So, I asked myself: do I want to try and win the tournament, or do I want to just go with my normal routine? I talked with Carly about it, and we decided I might as well try and win. So instead of heading North, I headed south. Risk of being skunked was higher, but chances of catching a big fish where also higher.
I went to one of my favorite spots, where I've caught a lot of fish, but to date no monsters. But I just KNEW it HAD to hold big fish. It just made so much sense. It had to. And I decided this year I'd really work the area over, and if by the end of the season I still hadn't culled a big fish, I'd move on.
The wind has been unfavorable, but it was supposed to get calm. The water is SO much colder than normal this time of year. Earlier this week was SO cold. But, the last day or so probably warmed up the flats around this area, so I figured there was potential.
I filled my bag with metal lips (a bunch), needlefish, a few darters and bottles (think: big profile), and a bunch of swimmers (Red Fin, Bomber Long Shot, SP minnow, Mambo) and sluggos/hogys. I pulled 8 eels out of the tank in the garage, and took them with me too. I was heavily geared up and ready.
My problem, however, was the key tide didn't even start until like 2-3am. And I was dying to fish. However, I knew if I went too early, I would burn out before I made it that late. I held out as long as I could, but ended up leaving the house around 9:30pm. I figured I'd fish an adjacent area that I thought had potential but I had never really explored, and then work my way back to the key locations (there's a lot) after midnight.
I hit the shore at 11:20, and started out with a hogy. I figured I'd use it as a search bait, and if I had any interest, I'd switch to an eel and try and cull a big fish.
I walked and casted among various structure for about 40 minutes without even as much as a bump. I eventually said, F-it, I'm putting the big 3.5oz Gibbs Danny on. I'm out to catch a trophy right?
What a good decision.
I was standing on a small boulder, casting, when I noticed what looked like a deeper pocket to my right. I stepped off the rock, and into the sand, and sent the danny flying. The 30lb powerpro smoked off my VS150, it was a perfect cast. I was day dreaming, crawling the danny across the surface, when it stopped dead.
There was no hit. This was nothing like anything I've experience before. It was just, there. I thought I was hung, when I set the hook it was just stopped. I actually slacked up a little, but then she shook her head, and it was game on.
I'd like to say there was a lot of drama, and she took long blistering runs, or whatever. But that's not what happened. Basically, my drag was damn near locked (set for eeling), and I just battled her in slowly. My rod was bent double, but everything seemed fine. I mean, she shook her head, and I could tell: this was the biggest fish I'd ever tangled with. I even said it aloud. But I was always in control. I just backed up slowly until I was out of the water.
She got pissed when I got her in close, and she took drag twice, but just a bit. My knots held (I tie direct leader to braid), and I kept that rod high and bent so the barbless hooks wouldn't pull.
When I got her grounded, she started to thrash big time, and I got a good view of how big she really was. I freaked out.
This is where it gets a little embarrassing. I basically became a complete googan. I tried to grab the braid and drag her up, but it just cut my hand. I let go and the line went slack and she went nuts. I thought she was going back into the drink. I just grabbed the plug and started pulling her up out of the water. I dropped it twice, but at this point she was well onto the beach.
I still didn't realize how big she was, but I was shaking. It wasn't until I pulled out the tape and laid it down next to her, and saw it go past 45", that I knew: this was the fish of the season for me. I measured her once, twice, three times...48". No, not quite. 47.5". It was important to me that I be as exact as possible.
Now I'm shaking. I can't get the hooks out, and I feel pressure to get her back in the water ASAP. I get out the tournament tag and try to lay the tape next to her in such a way that it's clear. I can't get the thing to lay flat, and she keeps thrashing. I'm trying to hold her down and get the tape straight, etc. I get the friggin camera out and it won't turn on. The battery cap isn't on right. I get that figured out, and start taking pictures. They're not coming out well at all. I snap a few that I think look OK, but it's tough to tell on the tiny screen.
I then tried to get some "selfies" but I couldn't hold her up with one arm. I couldn't get the camera far enough away to get her in the picture. It was getting frustrating, and I was getting stressed, as she had been out of the water for at least a minute, probably more.
I made a decisive decision. Get her back in the water.
It took me at least 3-5 minutes to revive her. I was worried at first, but it only took a few seconds for her fin to stand up. And finally she chomped down on me so hard I let go, and she splashed me and took off.
I just knelt in the surf, in the small swell, and beamed. I thought of National Lampoon Christmas Vacation.
"I did it".
After that I took a bunch more casts in the area, but never had another hit.
The rest of the night really doesn't matter, does it? I fished my way back to my normal areas as high tide pushed me off the rock, hopeful I'd pick up another quality fish. I switched to eels at some point. Nothing. I went to "that one rock" where I always get a fish, and lost something on the Gibbs. I worked my whole area, and only had a couple hits and dropped schoolies. Eventually I went through everything in my bag, picking up one 24" schoolie on the dang SP minnow.
When I got home, I checked out all my pictures. They weren't great. I kinda freaked at first, because I as like, shit, I blew the tourney. But there were two that were acceptable, and I just said: well, I'll let them be the judge. I know how big she was, and that's all that matters to me. The tourney is just a bonus. The fish is what I've been seeking these past years...prizes are only secondary. She WAS the prize.
So, as of writing this, I'm in first place***. But, honestly? I'm more excited about my new personal best. 47.5".
*** A 50", 47.5lb fish was caught Saturday night and I ended up in second. I guess I can't be mad, how can I wish ill on another fisherman who catches a 50" fish? No karma in that.