I was working in Philly for the weekend, and didn’t get on the road until 8:30.
Mapquest told me it was six hours to the Cape. Six. 2:30 arrival. Damn. Yeah, OK, I could do it. I think. And I’ve slept in rest stops before.
I headed off, and in about twenty minutes I knew the six hours was going to be longer. Mapquest wasn’t thinking about those miles traveling through Philly and New York City, busy crowded miles even at that hour.
No matter how many rest areas I’ve slept in, none of those I’d just passed looked welcoming, so about 4 I pulled into a cluster of small cottages. Kept awake with a belly full of bad gas station coffee and driving the last two hours with the windows down and music blasting, I stood there trying to figure out which of the tightly packed cottages was ours. And then, over the quietly pinging engine, I heard a rumble of thunder. Of sorts. I headed towards it. In the moonlight was a small deck, covered in waders and fly rods. Must be the place.
The door was ajar, and the rumbling got louder as I stepped on the deck. Having shared a trailer with these guys a few times, I knew they could create a racket, but damn, this was thunderdome. I slipped inside, and realized that what looked like a small cottage from outside was actually tiny. No room in the inn. But there was a refrigerator, so I grabbed a couple beers, the door jangling like a fridge full of nothing but beer will do. It woke the Professor. “Hey”, he said, “Tide’s early, you up for it?” I said, “I don’t know, I’m going back out to the truck, knock on the window.” He rolled over on his cot that was set right in front of the fridge, saying, “No shit, it’s a little crowded in here.”
I enjoyed the first beer sitting on the deck in the moonlight. I drained the second, by then my eyes barely open. I crawled into the truck and was asleep in seconds, only to be awakened by the merciless Professor in what seemed like 10 minutes. Eyes aching I crawled out and wadered up, ready to give it a go, and thinking I may be getting too old for this.
“Bugs”, I said. Our ritual, The Professor and me.
He’s been fishing the Cape for years, learning it over years of family vacations, fishing time squeezed in while his wife and daughters slept or were otherwise occupied. I know next to nothing about it. I fish the bugs he gives me where he thinks the tides will lead us to fish. We fish, drink beer, eat, and seem to sleep only when absolutely necessary. A shame really, as I excel at sleeping.
But back to the bugs. I held out my hand, the one not holding the coffee he’d shoved in the other. He dropped in the sand eel patterns, one olive, one chartreuse, and then surprisingly, I felt a third drop into my palm. I looked down, and smirked. “Tie this from your daughter’s tutu?” “Fuck you”, he answered, “it’s been killin’ ‘em.”
I looked at the bright pink monstrosity, thought about color and light (which I actually think about most all the time), places we fish, and thought it had possibilities. But not this early. Or was it late? It was dark- who knew.
We slogged off down the road, the bunch of them having decided to try a local inlet the night before. We fanned out along the beach and began the ritual of double-hauling, tucking the rod and two hand stripping back. Not my favorite way to fish, but the rhythm can become meditative, allowing your mind to wander a bit, enjoy the sun coming up, the fog. But fingers always alert to any pluck. We kept at it for a few hours, knowing we were little early, waiting and hoping the tide would bring us some fish.
OK, I admit it. It may have been too meditative for me. After a couple hours working my way along the beach, I wandered back to the sand, laid down with my head on my stripping basket, and slept.
Awhile later I woke to someone saying, “Let’s get breakfast.” That had to include coffee, so I was game. Over breakfast, between giving each other shit, a plan of sorts was hatched. A few spots to try before an early-ish dinner, then to my favorite flat for the dropping tide.
The afternoon was not atypical. Blind casting, two-handed stripping, the bunch of us fanning out along favored stretches of beach, watching for birds, looking for currents. The occasional fish, but slow overall. We hit our favorite place for the early dinner, but rather than lingering after, we were all anxious to get down the flat. As we pulled into the parking lot the sun still fairly high to the west, we could see the tide was just beginning to drop. We wadered up quick and headed down along the creek to the beach.
I love fishing the creek/inlet on this flat.
The current channels further and further out along the spit as the tide drops, and you can swing it like steelhead water. As the rest of them headed for the mouth, I stopped and waited a few minutes to let a little room open between us. Starting short, I began swinging and stepping the run. Three or four casts in, an 18 or 20 inch schoolie pounded the fly. A few casts later, another. I knew there was a better chance of a bigger fish further towards the mouth, but I had a bit of water to myself and prefer the swinging to the metronomic two handed strip.
I was 1/4 mile out, ten or twelve fish into a good evening of fishing, when I caught up with the dropping tide. As water poured over the backside of the spit on my left, I could wade along in calf deep water, swinging the deeper run to my right. But a flash of movement to my left caught my eye. It was high on the spit in thin water, and I made a quick cast without giving it much thought. I lead the flash, and was surprised when three stripers raced each other to the fly, their backs cutting the water. I stripped hard and the fish ripped across the sand and into the channel. An only slightly larger schoolie, but enough to make me stop and watch the shallows over the sand.
And they were everywhere, lit up by the lowering sun. Twos and threes, sometimes more. I was on my fourth or fifth fish in ten or twelve casts when my tippet broke. Abraded by a couple dozen fish over the day, neglected by a too tired fisherman. I reached into my wader pocket, and the tutu fly was in my hand. I looked down the spit- the Professor, my fly crack dealer, was still a half mile away with his olive flies. There were stripers torpedoing all over between us, like I’d never seen. And in the bright evening sun, I thought the pink and white combination might be right. I tied on the fly and started looking for a target.
And I was the crack dealer.
I had thought the fishing was fast before, but this was crazy. Fish tearing up the water racing each other to the fly. Four, five or six in a row – the only casts that went fish-less seemed to be when the fish changed directions while I was delivering a cast. I swore to myself, re-tie every fourth fish. And I think I did. I meant to. But damn it was crazy. Spot, lead, cast, strip, strip, set! It was rare for the fly to travel more than two or three strips before I was into a fish. And somewhere after a couple dozen fish I broke off the pink Wonderbug.
Dammit. Shit. I wanted nothing to do with that chartreuse. I needed pink! I raced down the beach as fast as my ruined knees would allow. “Professor- I need another pink eel.” He turned, maybe a bit smug- yeah, OK really smug- and said, “I only have one left.”
I said, “Don’t make me hurt you.” He snorted at the empty threat, then opened his box to reveal two bright pink bugs. “One?” I said. Ummm, one spare.
I trundled back down the spit, out of the last of the dropping water, and got the sun behind my back again. There were another dozen before the flat went dry, and then more from the channel and the mouth. We had a blitz of schoolies, with all of us hooked up at once. Crazy fishing. And I dutifully retied my tippet after every few fish, protecting that last gem of a fly.
It’s been a few years, but I’ll never hear the end of it. Threats made over a fly, me not believing in the pink.