this surf legend for what it's worth, guys. Don't start telling
me I am full of bull, cause I'll only tell you to go pound
sand, tough guy.
The Stuff of Dreams...That Came True Once
The giants that came in at Block
for only a few years were incredible fish, bigger than you
probably realize. It definitely seemed to me there was a certain
"core group" of those huge fish that, shall we say,
were a "family" of big fish that physically resembled
each other, perhaps related by birth or perhaps with physical
features - hard, dense bodies and snout-like heads - molded by an
offshore existence. In my opinion, this particular phalanx almost
always stays far offshore not even coming close to any islands.
So far offshore that they hardly ever encounter man.
Why this legendary school hit Block?
Maybe it's a natural phenomena - like a comet that only orbits
close enough to be within our sight every hundred years or so.
Maybe Nature has given them a primitive bio-cyclical instinct
that drives the species to deviate from its normal course once in
a lifetime in order to cyclically and instinctively explore all
options to ensure its survival. Or maybe they were there to
recruit other big fish coming down the coast, to muster with them
and lead them offshore. No one knows why they were there, but one
thing is sure, we have not seen them since.
Sure, there are many other aggregations of big fish that take
traditional coastal routes going down the islands or right down
the mainland, but that's not the elusive school of giants I am
writing about here. I'm talking about ones that altered their
traditional deepwater offshore routes and swam south past Block
for only a couple of years.
Most likely, these are the "ghost fish"
that winter-over 100 miles off the Carolinas. Every 5-10 years,
there are reports of Carolina deep sea commercials meeting up
with them far offshore in the winter - but not for long. This is
most likely a very broad area off the Carolinas that adult eels
from the mid-Atlantic pass through during mid-winter as they
migrate back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn, but no one knows too
much about how the eels do that or where they go either.
These bass stay on the bottom in deep water and usually
migrate north in springtime far ahead of the mackerel migrations
where a very few are occasionally caught deep offshore by
long-liners by accident. They use offshore water and feed on
winter groundfish and pelagics like squid and sea herring. They
are big, fast-swimming and streamlined. In fact, the snouts and
heads on the truly big members of this family get super, super
pointy and they always reminded me of mean-looking alligators in
that respect. No doubt, this head shape can be an advantage for
swimming long distances more easily.
There's less hearsay as to where they might summer-over, but
my suspicion is it's gotta be offshore of Arcadia, Canada.
Whatever, they usually migrate last south late too, using their
offshore express lanes. I believe this is a school of huge
offshore fish that winter far off the Hatteras and rarely ever
come within fishing range.
Most people believe there is a
separate Hudson stock, separate Delaware and Chesapeake
stock...and a few say there's an old stock of fish that still
persist in rivers of the southern Carolinas, wrapping round to
Florida's Gulf Coast. In fact, I believe that there are (or
were...prior to man's intervention) some fish that winter-over
and are native to practically any freshwater creek that can
sustain them without freezing them solid. Even still, the
smaller, resilient pre-migratory juvenile fish can withstand
being frozen solid in a state of suspended animation...and they
will thaw out just fine.
However, the larger the fish get, the less able they are to
withstand freezing or harshly cold winter water in these
"local" freshets. As they get moderately bigger, they
start wintering over in moderately bigger rivers near to their
natality. Eventually, they're all funneled into the very big
catch basins, rivers and estuaries - the Hudson and Chesapeake
being the two biggest and best-known of them.
Now, let's talk about the big schools of predominantly thirty
to fifty pounders that have been identified as wintering-over
offshore of the Hatteras Banks. The fish on these wintering
grounds have really only been pinpointed with any precision
during the last fifteen years. It is interesting that these are
not exclusively Chesapeake fish. To me, they are big specimens of
"every fish" of every natality up and down the coast -
all mixed stocks wintering together off the Hatteras. But even
these fish are small compared to the extremely big ones that
eventually grow so large that they find the known Hatteras
grounds to be too inshore and intolerable for them. They
increasingly prefer to winter-over more offshore - the bigger
they become - the deeper and further offshore they will winter -
and tend to remain for the rest of their lives even though they
do migrate up and down the full range of the coast - hardly ever
encountering a hook. So, these are all the super-cows of every
natality - the very best and fittest of the species from the
entire coast all together leading an exclusively offshore
Why so distant and elusive? Why
not come into our grasp and swim into our range so that we can
catch them? Maybe it's God's way to ensure a special reserve of
prime fish will always be waiting far offshore in case the entire
inshore striper population ever faces a calamity of disastrous
proportions. A calamity from which it cannot rebound. It could
happen, you know, and it could be man that makes it happen -
massive destruction of the coastal environment, commercial and
recreational fishing pressures, dumping man's harmful wastes and
contaminants not very far offshore, heavy industrial and
residential development of waterfronts, dammed rivers and
wetlands, toxic spawning and nursery areas, polluted waters,
inedible fish. Why?
Nature rarely puts all her eggs into any one basket. There are
many exceptions - in fact, every diversity exists within Nature.
Under Her plans, many specimens of every species do not live
where, how, when or within what our scientists prescribe to us as
their so-called normal ranges. Especially under the sea, there's
so much we don't know yet. And when it comes to the ghost fish,
Nature has intended for us to never really find them.
They're out there. It's true...to
me and to a few other people too. Definition of true? It's what I
believe the glorious mystery of fishing is to me and how I do
it...which may not be someone else's definition of what fishing
is to THEM and how THEY do it.
Well, I've told you more about the ghost fish than I should
have already. They're there for you guys to dream about, and if
you want to tell me I am full of it or invented it, I will just
laugh at you anyway, so DON'T EVEN BOTHER TO DO IT!
But now, here's something else I will tell you about Block,
and don't spread it around either:
Big schools of fish typically surface out of the
deepwater on SE winds about 1/2 mile offshore
between Old Harbor and Green Hill. They stack up in a blue hole
that you can see if you go up on the cliff over the left hand rim
of the bowl that contains the Sh*t Chute. Like, there's a church
on that promontory, and you take a trail to get up there that
starts over near the spring. Well, from up on top, you can look
towards 1 o'clock, and if the visibility and sea conditions are
good, you can see huge brownish-copper schools of bass far
offshore in the blue hole. They usually come up there around 9-10
in the morning, and what they do is called "muster",
which is to send out a chain or relay race of scout bass, that
are hyperactive biologically, and that race down the shoreline to
detect enough food to sustain the school. This is serious
scouting, and the bodies of the fish that function as scouts
often transform into big heads, fins, tails with thin bodies. If
the chain of scouts don't circle back up their living chain and
return to the school before dark, then the rest of the school
will follow the chain down onto the shoreline after after dark.
They generally will not eat, until the chain of fish draws them
into heavy bait, when pods of bass will begin splintering off,
the school starts to disperse and basically eats the beach. But
the end of the chain keeps swimming further until they find so
much bait, that the instinct to gorge overpowers the instinct to
scout, and there you have it - an unbelievable blitz! Often, the
scouts, or "racers" as they are known, would not detect
bait, and the mustering schools would not come up on the beach at
all, but just vanish by nightfall. But, in the meantime, some of
the locals would take boats out to the blue hole and tong them.
But when they do come up on the beach, they head towards the
jetty at Old Harbor, bank a turn off that and proceed down
through Old Harbor, Green Hill, Southeast Light, Snake Hole,
Black Rock, Tin Lizzie, South Cove, most of the mass ends up at
Southwest, where the scouts and then the pods begin circling back
on each other and raiding the beach as they circle back. A few
adventurous pods may spill over further towards Cooneymus,
Dories, Gracies, the Dump, Charlestown, and New Harbor. The next
morning, the well-fed school again musters, this time off
Southwest, while waiting for all the pods to rejoin. This is
usually over the deepwater drop, where boaters will hammer them,
but occasionally they muster right on the shoal. When they muster
on the shoal, which isn't often, they don't bite, but some
mornings you could have waded out there with a pitchfork and bale
them like they were striped hay!
When the muster has recollected all its members, it
must make an instinctive decision to follow schools that went
before them towards Montauk and therefore, make an important
migratory decision that the school will migrate down the South
Shore to a massive staging grounds offshore of the Hudson
Grounds, usually within two weeks time after they hit Montauk. Or
the school will instinctively choose to go deep and follow those
before them that took the offshore routes, thereby appearing much
sooner on the deeper staging areas offshore from the Hudson
Grounds. Again, the bass have a continuous stream of living fish
moving ahead of them that provide them with reliable feedback as
to which route this school should take as they depart from
It's winter as I write this. A cold day with a bowl of
steaming hot soup set before me...and vaporous dreams of ghost
fish that swam within reach of surfcasters once and vanished back
into the sea from whence they came.