"Paddling" the Jersey Shore
An amusing tale of a Gulf Coaster learning some lessons of East Coast surf fishing the hard way!
Hopefully this tale will both amuse and help you avoid doing something so stupid yourself. This happened back in the fall of 2003, early November I believe.......
I was WAY away from my home state of Texas on a career "adventure" in Philly for a few months. I took advantage of a Saturday to go fish the fabled Jersey shore for the "stripahs" that were reported to be there. I had no fishing buddies in the area and limited internet-edness, so I basically just picked a spot on the map that looked fishy.
Making my way to Corson's Inlet State Park, a little ways south of Ocean City, I dressed for battle complete with Capilene and fleece, waders, wading jacket, and homemade plastic stripping basket, grabbed my 9wt Heliply and started looking for fish. The inlet itself was pouring quite alot of water into the Atlantic and I knew my intermediate wasn't going to get down to any fish hunkered down in that current. Off to the beach I went.
The beach portion of that piece of shore is quite amazing, with the interaction of the current and the surf, movement of bars, and other oceanic happenings you just don't see on the Texas coast.
I saw an angler WAY out in the surf and reflexively decided without conscious thought that was absolutely the best and coolest place to be fishing. I discovered that he had walked out on a bar that was about 6" under water level and I followed the same path. I think I must have been about a half mile out by the time I took my position a safe and courteous distance away from him and started casting. He was chunking plugs and landed a few nice stripers (30"+) in the 1.5-2 hrs we were out there. He then said something like "I think its time to head in". I being young, burly, and bulletproof answered back "I'm gonna fish a little longer and then head in".
Because young moxie beats local wisdom, right?
I fished 20 or 30, yeah so probably more like 60 minutes longer and then headed back towards dry land. I got about 100yds towards the beach when the surf started getting deep quickly.
"CRAP, uh.... alright"
I figured I could just move to one side or the other and gain solid footing again. I tried that for a while and it just didn't work out. I realized I was just going to have to deal with armpit deep surf action and keep trudging along. It turns out that wasn't going to work either, as I took a step that didn't connect and was quickly in over my head, being swept sideways by a rip, and immersed in November Jersey Shore water.
There was a brief impulse of panic but realized this was a real-life situation where I was going to have to get my shit together if I was going to survive.
I started to doggy paddle as well as one can with your best fly rig thrust up above the water and wearing a rigid stripping basket, and eventually got up to where I could get gulps of air. It didn't take too much more tripod-doggy-paddling before I got to the other side of that rip and was able to walk up to belly depth.
I've never felt more scared, alive, invigorated, thankful, and cold in my life. My wide-eyed, shivering arse made it all the way up out of the surf under the amazed gaze of a few beach-goers, and another problem became obvious: I had at least a gallon of water down each leg.
Bound to exhibit my affinity for function over grace I devised a solution. I took off my jacket and set my tackle off to the side, and proceeded to do a handstand, one leg up at a time, to drain the water out. I think the onlookers were glad the odd show they had just seen at least had an amusing punchline.
I walked my soggy self back to the car, left my wife (then girlfriend) a voicemail saying I was "still alive/ok NOW" (who knew she'd find that terrifying?) and drove my soggy self back to my crappy job in Philly that I would quit about 2 weeks later.
And I didn't even catch a single damn fish.