The Last Wave- By Tony Stetzko

For  those of you who don’t know, the surfcasting world lost a legend this week. Tony Stetzko was one of those rare people that didn’t let his “status” in our tiny circle of the fishing world overshadow the fun he had doing it or his amazing enthusiasm for what he loved to do. In fact, Tony seemed like he wasn’t even aware that other surfcasters held him in such high regard and he honestly wasn’t interested. If you followed him on Facebook then you know he was a regular poster and his entries were injected with a rhythm that oozed a kind of excitement that is rare in people older than 12. Beyond that, Tony was just a really good guy that treated everybody like they were a close friend. That may sound like a cliche but, with Tony, that was just plain truth. In his decades fishing the Cape Cod beaches he landed untold numbers of bass over 50 pounds, several 60s and Bertha, one of the largest surf bass ever taken, she weighed a whopping 73 pounds. Take a minute to go back and read his posts and you’ll realize that he got fired up no matter what size fish he was catching. He just loved to fish.

Tony scratched together a living off of the land, he was a “clam whisperer” using his buggy to access virgin backwaters in the hopes of raking up a day’s pay. He may have been the last “true” Cape Codder. His loss will impact our great sport in ways that we don’t even know yet. But one thing is sure, whether you knew him or not, if you love to fish the surf you lost a friend this week and our sport lost one of its brightest supporters. Rest easy Anton, to say “you’ll be missed” would be a gross understatement. But you will


The Last Wave

Into The Wayback Machine

By Tony Stetzko

I got married in 1974, but the agreement was, “if we get married, we’re moving to Cape Cod!” I knew someone who would rent us a cottage in Wellfleet, right on the Bay. So we packed up my Scout and headed for the Cape, this was February—we’re talking cold. We arrived during a good northwest blow, inside the cottage, you could see your breath and the curtains were blowing up parallel to the floor. Man was it cold!

“Tony, if you think I’m going to live here, you’re nuts!”

And so the marriage begins.

Okay, so we refocus and start looking for a better place. All I knew was from Wellfleet to P-Town! We picked up a newspaper called “The Cape Codder” and started driving around to look at the listings. Then Lorrie says, “Hey, here’s an apartment in Orleans.”

Orleans? I knew nothing about Orleans! We called and got directions to the cottage which ended up being right on the road to Rock Harbor—and at the other end, Nauset Beach. Sure, I had heard of Nauset, but I had no idea what it was really like. Well, I kept an open mind and we showed up at the house to find this cool, laid back guy, Ron Hovey Jones was his name. When we met it was as if we were long lost friends and we made an instant connection! He was working on a book of photography and when he showed me his work I was speechless. This guy was like a modern day Ansel Adams! Unreal photos!

The cottage was old. It turned out that it had been floated across the Bay from Billingsgate Island—there were not many nails holding it together, mostly wooden pegs. There was no sink in the bathroom, the kitchen floor could have been used for a skateboard ramp and the doors were apparently made for a family of little people! It was heated by kerosene—this house was just a super-old Cape Cod creation. But then it dons on me, “Ron, we have a horse!”

“No problem,” He says, “we can build a barn off the garage.”

Talk about meant to be! For $150 a month it was like a dream and I was just a few houses away from the busiest fishing port on Cape Cod Bay, perfect. We headed back to New Jersey for the rest of our stuff and we were back in April, for good.TONY

Not long after our arrival I grabbed Lorrie and we took a ride to check out Nauset Beach. We found a private road called Callahands Pass that lead out onto the sand. I aired down and we proceeded directly into PARADISE. It was the most beautiful beach I had ever seen; bars, bowls, white water and (oh my Lord) at the end was Nauset Inlet. It’s giving me goosebumps just typing this! Guys, girls, for a bass nut like me, I had just seen God’s gift to the striped bass (and me). Of course I had a pole with me, a light rod with a Penn 712 reel, this was the size below the 704, but still green of course! The inside of the inlet was just wild, a big bar dropping off steeply into the channel. So I’m bucktailing the inlet with no action—the sun is setting, it feels like the best dream you’ve ever had. Lorrie suggests that we go get some food. So, you know how sometimes you make that last cast while you’re walking away from the water? Wouldn’t you know, holy shit, the rod just about gets yanked out of my hands! I had a big fish on! Line was screaming off the small reel disappearing at an alarming rate as I followed the fish into the back channel. I finally get her in, and she’s a beautiful 20-pound striper! Forget about food, I know how they want the bucktail now! I fire another cast out there and work it fast and choppy, like a Jig-It Eel—wham! Oh boy! This one is not stopping! It was another foot race into the marsh, after a long battle I had a 35-pounder at my feet. How could I leave beautiful New Jersey? Yeah right. Long story short I had three more fish before we left and all of them were between 20 and 35 pounds—and let me remind you that this was in April! This was the start of my lifelong journey that’s still going on.

The learning process on this beach was definitely a process. The tides here were nothing like the tides in New Jersey. Later that year I found myself with a mung problem. If you don’t know what mung is, you don’t want to! It’s an onslaught of small brown “monkey hair” weed that clings to everything, your line, your guides, your knots, your lures… it’s really frustrating stuff! So I get the bright idea that if I make my way out onto the outer bar I might be able to get past the mung. But, it was still mung city! Use your brain Stetzko! I get the idea to put on an Atom Popper—and I’m not a popper guy. But my thought was to just reel it in really slowly—like a needle—and it should get through the weed, especially with a dropper above it.

The last colors of the sunset were visible in the darkening sky as I began working my popper and right around the time I started talking to myself about how nice the stars looked and what a nice night it was, I got banged. My old Lami bent just about in half! Good fish! Within a few minutes I had a giant bass on the sandbar. I cast again, bang, another good one on the beach. Then I made maybe five or seven more casts before I was on again and this fish was taking line and shaking her head like nothing I’d ever felt before! Now it was really dark, and I had nothing but the faint glow of the northern sky to light my way when it donned on me, “what about the tide!?” I looked down to the inlet and smiled, water was still spilling out. Now back to this creature on the end of my line! I’ve had this fish on for about 15 minutes, my arm was getting tired but I finally had her close and I saw the biggest swirl I had ever seen in my life. I’m could hear my heartbeat now, kind of a cool sound when it’s mixed with sound of the waves starting to build. But the waves usually start to build when the tide is coming IN. The music of the sea is always changing, but again I looked down and the water was still pushing out. The bar I was on ran parallel to the beach and was about 100 yards out. I had this fish coming now and when I had about 20 feet of line left to go I started walking backwards to beach the fish. (Never reel up closer than 20 feet when you’re trying to beach a big fish.) Then I saw it, “Holy moly, double shit!” It was a double header—two giant bass, one 38 pounds and the other 42, my first 40-pounder!

Now I had four big fish and I decided that it was time to go in. Back then I was selling my fish but me being me, I didn’t bring anything out there with me to lug them back with! So I took off my belt and strung three of them up on that and threaded the fourth onto the butt of my rod. I stepped off the bar and the water was like 5-inches from the top of my waders and my belt, I’ll remind you, was being used as a makeshift stringer! Can you hear my heart pounding now?! I was shitting my pants! Every wave that crept over the bar sent a short gush of water into my waders and I had to go 100 yards! All the while I’m wondering how the water has gotten deeper when the inlet still shows a dropping tide?! This was how I learned, the hard way as usual, about the tide lag in the inlet. As I was getting close to the halfway point I remember saying to myself, “Okay, this is the deepest part.” Nope, suddenly I had to swim and I am not a great swimmer! Luckily I was in good shape and somehow I was able to swim in waders with no belt, with a 40-pounder on my rod butt and dragging three others over 30 on my belt! Evidently God really loves me because I made it!

The funny thing is I know I found myself in the same predicament a few more times and every time I did I could hear my dad saying, “Kid, it ain’t worth killing yourself for a fish!” Love ya Pop!

18 comments on “The Last Wave- By Tony Stetzko

  1. Charlie Gregory

    Great story. Really enjoyed the piece tony erode for SCJ a while back. Just wished he had written more. Sad to see him go, but damm he lived life the way many want to. Defiantly a life well lived

  2. Joe

    Great story… Great guy… Tony RIP buddy… Thanks for all your advise and thanks again for the droppers and lures…
    Your pal Joe B

  3. Moises Medina

    Great story about Tony Stetzko. I never had the pleasure of meeting Tony in person but the few conversations we had on FB left me with the impression of what a great person he was. He made me feel welcome and like we had been friends for a long time. Thank you Striperman for your friendship. May there be Bertha’s on every cast and ideal conditions. You will be missed Tony.

  4. Doug

    That he freely shared his knowledge and passion is amazing.
    We are better sportsmen for having walked the sands with you.
    Hi Tides and Tight Lines forever!

  5. Tom K

    Grew up with Tony, school, scouts, little league, etc. in NJ, He was year ahead of me, last saw him surfing in Sea Bright, he was telling me about the waves he had in Barbados. This was in the early 70’s, then he went up to Cape Cod and I didn’t see him again until Surf Day last year, I walked up to him and said who I was and he instantly remembered me, it was like we had just seen each other the day before even though it had been close to 40 years. He could still get so excited about anything to do with Striper fishing. If you can get one of his Nantucket Needlefish, fish the hell out of it, a great, great lure.
    RIP Old Friend

  6. DirtyLunka

    I could read his stories all day! If i could go back in any time of history it would be in the fall on nauset beach in 1981, and I’d follow Mr Stetzko around haha. RIP to one of the greats of all time.

  7. HeinekenPete

    Man, that’s sad to hear. I never met Tony, but I read somewhere about his “Mr. Wiggly” jointed lure. I wrote to him & ended up buying 6 of them. The mojo these put out in the water is amazing! He included a personal note that if I ever needed more or suggestions for where & how to fish them, to feel free to contact him. I was looking forward to the benefit for him in Orleans. Sorry to lose a great guy well before his time…

  8. Danya Mahota, the Crazy Russian

    Miss you pal. I was fortunate enough to get very close with Tony the last few years and got to spend much time with him on the beach. He taught me so much about fishing, but he taught me 100x more about how to be a good person. “Judge a man on how he treats someone that can do nothing for him.” The beach won’t be the same without you Tones. Keep it SW for me

  9. Dennis N.

    Just found out Tony had passed. I was trying to get a hold of him for a trip. He had come down to CT for fishing shows in 2013 and 2014 and a buddy and I went night bass fishing with him in May of 2014.
    A very special person was Tony. My friend and I never seem to forget about that trip. He took us all over the place to all of these spots in the backwaters and other places you would never dream of fishing.
    His endlesss enthusiasm about fishing is what I will most remember and how he taught even as he was fishing the whole time. He also talked a lot about his young son who was always on his mind Rest in Peace Tony. We are going to miss you.

  10. Duane Polcou

    I was married to Tony’s cousin Beverly, for 12 years (1990 – 2002). As a black and white photographer, she would always says “We should go up to Cape Cod and visit my cousin Tony, you would like him” Well, I never made the trip, which was crazy because I went to college at Brown in Providence, RI, and had a wonderful familiarity with New England, Upon his passing, I then learned of his status in the fishing community and his wonderful paintings. A true regret that I never made Tony’s acquaintance.


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