by Bill Wetzel
The frigid North West winds whipped the December surf into a wonderful clean froth. The robotic voice on the weather station had said it was 34 degrees. Definitely less with the wind, a lot less. My chapped cracked hands cranked the VS300 for the last time this year. One more cast I told myself, which only really means about 20 or 30 more. I wasn't sure if the tears rolling down my cheeks were from the 20-knot wind in my face, or the reality that the surf-fishing season had come to an end.
During those last 100 or so casts I reflected on the season, and what it meant, to me anyway, of what a surf rat really was. Am I one I contemplated? I really don't have the words to describe how much I love the surf and even more the challenge of fishing it. I remember telling my Jersey buddy Bob of how good August is in Montauk. Bob spent every weekend in Montauk for that month, fishing hard with me and catching many good size stripers. I remember the roaring surf that month, and screaming to Bob over its roar, only to tell him I had another nice fish on. I remember a few years back fishing a Nor'easter in the middle of the night, and being forced to walk into Browns from the North side of Montauk, because 15-17 foot sets were coming in with a 40-knot gale. I remember standing on a rock that night, only to fall off of it to break my ribs, and almost get swept out by the undertow. Thank God I held on to my11 foot Lami that I jammed into a rock to prevent the tow from taking me with it. I remember several years back meeting Charlie for the first time at Caumsett. I've never seen somebody fart in their waders as much as he did. I also never met a more patient plug fisherman. It will be an honor to have him at my wedding. I remember, and will miss over the winter, the many shooting stars that come from out of nowhere. I usually wish for my fifty, but lately just world peace. I remember all the nights standing on rock in Montauk as the horizon disappeared, and praying that the wave would break before it broke me. God that's a scary feeling. I remember the many dark nights walking through the woods of Nissequogue State Park, which is the old Kings Park psychiatric center, thinking of the bodies that were supposedly buried there, and telling myself that I'm protected because I work with people who have mental illness. Yea right! All that for schoolies. I remember all the endless days and nights that I didn't miss a tide. That reminds me. I also remember all the debates, ok arguments; I got into with my loved one about my fishing habits. I guess that comes with the territory. I remember when I first began to dream about being a surf-fishing guide, and I still can't believe that I'm actually fulfilling that dream. I remember a few years back fishing Lilco in a snowstorm, and disappearing in the fog of the outflow. Someone reported that I was there then I wasn't. While walking back to my buggy I was approached by two gentlemen who asked if I was alone. "Yeah" I said. They told me I was the guy they were looking for and instructed me to come with them. When we got back to the T bar, there was a crowd of people clapping to see my face, the Coast Guard had divers in the frigid water looking for my body, and the Northport and Eaton's Neck Fire Departments were there for support. I had to sign a certificate that stated I was alive. It's a good feeling to know that they were there for me. Thanks guys! I remember all the money I spent on plugs this year. You can never have enough plugs. I remember all the sunrises, and sunsets, full moons, new moons, wind, rain, cold, heat, gnats, and bats. I hate bats! Do you remember the meteor shower on November18th? Wow what a morning that was. I remember all the hooks I got in my hands, not to mention the one in my lip. I especially remember the 2 & 3/8 oz super Strike darter, and the 4/0s that found their way through my buddies nose. We had to drive 45 minutes to the nearest hospital, and it ruined the night. I remember watching the two guys fishing next to a dead body at Diamond point in Caumsett a few years ago. That always disturbed me. I remember the second week in December 1991. I watched 30 and 40-pound cows being taken at Shagwong. I couldn't pick a fish that night because I didn't have the right plug. Do you think I have many of those plugs now? Nah. I remember all the November nights sleeping in my buggy with my frozen head sticking out of the sleeping bag. I'd like to forget the feeling of crawling out of my buggy into the freezing November air to put on cold wet waders. It always seems like the shivering will never end. How about fishing all those summer nights and trying to sleep in my buggy during a 95-degree day? If it wasn't for the flies it might have been possible. I wonder how many great meals of fresh fish I've eaten on the beach, and in the lower lot at the point. A rat we call Wild Bill is the hardest fisherman I know, and he sure can make mean fried fish. Most of all I remember all the nights I got to speak to my Dad who past away back in eighty three. He wasn't much of a fisherman, but without him I probably wouldn't have become one. He gave me my first rod. A plastic baseball bat with some mono, a hook and a bobber - if he could only see my equipment now.
Being a surf rat to me means paying your dues, always having a willingness to learn, and making the surf and the fish you seek a spiritual experience. It means all of the above and so much more. I guess I am a surf rat.