Dave Anderson pondered the question: Which fish changed his life the most? Was it the 8-pound, 14-ounce largemouth he caught as a kid, a nice fish for Massachusetts waters? Or maybe the 50-pound striper that he took from the surf four years ago? On reflection, Anderson chose two smaller stripers, both of which had an outsize impact on his fishing life.
“The fish that probably changed my life the most was either the first quality striper that I caught,” says Anderson, a rabid surf nut who is the editor of the online Surfcaster’s Journal. “It was not big, but it really vaulted me out of fresh water. Or it could have been the next striper, which is the first one I got on my own.”
Because the two fish came just two weeks apart, I’m going to tell both stories. It is late June nearly 20 years ago, and Anderson’s father had chartered Bruce Scott and his rowing dory to fish Nauset Inlet on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
This is the way it worked: Scott would beach the boat at various spots in the inlet, and everyone would hop out. Then Scott would rake up some sand eels (lance), and Anderson and his father, dressed in swimsuits and T-shirts, would fish them in the tide.
“It was a really slow day, but I ended up getting that one fish just before we left,” says Anderson, who is 35 and lives in Tiverton, Rhode Island. “It was on 8-pound line, and it was really exciting for me. And Scott had to run down into the tide and scare it out of this mussel bed because it was going to shear me off. It was probably 15 pounds and made me realize I could do it myself.”
That certainly lit a flame. “After that day, I became completely obsessed, and I begged my dad to take me to buy a rod that was suitable for that fishing, which he finally did,” recalls Anderson, a lifelong angler who started in fresh water. He wound up with an 8-foot Quantum Blue Runner rod-and-reel combo, the rod was rated to toss up to 2 ounces and 14-pound Stren on the spinning reel.
All he had to do was get back to the salt. “I just relentlessly begged my parents to take us to the beach,” says Anderson. “We lived in central Mass, so it wasn’t like we could just run down to the beach anytime we wanted to.” Two weeks later, the Anderson family was back on the Cape, at Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, with the young angler raring to go.
“I abandoned my family and walked out to Nauset Inlet, which was a long walk,” Anderson recalls, “at least a mile.”
The teen fished a spot just inside the inlet. The tide was maybe halfway down and ebbing when he got there. “And there was a lot of fish in there. You could see them,” he says. “But they were very, very particular. There was a guy in a boat drifting by me, and he was hooking up every time he went by. I kept trying to ask him what he was doing, and he wouldn’t tell me. I said, ‘What are you getting all these fish on?’ And he kept saying, ‘Fenway Franks’ ” (a hot dog brand named after Fenway Park in Boston).
Anderson was drifting a pair of sand eels on a 3/0 hook and ¾-ounce egg sinker and couldn’t buy a bite. After a while, the fish cleared out. “I was like, I can’t believe I didn’t catch a fish,” he says. “All those fish just went by me, and I didn’t get a single one. And then out of nowhere — I didn’t see anything — I felt a little tick, and then my drag was screaming.”
And in a bit, there was a 20-pounder flopping at the feet of the proud young man.
“So I got the fish, and I was really excited,” Anderson says. “I mean, it could have been 18 or 19 pounds. It was 39 inches. I remember that.”
He hauled it the mile-plus trudge back to civilization in his wet bathing suit. “I ended up getting like the worst chafeage of my life,” says Anderson, laughing. “By the time I made it back, I was walking like a 90-year-old man with a double hernia. I kept switching hands the whole time and stopping to dunk myself in the ocean because I was pouring sweat.”
And the impact of those two fish on his life?
“What they did was really make me completely obsessed with the idea of catching stripers,” says Anderson, who was 15 or 16 at the time and didn’t yet have his license.
“When I got my license it was over for real,” recalls Anderson, who still fishes hard. “I was going to the [Cape Cod] canal probably three times a week, just wasting my mom’s gas. I was 16 or 17. Borrowing my mom’s ’93 Blazer, driving home at 2 in the morning, slapping myself in the face with the windows rolled down and singing whatever song I could find on the radio just to keep myself awake.”
Looking back, he says, “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”