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                              The Preface


I often said that one day I would write a book about the magnificent adventures that I have been so fortunate to experience in over 30 years of fishing for the ever-intriguing striped bass — adventures exceeded in merit only by the incredible friends that I have made and the people that I have met along the way.  The friends and people, a fabulous array and a wide spectrum of endearing and charismatic surf fishing personalities, are what make the adventures that are chronicled throughout this book so very special and so uniquely interesting.  However, as differing as the personality spectrum may be, there are two basic commonalities: a deep appreciation for the sport of striped bass fishing and a love for two of the most spectacular islands on earth — Jamestown and the Block.   From my early years as a child, listening to stories told by my father about pursuing the mystical striped fish in the great surf, to experiencing one of history’s greatest Block Island striper blitzes with two of my very best friends, the following chapters will take you on a journey of striped bass fishing adventures that were tremendously exciting, almost always challenging and sometimes just plain comical.  But just as the tide will always raise the level of the sea, it must always take some of its waters back, and so too, along with a plethora of enjoyable fishing experiences also came tragedy. The rocky coastlines of Jamestown and Block Island are punishing and dangerous environments when the ocean becomes enraged — God help the fisherman who loses sight of the power and the fury of the sea.

                 Above all, the purpose of this book is not to instruct others in the methods or techniques of fishing for striped bass.  There are so many great “how to” books on the market these days and most of them are devoted primarily and comprehensively to cataloging the proper approach to pursuing and catching striped bass.  This is not a “how to” book.  This is a book about “how it went” for over 30 years of fishing for stripers.  And sometimes it went well — exciting catches of very large fish in historic proportions, pleasant fishing conditions and mild surf.  Sometimes it was simply ruining a perfectly good day by trying to fish; and sometimes, well, the intentions were genuine, but the results were nothing more than amusing fishing stories best suited for fireplace lamentation.  The expert surfcaster as well the beginner (and even the non-fisherman) will relate to and appreciate the unsuspected variety of situations that evolve around the basic and relatively simple plan of all surf fishing expeditions — to catch fish, lots of them. But now and then the forces of nature, Murphy’s Law of Fishing, and luck (or the lack thereof) have different agendas for the unsuspecting fisherman. Hurricanes, dense fog, equipment failures, pitch-black nights and The Perfect Storm — all contribute to some wild and exciting fishing stories.

                A better stage for the chronicles you are about to read could not be envisioned on any other island pair than Jamestown and the Block.  These two islands are abundantly rich in fishing legends, fishing lore and fishing history — particularly as it relates to the striped bass.  It was no secret, even several hundred years ago, that each island had a plentiful supply of the striped fish swimming throughout its waters.  Anglers in the mid- to late 1800s had already discovered the great fishing opportunities that existed around these islands, and some anglers were so enthusiastic about the sport that they went through the painstaking process of drilling iron pipes into the surf’s boulders  in order to erect bass stands from which they could fish for the linesiders. To this day, hundreds of trophy stripers have been taken by Jamestown surfcasters, and the largest striped bass ever taken by a rod-and-reel angler was reported to have been caught by a Block Island surf fisherman in 1887 (over 85 pounds!).  Unfortunately, the catch was never officially certified and as such, is not recognized as the world record today. In fact, what turned my attention to the Block as a young URI grad student were the reports coming from the island during the late ’70s of very large bass that were consistently being caught from its shores while the rest of New England (except for a few places on the Cape) was suffering from a severe decline in the overall bass population.  During those years, almost all the bass that were caught on Block Island were big fish and those fishermen who knew about the island’s secret did their best to try to keep it quiet.  Discovering the two islands and their fishing secrets along with my two lifelong high school friends was an adventure extraordinaire. In the pages that follow, I have captured many of the challenges we encountered as young, aspiring fishermen and the pathway, albeit sometimes rocky, that we followed throughout the years on our way to becoming knowledgeable and accomplished surfcasters.  Equally as interesting and entertaining was the cast of friends and characters we met along the journey — none more spectacular in his manner and in his passion for striped bass fishing than the late Rebelle Felice, the past owner of the Jamestown Creek Bait Shop.  Rebelle was a father of the island, a monarch and protector of its environment, and for two teenage striped bass fishermen wannabees, he was an eyeful and an earful.  For new Jamestown fishermen, he was your initiation into the island’s sport fishing scene — and if you never had the opportunity to know him, the accounts in these pages will give you a pleasurable and entertaining insight into an island legend.  Another legend, equally as charismatic and passionate about striped bass fishing and the marine environment, was the late Mac Swienton, owner and proprietor of Twin Maples Cottages and Bait Shop on the Block.  Mac was another island father and a monarch of its waters — he was an inspiration to his island community and to the fishermen he counseled in every subject from equipment repairs to world affairs.  If you never knew Mac, you will enjoy reading about his life and exuberant spirit, and if you did know him, you will smile remembering his character through these pages.

                While there is certainly no substitute for actually being on one of the islands with your surf rod in hand, casting into the sea, sometimes curling up in front of the fireplace on a cold night with a wee nip and a great book can bring you close.  Here are some adventures that may bring you home again or that may entice you to try a magnificent sport if you have never before done so.


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