Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
There’s only one way to keep a secret fishing spot secret
Most of my fishing associates are free with countless opinions on a variety of topics of how to catch anything that swims, and what tackle or bait you need to get the job done. If you lack such friends, one of the best places to find out about fishing techniques is at a charter-boat bar because more fish are caught there than any waters I know of.
So it was at such a local watering hole where I sat with a good friend as he glumly pined over a beer, bemoaning how he had given up trying to catch a striped bass in the surf because, after several years of trying, he’d never caught one. Fishing from his boat he had racked up some success trolling and jigging for linesiders and we’d shared some good trips doing just that. His casting from the shore, however, had never amounted to much more than getting him out of the house to avoid chores while spending some time with his young boys.
I felt his despair because it had taken me some time and plenty of fishless hours and bushels of clams before I learned to read the water and figure out where the bass were likely to be, and more importantly what times based on the tides. I had discovered a prime spot along my favorite beach with a mussel-packed gully perpendicular to a jetty that jutted into the ocean. Five minutes from my house, there was a place to park my car and in the summer I didn’t even need waders. A double-hook rig garnished with juicy, orange-bright sea clam chunks, a four-ounce pyramid sinker, and an easy toss with my surf rod spinning outfit and I was in business, virtually every time I showed up. But my hot spot was also used as a bathing beach during the summer, which severely limited the days I could fish because I had to leave before the swimmers showed up. The fact that the best action was always mid-way to high tide crowded out more available time to fish. A third factor was I didn’t want to be seen catching anything because I had this stretch of the beach to myself every morning and the stripers liked being there, too. When my timing was right, I could always catch a fish and it was my personal, never-fail grounds, until one day...
In an arguable moment of weakness I made the strategic error of telling my striper-less friend that I could help him. I explained to him where he should go, what time to be there, what tackle to bring, and most importantly to keep quiet about where he fished, whatever happened, and not to share the information I gave him. I could not fish that day but assured him he would likely catch his first striped bass if he followed my directions.
We made plans to meet the following afternoon back at the bar. When I strolled in hoping to see a smile on my friend’s face, I was horrified to hear him telling the bartender about the striper he’d caught that morning and where he’d caught the fish.
Seeing me approach, my friend asked the bartender to pour another cold beer. The look on my face was enough to boil the head off the draft.
When I explained to my friend what he had done he laughed and said not to worry because the bartender did not fish. The following morning, there were six surf fishermen in my not-so-secret spot, and I could never fish it again because shortly after Labor Day that year a beach replenishment program got underway, and it filled in the mussel gulley forever. I have not caught a striped bass near there since.
Author Mark Twain said, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” I think the author knew something about fishermen. In truth, passing along information is common among fishermen but I have come to realize that the best and most reliable information will come when you offer something valuable in return.
Another good friend of mine discovered a lumpy obstruction about 65 miles from the inlet on his way home from one of the northeast canyons. Stopping to troll a few passes above it, he hooked and landed a large wahoo and marked the numbers down in his LORAN book.
Weeks later at the dock he was chatting with a dive boat captain and exchanged the offshore wreck numbers for some sea bass haunts that the diver had used for his charters. The wreck numbers turned out to be a German submarine that had disappeared and eventually sunk off the New Jersey coast during World War II, and was the subject of the book Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson. Maybe sharing secrets is OK from time to time after all. Maybe.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.