A Night to Remember Part 2

I found a rock that wouldn’t be my first choice if the adrenaline did not get the best of me. It was a pointy rock with only a small flat section, enough to put your feet on. Casting and trying not to fall off the rock was hard enough, never mind fighting the swells that were intent on pushing me off. But I managed to hold on most of the time. Ray on the other hand got blown off his rock quickly. Realizing that the tide was coming in and the waves were only going to get bigger, he scurried back to the shore to regroup and find another perch.


I’ve never been a fan of tossing a rigged eel in the daytime but in this case I made an exception and attached it to my clip. By this time the sun had set and I could see the two Mike’s perched on the rock with their red lights going on and off every few minutes. What I couldn’t see was if they were landing the fish or they had issues with their equipment. I lobbed a heavy twenty inch eel towards the horizon and began a rhythmic pumping with my rod. On about the third lift of my rod, the rigged eel got smacked hard. I tried to set the hook but I missed and lost my balance and fell backwards off the rock. I tried to get back on it before the swell arrived but the wave beat me to the rock and pushed me ten yards backwards. I fought through the oncoming waves, frantically trying to retrieve the line so it didn’t get entangled in the rocks and bubble weed that carpeted the bottom. I finally managed to retrieve all of my line and get back on the rock. I cursed under my breath for having missed the hit and fired off another cast.



As my rigged eel sailed away into the darkness, a massive wind knot followed it into the ocean. In a panic, I tried to retrieve it, only to realize there was another wind knot still on the spool. I stripped the line quickly trying to get to it, knowing that if I didn’t take care of this problem quickly, my line was going to be helplessly tangled in the rocks. I quickly realized that there was no way I could take care of two tangled webs of braid and decided to try to retrieve the line, save my eel and go back on shore to deal with it. After completing this task I removed the rigged eel from the clip and waded to shore.



I strung my line for what it seemed like a hundred yards, along the rocks in the cove above high water mark, trying to get to the tangle. It took me a good hour to straighten out the mess. I eventually ended up having to cutting the bird’s nest from the line and reconnecting. By the time I got back onto the rock, an hour must have passed and so had the bite. Ray yelled over the surf that he dropped a monster on a Hogy, just minutes before. I cast in vain for the next hour but the fish seemed to have moved off and Ray and I left in search of a more productive spot. We found a few fish at Southwest Point but nothing like the night before. Around 1:00 AM Ray started to feel lightheaded and we decided to head back to the house. We slowly made our way back over the winding path while I kept an eye on Ray the whole time. After walking for about 10 minutes we found Mike Luccini lying on the grass waiting for Mike Veraka to return on his quad after dropping his catch in the cooler at the dock. They had three fish in the 40’s and numerous smaller fish but the bite died just about the same time that Ray and I split. I cursed my line for taking me out of action when the cows had showed up to graze. I decided right then and there that no one would beat me to that rock the next night, even if I had to go sit there starting at noon. The two Mike’s were not coming back the next day, and I doubted either Don or Larry were into swimming out to that rock.


I woke up in the morning cranky yet brimming with anticipation. It was my last night on the island and my wife was having a really hard time at home. She let me join in her misery via text messages every so often. At one point I was ready to pack my shit and get on the 4:00 PM ferry. Fortunately, the ferry left at noon that day for some unknown reason and there was no other way to get to the mainland. Ray was going to stay a few more days and greet Tommy, Lenny and Rob in the morning while tonight was my last shot at having a memorable night.

I won’t lie to you. I would have been happy with a 25 pound bass. First of all, the two Mike’s used live eels, something I never quite took a liking to. Second, chasing yesterday’s bite always proves to be disappointing in the end. I received a text message from Veraka in the afternoon saying that the fish they kept weighed in at 40 and 44 pounds. Sure, put another dagger in my heart! He did say that he thought we were going to slaughter them as we had, in his opinion, perfect conditions.


We descended down to the cove at 7:00 PM. We placed our waterproof Aquapac backpack, filled with water and spare rigged eels on a big rock so we could find it later without stumbling in the darkness. As we screwed around with our waterproof cameras, Larry and Don came down the cliff. My Montauk instincts told me to make a beeline for the rock immediately but my conscience told me to stay and exchange pleasantries. It was the right thing to do as neither one of them wanted any part of swimming to the rock we wanted to get on.



Don walked to our left while Larry got on the rock to our right. Ray and I floated to the rock and got on with no problems. The tide was just coming in and the rock was exposed, almost level with the water. The surf was gentle and I knew from previous trips that if it stayed this way, we could stand on this rock till morning if we wanted to without getting knocked off. As soon as we started casting we noticed baitfish around the rock and they were thick! Huge clouds of bait were flashing their silvery sides. At first we thought they were sand eels but after Ray impaled one on his treble hook on the retrieve we realized they were juvenile herring, about 4 inches long. Ray could not contain his excitement and he kept saying, “Wait till the bass find this mother lode.” And you know what? He was absolutely right. Except what happened next will be one of the most exhilarating and disappointing nights in our lives. PICTURE 4


Within an hour we had stripers rolling through the bait. They were in front of us, besides us and even behind us. They were everywhere. Unfortunately we forgot to bring a net because scooping them up was the only way we were going to catch any. We threw darters, metal lip swimmers, bucktails, needlefish, rigged eels and rubber baits and we could not get a single bump. Not a swipe, not a boil, not even a sniff! To say that we were frustrated would be a colossal understatement. We had fish rolling within a rod length away, in front and behind us but failed to elicit a single bump. Don was the only one to hook up, I believe on a jointed swimmer. We tried those too. Ray had a beautiful Fixter jointed Pikie that swam so enticingly I wanted to eat it, but the fish again showed no interest.


At 9:30 PM I looked at my watch and realized that the fish and the bait were gone. Now we were casting into an ocean that seemed devoid of any life. There was no discussion on changing plans and swimming to shore to try another spot. This rock was going to be our feast or famine, and by the looks of it, we were going to be walking home hungry.


Ray is an accomplished fisherman who has done just about everything a surfcaster can aspire to accomplish. He has fished the Cape, Block Island, Montauk and even Costa Rica. He has caught fish from the surf in every way possible. There hasn’t been a year when he hasn’t caught a good number of big fish but that elusive 50 pound mark keeps evading him. He had fish well over the magic mark from a boat, but from the surf he always managed to catch fish a few ounces shy of 50. He is a student of the game who spends an incredible amount of time tinkering with his lures, retrieves and strategies trying to outsmart the fish. The year 2010 was the year he decided he wanted to catch big fish on lures. No live eels, something that served him well over the years and no bait. He never was a meat slinger.



On this night, after casting every lure in his bag twice he was stumped. I didn’t fare any better but I reasoned that because I stuck with a rigged eel, most of the smaller fish that were rolling on the surface ignored it. I expected him at least to get a bump considering he was changing plugs every few casts and he knew how to fish. I told him to try a rigged eel but he said no thanks. After all, I wasn’t doing anything with my rigged eel. His stubbornness in trying to prove that a lure could be as effective as a rigged eel would come to haunt him. We just did not know it was going to happen so quickly.PICTURE 5


I felt a good bump and instinctively set the hook. The fish did not appreciate the feel of cold steel implanted in its cheek and started to thrash wildly on the surface. I have a superstition that makes me shy away from discussing the size of a fish until I see it at my feet. Ray asked, “Is it a good fish?” I said it felt okay, not a monster by any means. Maybe it was because I stood on a rock for hours without a bump, or maybe it was my wishful thinking but when I brought the fish close to my rock I told him “Get your camera ready.” Only after grabbing its lip did I realize that the fish was only about twenty pounds. Considering I am 6’3” and 220 pounds I probably appeared in the pictures like I was holding a schoolie. But the darn fish did look big at the time… “did” being the most important part of that sentence. I say this because on the next cast my rigged eel got walloped and this fish dwarfed the previous one. Ray said, “It looks like 30 pounds” and after I removed the hook I hoisted it on the 30 pound Boga Grip that I carry on my belt and sure enough, 30 pounds on the nose. I asked him to take another picture and he obliged but not too happily this time.


I take a lot of pictures of people fishing. Sometimes on a weekend trip I might take 500 or a 1000 pictures, which I will weed through when I get home. I’ve also been known to put my rod down in a blitz and take out the camera. It doesn’t bother me one bit. I always felt that pictures are best done during the day and fishing is best done at night. But as a result, although I have thousands of images on my hard drive, there are less than a handful of pictures of me. That is why I was glad Ray was there, to capture the moment of triumph.


After releasing the thirty pounder, I checked the rigged eel for any damage. This is the first eel I’ve ever rigged using plastic ties instead of waxed thread. I was concerned to see if it was going to hold up when I finally got into some good fish. The eel looked fine; it had turned bluish color and it started to tear a little around the ties but it was still in great shape. Ray switched over to a North Bar Bottledarter, a lure with which we have caught many good sized fish over the last few years. He did get a bump but he missed the fish. He said, “If you hook up again, I am taking a rigged eel out of your pouch.”


As my eel landed in the water with a huge “splat” that only a rigged eel can make, I began my retrieve but it was interrupted immediately. A large fish was now the owner of the rigged eel while my drag peeled at an alarming rate. “Wow, that looks like a big fish” Ray said while at the same time grabbing a rigged eel from my bag. I said nothing but continued to work my rod with a series of short pumps, quickly retrieving my line. The fish took another run and peeled off almost as much line as it did on the first run. My heart was beating frantically, almost jumping out of my skin but I said nothing and just kept trying to get the fish closer to our rock. All of a sudden the line went slack. “Ohhhh, no Zeno” was all Ray said while I knelt down on the rock and let out a scream. I could not believe that a 9/0 VMC Siwash barb allowed her to become unbuttoned!


I brought the rigged eel back to the surface and checked it but the eel and hooks were still in fine shape. We both cast for about ten minutes when Ray said, “Here is your rigged eel. I’ll stick to plugs. Rigged eels are really not my thing anyway.” He had not even finished the sentence when I felt a strong thump on my eel and I set the hook. This fish fought nothing like the one before, but once I got it in close to the rock and put on a light, Ray said, “That is a BIG fish.” I gripped its jaw with one hand while the other immediately went into my surf bag to pull out a 50 pound Manley scale. She weighed 44 pounds and after snapping a photo she swam away unharmed. My eel surprisingly enough was still in one piece although the skin had started to peel off from the body. Ray kept saying, “Just keep throwing THAT ONE. Do not change it. It has a ton of mojo.” As he said that he missed a nice fish that tried to engulf his black Slug-go just as he lifted it out of the water. That will be his second and final bump for the night.


Soon I was hooked up again with another fish that bottomed out the Boga Grip scale. It was about 11 PM and Ray had had enough. His back was bothering him and he said he was going to hang on the rock while I fished. I told him to use my rigged eel but he said he was perfectly happy watching me having the time of my life. I told him to swim back to the shore instead, if he wasn’t going to fish. No sense suffering in pain on the top of the rock in the middle of the ocean. By now the tide had flooded the cove and what was before a 20 yard swim from the rock we stood on, was now a hundred yard swim back to shore.


I watched him push off the rock and float on his back toward the shore. He must be a better man than I, because if that were me in his shoes, I’d probably have tried to drown myself. But Ray is truly one of a kind. If you ever need a friend, a true friend, I suggest you find someone like Ray. He’s always happy for everyone, always positive and always ready to lend a helping hand. I don’t think my brother would have been happier for me than Ray was. At this point, the action slowed down but this wasn’t indicative of future results. It seemed to me that this pod of big fish were circling the coves, looking for a meal and reappearing every half hour or so.



Ray was about half way back to shore when I set a hook on another good fish and I yelled “I’m on” towards him but he just waved me off and continued floating towards the shore. I knew that Boga wasn’t going to cut it on this fish and I was right. It pulled my Manley hand scale over the 40 pound mark. I hooked a smaller fish on the next cast, maybe close to twenty pounds and when I checked my eel, I noticed that its guts were now hanging off the body but remarkably it was still intact. Ray just kept needling me from the shore with “Stop whining and keep throwing that eel.” I made another cast with an eel that resembled something that would be better suited for a horror movie than for fishing. Peeling skin and hanging guts had no effect on the fish as a 36 pounder engulfed it immediately after I started my retrieve.


I took a few shots of the head of the fish and released it but the eel did not fare as well. It broke in half and the only thing that was holding the head and its stomach together was the Dacron connecting the hooks. Like a gravely wounded soldier that left his all on the battlefield, the eel crumpled in my rigged eel pouch while I attached a fresh one. I made twenty casts without a bump and pondered what to do. I had a suspicion that if I stayed on this rock for the dropping tide I could probably run into those fish again. But I had a buddy who was whipped on shore and not feeling great. I also had an early ferry to catch and a long, four hour drive home. The last thing you want to do is after you left your wife alone with the kids for 5 days is to show up at home and declare that you are tired from fishing all night. If you do, you better be prepared for what you’ll have coming to you. And learn how to duck.


I removed the rigged eel from my clip and attached the clip to the rod. Swimming with trebles attached to a guide, never mind giant 9/0 Siwash hooks never made any sense to me. Neither did walking on the rocks with a lure attached to a guide. Do you really think that you will need that lure within less time than it would take you to pull it out of your bag, because if you do, it probably wasn’t meant to be. I pushed myself off the rock and toward Ray, Don and Larry who were chatting up a storm on the shoreline. I turned on my back and let my feet float up to the surface. The gentle surf carried me towards the shore while I tried to soak in the scenery. The night sky was filled with stars; a quarter moon soared above the cliffs, while the bubble weed gently swayed underneath the surface. If there is a heaven where surfcasters go after they are done chasing bass here on Earth, this is what it must look like every day.



On my long ride home I pondered the ramifications of a special night like that. Was I now going to become a big fish hunter and chase only after big fish? Was I going to employ rigged eels exclusively from now on? Would I now become an “island snob,” a surfcaster who finds no pleasure fishing close to home and instead dreams about far away locales? Walking into my house and being warmly greeted by my family put any of those questions to rest. I’ll always be me, a surfcaster who enjoys catching fish of any size, in any place, at any time. Although I’ve caught some big fish over the years, for the first time in my life I came to the realization that nights like this do not happen often. They rarely happen on a sandy beach unless the fish are blitzing on bunker, which in my book requires no skill, just luck. For the first time I realized that if I wanted to have more nights like this I would have to get out further and fish with rigged eels until my arm wears out. Will I do it? I might on occasion, but I have a new found respect for those who practice this kind of fishing on a daily basis. To each his own! I’ve always said that I do not consider myself any more than an average surfcaster who manages to catch a lot of fish through pure perseverance. This night, my perseverance paid off in spades, for even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while!



5 comments on “A Night to Remember Part 2

  1. Jim J.

    I have never fished a rigged eel used to chuck meat then over the last few years have been slinging plugs,
    metals, and bucktails now this spring I am going to have to give the rigged eel a try. That is a night for the record books thanks Z

  2. Steve S.

    “At one point I was ready to pack my shit and get on the 4:00 PM ferry. Fortunately, the ferry left at noon that day for some unknown reason and there was no other way to get to the mainland.”

    At least that’s what you told your wife. 😉


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