Words By George Van Dercook
Life has moved at a million miles an hour for as long as I can remember and that’s the way I liked it, but this past year I spent the better part of August, September, and October recovering from foot surgery. I shattered my left foot in an unfortunate, fishing/dirt biking related incident. At first I was really losing my mind, but over time I noticed that this injury had forced me to slow down for more then ten seconds for the first time in years. Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t do anything about my immediate predicament and there was going to be plenty of time in life to do the things I want to. This was the longest I’d ever been laid up for, but fortunately I had my fishing memories to obsess over during a miserable period of immobility. A few months prior to my injury, my good friend Alex Chay and I embarked on an epic fishing trip to Costa Rica.
This was it, our home for that period of time in Pavones, Costa Rica. Dark sand, the Pacific Ocean and howler monkeys at night. What else could you ask for?
I found myself thinking a lot about fishing and the trip we had shared, so when I was able to start walking again that was the only thing on my mind. Naturally, Alex and I had been in touch about planning a trip for when I was fully recovered. Being fantastical extremists, we were throwing around ideas of floatplane trips to Kamchatka and mother ship expeditions in the Seychelles. Then we grounded ourselves for a moment and realized we had barely any time and even less money. At this point I also realized that this was going to be the first year in my memory, where I hadn’t caught a single Striped Bass. This decided it; a trip home to “log some family time” was in desperate order.
After planning with Alex and our friend Capt. John Jinishian, we dialed in a date and I booked my flights. I was flying across the country from Jackson Hole, Wyoming to New York City, to catch a Striped Bass on a fly rod, with two people who shared an unrelenting passion for exactly that.
Alex and I left NYC at 5:30 a.m. to meet Johnny at his Marina in Westport, Connecticut. He was, of course, more dialed then Alex and I ever are. Johnny must’ve known this because he was fully prepared with gear and snacks for not only himself but us too. After all, the three of us have been fishing together for years now and understand each of our individual angling characteristics. Alex and I have and will be clapped, but pretty dialed; Johnny is just straight up dialed. And true to form, we were on the fish within 30 minutes of being on the water.
The weather was perfect, 70 Degrees and unseasonable for a mid-November day in the Northeast. Johnny was fired up and could tell the fish were around. We buzzed around for about 20 minutes before we spotted the droves of diving birds. Terns and gulls uninhibitedly hurled themselves into schools of peanut bunker that were simultaneously being assaulted from bellow by gator Bluefish and cookie cutter Striped Bass. This chaotic scene is unique to the New England coast of the United States. The sight aroused a familiar feeling of excitement that I associate with home. Growing up fishing off the coast of Long Island, I grew up obsessed with Striped Bass and remarkable fall blitzes, like the one we were in at that very moment.
It took me a few fish to get rid of my trout fishing habits from the summer. In no time I felt right at home again, tossing a 9-weight rod to my favorite fish in the world, battling waves, tangled fly line, and wind to make the right cast. It was about my 3rd cast before I hooked into a good-sized Striper, not quite a schoolie, around 26 inches. It was a gorgeous fish with traces of sea lice, evidence that this young bass was a transient visitor on a long journey from the open ocean. I was lit up, uncontrollably stoked to reach into the Long Island Sound, hoist a Striper by it’s familiar sandpaper like mouth, marvel at it for a few seconds and then release it into the cold water. It was a hectic mess all day chasing birds and fish, casting, stripping and ripping around like maniacs trying to predict the movement of the bait and where the fish would be next. This is what I live for. A vortex of chaos that is so natural, raw, cold and wet. The dark green water and whitecaps produced the kind of energy I feed off and exude.
We chased fish and caught these marvelous fish through the slack tide on the fly, until the sun sank behind the horizon. I have fantasized about fishing in exotic locations all over the world and even had the chance to fish in a few of them. This being said, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I loved this place, that water, and those fish. It was all so familiar, but still mind blowing. As anglers, we are very lucky to develop a close place-based appreciation for a specific environment that allows us to connect with an ecosystem. This principal grounds us to the natural world as we experience these places and truly understand the biology behind each fishery. This isn’t something you learn from a guidebook, it comes from time (hours, days, years, decades) spent on the water with family and friends, and most of that time you’re not catching fish.
We probably caught over 30 fish that day. Maybe the most Striped Bass I’ve ever caught on the fly, in one day in my life. I couldn’t believe how many fish were around. This day gave me hope and made me look positively towards the future of our fisheries. People always talk about how prolific our fisheries used to be and reminisce fondly about the glory days. If we as anglers can be responsible stewards, perhaps we can find our way back to those days. Clearly, we didn’t keep a single fish that day but that was never what it was about. It has about getting back to my roots, coming home, and finding great fishing with a couple of my closest friends. I was buzzing on the ride home, truly ecstatic, and I felt very fortunate. There’s nothing I would rather be doing then chasing Striped Bass, with a fly rod, in the Atlantic Ocean.
We are stoked to have such great ambassadors for our brand. George lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, so naturally he skis daily and shares the stoke with a passionate group of individuals. Stay up to date with the crew out west, better known as MADTREES. From skiing to fishing and simply enjoying life, MADTREES embodies the creative youth with a deep passion for the outdoors....