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Strange Allure of Surf Fishing

Strange Allure of Surf Fishing
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He grins, measuring his words. “That’s hard to say. I let the biggest ones go. The zebras are the biggest breeders. We need them. I only keep fish over 20 pounds and under 50 … but I’ve caught much bigger in here.”

We see people using live eels, with green phosphorescent glowsticks tied to the end of their rods. From the comfort of their tents, they’ll watch for the glowsticks to rumba in the night sky. A hundred yards offshore, fishermen in Zodiacs prowl the water, scanning the sea with flashlights, stalking their prey like commandos on a mission.

After a long trek on deep, slanted gravel, we wade into a tide pool. Bob sets me up with a dark-green lure: “Dark night, dark lure; bright night, bright lure.”

Bob casts effortlessly, with an efficient whip of the wrist. Within 10 minutes he hooks a nice adolescent striper, around 26 inches. (The average 8-year-old striper is about 32 inches.) “They’re out there,” he says, unhooking the fish and watching it swim away in a highly piqued froth. “Your turn.”

My exuberant cast goes 10 feet. The lure snaps off and sails at least 100 feet. In the excitement of Bob’s catch, I’ve twisted my line at the rod tip. Bob stoically takes my line and ties on another leader and lure. We fish for an hour with no mishaps and no talking. Just the gently breaking waves, the clopping of rocks in the receding wash, and occasional distant geese. A mist rolls in.

“Let’s work some other bowls,” Bob says. We walk, passing other fishermen, wraithlike in the distant heavy air. Bob stops to talk to an elderly man. He hasn’t had a hit all night.

“They call it fishing,” he says. “They don’t call it catching.”

We fish. It’s a long night of casting and retrieving. But no catching. Three hours later my back is screaming to surrender, and Bob suggests we call it a night. I don’t argue with either of them.

My first visit to Chappaquiddick — the island on the island, serviced by America’s shortest ferry ride. My guide, Paul Schultz, is the leader of the Surf Fishing Safari offered by The Trustees of Reservations (one of the nation’s oldest conservation groups, caretakers of some of the most pristine tracts in Massachusetts). Paul’s truck is equipped to take up to eight people, but I have Paul to myself. My optimism soars.

Paul has lived in Edgartown since 1962, in his grandmother’s house, where his mother was born. He’s kept a journal—weight, location, tide, time,bait — of every fish he’s caught since coming home from Vietnam. I ask Paul his total number of entries. “About 6,500, give or take a few. About 4,500 blues, 1,300 stripers, and the rest bonito, false albacore, Spanish mackerel, and weakfish.”

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