Surf’s Up

rooster fish

by Scott Sadil

Perched on the edge of an island in deep Baja with my old friend Pete Syka, I’m reminded, once again, how far we’ve come in our surf-fishing careers.

Fifty years ago, our idea of a beach outing included long surf rods, spinning reels, pyramid sinkers and little bait hooks from which we hung sand crabs, dug by hand from the wash, or globs of mussels gathered at low tide from rocks between Scripps Pier and our favorite surf break along Black’s Beach.

We felt we were getting pretty sophisticated when we learned to carry a spool of black thread to help keep the slimy mussel globs from sailing off the hook when we cast—precursor, perhaps, to tying an actual fly, come to think of it.

The improbability of surf fishing

Soon we’d built ourselves genuine casting rods, bought Penn Jigmasters loaded with 20-lb. green Maxima line.  Our first trip to the Sea of Cortez we saw fishing charging the beach, fire-hose showers of bait, some of it landing on rocks before flopping back into the the pellucid blue water.

Next time south we carried feathered jigs and chrome spoons.

One thing led to another.  Books were instrumental in our evolution from bait casters, standing patiently, rods in hand, waiting for nibble or strike, to frenetic rangers hustling up and down the beach, stalking any sign of feeding fish.

Fly rods were all but inevitable.

So were the mishaps, the disappointments, the outright failures.  It was never an easy game. You stand on a beach, waves breaking in front of you, and try to find fish with a measly little fly rod waving in the breeze.

On the other hand, it’s about as exciting as any angling can be.

Peter mixes up a bowl of guacamole.  The chips are the genuine article, actual tortillas baked to snap-crackling crispness.  We settle into our beach chairs, both of us feeling a little smug.  

How many roosterfish did we just pull out of that trough beyond the inside break?

“I lost count before we left the outside break,” says Peter.

Surf’s up: Two hands are better than one?

“I lost count at nine on the inside,” I offer.

Peter looks my way.

“I’m not suggesting you change or anything,” he adds.  “But you are kind of a fire-breather these days.”

“It’s as good as it gets,” I counter. “This is what we always imagined surf-fishing might be.”

We stare out over the water, the waves lapping at the sand.  Fifty years.  We’ve run into guides this trip, boats sliding along the beach, right in front of us, close enough I could send a fly over the gunwales if I were so inclined.  I resist—though in all frankness these recent intrusions don’t inspire in me my most sincere feelings of generosity.   

So it goes.  Wiping the guac from my untrimmed moustache, I recall the youngster I brought here a couple of years back, a kid (under 40) who kept saying roosters were his favorite fish—especially ones caught from the beach.  This year I’ve found myself saying, again and again, sotte voce, that of course roosters are his favorite:  They’re the best.

White seabass, back in the day

It’s like a cartoon in the New Yorker.  Classic setting: Man and woman sitting side by side in bed, clearly intimates if not necessarily husband and wife.  Guy leaning over, speaking into the woman’s ear, a look of drunken ecstasy or dazzlement in his star-struck eyes.

The caption:  “Have I ever told you how much I love . . . . roosterfish?”

Gray’s angling editor Scott Sadil is happy to report he’s broken only one ten-weight this season while fishing for roosterfish in the Baja surf.