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Rivers EndIn each newsletter, we'll be showcasing one of the fine establishments that carry ZeeBaaS products. To kick things off, we chose a great shop not too far from home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

Rivers End is one of southern New England’s premier fishing outfitters sitting a stone’s throw from where the mighty Connecticut River dumps into Long Island Sound. It is owned and operated by a legendary surf fisherman in his own right, Pat Abate. Pat has been there and caught that, including four striped bass over the magic 50-pound mark from shore.

Needlefish Plugs

 

On a recent afternoon, Pat gave us a tour of his shop. One of the walls was adorned with hundreds of lures that would make any striped bass fisherman drool. Above the ones for sale however, hung special, battle-worn plugs that each had their own story to tell. Pat pointed to a cracked green needlefish and said he found it one day at Southwest Point on Block Island. Pat added some mackerel markings with a black Sharpie and took it with him fishing later that night.  In Dories Cove, in a howling northwesterly wind, the new-found needlefish accounted for eight very large striped bass up to 55-pounds! The magic ended when one of the lure’s sides cracked open on a rock during a fateful back-cast. Pat said the plug lost its “mojo” and it was retired as one hell of a conversation piece amidst hundreds of others.

Sitting in his office, we asked about a blown-up surf fishing photo hanging on the wall. Years ago, when he was getting some daytime shuteye in his beach buggy on Nauset Beach,  a crew from Sperry shoes knocked on his window and asked him to be part of an advertisement photo shoot. They were shooting Pat with a telephoto lens while he was casting a needlefish in the suds and wearing a pair of Sperry shoes two sizes too small.  They must have forgotten they also outfitted with him with a mic and Pat could only laugh when hearing the crew second guessing themselves about him being “too old for this” and “we better shoot from the rear.” Pat ended up being “Mr. March” in a Sperry shoes sports calendar and a life-size poster of the picture was hanging for a while at their outlet store in Kittery, Maine. It turns out that Pat can add impromptu male model now to his resume.

After touring the chock-filled shop and BS’ing with his staff, we got to sit down with Pat and ask him a few questions.

ZB: Who got you into fishing and how old were you?
PA: I was about 12 or 13 and living in Brooklyn at the time. I had an uncle who as an avid fisherman. I had fished for sunfish in Prospect Park and things like that, but he took me out fluke and porgy fishing and I got hooked. New York City isn’t the ideal place for saltwater fishing, though you’d be surprised how many people travel the subway with 10-foot rods to the beaches or party boats in Sheepshead Bay. At that time, you couldn’t drive until you were 18 so you really had to depend on public transportation or someone over 18 to take you.

ZB: Do you remember the first big striped bass that got you hooked into surfcasting?Eelskin Striper
PA: Well I was hooked into surfcasting years and years before I ever caught a big striper. I fished the Rockaways and places like that and, to us at that time, a 10 or 12-pound striper was about as big as we’d seen. It wasn’t until a trip to Nantucket in ’67 when I caught what I considered to be a big bass, a 29-pounder. I think I got it on a Rabbit plug, similar to what today you would call a Robert’s Ranger. At that time they were made of wood. A friend of mind had made some that he saw in a Saltwater Sportsman article. That was my first big bass; breaking the ice was the hardest part. But there weren’t a lot of big bass around then. The only guys that I knew who caught big bass were the guys that fished the jetties. Those were the idols to a surfcaster at that time, the Al Bensten’s and those guys.

ZB: When and what made you get into the tackle shop business?
PA: I sold some tackle mail-order back in the early 80’s; odds and ends, droppers and stuff like that. Then I got into River’s End in ’86. I was going to be a silent partner and then I turned into an unsilent partner [laughs]. My job was transferred from Connecticut to New York and I struggled to get into this lifestyle of commuting to the City. I tried it for one week, didn’t like it and quit. Been here since then...

ZB: Were you always in this location?
PA: I started out with a partner named Sherwood Lincoln and we had an 800-sq. foot shop down the street. It was an un-insulated building with a woodstove to heat it. You couldn’t leave the shop for more than 12 hours unattended because the pipes would freeze. So we basically never closed [laughs]. This is River’s End’s 27th year in business. We kind of grew by drips and drabs. When this building became available, it took about eight months to renovate it. Now we have just under 4,000-sq. feet.

ZB: After all this time behind the counter, what’s your favorite part about the business?
PA: Being behind the counter [laughs]. I hate the paperwork and I had no idea when I got into retail. All I thought was that you had to sell stuff. I had no idea that you had to buy the stuff to sell it and you had to pay for it. But there’s an awful lot of behind the scenes stuff that you never see. Like any small business, you’ve a lot of paperwork and it takes a lot of time to buy the right stuff at the right place, and keep the shelves stocked.

Rods and reelsZB: If you could travel anywhere in the world for fishing, where would you go and what would you fish for?
PA: My favorite fishing is bonefishing. The only time I fly-fish is for bonefish. It’s the most exciting fishing that I do. There are probably other things, but it’s accessible. Certainly I don’t have to invest in a couple hundred thousand dollar boat to get out to the canyons to tuna fish. You can go with the simplest of gear, walk the flats on your own, be by yourself, on foot, wading, and it’s 70% hunting, 30% fishing. You are in the middle of this ecosystem as well – there are predators, there’s prey, there’s bait; I find there are slow times, but every hour’s exciting whether you’re catching fish or not. You’re hunting when you’re not fishing, so you’re always actively doing something. I try to go to Acklins Island in the Bahamas at least once a year. It’s a very primitive island, very few inhabitants and almost all the flats are accessible by car.

ZB: If you could only surf fish one state for the rest of your days, which would it be?
PA: If I had to pick a state it would be Rhode Island for the access. Rhode Island not only has the beaches, breachways and ponds, but there are a lot of different things going on in Rhode Island – basically a year-round fishery if you want to pursue it. I probably do most of my fishing within a five mile radius of the shop; it’s not necessarily the best waters, but it’s probably what I know best and what I have the best access to and, as far as time goes, the most time I can spend. It would be nice to be on Cuttyhunk or Block all the time, but you have to have the access, the time and everything else that goes with it.

ZB: If you could use one lure for the rest of your fishing what would it be?Rivers End front
PA: Is a rigged eel a lure? [laughs]

ZB: That’s a good answer! What direction do you see surfcasting headed?  Is wetsuit fishing just a fad?
PA: I think what surfcasting has become is extreme fishing. It’s very much a youngerman’s game; more aggressive fishermen do a lot better at it.  I think wader fishermen are going to be in the minority. I think there are some really good fishermen now – if these fishermen were around when the bass were around, boy would they’ve hammered fish. But a lot of times people concentrate more on getting to a rock and falling off that rock and getting on that one rock. But when you really survey the situation, the best spot to be may be the rock inside of that that is reaching fishable water. I think a lot of people that are new to it seem to be more obsessed with getting out on a rock than getting to the right location. Tim Coleman, who I fished with for a long, long time, rarely even wore waders.

ZB: Thanks so much for the opportunity, Pat.

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