The Hiss


About a week ago I was out fishing one of my favorite spots. It’s an area that has given up dozens of big fish over the years and it will forever be a place that I keep near and dear. After fishing the first stop on this particular stretch of beach we made our way out to two of our favorite rocks, one of them I call the Corner Rock because it makes up the outer corner of a boulder field, and the other I call the Forty Rock because the first night I fished it, I caught a 40—both rocks have given up 40s since. I set up on the corner rock and my fishing partner, Dave Daluz was on the 40 Rock. This night had no fishy excitement in store.

The waves were mostly small but there were a few pesky 3-footers mixed in and when you’re standing on a rock that’s a foot below the surface, a 3-footer can be hard to shoulder through. I had been on the rock maybe 40 minutes and I’d had to battle maybe three of these waves. My needle wasn’t getting any love, so I decided to switch to a metal lip. I reeled up, ripped my bag open and turned on my light. After removing the needle from my line I felt a sudden impact. A wave had snuck up on me and now I was falling over backward with a needlefish clutched in my left hand, my rod in my right and my plug bag wide open! I landed kind of sideways but on my back, I plunged under the water, my butt hit the bottom—I’ll never know exactly how, but when I gathered myself, my bag was closed and no plugs were lost. This occurrence got me thinking about a night more than a decade ago—the night I first heard The Hiss.

It was late-June 2005 and I was fishing with my former fishing partner, Dave Parrillo. I know it was a Monday night because I had Tuesdays off back then and we used to fish through the night quite often on Mondays. The surf was downright sloppy and it was dark as hell. If faced with the same surf conditions today, I would probably stay home. But we were, clearly, hungry to fish.

There had been some very nice fish around and we were trying to find a place that we could fish safely while still reaching some deep water—we settled on a large offshore rock that was tall enough to protect us from the waves, it was wadeable on the backside and dropped off sharply on the front. As I remember it, the wind was not all that bad, the swell must have been caused by an offshore storm or maybe it was residual heave from winds the days before.

We stood on the beach and watched the waves—they didn’t look that bad—we peered out at the large rock we were hoping to fish from, it didn’t look bad either. Relieved that we had made a well-informed choice, we set off on the long wade and, when we arrived, we climbed up to the one of the high spots and made a closer assessment of the seas. The sky was low, black and cloudy; it could rain any minute—the ocean looked the same except for the glints of white that flashed as the waves turned over on the outer reef. There was no rhythm to the swell, no sets of waves really; it was just washing machine sloppy. After three minutes of watching we decided that it was safe and headed out to fish.

As we walked out I remember there was a geyser of water that keep exploding out of a small crevice in the rocks, every wave that passed was punctuated by what looked and sounded like a whale spout. We had brought a ton of eels with us that night, probably because of the ferocious eel bite we’d experienced a few nights before, and we had them in a large bucket instead of the soft cooler we usually carried. Dave set the bucket down on the rocks behind us; I grabbed a rag and got ready to grab an eel as I flipped on my headlamp. In that same moment, I heard it. It’s a sound that’s hard to describe, it’s almost like pouring a gallon of ice water into a searing hot pan, an explosive and crackling hiss! I swung my head around and saw a garland of white foam draped over a wave that was more than a foot taller than I was towering in the low-glow of my headlamp.  I yelled out, “Holy shit! Hold ON!” I felt Dave’s hand grasp my dry top as the massive wave smashed us. I heard the bucket clattering around on the rock as the overflowing water spilled over the edges. Within seconds, I heard it again and another mammoth wave washed over the front of the rock as Dave and I clung to each other like scared school children. “We have to get out of here, NOW!” I yelled as a third, but slightly smaller wave crested over the reef and flooded us out again. And then there was a fourth!

The first two waves were large enough the my hat was soaked and they hit hard enough that I think if Dave and I had not been close enough together to grab one another, we both would have been bowled over and who knows what would have happened when that second one came! We scurried around the rock like two guys in a silent film, trying to gather up our scattered gear before another set of rogues came along. Only when we were back on shore did we finally allow ourselves to laugh it off. In the moment, we were literally fearing for our lives, but on the way home laughter was the only way to celebrate not being swept off that rock into a wild sea.

I make light of the situation now, but the raw truth of it all is that the ocean has no empathy. Every year people are killed in situations like this one and, even though we all think we’re invincible, we’re not. These days, especially now that I have a little girl, I crosscheck multiple sources for wind and wave data; NOAA is my number one, but then there are those nights when you look and you just know it can’t be right. This is when I look at the more optimistic wave data that comes from the surfer app WindFinder. You have to take it with a grain of salt because it will give unrealistic data for back bays and rivers but this has more to do with the fact that the app includes “beach locations” that no one would even think of surfing—but for the open ocean, it’s often right on the money particularly on those tricky wind nights. Your last lines of defense are your eyes and your instincts, listen to them. Getting knocked off a rock by a 3-footer might be almost fun in the right situation, but being smashed into a reef by a 7-footer really could cost you everything. Learn from my mistake.

7 comments on “The Hiss

  1. Young_John

    Good advice, Dave. Had a bit of a scare myself today (nothing compared to your tale, of course). Conditions looked relatively tame and predictable as I was setting up near the end of a jetty. Only a few minutes in and a rogue set briefly swept me and my korkers a few inches seaward. I was able to regain footing, but it sure got the heart pumping!

  2. Frank Breakell

    Thanks for sharing and stressing safety. I was washed off a jetty late one night by a rogue that came out of nowhere on classy sea’s. Very scary, and I was very lucky. Always be on your toes out there, you just never know.

  3. unkaharry

    Is that what that sound is just before I get knocked on my ass ????? The forth of July was my last rouge wave. I was fishing the end of the Jones Beach Jetty,I braced myself for the first one but the second planted me two rocks over on my hands and knees. figured it was time to leave. At sixty five the ears and eyes don’t work the same and rock hoppin is just not the same. Think its time to get a vest. Went home and ordered a wet suit to, yet to try!!! FISH SAFE

  4. HeinekenPete

    …great article. Dave’s story makes a great point: Bad things don’t only happen to “other” people. Those names in the news of fishing/boating trips that turn out deadly wrong ALL expected to return home safely that fateful day. Err on the side of safety, if at all uncertain, and come back to fish that spot again another time. Respect not only the sea & it’s power, but also the fine line between “hero” & “zero”.
    Be safe out there…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *