Photos by Jerry Audet
Anglers have a propensity for coming up with absurd nicknames for every little nook and cranny they fish. It’s a way of reminding themselves of what the spot produces, its characteristics, or something profound or comical that happened there. For many striper surf casters, spots are also named in an effort to hide their true identities, a way to ensure that they stay secret.
“Bizarro Beach” is one such spot I discovered in Massachusetts four years ago, and it still makes me shake my head. Upon first assessment, it appeared devoid of life and undeserving of a single exploratory cast. No boulders, no troughs, and on most nights, very little wave action and zero current. Just a long, shallow, uniform sand flat stretching seemingly into the infinite.
As I discovered, Bizarro is really productive when there are rolling waves breaking on the edge of the extensive flat; that’s the secret, boiled down to the barest essential. It’s far more complicated than that, as are most things in fishing, but the waves are the lynchpin. Most nights, the waters emulate the smooth sheen of polished metal, the moon and stars sliding by languidly, gentle puffs of inshore breezes creating ripples and sparkles in the metallic finish. These nights are beautiful, and I have come to appreciate them, particularly with a fly rod. But Bizarro needs some churn to attract the biggest nocturnal hunters, the predators of surf-fishing glory called to the roil and the calorie advantage that comes with it.
Inching my way out to the periphery of the flat at the onset of an archetypal fall storm, I take a few small waves to the chest as I tiptoe along the bottom, gritting my teeth. I feel it tonight: a smell, a vibration, something tangible, something not. Bizarro has the right vibe. I’m a little wild-eyed, and I’m definitely breathing hard, more from psychological stress than physical exertion. I insist on getting as close as I can to the modest drop-off at the edge of the flat. It’s a compulsion based not entirely in logic, but largely in emotion.
I can probably cast beyond the point by standing back 20 yards, but I am perpetually 11 years old and need to touch things, to be an active contestant in these games with Mother Nature. Getting out as far on the flat as possible is like touching the horizon of the eternal sea. I’m in it; I’m part of it. On the beach, I am just watching, but here, out at the edge of Bizarro in my wetsuit, I am in endless wilderness, a final frontier, albeit along the busy Northeast corridor. The siren’s call is so strong at this spot that I sometimes get the urge to drop my rod and dive in, fall into it completely.
Another few steps, I can make it another few steps.
I tap-dance my studded boots along the imaginary margin, stumbling awkwardly, arms out like wings for balance. Three sisters — three successive waves of increasing intensity — are my dance partners tonight. The sisters want to lead, but you’ll end up getting dipped if you let them. As far from shore as I am, there is no warning of their approach. The black waves remain unbroken, and they sneak up in the dark, camouflaged, to pounce on me. Leaning into them is the best way to stay on your feet, but it can be harrowing to close your eyes and hope the water doesn’t roll over your head.
You have to pay attention to everything at once. Standing in elbow-deep water now, I don’t have time to prepare a single cast as the first sister descends upon me. She catches my eye with a faint sparkle from the curtained moon, but it’s too late. I lean into her, legs braced in a shoulder-width stance. She slaps me on the chin, and I come out on the other side soaked but still firmly planted to the bottom. With almost no time in between, her siblings toss me around. They’re thick, and they carry weight. I twice leave the bottom, upended like a sinking ship. Trying to find my feet, I imagine a caricature of someone slipping on ice. I sputter, spit and swear as I flail.
It’s too much tonight. I surrender and escape to a safe distance. The water is well below my waist as I stumble backward. Never turn your back to the sea. Reaching the point where the waves break and the foam rolls around me, I stop, take a few deep breaths and pull a plug from my bag. Being out here is pretty ridiculous sometimes, but hell, if it doesn’t make me feel alive.
Tonight it is gliders, has to be gliders.
These skinny, fishlike pieces of wood cast like rockets and are a joy to work. Fast, then slow: Let it flow. It can be difficult to feel the plug with the slight cross wind and the rolling waves, but I know Bizarro. Repetition and confidence are as important as skill on these nights, to stay connected with the lure. I have to feel it in my gut, as much as in my rod.
The first hit comes a short distance from a tiny drop where the water humps up as the waves roll in. As I lay into the striper — nerves crackling with energy again — the words rush out of my mouth as an exasperated exhale: “Always comes at the edge.” I land the fish quickly, thankful for its existence and happy again for stumbling upon this wonderful spot. The next bass comes quickly, then another and another. Cast, connect, retrieve, hit, hook, fight, release — all while trying to stay on my feet and keep an eye on the other sisters. It’s a rhythm that becomes automatic, and fish after fish comes to hand. I’m lost in a scene that repeats again and again as time slides by without awareness and clouds roll endlessly overhead in the black of night.
There is a moment when I am struck again by the lack of an easily identifiable reason for fish to be in this spot, given the number of stripers I’ve caught here. It makes no sense. Unlocking the reason perhaps matters more than catching fish. I don’t just want to hook them, reel them in and boast about my tally to my buddies. I want to know why the fish are here. To explain a pattern, then actualize on it, is my definition of success, and Bizarro still seems like a black box.
Finding the answer won’t happen tonight. It’s suddenly 3 a.m., and I’m on fish No. 26, or more, as I’ve lost count several times. It’s starting to feel like indulgence, and fatigue is setting in. Time to go home, without further thought on my simple question. I fish Bizarro 10 to 15 times a month during the fall. Maybe next time I’ll figure out why there are fish here, or next spring. Perhaps I’ll never know, and my precious spot will remain aptly named Bizarro Beach.