Looking back, I had it pretty good growing up here on the Cape. If I got my papers delivered on time during the week, I could expect enough cash at the end of the week to keep me supplied with that new pickerel lure I’d seen at Mac Reed’s or a few sinkers and bobbers to replenish the ones I’d lost. I had become a pretty good fisherman/boy, or so I had thought at the ripe old age of 12 years old, and was beginning the rites of passage into more adventuresome fishing excursions. Yes, that was the sweetest time of my life. I had my bike with newspaper baskets on both sides - big enough to carry a tackle box, knapsack, lunch, and a couple of rods - whatever. I was old enough to be able to go pretty much wherever I wanted as long as I left Mom a note on the kitchen table telling where I was and when I’d be back. Sometimes I would be so exited about leaving to go fishing; I wouldn’t leave the note and get chewed out when I got home. I would always say that I’d forgotten, but I realize now that I was just too exited about going fishing to stop and take the time to write the note.
From my paper route and other travels, I knew every pond and marsh in Orleans like the back of my hand. Charlie Moore’s, Little Charlie’s, Uncle Harvey’s, Griffin’s, Crystal and Baker’s all were my stomping grounds. Back in 1967, Baker’s Pond was like the wilderness, there were ruffed grouse drumming in the woods, crayfish galore to pick up or spend hours trying to catch with a hook. As evening came slowly in those late spring months and I headed for home, the whip-poor-wills would start their evening songs. I didn’t know it then, but they were reassuring me that I indeed had it good.
May slowly warmed into June, the days got warmer and longer and school let out, leaving me more time for fishing. My folks were partial to taking the truck out to the outer beach, usually Coast Guard beach in Eastham on weekends. My family would pack a slew of food and drink and we go for the day usually till 9 or 10 at night. I don’t believe that I took my fishing stuff to the beach for the first few outings, I mostly explored or played hide and seek or war or whatever with my brothers. There is only so much that I could do with my siblings and I don’t remember what it was that made me start bringing my fishing stuff with me on these outing, but it started a permanent transition from perch, pickerel, trout, bass and bluegills to larger fish in bigger, wilder waters.
It most likely started by watching the surf casters I’d met on the beach and making a pest of myself asking questions of every possible kind. To this day I still always take the time to help out kid with a “patchwork” fishing outfit, as I know that was I, some 35 years ago. At any rate I began bringing my heaviest freshwater stuff to the shore. My paper route cash supplied me with the hot new “Rebels” as that was the best lure that money could buy at that time, although this 12 year old couldn't see how any fish would bite on those huge seven or eight inch jobs, so I bought the smaller ones more sized to my outfits. I remember the first salt water fish that I caught that year, a brace of schoolie stripers, I ‘d guess about 20 inches long, but they may have been even smaller.
I remember fishing at the north or Eastham side of the Nauset inlet. There were other fishermen there, far more knowledgeable than I, and they were all catching an occasional fish, as the tide started to ebb. They all had fine surf rods; it seemed to me they were twenty feet long. I had my small Rebels and my little seven-foot freshwater spinning outfit. It was close to dusk as I remember, and the ebb tide current in the inlet was running strong. I would cast as far as I could, which due to the light weight of the small lure, wasn’t one quarter of what the real fishermen were casting. It seemed that it was all I could do to get my retrieve started before the current had swept my plug up against the edge of the inlet. I kept at it with all the excitement of watching those next to me catching fish. Eventually I caught one. I had done it ! I had caught my first striped bass ever. I carefully laid the fish in the sand under the vehicle out of the setting sun for my siblings to admire and fished some more. By now the outgoing tide had turned the sporadic bite into a full blitz, but at that time in my life I couldn't have cared less. I had a bass on the beach and I felt like the king of the world. I caught another fish that evening before my family insisted we could stay no more and we left for home.
Little did I know it then, but I was becoming transformed. The excitement of bigger, saltier water eventually lured me away from my freshwater ponds. I saved my money and bought a nine-foot rod with a bigger reel and guides so I could cast further and throw the larger lures. My paper route wound along the southwest edge of Nauset Inlet from Mill pond to Snow Shore landing, giving me ample access to learn and poke around the shorelines on my own. I caught my share of flounder, schoolies, and eels and learned when those spots had the best fishing. I learned that the tide had a great deal to do with when those spots were fishable. I eventually found the spot that was to complete my transformation and initiate me into the man I now am.
At the end of Champlain road near Snow Shore landing in Orleans is a marsh that sticks into Nauset inlet towards Priscilla Landing. Its banks are firm peat from years of spartina growing there. The current had undercut the bank at the very north edge, allowing a dark and cool spot for the eels and other baitfish to escape the light of day. About thirty yards out, a shallow underwater sandbar paralleled the marsh edge, with a deep channel of eight or ten feet between. At the end of the bar closest to the marshy point, the bar came in to twenty yards away and tailed out into the deep water. With the outgoing tide the current would sweep along the edge of the marsh and funnel into the narrowing channel and cross the edge of the bar. I immediately liked this spot as it had deep fishable water close to shore, a soft, yet firm bank in which I could sink my rod butt, and a readily accessible supply of bait in mussels and clams. One Sunday, after delivering my morning papers, I went to this newly found spot full of excitement and anticipation of what the day would bring. I unloaded my gear and stashed my bike in the beach roses at the edge of the road. It took me a while to pick my way across the marsh without stepping into a sinkhole. As I went, I would pick up mussels for bait and hopefully, I would find a sea worm or a nice big quahog. Reaching the edge of the marsh, I put together my rod pieces and threaded my line through the guides. I had no sand spike yet at this stage of my fishing career and therefore pushed the wooden butt of my rod a foot into the spartina sedge. I then proceeded to rig my rod with a pyramid sinker of 2 ounces on a nylon sliding rig. This was something I had usually not done, but was trying for the first time because of a tip from a wonderful old gentleman that ran a tackle shop in Orleans. (“Mac” Reed always had time to help with advice for kids interested in fishing.) Then, I tied a swivel to stop the sinker slide and about two feet of leader to which I tied on a 3/0 hook. I never used those fancy pre-tied rigs with the colored corks on them because they were too expensive. After gobbing on a couple of mussels, I lobbed my rig out into the channel and began the wait.
Leaving my rod pushed into the bank I started poking around, looking for more bait as mussels seemed to catch more eels than anything. I also kept my eye open for a couple of good rocks to bash open the shellfish I found. I remember finding more than a couple of big chowder quahogs that day because I took them back to my rod and instead of rationing the clams, put a whole clam on my rig. About to recast my setup into the channel, I noticed the tide moving over the end of the bar at the deep edge. I envisioned my weight holding on the bar with the clam drifting at or off the edge into the deeper side. My first cast was off the spot by ten feet, smack on the highest part of the sandbar. Fearing I would lose my clam but not satisfied with the location of my bait I slowly reeled back my bait and recast it at the tailout edge of the bar. This cast was perfect. The tide drifted my rig at the edge of the bar and as it sank out of sight I could see my whole clam swinging down tide of the weight. I again pushed the rig into the hole in the peat and probably watched my rod pretty good for about 10 minutes or so.
I don’t remember what I was doing, but I remember looking up at just the right moment to see my rod bending deeply towards the water. Shocked, I ran slipping and sliding towards my pole and arriving just as the peat gave way to the pressure of whatever was there at the end of that line. I was in awe of the force that was pulling on my rod. I had never hooked into something like this before. The monofilament was stretching and whining out that it was about to break when I realized the drag was too tight. The line is going to break !!! I had never been in this situation before. Frantically I unscrewed the drag washer on my spinning reel. Nothing happened. I unscrewed some more and then the reel broke loose, free spooling line out into a snarl that clogged under my bail. Thoroughly panicked at this point, I tried to reel some line on the spool to help me fight the monster, to no avail. I couldn't turn the handle and the line was not going in or out and that telltale mono whining noise was starting again. I dropped the rod and started hand lining the fish in. I did ok for a few minutes and actually got the fish turned towards me a couple of times. My hands were cut, I had to wind some line around my hands to keep the mono from cutting into me any more and it worked until the fish decided to make a break for the ocean. I held on for a second or two and then it was over and he was gone.
He had won the battle and I have never been the same. Today at over 50 years old I still chase the thrill of that big bass, heart pounding fear in my throat, just as if I was that kid again.
Captain Bruce Peters – Capeshores Charters