How My Wetsuit Saved My Night
Wetsuits have become the uniform of the Northeastern surfcaster. Before we wore a fishing wetsuit we wore waders, and anyone that has fished the rocks in those baggy, waterproof pants most likely has a story that made them switch to a fishing wetsuit. As time wears on, we also accumulate stories that make us glad we made that change.
It was a cool night in late August; one of those nights that tells you the summer is coming to a quick close where the moon was very dark and very quiet. My buddy and I walked nearly two miles over rugged terrain to arrive at this location and we were both experiencing the bizarre sensation of being hot enough that steam was rising out of the neoprene. The night air was penetrating quickly enough causing us to feel cold. It was time to regulate body temp and get the hell into the water.
The sea was pretty calm and we watched as two and three foot waves glided gently onto the shore. We knew our posts and set out for a pair of rocks our feet knew well. I watched as my partner’s dark silhouette was slowly swallowed by the slick surf as I was walking seaward, over cobble bottom and feeling the water—warmer than the air—slowly climbing until my feet lost the bottom. Swimming with one arm, while clutching my 11-foot rod with the other, my eyes were trained on a small disturbance left by the submerged boulder each time a wave passed. I finally met the stone, found the crevice on the back and climbed up.
Once situated, I felt like I could be a standing rock in the middle of the ocean. With darkness obscuring spatial reference, I used a few lights on the shore and islands to my south to get my bearings. I released the clip from my rod guide and snapped on a wooden needlefish lure. Before I could prepare to cast I heard my friend, 100 yards to my west, call out flatly, “I’m on!” indicating that he was already hooked up.
The night began with a few decent stripers around 15 pounds. The tide was dropping now and the current was starting to move hard around the point as the water backed up against the land. Suddenly I felt a hard hit on my needlefish and immediately knew that I got a good fish. The battle was spirited but short and when I had the fish at my feet, I quickly surveyed the sea for waves, flipped on my headlamp and prepared to land the fish.
She was a good one, comfortably over 30 pounds, short for her weight and fat as hell. I crouched to get ahold of the fish and, with my hand gripping the line, she shook, hard and spit the lure! I had gotten what I wanted out of the fish… the battle and a look, but I was still a little bummed that I hadn’t gotten to feel her weight. I stood up, got back into position and looked out over the open ocean. On a night like this the ocean looks just a little darker than the sky, and out there where I should have seen the sky I was seeing more water than I expected.
I strained my eyes to focus on this ‘thing’ that seemed out of place. “Is that a wave?” I wondered out loud. Before I could finish thinking about it, I felt the water around my feet dip and then begin to rise. I leaned forward but the rising water ascended my full height in milliseconds. I have a distinct memory of tilting my head back to sip one final breath before the wave overtook me. This wave was taller than I was! At least 7 or 8 feet, and came out of nowhere!
It cleaned me off the rock, but I had the instinct to jump backwards and the wave just carried me back 40 feet and set me down right before it crested. I turned back to see another wave just reaching its towering peak, I jumped again and it carried me as it broke over my head. There was another and another. Then the sea fell quiet again. I had been carried in varying increments more than 100 feet from my rock. I shook it off and started making my way back toward my rock in the darkness. “Holy s#!+, are you okay?!” I heard my friend call over from the west.
“Yeah, that was crazy!” I yelled back. All I could think about was how this scenario would have played out if I had been busy unhooking that fish!
I’m a big believer in getting back on the horse, so I did. The rest of the night was uneventful, but it was hard to look seaward without straining my eyes looking for another unexpected wave. I’ve had a few experiences with rogue waves and they don’t get any easier with experience. But I shudder to think what would have happened that night if I was set up on one of the rocks that I used to fish in waders. That set of waves would have crushed me, filled my waders, and something very bad could have happened. In the fishing wetsuit I was safe, buoyant and (mostly) unafraid. This experience alone made all the money I will spend on a fishing wetsuit in my entire life worth it.