By the time we had fished Nauset Beach a few years, some very strange things had taken a positive hold upon my mind. I came to think of little else but striped bass. Those few times when I slept at night, I dreamed of stripers finding their way upstream in the little brooks of my boyhood. Then, on groggy mornings, I would move my spoon through the corn flakes at varying speeds and levels.
Off season, I would pore over my log books for evidence of something I might have failed to learn from experience. I had a haunting sense that I was missing something in my surfcasting even when I had caught a ton of fish. Indeed, striped bass had taken an absolute grip of me -- so much so that all of life's meaning was confined to two, incessant fears: We could lose access to the beach; and, we could lose stripers.
The beach buggy thing had gone totally out of control. What with four-wheel-drive, the campers got bigger and more efficient. As a home on wheels, families were on the beach, mine no exception. The towns sought ways to control it, and many individuals sought ways to make beach use less attractive. There was a polarization between the towns and folks from inland. Tank traps -- deep pits covered with newspapers, snow fence and sand that would stop a big truck cold -- were sometimes dug on the beach trails much to both sides' embarrassment. Some of the guys used to say that our salvation was in a wider use, a use where the townies, who so opposed us, would come on the beach themselves.
The logic was that if they used the beach, and at the time you could count on one hand the ones that did, it would be necessary for them to discriminate against outsiders, a thing that the law would never allow. The truth is that in time the visionaries proved to be correct. We did see the day when friendships developed between the Worcester crowd, the Rhode Island guys and the "townies". The tribal thing died and I doubt that anyone missed it. However, what we never dreamed was that the beach could be taken naturally.
I should have known that something funny was going on, although I think some of the older guys might have. When we first started going to Chatham Inlet, you could sometimes hear the casters on Morris Island, sometimes see them straight across the water lighting their cigarettes. Over the years, and it could never be observed in one season, Morris Island and its casters were moving to the right. Also, the ride down the beach was getting longer. It was okay with me because the longer the ride, the less likely others would come and I loved the inlet like no place on the planet. Near the Second Coast Guard Station, the actual building long having been moved to a safer beach, the land was still intact, because the Mass Beach Buggy Association had succeeded in building up a little sand with a combination of snow fence and sweat. Late in the summer of 1986, just south of the Second CG Station, opposite the Chatham Light, I rough-measured the high water front to the high mark on Pleasant Bay; it turned out to be something like 55 feet. Kind of thin it seemed to me. I meant to write something about it for one of the surf pieces I often did. I wanted to say that maybe the beach was like a rubber band and that you can only stretch it so much, make it so thin, before it finally breaks. But between the fall fishing and the hunting season, I never got around to it. That was too bad, because I would have been famous.
January 2, 1987. The nor'easter buffeted Nauset Beach with 60 knot winds only a few hours after the Petty Officer at Chatham Station hoisted the storm flags. On the barrier beach, the vibrations of falling walls of water pounded their relentless sibilance upon the sand. As the tide rose, the lower spots yielded rivulets of sea toward Pleasant Bay. While small at first, they grew enough to overpower the barrier, each powerful comber pounding its adversary weaker. Tufts of dune grass broke free from the dying beach, ripping sand, some stored over the centuries, until a breach from an Atlantic gone amuck slid into Pleasant Bay. One wild night destroyed something that had withstood centuries. Within a few months, the opening was over a half mile wide. No one would ever again cast the Chatham Inlet we had known. And having already lost the striped bass, both of our most incessant fears had been realized.
It is no secret that the striper has come back. One could effectively argue that our inlets have simply been exchanged. Nevertheless, there is no denying that over a third of Nauset Beach, now South Island, is gone for those of us who had plied the beach trails of Nauset. What has it done either to or for the fishing? How can we compare and contrast them?
The exchange of water is more efficient in the new inlet and water moves more quickly as a result. A consequence of this is a higher high tide and a lower low tide. Said differently, the water levels of Pleasant Bay are not running behind sea level the way they once did. The deeper channel favors the south side of the inlet and the north edge is more shoal water, more sandy. That is not to say that they don't have their blitzes from the seven or so mile Nauset Beach approach. The Chatham Inlet of the outside beach is one of the best locations of the striper surf, the second best. We say this in part because of the constraints placed upon access. Most of the summer fishers are not permitted to drive the last mile of beach. Even then, there is a barrier a quarter mile from the inlet flow that has proven unpopular with most drivers who dislike being away from their gear. We can also be certain that the inlet influences a major portion of the beach, creating bars and hiding holes for good fish -- readable, fishable water. However, the best place on the striper coast, on the other hand, is a Chatham Inlet that you can drive and walk to, the one at the Chatham Station parking lot. Here, a caster who wades carelessly could find himself in fast and deep water with two steps. Some nights, and I have experienced this many times since the loss of the old inlet that I once so loved, you can hear the plop of a fish slashing down a baitfish in the quiet yet ominous fast water channel. An hour each side of low tide on the Boston chart, our favorite time, there is plenty of depth and current for a fish. Method wise everything seems to work. A couple of years ago, the Governor's Cup was taken there in full daylight -- a 57 pounder with a chunk on the bottom. Most of us plug swimmers after dark and my wife, Joyce, took two 17 pounders on the same cast, the second fish on a teaser. Because there is little surf, it is popular with fly fishers. The mark of a good spot is that everything seems to work.
A strange thing comes to mind about our fears: Along with the striper coming back in numbers heretofore unknown, we have a better, easier inlet.