Why Skishing??

So here’s the question, “Why would YOU choose skishing over surfcasting from shore in waders?”

The answer for me is multi-faceted.

Some skishers will say, “I skish to get away from the billion morons on shore.”  I must say I strongly disagree with that mentality, and it saddens me that this philosophy is one that is being thrust to the forefront as a primary reason for skishing.  True, skishing does put some distance between you and the more conventional surfcaster, but to use that as your primary reason for skishing is a small minded and haughty position to take, in my opinion.

Whatever happened to the attitude of helpfulness and mentorship?  Why allow yourself to become so jaded toward those who prefer to keep their feet on the rocks or sand that you look down on them as somehow inferior to you?  For me at least, that is NOT what skishing is about!!

For me, skishing is about many things that have absolutely nothing to do with feeling like I have to get away from other surfcasters in order feel better about myself.  It’s about pitting myself and my abilities against the power of the sea.  It’s about the serenity of floating along, weightless in the darkness, and feeling current and the waves roll under me, knowing that at any time a battle could begin.  It’s about the thrill of fighting a fish in its own environment, and winning.  It’s about putting myself in a position to work productive sections of shoreline and submerged reefs from a different angle, or which would be inaccessible to me in waders or by boat.  It’s about reaching the blitz that is beyond casting range from shore.  It’s about being able to release caught fish in the best possible condition with a minimal amount of handling.  This is what skishing is all about to me.

Skishing is not always the most productive approach to surfcasting in some areas or in some conditions, and I have nothing against donning the waders and dry top instead of the wetsuit in some situations.  The choice has nothing to do with how I feel about other surfcasters in the area, nor is it an elitist or hostile attitude that drives me to don the wetsuit and go for a swim.  Some of my closest surfcasting friends are not skishers, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My goal, and the whole point of www.skishingnewengland.com , is to provide a balanced and realistic view of skishing in New England waters, and to help (to the best of my ability) those who decide to get into skishing to do so as safely and as well prepared as possible.

Skishing the Montauk Blitz (Bonus video)

If you are a New England skisher and would like to contribute content toward this goal, or are interested in skishing for the first time and looking for advice or assistance, please contact me at:

jake@skishingnewengland.com

http://www.skishingnewengland.com

Twas a Dark and Stormy night…

It was close to 10:00pm that Friday night in June, when I finally got the kids in bed and kissed my wife goodnight.  Retreating to the garage, I paused to listen to a low rumble of thunder in the distance, then started tossing the essentials in the back of the truck…

  • Belt – with plug bag (filled mostly with jigs & storm shads for this outing), pliers, boga, and folding knife – mine is the best hunting knife – 🙂
  • Fins
  • Ankle weights
  • Large dive knife
  • Compass
  • Emergency beacon
  • Waterproof headlamp
  • Wetsuit, boots, and gloves.
  • Water bottle
  • My favorite fishing rod

By 10:20pm I pulled out of the driveway, bound for the rocky beach we call Cowtown.  About 2 miles from the coastline, I slowed the truck as I approached a thick white blanket of fog that seemed to hang down from the starless sky across my path.  The last 2 miles crept by, as seeing more than 15 – 20 feet beyond the bumper was an exercise in futility.  Finally I reached the parking lot and killed the engine.

I rolled down the windows and sat there for a while, sipping my coffee and listening to the crashing surf just beyond the sand dune in front of me.  It had been a long week at work, and an especially tiring day that day.  The coffee really hit the spot.  A few random drops of rain splashed on my windshield, and again I heard a low rumble far away to the north.  I finished my coffee, and started gearing up.  Deep down I had a hunch that the fish were going to be hungry tonight.

I locked up the truck and headed over the dune.  The crashing of the surf was about 150 feet in front of me, but invisible due to the thick fog and pitch black of the night.   I turned and walked along the beach for a while until I saw the distinct red rock that marks my entry point, and then knelt down at the edge of the wash to strap on my fins.  Clipping the leash from the rod onto my belt, and pulling my headlamp down around my neck so that it wouldn’t get washed off by the crashing surf, I waded backwards into the 3 foot waves.  The period between the waves was nice and long, and once I started swimming I only took two over my head before I got out beyond the break line.  I like this entry point, as it is somewhat protected by large rock outcroppings on both sides.  As I slowly finned beyond the furthest reaches of these rocks I paused to take a few casts into the whitewater.  With no takers after 20 minutes or so, I headed for deeper water, picking up the tidal current that runs parallel to the shoreline.  A swift kick lifted me up and I fired the 13” black rubber eel imitation back toward the breaking surf.  After sinking about 20 feet, the 1oz. jig head struck rock and I started hopping it along the bottom as I drifted.

When the night is completely dark, and the fog is thick, and there are no shoreline lights visible, it can be very difficult to judge just how fast you are drifting and how far you are from the shoreline.  The only thing you have to go by is the direction of the sound of the crashing surf and how fast your jig bounces along the bottom.  It’s easy to just sit back, relax, and lose track of exactly where you are.  On nights like this, a good compass is your best friend.  Don’t leave home without it.

I was 10 or 15 casts into the drift when I felt a sudden surge, and the rod doubled over.  The jig had been almost directly beneath me when it was taken, and this fish was trucking.  The biggest problem was that the fish had been heading straight toward me when it picked up the jig, and within seconds it was behind me.  With the rod bent in a tight arc, the line was now going from the rod tip, down between my legs, to the fish which was headed away from my back, steadily pulling drag.  The last thing I needed here was to get my legs tangled in the line.  A quick half roll, half somersault move got me straightened out and the fish was now in front of me, still running.  As soon as I regained my balance, I sat back, fins in front of me and gently palmed the spool.  The bass turned and started a circle around me, growing closer with each lift of the rod and crank of the handle.  As it drew closer, I flipped on my light.

It is a very eerie sight to see nothing in front of you but a white wall of fog and suddenly, with that one last lift of the rod, the gaping mouth of a bass glides toward you out of the darkness less than ten feet from your nose.  That’s one sight that takes some getting used to.  Their mouth always looks bigger than it really probably is when you’re at eye level with it and it’s heading straight for you.  I could see that the jig was hooked nicely in the upper lip.  I slid my hand down the leader right to the jig head, pushing it back toward the fish, and the barbless hook pushed out easily.  We sat there in the water about 3 feet between us, just looking at each other for what must have been a full 5-7 seconds before she realized that she was no longer hooked.  She did a quick 180, giving me a goodbye shower and nearly slapping me in the side of the head with her tail as she sped away.  I don’t know how big that fish was, as I never touched it, all I know is that she was strong and put up a worthy fight.

I shut off my light and sat there in the dark for a few minutes, listening in the dark for the sound of the surf to regain my bearings.  I was completely disoriented at this point and searching for something to lock onto.  There was a flash on the horizon and a boom of thunder much closer than I’d heard earlier.  As soon as it was quiet again, I strained my ears for the sound of the surf, picked up on it, and started finning in that direction.  Time to head in before the storm was upon me.

The wind and the swells started to pick up.  What had been slow 2 – 3 foot rollers, gently lifting me up and down, quickly became 4 – 5 feet high and the frequency quickened.  The rain started to fall, lightly at first, but quickly becoming a torrential downpour.  Like I cared,,,, I was already wet.  The waves were starting to get fun and I body surfed down the face of one on my back as I neared the sound of the crashing surf, hooting and laughing as I slid down into the trough.  The next wave lifted me up much higher than I’d been before and looming up in the darkness below and in front of me as I sat on the crest of that wave, I could make out something large and black.  It looked very hard, and felt very hard when I landed on it.  But to my dismay, this large rock I had honed in on was not part of the shoreline, nor even close to it.  This thought flashed through my mind, just before another wave smashed me in the back and pushed me farther up the face of the rock.  I grabbed on to a crevice to keep from being sucked back down and pulled myself up higher.  As soon as I was safe above the breakers, I sat down to catch my breath and figure out where I was.

I took a compass reading (which I should have done before, instead of honing in on the sound of the waves crashing into this stupid rock).  Given how long I’d been in the water and the direction of the drift, this rock could be none other than one we’ve nicknamed “Mt. Everest”.  I had drifted farther from shore than I thought, but no worries, the compass won’t lie to me about which direction I should go from here.

I took a few casts while perched on that rock.  I’d always wanted to swim out to it, but not under these conditions.  I’d already been in the water for nearly 4 hours and there was a storm brewing.  I couldn’t help myself though,,, I had to at least make a few casts.  So I did, half hoping that I wouldn’t get a hit.  I was done, and it would be a long walk back to the truck once I got back on dry ground.  Besides, there was lightning approaching and the top of a large rock surrounded by the ocean is not the safest place to be when there’s lightning around.  I took one more look at my compass, leapt from the rock, and started the long swim back to shore.

The wind and seas continued rise, pushing the swells to crest while still far from shore.  The good thing about the wind was that it pushed the fog off and visibility increased.  I paused and looked around for a moment, then took another compass reading to make sure I was still on the right track, and started off again.  It’s really quite a comfortable way to swim, lying on your back, finning with long slow kicks.  You can’t see where you’re going this way, but you can see where you’ve been and more importantly as you approach the shoreline in the surf zone, you can see the approaching waves and prepare for them.  In spite of this, I got tossed pretty well a few times before I finally made landfall. I kicked off my fins and scrambled up the rocks out of the surf zone, then collapsed on my back for about 10 minutes.  What a ride!!!

The long walk back to the truck is never the fun part of this.  I poured over the events of the last few hours in my mind again and again as I walked.  That was some fish.  What did it weigh?  How long was it?  Would anyone believe me if I told this story?  Who cares if they do.  I don’t fish for them, I fish for me and the thrill I get from it.  How often does a guy get to come nose to nose with a bass in the ocean, say hi and goodbye, then watch her swim away without touching her.  I love this thing I do, and can’t get enough of it…

 

Until next time…

Skishing – The Cow of 2009

Here is the story…

Monday night September 21st, 2009, began like so many others before it.  After the kids were tucked in and sleeping peacefully, I said goodnight to my wife and tossed my skishing gear in the truck.  It was going to be a good night, I could feel it.  The place I was going in Rhode Island had yielded the nice 46” fish pictured below just two nights before, and was loaded with sand eels and lobster.

I pulled into the lot around 10:40pm, killed the engine, and started gearing up.  After donning my wetsuit, I lay down in the bed of my truck and watched the brilliant stars in the moonless sky as I waited for the arrival of a guy I had arranged to meet there that night at 11.  The tide had just turned, with a light onshore wind, and we would be fishing the outgoing that night.  “ChefChris”  pulled up right on time and by 11:15 we were heading away from the trucks toward the beach.  He would be rockhopping a section of shoreline that has usually been good to me on an outgoing tide, while I was determined to skish around a point to the left of him.As we approached the location, I pointed out some rocks where he might start out, and described the submerged structure

As we approached the location, I pointed out some rocks where he might start out, and described the submerged structure than lay beyond.  As he started off in that direction, I called after him, “If I don’t come back in by dawn, call the Coast Guard!” I donned my fins, then reached into the bag on my belt, pulled out a nice large dead eel and hooked it onto a 1.1oz tin eel squid (wobble head).

Making sure my rod leash was securely fastened to my belt, I walked backwards into the surf.  I could see Chris’s light in the distance as he picked his way through the slippery rocks toward his spot, and felt a little sorry for him as I swam through a large matt of floating eel grass.  The onshore wind, though light, was pushing a lot of weed against the shore, which would make plugging difficult.  I continued finning out toward the point of a large rock outcropping, picking the grass from all my gear where it collected as I swam.

Finally I got to the edge of the weeds and into cleaner water, just as I got to the outside of the point I was planning to target.  15 yards further out and the water lit up brightly with phosphorescence with even the slightest movement.  “This can’t be good”, I thought, as there seemed to be only a 15 yard strip of dark water between the edge of the weeds and the ‘fire’.  I floated there for a while, trying to decide if I should just head in, get Chris and move to a different location.  Screw it,,, I should at least make a few casts first before heading in.  I slowly moved back toward the weed edge to get out of the ‘fire’ and then fired my eel parallel to it toward the rocky point.

I let the eel sink until it touched down on the sandy bottom in front of the rocks, then very slowly worked it back to me, the tin squid sliding along the sand.  Nothing.  One more cast, a bit to the right, retrieved the same way also produced nothing.  By now the tidal current was starting to move me back into the weeds, so I slowly and quietly finned my way back into the fishable zone.  After repeating this a dozen or so times, fanning my cast a little to the right each time, I decided to give that area a rest for a while, spun a quick 180 and casted in the opposite direction along the weed edge.  The bottom is a little rockier in that direction, so I kept the eel squid off the bottom and let the action of the wobble head work against the current as I gently lifted it up and down through the water column.  5 casts and no takers there either.

I just had to give the rock point one more try before I moved on, and swam against the slow moving current back toward it, getting a bit closer than I was before.  This allowed me to cast beyond the point and work the eel past it.  I also varied the retrieve on this cast keeping the eel off the bottom and letting the wobble head give the dead eel a bit more action.  Then I got hung up solid.  Crap.  I didn’t think that cast wasn’t close enough to the rocks to get hung up in them.  Wobble heads are hard to hang up anyway.  I gave the rod a quick tug to free it from whatever it had caught on, and that’s when the fun started.

The ‘Rock’ apparently decided that she was not fond of being tugged on and shook her head as if to say, “No, I don’t like this”  I had my drag fairly light (about 4lbs) as I usually do when skishing, and I couldn’t budge her at all without the drag slipping.  She still hadn’t moved at all from the spot where she first tasted my eel.  I knew that my light drag setting was going to be a problem on this one, so I turned the knob 1 full turn, which brings my drag setting to about 6 or 7 lbs.  That’s as much drag as I’ve dared to use while swimming, even though I know that my 30lb test Fireline can handle much more.

I sat back for some leverage and pulled again. This time the fish really didn’t care for it at all and decided she wanted to head for some deeper water.  As the smooth drag of the ZeeBaaS whined and the line peeled off the spool, I could feel every stroke of her tail.  At this point I was fairly certain by the feel that it was a bass. But I’ve never caught a large shark before either, so that thought definitely did cross my mind.  The power behind each long slow sweep of that tail felt incredible.  Still the line poured off the reel.  This could be a problem soon, I thought, as I saw the rocky point get further from me.  Then she stopped and just sat there.  Each lift of the rod pulled me closer to her and I gained back maybe half the line she had taken before she decided to move again, this time parallel to the shoreline with the current toward where Chris was fishing from the rocks..

It was probably a dumb move on my part which could have resulted in a parted line, but I really wanted to see how fast she would pull me and was afraid of getting spooled, so I gently palmed the spool until it stopped and I was being dragged through the water much faster than I can swim.  Now THIS is skishing!!  After a while of this she stopped again and I was able to half pull, half fin my way closer, reeling to keep the slack out of the line as I approached.

I got to within 50 yards of her before she must have decided to come check me out.  This surprised me very much as the last thing I expected was for the fish to turn and swim right at me (still not sure it wasn’t a shark) and I reeled as fast as I possibly could to keep the slack out of the line and the fish passed about 20 feet to my right, spinning me around and pulling drag back in the other direction toward where we started.  After 30 seconds or so fish turned and started circling me.  I pulled my large dive knife from its sheath on my right calf and gripped the blade in my teeth, ready to cut the line if the fish did not turn out to be a bass, then reeled when I could to lessen the distance between us.

As the fish’s large spiked dorsal fin broke the surface of the water, I hooted with joy, sheathed my knife, and then resumed the fight with renewed vigor.  She was tiring, and so was I.  My arms ached but I was determined to win this fight.  I felt the Alberto knot between the Fireline and the 10 foot 40lb test Ande flouro leader pass through the tip guide, then strip back out again as she kicked her tail.  This happened quite a few times and I began to be concerned about the knot failing, but it held firm.  When she seemed to have all but given up, I turned on my light, spun myself in a quick 180 and launched myself toward the fish with a scissor kick, grabbing the leader and wrapping it around my gloved hand.  I pulled and as her gaping mouth slid toward me, I reached with my other hand and caught hold of her jaw.  She didn’t like this at all and started thrashing and trying to roll.  I dropped the leader (rod still leashed to my belt) and reached for the bottom edge of her gill plate with that hand.  The tin squid must have dropped from her upper lip at some point during this struggle, because by the time she settled down again she was no longer hooked.

I floated there in front of her, catching my breath, and trying to decide what to do.  I’d never handled a fish of this size before, much less while swimming, and despite my 6’3” 210lb frame, I felt very small.  Not just physically small, that too, but I also felt small in the way a peasant might have felt if brought before King Richard the Lionhearted.  What majesty!  I did not deserve to win this fight.  No way.  My heart was about to beat right out of my chest, and my emotions were forcing my eyes to pool with tears as I hung onto her head.  A photo of me standing beside this fish as she hung from a hook at the tackle shop flashed through my mind.  Screw it,,, I don’t deserve that either, but least I can get a measurement before she regains her strength and starts to fight me again.

I turned her on her side and let my legs float up underneath her so that she was lying on top of me and pulled her up until the fork of her tail was straddling the top of my boot.  Letting go of her jaw, I reached down, grabbed my rod and positioned it on top of her with the butt of the rod also on the top of my boot.  There was exactly 1 palm width between her nose and the first guide on my rod.  She didn’t have a beer gut, but she was no skinny fish either.  She had obviously been eating well, and I was kicking myself for not having something on me with which to measure her girth.  Oh well, at least I got a good length measurement (though at the time I did not know how many inches it was exactly). She flopped, interrupting my thoughts, and I righted myself to get out from under her.

I took her by the lower jaw, letting go of the gill plate, and guided her in a circle around me as she slowly kicked her tail. After a few minutes, she had regained enough strength and twisted her head sharply wrenching it from my grasp and slipped away into the darkness.  Fair well ol’ girl.  Come see me again sometime……

I just floated there for a while, thinking about what I’d just done.  Yeah,,, I did the right thing.  Who cares if anyone believes it,,, that’s not what is important to me.  Getting to watch her swim off into the dark was more satisfying than any personal glory or fame that would have been gained by killing and weighing her.  May she live on and prosper.

After cutting out scuffed up sections of my leader and retying, I hooked another large dead eel onto the tin squid, made a half hearted cast and started finning with the current back toward where Chris was, trolling the eel as I went.  I was done.  How could I top that in one night?  After a while I caught site of Chris’s headlamp and could see that he was working his way to another rock further down the coast.  Obviously he wasn’t done yet, so I decided to stay out a while longer.  I ended up picking up two more fish in the mid 20lb range as I drifted in the current past where Chris was, and then finned my way back to where I got in.  Time to get home and at least grab a shower before work.  I walked the shoreline to where Chris was and when he saw me he worked his way back off his rock.   He said he’d picked up 4 fish on plugs.  I told him I got 3 and one was big, but wasn’t sure how big as I didn’t have a measuring tape to measure the mark on my rod.  He said he had one in his truck, and we headed that way.

Once back at the trucks, he got out his tape and we made the measurement.  58” on the dot.  I was quiet for a few minutes then we chatted about other things for a while as we put our gear away.  I saw I’d missed a call from Chad and called him back.  He’d had a great night, too about a mile down from where we were.  On the ride home, I relived the events of the night over and over in my head and felt strangely depressed.  I had just successfully released what will likely be the largest striped bass I will ever get to see, and I was depressed about it.  I had to keep convincing myself that I’d done the right thing and wishing that I had a waterproof camera with a flash so that I could have somehow gotten a photo of her.  Oh well… maybe next time…..