FishTales Classic: The Tale of Four Fish Diane

Season Epilogue: Diane’s First Striped Bass was a Quality Keeper

NOVEMBER  17, 2001

Diane's first striper was a keeper and she parlayed this catch with a gorilla bluefish the same size: 34 inches

Diane’s first striper was a keeper and she parlayed this catch with a gorilla bluefish the same size: 34 inches (Photo by Jack Yee)

November 17, 2001, dawned clear and cold. A frigid wind blew steady from the north-northeast; Just enough to rile up the surf and get the fish moving. A deep black, star-laden night dissolved into a bright and sunny late autumn morning. By 6:30am, my 13-year-old daughter Diane and I were in the truck, heading out for the year’s surfcasting season finale.

Montauk Point, usually the venue of choice for trophy fish that time of year, had been stubbornly unproductive for the past two weeks. Up until the first week in November, both the north side and south side beaches around the lighthouse had yielded a steady bonanza of blues and stripers—albeit small ones. Indeed, when my friend Ron LeDonni made his once-a-year surf fishing trip to Montauk  around Election Day, he was rewarded with all the cocktail blues his rock weary legs could handle on an unseasonably pleasant day.

The Beginning of the End

Yet a week later, when my brother Frank showed up from California for his turn in the surf, you’d have thought the fish lost their map to Montauk Point. We hunted all the likely spots for three days straight and the most action we witnessed was the dive-bombing antics of the newly arrived gannets who joined the mainstay gulls in feeding frenzies far off shore. The only good news in that aerial display was the likelihood that menhaden bunker or  herring bait was the object of the gannets’ kamikaze tactics. And the presence of big bait promised that big bass were still around. There was still hope.

Indeed, truly committed surfcasters always have a hard time giving up hope—or the season. And when the weather is balmly into the heart of November, the faithful continue to ply the beaches right into the holiday season. I can recall fishing the Indian Head beach amid snow flurries in mid November with Big Brother Frank and punk rock attorney Justin Hoy, and wading to a sandbar on Napeague to catch gorilla bluefish with Jay Press the weekend after Thanksgiving. This fall fishing season had all the makings of a late one. But to put no greater risk on my marriage than I already had with a five day East End fishing vacation the week prior, I agreed to call it a season on this very unseasonable Saturday.

Friday night’s e-mail fishing report from Jack Yee, the East End’s unofficial paparazzo of sand and surf, was the last bit of convincing Diane and I needed to turn our vehicle west from Amagansett to the beaches of East Hampton and Georgica. Frank and I, after spurning the dead waters of Montauk, had finally gotten healthy there on Tuesday and Wednesday with small blues and stripers. As expected, Diane and I found birds working over bait with the first golden slants of sunlight. No fish were showing at first, but surfcasters were everywhere with anticipation. By 7:30am a succession of tight lines and bent rods was bringing up a mix of small bluefish and short stripers. It seemed a certainty that Diane and I would have some good morning sport and an evening seafood dinner. But the banner day that was ahead for Diane was beyond our expectations.

“Four Fish” Diane

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised. Diane had quite a season in the surf that year. Though she was by no means a little girl, some folks were still surprised to learn that Diane had been reeling in blues from the surf since she was 10. Why anyone was skeptical that Diane had the passion as well as the strength to wield a nine-foot surf stick and do battle with predator fish was a mystery. She may have been the youngest female on the beaches in those days, but she certainly wasn’t the only one. And she was far from the least experienced. Diane had been accompanying me surfcasting since she was an infant. In 1998, she fished solo for the first time and landed three blues during a fast moving Labor Day blitz on the town beach of Montauk. More recently, Diane out-fished me and my companions by landing four blues on a warm summer morning. It was on that day that Diane earned the handle of  “Four Fish” Diane.

Diane’s favorite style of fishing is the Indian Summer variety–splashing around in gentle surf with bare feet, a bathing suit and tee shirt. Late in the season, she’d just as soon stay warm in her bed than venture out to the beach. But her early season success must have kept her hungry for action—even though she knew our November adventure that morning would ask more of her than ever. She donned Neoprene waders, a fleece-lined windbreaker and shivered as we got set for our first casts. I fished a white 2-ounce bucktail lure with a white pork rind, enhanced with a yellow and black feather teaser tied 12 inches in front. Diane stayed with the 2-ounce “shorty” Hopkins metal lure that served her so well back in September. Diane doesn’t cast very far, but she is accurate enough that I have no fear of crossed lines when fishing by her side. And with the fish starting to hit in the breakers not 50 yards away, Diane was positioned to be into the mix along with everyone else.

The action started with three-pound bluefish. I was getting a hit on nearly every cast. And as I slowed my retrieval, I gained the interest of small stripers. A few paces to my right, I could see Diane wearing a doubtful scowl as she reeled through the suds uneventfully. I thought to switch Diane’s tackle to a bucktail like mine. But I knew she had little experience with that lure and I was also afraid that the tackle might be too large for the size of fish we were raising. I looked to my left and spied quite a commotion of birds very close to the shore about a half mile back to the east. “Let’s move”, I shouted to Diane above the rising wind.

Bent Rods Everywhere

We doubled back to the spot where we had entered the beach. Immediately to the east of East Hampton’s Main Beach parking lot, there were bent rods everywhere. Within a few casts, I had a double header of bluefish on my line. A tiny fish had grabbed my bucktail, but a much larger fish had snagged the feathered teaser. I figured this would be the highlight of the morning when Diane’s line went tight.

Her rod bent in a serious arc. My heart leapt as I thought with glee that this was Diane’s chance to land her first striper. She needed little coaching. She steadily pulled back on the fish and took up the slack line as she gained ground. Her drag was set fairly loose and as Diane tugged the fish through the white water, it fought back determinedly. Now I felt a jolt of excitement, daring to think that Diane might have a quality fish—a 28-inch or larger “keeper”, at least. With the running fight she was getting—not the characteristic bluefish tug she was familiar with–Diane was perplexed. But her confusion gave way to an eventual recognition that there was something quite different going on at the end of her line.

It took her nearly 10 minutes to win this battle. After the fish gave one final tail flap at the foot of the surf, Diane dragged it clear of the surf line. There lied a noble but defeated 34-inch striped bass. Diane had her first striper, and a keeper at that. I laughed and shouted congratulations. She beamed. When I held up the fish for her to see its size, her eyes grew wide in near disbelief. But was she proud and happy.

After some more small blues and bass which we returned to the sea, we leap-frogged back to the west as the birds signaled that the fish had done another about face. In a little while, I had a 32-inch striper in the cooler. And moments after I landed that linesider, Diane was again pulling back on another fish–hard. This one seemed to be getting the best of her. I was fully expecting a repeat performance of her inaugural striper from an hour ago. At this point, I wasn’t about to put it past Diane landing a 20 pound slob of a fish—the kind of bass many anglers only dream about. She seemed to have a magic touch.

The fish seemed to be winning; It was peeling line from Diane in short bursts. Diane would gain ground, and then lose line. “Daddy, my arms hurt,” she cried. I stopped fishing to urge her on with loving words of encouragement: “Kiss my surfcasting butt, Diane! Bring that fish home, girl.” She didn’t give up.  I was thoroughly enjoying the sight of my little baby dueling with a sea monster in the early sunlight. A fisherman to her left watched with awe and respect. Finally, the fish showed itself with a desperate but futile leap near shore. This was a bluefish. A monster bluefish. A gangster bluefish. It had a fat white belly and a head the size of a small dog. It measured out at 34 inches to the split in its tail—longer than Diane’s leg.

Diane caught a few more small blues and so did I. But we both knew the day was complete. The morning’s accomplishments–Diane’s first striper, and first keeper at that—would provide plenty of fare for our table—and lore for the winter ahead.

One Response to “FishTales Classic: The Tale of Four Fish Diane”

  1. Chaweenee says:

    This was one of my favorites! I enjoyed reading every word again. Can’t believe our dear Diane was just 13 at the time!!

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