The End of Surfcasting

The Cape Cod Times has a sobering eulogy to the classic Cape Cod fall tradition of surfcasting from the beaches of the outer Cape for big striped bass. The cause of death? Seals. Too many of them.

Tony Stetzo, a guide and the former holder of the International Game Fish Association’s record for stripers — a 73 pound cow he caught off of Orleans’ Nauset Beach in the late fall of 1981 — said in the Times story: “It’s all done. Everybody knows it now,” said Stetzko, who said his fishing guide business has suffered from the decline.”

With the seal population tripled since 1999, surfcasting is all but useless to attempt on the backside beaches. I’ve had seals take hooked fish off my line before, and nothing is more discouraging than seeing a seal’s face bobbing in the waves, waiting for the angler to make its life easy by snaring a fish and holding it tight long enough to be snatched away. The pinnipeds are doing more than ruining the season for the legions of surfcasters who followed the fall run and set up camp from Provincetown to Chatham, pumping dollars in the shoulder season economy and enlivening the beaches with their four-wheel drive trucks and campers. This was a way of life that went back to the late 40s, when the Cape’s fishing was legendary and attracted anglers from around the northeast for a shot at a trophy-sized fish.

The beach driving has been cut way back due to the piping plover situation, and now the seals have all but shut the door on one of the Cape’s best off-season pastimes.

Add in the great white shark situation, the rising concern among town officials of how those sharks will affect tourism, and now the recreational fishermen pointing a finger and it doesn’t take much imagination to predict someone is going to call for some culling despite the presence of the Federal Marine Mammal protection act which has made it illegal to kill a seal and is the single reason the population has exploded.

I loved surfcasting back in the 90s when I first moved to the Cape year-round and was looking for an excuse to flee the family and find some wild peace and quiet under the stars standing in front of the big foaming ocean. A couple close calls with rogue waves and clumsy waders and I hung up my rod in the belief my life was worth more than a fish. As it turns out I hung it up before the curtain fell on the sport thanks to the seals. I guess nature will take its course and put things into equilibrium as word spreads through the great white social network that the table is set for fine dining on the beaches of Truro and Monomoy Island. One can only hope.

A great but obscure account of the golden era of Cape Cod surfcasting is Frank Daignault’s “Twenty Years of the Cape: My Time As a Surfcaster” – I highly recommend it.

Related is this cool auction of books about fall striper fishing on Rhode Island’s Block Island complete with a collection of the wooden plugs (lures) used in the early 80s. Proceeds benefit the American Littoral Association which conducts an excellent striper tagging program I used to participate in.

Turning our backs and pressing mute

As we gird ourselves for a national debate over  gun rights, let me remind the debaters that the all-time highest death toll in any school massacre was caused by a bomb and not a gun. The Bath School Massacre of 1927 happened because Andrew Kehoe, an otherwise rational adult in his 50s, killed his wife, torched his home and then set off enough dynamite to kill 38 children.

A fiend with mayhem and horror in his mind will find a way to do his deed whether he has a Glock, an assault rifle, his bare hands or a couple bags of fertilizer and a can of diesel fuel. So go ahead, melt down all the guns, but it isn’t going to stop the next  Travis Bickle from making his own dark twisted bid for top score in the worst first-person-shooter of all time.

For that’s what this, these fiends and their maniacal acts of incomprehension: their bid for infamy and notoriety. I propose we do one thing to deny them that thrill, the dark epitaph they hope for as they make their plots, buy their black trench coats, stockpile bullets, load their assault rifles and fill their notebooks with  plots and schemes just like the “heroes” before them and the ones that will follow them. “I’ll show them,” they’ll vow. “They won’t forget my name after this.”

Let’s ignore them.

Let’s turn our backs and press mute.

Let’s take away what they want.

Let’s agree that we will not name them. we won’t publish their photos. We won’t interview their friends or family, take old pictures out of yearbooks or Facebook, and we will deny them the one thing they couldn’t find in life:  our attention.  We ignored them before, let’s keep on ignoring them afterwards.

The press can do this on their own: decent news outlets won’t publish that suicide victims killed themselves out of respect for their families (they died “suddenly” or “unexpectedly”), they won’t name victims of accidents or violent crimes until the next of kin have been notified, so why not put in place a tacit policy that maniacs and fiends don’t get named or famed? I learned from a tweet by Xeni Jardin that BoingBoing has an informal policy not to run the photo of these mass murderers.  One random guy on Twitter  — @SalGomes summed it up: “please don’t spread his name. Don’t make that monster famous. That is what he wants. Don’t forget the atrocity; forget the monster!”

All that really needs to be said is a stark account, “A 20 year-old male killed his 50 year-old mother and used a machine gun to kill a lot of six-year olds with names more deserving of our attention and memory than his.”

The ravenous press, so solicitous and understanding with their concocted sympathy, their bright lights and satellite trucks and bubble-headed anchors hovering like ghouls.  can never be trusted to do the right thing. But we the people can. Let the coroner autopsy the madmen’s brains for a clue, let the investigators figure out the causes and try to learn so they can try to out-guess the next desperate domestic terrorist, but we the audience can stop rubbernecking, stop obsessing and stop giving these sad fiends the one thing they want — our horrified attention.

I don’t need to know what their fathers did for a living, what their high school classmates remembered. Yes, it is instructive to know that “high-strung” mothers who collect guns and then take their “developmentally disabled” child with them to a gun range for some mom-son bonding are likely to prove out the cliche that people who own guns often get killed by them. But let’s ignore their names, their street address, let’s stop obsessing over their Facebook profiles, their bad haircuts, and freaked out memories of their friends and neighbors. If that segment of society who is really into serial killers and horror wants to know the gory details, they will find them. But take away their identity and you take away the whole point of going out with a bang.  Deny them what they want the most and maybe the next sad loner looking to set the high score and unlock the “terror achievement badge” will realize he’s only going to be shunned. If the press can’t ignore them, then we the audience can. Stop rubbernecking. When that headline about Adam Lanza’s sad life passes your way, pass it over.

So, no more Adam Lanza, Andrew Kehoe, James Eagan Holmes, Seung-Hui Cho.  I shouldn’t know their names. I’m ashamed I know who John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy is. That I know what kind of gun Cho used to gun down his classmates. I’m doing to stop worrying about the villain, mourn with the bereaved, and move on.




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