We all have at least one spe­cial spot where we’ve spent count­less hours fish­ing, mus­ing and mak­ing sense of the world.

Soundings - - Contents - By Wil­liam Sis­son

It’s nice to have a place to re­turn to year after year, through thick and thin, from child­hood and the teenage years to your sin­gle-minded, hard-fish­ing adult decades and into what­ever lies be­yond. For me, that place is a mus­sel bar in south­ern New Eng­land, a piece of a larger to­pog­ra­phy — a cur­rent-swept, surf-smashed mess of sand and glacial rub­ble that pro­duces ter­rific, chal­leng­ing fish­ing. I have ex­plored the nooks and cran­nies of this ter­rain for 50 years, and I am still learn­ing.

Not only does the place re­main spe­cial after hun­dreds of trips, but it is still a good lo­ca­tion to tie into a large striper from late Septem­ber through Novem­ber. I fished it as a young­ster, surfed it as a teen and got to know the bot­tom well, glid­ing over it while hunt­ing fish with a spear­gun.

Hun­dreds of lo­ca­tions along the coast bear the generic name “mus­sel bar.” The nice thing about this piece of wa­ter is that it has a past, present and fu­ture. It holds plenty of good mem­o­ries, and the fish­ing this past fall was ex­cel­lent.

Last Septem­ber, the mus­sel bar was on fire. The rem­nants of a trop­i­cal storm had passed off­shore, and the waves rolled in crisp and green, waist- to head-high. When­ever a big set broke, schools of dis­com­bob­u­lated peanut bunker shud­dered in the white wa­ter like tiny sit­ting ducks. The bass went nuts, thrash­ing the sur­face as they fed. Three casts, three fish. Re­peat.

The day was clear and bright, with the wind out of the north­west. Air tem­per­a­ture was in the low 80s, and the wa­ter was maybe 66 de­grees. I fished in a bathing suit. The scene was as loud as it was vis­ual, full of the sounds of fall. Gulls clam­ored and wheeled on bait and bass. Cor­morants dove. Pods of bait skit­tered across the sur­face. Waves crashed. Fish erupted. I cast non­stop for about three hours, paus­ing only to cut back my leader and retie the soft swim bait. As the tide slowed to a trickle, the fish, birds and lone fish­er­man dis­persed. I walked down the beach, leaned my pole against a sun-bleached log and swam in the late-af­ter­noon surf.

I have his­tory with the mus­sel bar. My great un­cle Ed Sis­son, a griz­zled old beach seiner, kept a fish shack on the back side of the dunes some­time around the turn of the last cen­tury. It was swept clear to Tim­buktu in a storm, never to be re­built.

My brother, a hand­ful of friends and I started surf­ing the bar in the late 1960s. We were the first we knew of to ride the spot. When a big swell swept in, we’d jog out in the morn­ing with our boards un­der our arms or over our heads, be­fore the wind came up. The waves were steep, short and wedge-shaped. Some days they were big enough to scare us, but the break was al­ways ride­able.

My old fish­ing buddy took the big­gest striped bass he’d ever caught and buried it in the sand out there one night, so as not to give away the spot. He dragged the cow back to

the park­ing lot and then drove to my house well past mid­night, where he pro­ceeded to lay on the horn and flash his head­lights out­side my bed­room win­dow to wake me up.

Eigh­teen years ago this Oc­to­ber, I walked out one af­ter­noon with my 14- month- old daugh­ter rid­ing in a pack on my back. My wife, who was preg­nant, walked be­side me. We passed some­one walk­ing back from the point who de­liv­ered a breath­less re­port: Fish are break­ing ev­ery­where!

I re­mem­ber feel­ing frus­trated when two fish­er­men who had been trail­ing be­hind us sped up and passed us after hear­ing the same news. I urged Patty on, and she shot me the sort of glance that can only be de­liv­ered by a preg­nant woman lum­ber­ing along a bar­rier beach be­side an im­pa­tient hus­band with a fish­ing rod in his hand.

When I reached the bar, birds were div­ing. I waded straight into the surf with Carly on my back and quickly hooked a fish. I backed up and care­fully bent at my knees to re­lease it. I strode right back out and hooked a sec­ond striper — and a break­ing wave knocked me side­ways, caus­ing me to stum­ble. I fig­ured it was a sign that my daugh­ter should join her mother on the sand.

The mus­sel bar is a good place to catch big fish at night if you don’t mind shar­ing the windswept ter­rain with a few ghosts. For sev­eral sea­sons the spot has made the hair stand up on the back of my neck and fore­arms for no ap­par­ent rea­son. I’d glance over my shoul­der, but there was never any­one there. I was puz­zled. I’d fished nights since I was a kid; I like to fish alone, and I’d never spooked eas­ily. I even­tu­ally chalked it up to the many rest­less souls who lost their lives along this stretch of shore in win­ter storms and hur­ri­canes. I made my peace with them. There’s plenty of el­bow room out here, and some nights when the fish­ing is slow it’s nice just to have some­one to talk to.

A mus­sel bar that the writer has fished for decades holds plenty of fish and good mem­o­ries.

There’s lots of el­bow room on the bar­rier beach.

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