As one door closes another usually opens. Our fishing and hunting seasons are identical. The incoming season offsets the loss of the outgoing one, a fact for which we sportsmen are thankful. The only problem comes if we’re trading in a great season for one that might be lackluster.
Of all the months in the year, October is my very favorite. When I was younger I loved that time so much that it drove me crazy. Sure, I’d get in my last licks for trout and steelhead, but I’d also try and catch my final migrating striped bass, bluefish, bonito, and false albacore of the year. Add to it the opening of hunting season, with early season goose followed by first season waterfowl and the grouse and woodcock openers. Don’t even start with whitetail or fall turkey …
Obsessions grow from ideas, and the peak was when we ran cast-and-blasts. We’d set puddle duck decoys and goose blocks at midnight, then head out to night-fish for bass. It was during the fall run, and if you can’t catch a striper during that time of year you should take up another sport. We’d hammer fish all night, and just before day break we’d trade rods for shotguns and head for the blind.
Early season waterfowl are about as calm as a dog lying by the fireplace, and with even mediocre calling they’d immediately set for a final approach. A few hours after sun up we’d put ’em on ice, clean the guns, and go back to fish. Albies, bonito, and bluefish prefer the daylight, and with some maneuvering around we’d catch enough to be satisfied. By late afternoon we’d be so dog tired that we’d set the hook and take a nap in a protected cove.
At the time, I hunted and fished with a few other hardcores like Tim and Cabe and Jeff. Most of the time at least one of us had enough juju to find fish or fowl. We had a chemistry that clicked, and the weather always went our way. We’d have snotty weather for duck hunting, light winds when fly rodding, and everything was always just right.
One October our luck turned for the worst. Two dogs came up lame, one female went into heat, and the weather was erratic. I’d hit the beach only to find a week-long Nor’easter filled the surf with mung. Every cast meant hooks loaded with a near carpet of red weed that turned flies and plugs into what looked like a 1970s shag carpet. I wished that we could swap that weather for the following week’s duck opener, but on Opening Day there wasn’t a cloud in the blue sky. It did none of us any good to hear that the beaches were clean and the fishing was on fire when we sat in the canoes under a duckless sky. It unfortunately went that way for too long a while.
But things changed when I got a call from The Weather Man. Any time he was fishing or hunting, or doing anything for that matter, The Weather Man ran wide open. When the bite was hot he wanted to catch ’em all, and when the ducks dropped over the oaks I’d see him squeeze his trigger long after three were already doing the backstroke in the rice.
His birth name is Tom Gabel.
The phone call was typically short and sweet.
“Wanna chase albies tomorrow?”
“Not really,” I said. “We’ve been beat up all week.”
“C’mon, it’s gonna be great.”
“The forecast calls for ENE 30. We’ll have 3- to 5-foot seas for sure.”
“It’ll sit down, trust me,” he said. “I’ll meet you at 4:00 a.m. I’ll grab the doughnuts.”
I packed my truck reluctantly. It was raining when I left my house in the morning, it increased around 3:00 a.m., and just before I met him I thought I was driving through a car wash. Would someone turn off the wind machine! I pulled into the harbor, grabbed my gear, and saw him near the boat.
We shook hands, and when we did the wind backed off by 10 knots. It dropped again when he climbed aboard. The rain lessened to a drizzle, and then it shut off completely. The churning ocean littered with whitecaps flattened out, and around false dawn the sun started to pop. We putt-putted out of the harbor past the floating lobster pot buoys torn off of their traps. In a few minutes we passed the red weed that washed on shore, and in ten we hit clean seas.
The next thing I knew there were fish blitzing everywhere I looked. There were stripers hitting mullet on the port side, bluefish mauling butterfish off the starboard, bonito on bay anchovies off the bow, and albies shredding silversides off the stern. By the day’s end my arm ached from big fish, little fish, fast fish, and jumping fish. We had a lot of fun, and I looked forward to tomorrow.
But the tomorrow I envisioned never came, for the next day it was business as usual. The wind was back, the seas were up, and the catching non-existent. The fish split ahead of the blow, and the fall run sort of petered out for me and the boys. It didn’t matter: duck season was right around the corner. If this foul weather stuck around we’d shoot ’em in the beaks.
On Opening Day I got a sunburn.
After about a week of blue skies, the phone rang. It was The Weather Man.
“Wanna go duck hunting tomorrow? It’s gonna be great.”
“Pal, it’s stunk for the past week. Bright sun, no winds, very few birds. I think I’ll pass.”
“I’ll meet you at the blind at 5:00 a.m.,” he said and hung up.
I reluctantly packed my kit again, which this time included sun block. On my drive I saw every star in the sky. It was so warm that I rolled down the windows. It was calm and there wasn’t a gust of wind to be had. I was alone, so I started talking to myself, wondering just why the heck I wasn’t still in the rack.
I shook hands with The Weather Man and it started all over again. First it spit rain, then the wind kicked up, and by the time it was blowing strong the skies opened up. Within half an hour it was pouring rain and we got out of it by stepping into the blind.
The five minutes after legal shooting time is still a blur. Ducks dumped into the blocks to beat the band. Dogs were fetching, hulls were flying, rain was pouring, birds were dropping — it was pandemonium. We got around to the doughnuts after we limited out and drank coffee while more kept landing in the dekes.
You can rely on the WX channel or study Doppler Radar all you want, but when you’re done with the research, lob a call to The Weather Man. You’ve got one in your life, and if you don’t yet you will. When he shows up he’ll turn a frown upside down. A Weather Man is more important than just someone bringing good luck. He’s the one who keeps the rest of us sane.