The lure of the catch
The changing social fabric of families has had an effect as well. The suggestion of spending a weekend together as a family with little-to-no cellular service, no electricity and limited conveniences surely meets some discussion that was not part of the conversation years ago. Recent closings of many Cape Cod bait and tackle shops, other than in the vicinity of the Cape Cod Canal, has been the most ominous and confirming sign of the decline of surf fishing.
Another Tony, Tony Stetzko, fished the outer beach of Nauset, a similar stretch of coastline just down the forearm from Race Point. Locally known for his fishing acumen, Stetzko landed a 73-pound striped bass in 1981 that sealed the world record for him—an accomplishment that some feel has even greater impact since it was caught from the beach. Stetzko passed away in 2015, seven months shy of his 65th birthday. In spite of the immeasurable loss of this Outer Cape legend, the impact of his knowledge and time he shared with anyone that asked and his contribution to the world of surf fishing should live on for generations to come. One of those beneficiaries of Stetzko’s singular wisdom is Danya Mahota. Mahota, a Brewster resident, recalls meeting Stetzko in an online forum several years ago. “I was on StriperTalk! and someone mentioned they couldn’t upload photos of a fish they had just caught due to computer problems,” Mahota recalls. “I contacted him and said, ‘Mr. Stetzko, I’m an IT professional and I have a fishing problem!’ From then on, we became close friends.”
Mahota says the knowledge Stetzko shared with him is the foundation of how and why he tries to get out to the beach virtually every night. “I am Tony’s protégé, that’s for sure,” Mahota says. “Tony was really well known to be able to find the structure, to see through the water and identify where the fish would be holding. The fishing that we do is very different than the standard set-up shop, put your bait on the hook, and sit on your bucket. This is nonstop moving. If we are walking, we are walking 6 or 7 miles a night; you have to keep moving until you find the fish—that’s what Tony taught me.”
Mahota says that his style of surf fishing is really a mix of hunting and fishing. “You use whatever clues you can to find the fish. It might be fox or coyote tracks down to the water that illustrate bait from the last tide. Or go out on a bar a little bit farther than you might comfortably do to fish, and rake up the edge of the bar and see sand eels, that might be a good place to fish.”
The deliberate repetition of casting and retrieving a plug in the surf can result in a Zen-like moment, where it seems fish and fisherman are the only two beings on the planet. Mahota talks about the almost imperceptible moment when the fish considers taking a bite—the miss. “Tony taught me it is more about the miss than the hit. That’s where the magic is.”
After recently rehabilitating from cardiac trauma, Cataldo reflects on the conclusion that the good days are over: “I hear people say all the time, ‘Those were the good days, and it will never be that good again.’” With a small catch in his throat, he says, “I have to disagree. I think the good days are right now.” He may not see as many tight lines and bent rods as he did in the old days, but he is still catching fish, often with his grown son, and still enjoying every moment on the water.
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