You can’t always get what you want. The words of the old song rattle around between my ears when it comes time to go fly fishing in the surf. The seemingly ever-present winds, white caps and waves can make surf fishing with a fly rod quite the challenge – waves knocking back fly lines, wind sending a heavy lead-eyed Clouser into the back of my head, the current trying to take my footing. But turbulent water often brings good fishing, if you know where to look. Aggressive rip tides funnel bait to feeding fish, and the matter simply becomes putting my fly where they expect food to be. Oh yeah. Just that simple….
Calm water and windless days are scarce – rare enough to be relished. Easy casting, no need for a line basket, firm footed wading – and the view. The view! When the water is as clam as a lake with gentle waves lapping at the shore, with no wind to ripple the surface, you can see it all. Schools of bait, the white flashes of the underside of the wings of a large ray, feeding fish. But usually, the fishing goes as the ocean does. Flat and quiet.
When calm weather and good fishing combine, you’ve found yourself a trophy day. I can remember two such days, in goodness knows how many days of beach fishing. I found a hot flounder bite one day wading the salt flats near the Cape Henlopen ferry docks. On another, I found bluefish making a slalom run of the pier pilings in the same area. Arriving at the beach yesterday, I found clear, glassy water. Almost no breeze. And damn it, the place was Alive.
Standing on the tailgate of my truck, I could see huge schools of feeding bluefish. They were where they always are – just out of casting distance. Pods of dolphin patrolled the shorelines – some out at sea, some so close to shore you could make out the glisten in their eyes when they surfaced nearby. A ray swam by. Osprey worked the waters, and I watched as they carried away their prey, over the sand dunes and out of sight. Be it minnows in the shallows of a pond, birds working the ocean or an abundance of crabs, I always look at these signs of life as a good omen. Things are happening. I strung up an 8wt and charged into the surf.
I waded in as far as I could – a steep drop-off limits ones ability to wet wade here – but the bluefish are always just out of reach. I know if I can get a fly into that feeding frenzy, I’m catching as many fish as I want until my arms get tired and I need a break. They would be close enough to cast a spoon with a conventional rod, but if I had one of those, they’d just go out a little further. Always just out of casting distance. I’ve been kicking around the idea of buying a Kayak for years. At least now I can pinpoint the moment I decided it was a necessity, and not a luxury. A financial decision made with the fishing end of my brain. And those are usually good decisions, regardless of cost.
I cast enough yesterday – sometimes blindly, other times to the tell-tale swirl of a feeding fish – to earn myself a salt-chapped casting hand, a sun burn and a jelly fish sting. It was uncomfortable, but not very painful. It wasn’t enough to send me home – I cleaned it up and got back in the game. This kind of jelly won’t kill ya.
When I did go home, it was because of dinner plans with old friends. It was hard to leave. With no fish to speak of, but a picture perfect evening with no wind still stretching towards twilight, I wanted to fish until dark. I was striking out on a perfect weather day. We ended up salvaging the situation with rum, good friends, a spectacular sunset and a low tide at a beach north of here, on the point. As the daylight receded below the dunes, and we finished of our grilled steak and chilled pasta salad, I sat on the tailgate of somebody else’s truck, content, watching the water and hoping the conditions would be the same tomorrow. I have the day off.
I have a drink, and watch as a school of bluefish plows through the gentle ocean. I think about going for the rod nested in the cab of my truck. But, I don’t bother. They are always out of casting distance…..