No fly-fishing today. Well, actually, there was, but all the catching was with spinning rods.
It was, after all, the Atlantic coast, with a gusty wind and angry surf. And as surely as I believe a tenkara rod is the best tool for fishing a trout stream, I believe a spinning rod is the best tool for fishing an ocean beach.
I’m recovering from a mild foot injury, and it doesn’t look like I’ll do much stumbling around in trout streams for the remainder of this season. But a walk on the beach didn’t seem likely to cause me further damage. Especially on the hard sand by the water. And especially since my friend, the outdoor writer Joe Albanese, has a permit to drive his cool fishing truck on the beaches of Long Island.
I was afraid the wind would make casting a nightmare, but it was coming from our left shoulders and didn’t interfere that much. We managed to cover the foaming wash dumped by the breaking waves, where Joe had found fish four mornings earlier. But if our flies were seen by any stripers, they were ignored.
“I’ve got a couple of spinning rods in the truck,” Joe said. (Said truck was parked right behind us on the beach.)
From 2003 to 2007, I did nothing but fly-fish salt water on Long Island’s north and south shores. It was a magnificent game to learn, and I did ok – caught some really cool fish and had some remarkable experiences, many of them after midnight. But there were so many times – so many times – when surf-casters alongside me outfished me badly with beach-appropriate spinning rods and a bag of bucktail jigs, plugs, darters, diamond jigs and poppers. They could reach fish farther away, they could cover more water, and their lures were big and heavy and loud enough to immediately attract ocean fish.
There’s no glory in fighting a 30 mph gale with a fly rod to eek out a 40-foot cast through fishless foamy water. Not when you could be heaving a half-ounce bucktail 100 feet and dropping it onto the crest of a six-foot-tall wave, one potentially holding schoolie stripers chasing their breakfast.
We each caught seven or eight. Many of Joe’s came on the beach side of the breaking waves, while most of mine were in the deeper water just behind the breakers. I noticed that if there was going to be a strike, it usually happened pretty quickly. I’d feel a couple of taps, and then, wham, head-shakes and weight. I had forgotten how stubbornly a striped bass can fight.
My right arm was actually sore when we knocked off at 9:30 and re-inflated Joe’s tires at the compressor installed there years ago by the Long Island Beach Buggy Association. (You let half the air out of your tires for better traction on the sand.)
None of our fish were keepers (28” or better), but several were close. Hardcore striper fishers might have been disappointed, but we had a great time. I’m still hoping I can get in some trout fishing before the snow flies, but I’m glad to have been reminded how much fun you can have at the beach. My thanks to Joe for the first and fifth photos, and for chauffeuring me through the dunes of Democrat Point.
Check out my new book, Tenkara Today, about the rise of Japanese fixed-line fly-fishing in America. It explains how tenkara tackle works, and tells the story of a movement that has left its mark on outdoor recreation in the United States and across the western world. It’s available online, but you might want to check if your local bookseller or fly shop has it first.