, which couldn’t run too long without overheating, and blasted the heat for 10-minute intervals before killing the engine for as long as I could stand. Whether or not my cousins fished longer than they otherwise might have just to make me tough it out, I’ll never know. But your optimism about the opening of trout season leaves your body a lot faster when your body heat is also escaping through soaked skin, I can tell you that much. In late May, however, I’d wade similar creeks by my house in sandals and a bathing suit, and even be upset when the sun finally sank and I had to retreat home.

So, while every 24 hours we get through after that first snow flies is a blessing bringing us closer to another warm-weather fishing season, it’s May 1 that I really celebrate the season’s beginning. And no matter the excitement that June, July and August might bring, we can’t help but thinking that we’re slowly getting closer to snow with each passing day. May, however, we can steal, savor and soak in. I intend to, and I hope you do too.

 

Florida Sportsman Editor Gets in The Trenches to Fight Melanoma

Florida Sportsman Editor Jeff Weakley canoeing to some skinny water Florida bass.
Florida Sportsman Editor Jeff Weakley canoeing to some skinny water Florida bass.

Although being an editor at a fishing magazine sounds glamorous, it’s honestly mostly office work, and a lot of it. But Today Florida Sportsman Editor Jeff Weakley snuck out before work to slip a canoe into some bassy backwater near Stuart, Florida to help put me on some fish for Catch a Cure.

You can tell Jeff’s put his time in on the water, and he chose a small, relatively hidden public access point to fish a coastal lake near the FS office. With these fish suspended in cover and easily spooked, we weren’t ripping across any enormous waterbodies in a flashy bassboat, we were putting in some elbow grease in his canoe, trying a stealth approach for these reluctant and hot summer bass. It got us talking about our first means of chasing fish, and I got to thinking about my first “Pond Prowler,” with a trolling motor that I hauled everywhere in Upstate New York in the back of a used Dodge Dakota in high school.

There is undoubtedly something wonderful about fishing out of such a simple and timeless craft as a canoe that reminds you why you loved the sport to begin with.

In total we caught 14, 1-pound largemouth bass that were hanging in some of the thickest cover I’ve ever tried to pull a fish out of. We contributed some new lures to the lake’s infrastructure, but as a guide once told me, “if you’re not getting hung up you’re not fishing the right places.”

It was the type of fishing that is work, in the sense that we by no means stumbled upon any “blitzing” bass, but sometimes that reminds you that you know how to do this when you need to.

And in places like this, once you lose sight of the shore, you can imagine how Florida must have been a century ago, with cranes soaring overhead and alligators lazily eyeing your offering.

And of course, hiding in the thick stuff, waiting to ambush the next frog, bug or baitfish, there are the bass that have been there longer than we’ve been chasing them that keep us coming back.