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I am not sure Frankie Valli was a fisherman or that he was thinking about striped bass on that night in late December back in ’63,  but in 2023 I DEFINITELY WAS, and “Oh What A Night” it was!

During the course of each season there are certain nights you’ll remember for a long time because of one special reason or another, but for me, most memorable nights revolve around catching big Striped Bass- and please don’t tell my wife! But this year, on this very special night, it was all about catching a special memory with others.

The weekend started like any other during the fall run. I had come off a Friday night guided trip into a Saturday morning one- the bite was slow and conditions were deteriorating. I had yet another trip booked for that night, but with unfavorable weather and windy conditions expected to arrive soon in this particular area, I was questioning whether the experience would be alright for my clients. These particular clients were two returning clients who have booked with me in the past and become friends through our shared tides over the years. I reached out to them with my concerns and explained the situation- the water had a stain to it, was a little weedy and that there was an impending storm bringing undesirable winds that could present real problems. I said I would call again in the afternoon so we could make a decision.

I never like to cancel, but as a guide I feel a real need to put my clients in the best position to catch fish every outing. If I feel that this would not be the case, I make the necessary adjustments. So that morning a steady rain developed and the wind was honking. That afternoon I called Keith. I told him I was on the fence, painted the worst-case scenario, but I left the final call up to him. His buddy had already cancelled on him due to hunting trip, and he was planning to bring his son instead. He told me his son was really looking forward to the trip and, if it weren’t for that he would cancel as well. I said OK, “let’s give it a shot”.

You know the saying, “Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good”.  Despite advances in technology, when it comes to weather forecasting these days, it seems we get lucky more often as more detailed forecasts seem somehow to be less accurate than when I started fishing MANY years ago. I met the guys and we geared-up and made our way down to the beach right after dark. The winds began to diminish, and instead of steady rain we just had a bit of a constant drizzle with only the occasional more steady rain mixed in. When the wind did pick up, it turned out to be from a favorable direction for this area. Despite a slight tinge to the water, there were no weeds.

We started getting the lines wet, and within a short time I hit a few fish on the bottle plug which had been productive the past few nights.  The plug casts very well in these conditions as it digs into the rough surf. Keith had a bottle plug on and also started to pick up a few fish. His son Joey did not have a bottle plug on and I instructed him to tie it on because the fish were honing in on it. When guiding, it’s not uncommon to start a group of clients with a variety of lures to see which matches the bait present under the conditions being faced to zero in on the right size and profile the fish want. Joey started working the bottle plug and within a few casts he hooked up.

Joey was no stranger to fishing and he’d often boated fish with his dad, but he had only just started getting into the surf and had only caught some small bass. As I moved closer to him, I see he is on a good fish that’s pulling some drag. Then I hear the words you never want to hear- “my reel isn’t working!”  I put on my light to see what’s going on with his reel, and what was going on wasn’t good. The reel handle was turning but he wasn’t gaining line- obviously a major malfunction. I’m thinking its a stripped gear. I always wear a glove on my left hand to grab the leader, braid, lure, fish etc., and I could see it was going to be a

night when I was glad I had it on. I grabbed the line to take the pressure off the reel and see if we could get the line in when the pressure was off the handle. This technique worked, but the fish was still pretty far out and very “green”. I was actually surprised it was still hooked. I have had to handline a fish before, but not for this reason. I wasn’t expecting a good result. But this was THAT night, that “oh what a night” wheneverything aligned and luck was on our side. We landed that fish as a “team”. I kept handlining with my glove hand and he reeled in the slack.

I admit, I was VERY excited when that fish hit the beach. Joey was super excited as well. Actually, I am sure I was every bit as excited as he was. To me, as a surf guide, there is nothing better than seeing your client- especially a young man new to the surf- land a decent fish. I believe this case has made Joey a surf fisherman for a life, and hopefully next time he hooks up a new personal best landing the fish will be a little easier. In the meantime, I think Santa should consider getting Joey a new reel, maybe even a Vanstaal. I think he earned it! Tight Lines, Happy Holidays and Live The Passion in ’24! features a monthly surfcasting blog from Bernie Hoyt, a NYS Certified Fishing Guide with 40+ years of experience fishing the legendary waters of Long Island. He is well known for his informative seminars at saltwater shows in the Northeast, and now has a radio show- TightLines with Bernie Bass & The Captain- where listeners are treated to the latest gear reviews and techniques for the surf fishing, and other interesting developments in the saltwater in-shore and offshore fishing scene. Join Bernie on the radio Saturday morning and Sunday evening on Contact Bernie for more more details on Facebook through Bernie Bass Surfcasting Services.


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