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The fall run that wasn't, but kind of was

When people that don't fish get all fired up for pumpkin lattes, apple picking, and different colored leaves, I get amused because of the fishing that I know is about to happen. I've been waiting a while for it. When it's time to blow out the irrigation and disconnect the hose for the first overnight temps in the low 30's, I find solace in a cold snap igniting the bass bite off the beach. The first set of Christmas lights I see, that feeling kicks in, one I dread.

It hits harder each year which is actually a good thing. I've gotten a little better, learned a bit more, and set bigger goals. Some I've achieved, but there's always a few I haven't. I've consoled myself that I caught some fish on a darter and realized what a crucial weapon it is to have in a surf bag. That I didn't put my legs up on the couch after dinner and lost motivation to put in a lot of hours at night. That I didn't just hit the easy spots I didn't need waders for or would have to rinse the truck off after. Not getting my first 30-40 pounder from the surf which seemed attainable when I entertained the thought since the first fish in the spring is going to sting for a while.

I had my shots and I took as many as I could and then some. In past years I stumbled into some great bites and reveled in quantity over quality, and being home in time for dinner and sleeping human hours. I know tides, moons, weather, and bait put the fish where they ended up but I kind of felt like they know this was the fall run I wasn't taking lightly and they weren't going to make it easy for me. Big fish were caught next to me, down the beach from me, or hours earlier and later right where I threw countless casts in mid October. Bitching, moaning, and not appreciating bigger fish than I've caught in the past wasn't going to help me. Going back and trying to do it better would.

I came up empty though. I know I wasn't the only one. Misery loves company, and it wasn't company I would force anyone to keep. Epic fishing to the west and down the Jersey Shore, gave me every reason to give in, to just default to the easy spots. To just resign to a reality this wasn't the season it would happen. Any of the hundreds upon hundreds of casts I took night after night could have been the fish of a lifetime, and I treated them all like that.

So I started seeing a few sets of Christmas lights around the neighborhood, before thanksgiving which I'll never agree with in principle. I crafted scenarios in my head combining intel from my network of fishing buddies, the weatherman, and my fishing only photographic memory of certain stretches of days in past years. I had a shot. No huddle offense, onside kick, hail could happen.

My son had thanksgiving eve off from school. He remembered all the "nope" responses in the mornings during the fall when asking if I had caught any the night before. I horse traded an ihop breakfast and 90 minutes at Top Golf to pencil in surfcasting at sunset. He was just as leery as I was. Until our first glimpse of the ocean as we drove onto the beach.

Birds, blitzes, bent rods and smiling surfcasters. He didn't even have both of his wader straps fastened when he threw his first cast that pulled in a double header on a sand eel and bucktail teaser. Ocean was total glass but for the eruptions of peanut bunker and stripers from schoolies to mid slot size. We caught for hours in what was nothing short of paradise. I was in the arena with my boy by my side, doing what I love to do with someone I love doing it with.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly

-Theodore Roosevelt


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