The Midnight Rambler
No Pain No Gain (And The Need to Suffer)
If memory serves me, it was late August of 1995. The spring run along the inlets was a distant memory. I was goofing around in the bays along the south shore of Long Island, mostly behind Jones and Fire Island. I was keeping myself entertained with small bass and weakfish. The latter was a new arrival and a bit of a novelty. The weaks hadn’t been around for a number of years, and it was pure fun to hook them on small twister tails and flies. This was quite easy fishing. No dangerous jetties, no crashing waves, no rocks to wrist your ankles on. No death marches for miles along boulder strewn beaches. The only hazards I can remember were mosquitoes, and the only thing we debated was the extent to which traces of DEET could be smelled by fish.
I know Zeno also professes a love for weakfish, but I’m not sure it’s for the same reasons. Easy access, without the crowds. And as the 90s went by, the weaks grew bigger and more abundant. There was a time when I’d gladly set my alarm for say 1am or 2am, just zip down the parkway, cast for an hour or two. Usually connect. And then zip back home, hop back in bed for a few more winks before catching the LIRR into the city. Simple pleasures – simple fishing.
Anyway, early one night I get a call from my fishing buddy Bob Jones. Do I want to go out to Moriches and fish the incoming? What? Now? This time of year? Why? Ok, I didn’t give him such a hard time, but that was what was going through my head. So off we went. I hardly doubt I checked NOAA – something I certainly would have done in the prime part of the season. Had it been June, I would have studied the tide, checked on the wind, and then spent all kinds of time deciding what types of buck tails I would rotate through as the tide progressed. Nope, pretty sure I just grabbed a handful of bucktails – probably in the same pile from when I dropped them there on the table in the garage – after that last trip in mid July.
I think this was around that time period when a huge fire raged in the pine forest around West Hampton. We had to detour off of 27 as the entire highway was closed due to the fire. All that driving, and detours, for what?
So we got on the sand to find a screaming southwest wind. And based on how the tide was now moving around the jetty, the best place was at the tip, casting directly into the wind and letting the bucktail swing with the sweep. Within 20 minutes I had lost a couple bucktails and was soaking wet. I was ready to quit right then and there. At least it was warm out.
But after another 30 minutes, I had fully adjusted, and was now quite confident I had the right sized bucktail, and it was working exactly as it needed, while I counted the reel cranks through the entire swing.
No, we didn’t get jack sh*t that night, but it felt good to be back in the game – a big fish spot, a VS300 matched with a Kennedy Fisher rod – more than capable of turning a big fish in that wicked Moriches current. And it felt good to be suffering a little as we hopped along the rocks like a pair of mountain goats.
Within 30 days we would be suffering in Montauk in a wetsuit, climbing rocks and ducking waves, whatever it took to get into fish. So at least that Moriches trip was good training.
That’s the thing about Surfcasting, there’s “fishing,” like sinker bouncing, and then there’s Surfcasting as we know it. I can’t tell you how many acquaintances come out to Montauk, not fishermen, who get it in their head that they will join me for an evening tide. They don’t know what Korkers are, they don’t know what a darter is. And there’s no evidence they’ve educated themselves on any of it. So after 15 minutes, is there any hope they will be enjoying being out there in the dark, getting hit by waves, tripping over rocks? Call me judgmental but I think I can usually tell who is cut out for this. And that’s quite OK, this ain’t for everybody. Sometimes I don’t get it myself. Why do this when I can just charter a boat, or soak bait on some nice sandy beach? I watched a charter boat come in last night. Four drunk guys, each with a 30 or a 40, posing for pictures, I’m sure the hero photos are up on Facebook somewhere by now. No suffering, except for the hangover.
And this brings me back to what I might call a primitive need some of us have to suffer. There is something about the physical effort, and having do deal with the dark, the waves and the rocks.
And there’s even more to this idea of suffering.
There’s a long standing belief among those I’ve fished with that ‘the less comfortable you are, the harder you’ll fish,’ – perhaps the longer you’ll keep at it, even if things are not panning out.
I know this for a fact from my years of fishing out of the back of a Ford Explorer (which I only bought because it was the only 4×4 in my budget with enough room to fold down the seats for sleeping). Take it from me, when the only creature comforts you’ve got are confined to what you’ve packed into an Explorer, you simply end up fishing more. You don’t wake up, turn over and enjoy another 2 hours of restful bliss. No, you wake up to a sore neck, you say to yourself “now this sucks…I might as well get out and put that goddam wetsuit back on.”
Even a slide on camper was considered palatial. I recall several memorable tides in snotty weather where we joked that the slide on guys were too comfy cozy in their nighties to realize just how serious of a bite they were missing (Ok, maybe we were a little jealous too).
I will concede the day will come, when age will have caught up with me – and this suffering sh*t will be left to you younger guys. Until then, I know the Montauk boulder reefs – and numerous other deep summer spots – will continue to reward those willing to suffer.