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Night fishing rewarding, nerve-wracking

May 11, 2009 at 08:52 PM

GateHouse News Service

Someone or something was watching me, and it was not a very reassuring sensation.

I kept glancing over my shoulder, but couldn’t see much in the mist-shrouded gloom. I could have been home in a warm bed, but greed and ambition once again overruled common sense. So I was standing on a slippery rock with the ocean licking at my boots lobbing heavy swimming plugs out into the abyss.

Fishing a roaring surf during the daytime is one thing, but fishing those frothy cauldrons at night is quite another.

The roar of the ocean drowns out one of our most important senses, and when we can’t hear, we are forced to depend on our very limited night vision.

The fish were here the night before, but the circumstances had changed. Overnight, the weather took a turn for the worse, and my fishing partner bailed out due to what he described as a “pressing family obligation,” one that he could not escape unless he was ready to negotiate a messy divorce.

After darkness closed in without so much as a sniff I was beginning to speculate if he’d known something about this night he didn’t share with me.

It was cold, damp and dangerous, and for all my effort and daring I caught just one small fish that night, barely enough to justify my suffering, but I was certain I was being watched by a person or an animal and I don’t mean a domestic house cat.

Fishermen hunt stripers after sunset for numerous reasons, with the most obvious being they are obliged to work during the daylight hours. Fact is that the most productive time to pursue stripers is under low-light conditions, and fishing after dark is by far one of the most productive windows.

Anyone fishing alone on the ragged edge where the ocean encroaches on the land once the lights go out should be prepared to deal with their limited perception and heightened imagination. That night was no exception.

This solitary outing took place less than two weeks after I had a fish stolen (not lost) on the rocky shoreline of Warren’s Point, R.I. That night was another one of those eerie encounters with someone or something both mysterious and frightening that managed to unnerve me.

On that windy night, I caught two fish in the 12- to 15-pound class and dragged them up onto the rocks well out of the reach of the ocean swells. After I caught a third fish and decided to call it quits, I collected the second bass, which I found to be much higher on the shore than I had placed it, then went around the corner to gather the first striper I’d landed.

The fish was nowhere to be found, and after searching through hell and high water I began to question my sanity. No rodent, bird, raccoon or dog stole that bass, and because of where I dragged and stashed it I’d bet my life that the fish had not washed out to sea. That was when my mind began to ramble and my imagination shifted into high gear.

Some of you may recall my account of the night I was fishing alone and saw what I believed to be a species of the great cats following me. I was in elevated panic mode that night and still can’t recall how I negotiated the slippery banking and managed to open the car door before I was pounced on, or so I anticipated.

Later that night after a tense drive to the city, I had more than sufficient time to relive that traumatizing encounter while seated on a wobbly stool at an all-night diner nervously swallowing a greasy hamburger then washing it down with high-octane coffee.

Several years ago, my bride convinced me that I was going to bed much too late for someone who wore themselves out fishing during the day, so one rainy night I humored her and went to bed early. Much too early. I slept for a few hours then woke up with a start. After reading for a while with no inclination to return to bed, I dressed and unracked my surf rod. If I wasn’t able to sleep, I’d at least get to make a few casts.

Because it was a foggy night I left the boat on the trailer and drove to South Shore beach in Little Compton, Mass., and arrived to an empty parking lot. Even the people who usually frequent this place after dark to gaze at the ocean or cook out were sensible enough to be home in bed.

I drove to the source of the first stream, put on my hip boots and walked halfway to the second stream where I began random casting. After 20 minutes of exercising my shoulder, I was once again overwhelmed with the sensation of being watched, but this time there was no mystery.

Just at the periphery of my limited vision I saw a man staring in my direction. With my hand gaff in one hand and my rod and Danny plug brandishing three viciously sharp treble hooks in the other I began walking toward him. “What the hell are you doing,” I shouted to which he replied “just watching.”

I asked him, not too politely, where the hell he came from and he responded that he had been there all the time. As I cautiously approached him the easterly breeze carried the overwhelming odor of alcohol. As best as I could determine he had parked his car and walked down the beach. He was wet and covered with sand and was probably sleeping one off when I approached his improvised bed. I walked backward for 20 yards before I turned my back on him and hot footed it back to my vehicle.

One last episode.

On a dark rainy night last week I was casting artificials at the bottom of our stairs leading to the shallows of the Coles River. I had just released a 15-inch fish when I saw something racing around the bend in the shore. The creature was almost upon me before it realized I was there. The animal skidded to a halt before it turned and ran up the banking then rushed through the open gate. I realized it was a coyote scavenging along the river and we had spooked each other.

I’ve learned that fishing in the dark will always have its challenges and perhaps unpleasant surprises, but I’ll take them along with my freedom to choose.

Why do fishermen head off into the darkness in the pursuit of fish? That question was answered in part earlier in this discussion, but there are other reasons we fish after the sun goes down.

For me, it’s about freedom to fish in uncrowded places and conditions and feeling more alive while enjoying my sport along the edge. Night fishing is not for everyone, particularly if they fish alone, but when you take proper precautions it allows more time on or near the water and a chance to forget about everyday responsibilities, even if just for a few hours at a time. In order to spend more time fishing, it might be your only alternative. 

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