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 – 🙂
- Ankle weights
- Large dive knife
- 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…