The Midnight Rambler ” Das Boot”

The Midnight Rambler

John Papciak

Das Boot (The Boat)

In a prior blog I remembered 1975, the year I realized that surfcasting was far more appealing to me than boat fishing.

But I conveniently left out the ironic fact that I spent the best part of the next 30+ years as a surfcaster, trying to find more creative ways to get myself and my lures further and further out there.

I just never felt that casting from the dry sand was good enough. To this day, I live in fear that the better fish are just beyond my reach.

Thank god for Jetties-

The coast of New Jersey is littered with jetties, like no other place I’ve ever seen on the east coast. Some jetties were and still are clearly more fishy than others, but most importantly, some remain less accessible than others. Case in point, at times, Spring Lake and Belmar had some jetties with sections submerged at high water, and inaccessible – unless you were willing to swim a little.

And this always was fine by me. With a wetsuit bottom, I could get past the low spots and then climb up on the rocks to finally get my lure out further than the rest (And lose most of the crowd in the process).

I got pretty bold in doing this over the years, but there were many close calls. I finally bought it early one morning throwing AVAs to blitzing albies on a Cape May jetty, during some rapidly building seas. Waves were washing clear over the jetty, but I somehow thought I would stay put. I always had. Then a wave twice as large as the previous sets came in (they always do) and over the rocks I went. Bye-Bye.

I’ll save you the scary details, but I was very lucky to be able to climb back up and get off the jetty with some painful bumps and bruises. But when I stepped onto the sand I realized something was terribly wrong. A trip to the ER confirmed my Achilles tendon had ripped clean from the bone.

It was kind of weird trying to explain to friends and family how something as “easy and relaxing” as “fishing” could result in the same injury that ended Dan Marino’s 1993 NFL season, roughly a week earlier. How about I got washed off a jetty? And how about Marino tore his in the pocket at Cleveland, without being touched?

Both Achilles injuries ended our seasons. But Marino wasn’t done with football, and I wasn’t done with jetties.

The following year I was fishing more on Long Island, and I was immediately drawn to some of the larger, well-known jetties favored by surfcasters. The Jones Beach West End II jetty became a new favorite, not only because of the fishing possibilities, but because of the challenges in getting out there. (What is it they say about what you can’t have?) For a while, the gaps and broken up sections kept all but the most adventurous away. At high water, and on rough days, a wetsuit was almost a prerequisite – getting washed off was a real possibility. In fact, a number of fishermen did get washed off during this era, with at least one fatality that I can recall.

WE II has since been rebuilt, but subsequent visits in later years had me heart-broken: Now it was high and dry, any ding-bat could fish it, and so came the boom boxes, lanterns, flats of bait, and six packs of beer.

Of course there’s Wetsuiting-

Plenty of ink on wetsuiting in SJ here, and other publications. What I should point out is that there is fishing in a wetsuit, and then there is wetsuiting. No knocks on either approach, but I’d be dishonest not to point out that some of this wetsuiting really stretches the definition of surfcasting, especially if you have to swim to a location, or you find yourself doing more floating than standing. I fondly recall the hilarious debates, the letters to fishing magazines, and blogs over the year… grown men debating the legitimacy of wetsuiting – with the same purity and conviction – as if they were debating “the role of supply-side economics in creating wealth in a post-industrial economy.” Yeah, real important stuff, wetsuiting that is.

Oh yes, let’s not forget, wetsuiters did (and still do) push the envelope. When a dragger picks a guy up in the middle of the night, several miles off the beach, there may be a lesson buried in there somewhere.

And then came the kayak-

Somewhere along the way I managed to convince myself that fishing from a kayak was not quite as sacrilegious as fishing from a boat proper. A kayak was easy to use, I could launch it anywhere, and I could most certainly fish shallow water or rocks, and thus go places where a boater would dare not risk his hull.

This was cool, I caught a lot of fish. But after so many years paddling against strong winds and currents, plus a few capsize incidents in rough water, at night, way off the beach, I came to the stunning revelation that I would be safer and I could fish more comfortably in a boat. (Really, ya think?)

Then the Stand Up Paddleboard-

I actually had a lot of experience with stand up paddleboards, a history of hate. These SUPs were the jerks who could paddle out just a little further, and they could get on the waves before the longboard surfers had a chance. So now the SUPs were screwing the longboarders, the same way the longerboarders had been stealing waves from the shortboarders for years.

But I eventually came around, I got a SUP. Surfing was ok, but I had more fun just paddling around the bays and beaches…eventually fishing off of them.

It was much different from Kayak fishing. You were higher up, and with polarized glasses I could actually see fish that I easily missed on my kayak. Real sight-casting! Yes, balance was a bit of a challenge, but luckily my SUP was big enough, and my balance just good enough, to actually fish. The downside, if there was one, was that there was a strict limit to what I could bring – just a couple of bucktails or shads in my pocket – no tackle boxes, no anchors, no goofy electronics or any other clutter. No more – I already see guys designing bigger SUPs, and adding back all the same clutter. Good luck with that.

DCIM100SPORTWell then, finally, Das Boot-

I might be the only guy on Long Island who had no desired for a boat, but ended up with one at the insistence of his wife.

I actually had very little to do with the transaction.  My mom had owned an 18 foot boat in South Jersey. She bought it new, but it was getting very little use. She went behind my back and hatched a plan with my wife – they would have it trailored out to Montauk.

My part? A single phone call to the Gone Fishing Marina and the deal was done.

I now had a “turn key” situation, and access to fishing beyond anything I had experienced in my life.

And the marina now had my credit card.

Don’t get me wrong, the marina treated me very well, they were diligent, and very honest, but I finally understood that old saying – “A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.”

I also came to realize that my style of fishing (all day, rain or shine) was not for everybody. My wife might have had visions of lazy summer days and flat water, yet I wanted to explore the rips. I even got a few comments from buddies like “I think I will need a new set of kidneys after that pounding we took on the way in.”

Racing back in before it got too dark…debates about getting a radar or other expensive electronics to run at night or in fog (fog is a given in Montauk)…constantly watching the wind, or that scary dark patch of clouds to the west…seeing too many prime fall weekends blown out… arguing with the wife over the bills, especially when we only got out a few times the previous month…and then all the plans and preparation…then coming down to use the boat to discover a blown “rear-alternating-lower-what-ju-ma-call-it”… that will now cost me $2250, plus labor.


All this, and I usually ended up taking the boat into the same shallow areas, and well within casting distance of the surfcasters.

2 comments on “The Midnight Rambler ” Das Boot”

  1. Jim M.

    WE II has reverted courtesy of Sandy, and I’m still wondering if I’ll snag the tower… Yet. Nothing more humbling than the power of Nature unleashed in the surf, and yet I’m still wondering when I can get out when the scrapes from barnacles heal, etc. Great read! Love the title – “Alarrrmmmm!!” replaced with “Albie!!!”


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