You sit back almost as though you're in a recliner, but you're by yourself in an ocean current, surrounded by darkness when suddenly, a denizen from the deep strikes, lurching you forward and literally dragging you to an unknown destination.
Welcome to skishing.
It's sort of a combination of surf casting and skiing, and while it provides the thrills of extreme games, it's also extremely dangerous.
"You have to do your homework, study the currents, know your surroundings, be a very strong swimmer and have good equipment," said former Woonsocket resident Ed Fagnant, recognized as an expert in the sport.
Skishing was born about 15 years ago. Every year, thousands of striped bass fishermen converge on Montaug Point in New York. Multiple ocean currents come together at that location, making it a mecca for striped bass fishing.
But it became so ridiculously crowded that rookie fishermen were actually hooking other fishermen while surf casting, and one day, a "Sharpie," or experienced fisherman, decided to find an alternative solution. He put on a buoyant wet suit, and toted his fishing gear into the water.
"Originally, it was done to move from rock to rock or to the next closest piece of land away from the shoreline where everyone else was," said Fagnant. "It was a fellow named Paul Melnyk who changed it all."
After accessing an isolated rock at Montaug point, he hooked into a 48-pound striped bass that yanked him clean off the rock. He did not have fins at the time, so could do little else but hold onto his rod while the monster fish towed him around. But he discovered that the wetsuit kept him afloat and decided that if he wore fishing fins used by divers, he could better control a fish.
Skishing was born.
Fagnant has been an outdoorsman all of his life, mastering both hunting and fishing. He used to do a lot of freshwater fishing, but transformed to saltwater several years ago, and when skishing came about, he literally jumped into the sport.
He still surf casts, but only on occasion. Most of his fishing these days is done while skishing after daylight. He has caught 15 striped bass weighing in excess of 50 pounds in his career, the largest one a 73-pound, seven-ounce monster that just missed setting a record for the largest striper ever landed.
The last time he kept a daily log was six years ago, and it shows that he landed more than 900 fish in a single season, all of them stripers.
"They range in size from the schoolies where you can catch 30 in a night, to the big fish, where one or two in a night is satisfying," he said.
Fagnant has more swimming skills than most, something acquired during four years in the Coast Guard and 11 years in the U.S. Marines, where he was a member of the Corps' elite Special Forces team.
"During training, we would be dropped 10, 12 miles from shore and had to swim back," he said. "I spent so much time in the water back then that I thought I was growing gills."
That swimming skill bodes well for his skishing exploits. When planning a skishing trip, participants should have a thorough knowledge of the ocean currents and surroundings. Often, currents can carry a skisherman five miles from the water entry point, so knowing where you are going to land is imperative. Usually, when his knowledge of currents tells him that he will be carried far, Fagnant goes out with a friend. They will park a vehicle at the entry point, and another at the anticipated ending site.
Most times, though, he uses the same ocean currents to go venture out into the water and to return, timing the tides just perfectly.
He wears sort of a utility belt when he goes out. It holds a knife, leash for his fishing rod, freshwater for drinking, a powerful light to alert potential boats passing near him, lures, pliers and snacks. He also wears a waterproof headlamp that allows him to see when dealing with a fish or changing lures.
He has two other sharp knives strapped to his body, strategically mounted so that he can access one of them no matter what the situation.
"Say you get caught in a lobster trap line and can't reach the knife on the belt, you just reach down and grab the one strapped to your leg to free yourself," said Fagnant. "You have to be ready for almost anything."
A strong conservationist, Fagnant almost always releases the fish he catches. A rope, also attached to his utility belt, is used to haul in any fish that he decides to take home.
"I have a personal rule that I will not ever take home any striper bigger than 35 inches because I can guarantee you that fish is an egg-bearing female at that size," he said.
His fishing equipment is custom made by him. He designs and makes rods and lures.
Now 51, Fagnant said he intends to continue skishing as long as he possibly can, and in addition to stripers, wants to catch some small tuna.
"But I'm not crazy, and if I happen to hook into a big tuna, there's no way that anyone can deal with something that big, strong and fast in the water, so I'd just let it take all my line," said Fagnant. "I'm not about to die for a fish."
While he loves the sport that takes him to the water up to 150 times each year and wants to promote it, Fagnant stressed repeatedly that there are dangers associated with skishing.
Anyone wanting to be involved with the sport, he said, should have a strong swimming capabilities, make certain that they have all of the top-notch equipment and understand ocean currents.
"The best way to learn how to skish is to go with someone who already does it and can teach you," he said. "I never put myself in a situation that I can't handle safely."
His sport is beginning to gain national attention and a national cable television network has spoken to him about the possibility of filming him in action. Details are still being worked out.