The following post is going to divert from my normal, candid, informal "report" style. I am attempting to work on my writing in such a way that is more like novel. This is in response to My Bonefish post, which garnered so many positive comments. Enjoy.
As I threw my plug bag into the bin in my trunk, I caught a glimpse of a beach-side mansion, and the flag pole out front. I was drawn to the Massachusettes state flag out of the corner of my eye. It was pitch dark, but I could see the fabric undulated slowly, in rythmic flaps, and laying limp against the pole. The North East wind was subsiding.
It had been blowing hard all week. The first hard Nor'East winds of the year, it signaled the transition from the summer season to the impending fall. I had just spent the last week on vacation, and the previous night in RI, and I was exhausted. However, I knew I had to get out and take advantage of these textbook conditions, and the "beginning of the end". After all, it was late September, and in a month there would be no fish here, and I would have to drive much further to get my fix.
The night was ink black, one of those you really just want to leave the red light on your headlamp on all the time. And six foot swells were rolling in from the ocean, driven by the wind, churning the surf. Add to that, the late night tides were BIG, some of the biggest of the year. Could it be any better?
Yes, it could.
"Where the hell are the fish?" I cursed under my breath as I got in the car to head to the next spot. I didn't bother changing out of my wetsuit as the next location was only a few miles away, so I was cold and wet- and annoyed. I was into hour number four of fishing, and had yet to even get a bump.
I couldn't help but think: am I doing something wrong? The bait situation was bordering on insanity lately, and I had intermitent action with schoolies and small keepers for a few weeks prior. Yes, it took some work to find them, but I always did. Tonight, that wasn't happening, and I had struck out at my first two locations that held fish earlier in the week.
I was on my last option.
I walked on the beach already putting a time limit on my fishing: "I'll only stay here a half-hour, then I'm going home". I had little faith things would turn around.
I bolted past a few productive areas, heading for what I thought was the make-or-break structure. If there weren't fish there, there weren't fish anywhere along this section of beach. It had everything: rocks and sand, current and sweep, and was in a bowl that trapped bait fish and game fish crusing the shore line.
When I got to this structure, I was pleasantly surprised to see almost eight foot standing waves from the combination of current and incoming swells. The wind was calming down, but still blowing at 15mph or more in this spot (whiched faced very NE), and the water looked churned up and very angy.
I tentatively took a few steps into the water, but didn't dare try to find my normal rock. It was too rough. So from knee deep water I fired a white, 9", weedless rigged sluggo into the mess of brown and frothing water.
I popped the line onto the roller about 90% into the 30 yard cast to decrease the slack. Normally I'd let it settle in this situation, but the sweep and wave surges were too much. I just started a slow, methodical retrieve. I could feel the sluggo getting knocked around on the surface as it entered the axis between strong current and incoming swell. I intensely focused now that I was "in the zone", and found myself biting my lower lip in anticipation.
Were they here?
A subtle tap almost went undetected, but I was ready. I set the hook, and was promptly rewarded by drag slip. After a fun tussle, I landed a 10-12lb fish on my first cast. I decided to snap a picture, since this might be my only fish of the night.
But it wasn't. Second cast was reward by a 25-26" schoolie.
They were here.
The next cast I had multiple hits but didn't hook up.
After that, I took off the sluggo. I wasn't interested in schoolies.
I decided on a Super Strike darter next, yellow over white, that I had loaded with some bird shot earlier this spring. It took a few casts, maybe six, but I eventually landed another 10lb fish which fought hard and jumped four times. All the negativity was gone now, and I was all smiles.
I took a few more casts with the loaded Super Strike, but I wasn't happy with the way it was working in the water- I was catching the bottom in a few critical spots. The generally shallow-running lure was being driven down by the shot. The fish were looking up as bait was being washed around, and I actually think this is a critical piece of information at this spot. You can't go down too deep, or you'll actually go under them- counter intuative for striper fisherman, yes. But I swear by it at this shallow location.
I knew I could do better, but was already content with my night even if I didn't. Time for a another plug change.
I dug around in my over-filled bag, and found a Savage Gear Glide-bait that looks very...bunker-ish. It's heavy- 3.5 ounces- so I figured I could get it out into the current easily.
I leaned hard into the next cast- oh yeah, it was getting it out there alright. I actually over shot the main hole, which gave me the luxury of slowly working it back with intermittent twitches, until I hit the majory turbulence.
That first cast I had 5 hits, but no hook ups. I had replaced the trebles with single si-wash hooks, and the schoolies just couldn't handle the big bait.
Next cast, same deal. Into the tumbler it goes, except this time I really slow it down and just let it swing and get tossed around.
The next hit was one of those that practically rips the rod from your hands. All I could do is hold on as drag starts peeling and line dissappears from the spool; I tighten it a bit, and my rod sags. A better fish, no doubt. She zigs and zags across the current taking line in short spurts. But, after a half minute or so, the game is tipped in my favor and I steadily work her in with short pumps. I step backwards, careful not to fall on the snot-covered-bowling-ball-sized rocks, and slide her up on the shore.
I'm shocked to see she's only about maybe 16 or maybe 18lbs. Definitely not 20. I could have sworn I had a 25lb fish here! I actually sighed outloud as I snapped a quick picture, and then got irritated at myself for being dissappointed with this beautiful creature. A half hour ago I would have been happy with a 25" fish!
I revived her, mostly so I could enjoy her strength and beauty more closely. They really are handsome fish.
Next cast, I landed another cookie cutter 25-26" fish. The same on the cast after. Every cast now I was getting between one and six hits, as smaller fish attempted to take down my large lure.
The whole time, the water is just raging around me, and I am alone with the fish and the sea.
Hmmm...what else can I catch on? I put on a bigger sluggo, but that yielded my smallest fish of the night, and then two more cookie cutters around 26".
I decided to put on a blurple Maine-iac Metal lip, round nose swimmer. First cast, I landed another ~10lb fish. I was having a ball now. I was actually able to chose which fish I wanted to catch. I landed a couple more 10-15lb fish on this lure before I started getting curious if I could do even better.
I put the glide bait back on, and the first cast with it, almost the instant it touched the water, I hooked up with my best fish of the night by far. I don't know how big she was, but nothing that night had compared to her in sheer head shakes alone. My arms burned, and I just held on as she had her way with my drag system, and I laughed outloud to myself, beaming ear to ear and proclaimed:
"I am unstoppab...Uffff!".
The line instantly went slack and I because I had been leaning into the rod so hard, when she came unbottuned, I drove the reel seat into my crotch.
She was off, and I was sick to my stomach, and not only because I had just crushed my man bits, but because I had just lost the fish of the night.
Karma is a bitch man.
I sheepishly reeled in my lure, checked the hooks knowing they'd be fine. I rolled my eyes up at the cloudy night, devoid of stars or moon, and silently apologized to the great spirit in the sky for being cocky.
I took a quick breather, drank a little water, and next cast I landed another low teen bass. I guess I was forgiven.
I started to get in a groove, and I just left the glide bait on after that. I didn't go a single cast without a hit for an hour, but my catch rate was low as I effectively avoided the smaller fish. I tried a heavy swim bait once, but it sunk right to the bottom and got snagged. I was lucky to not lose it.
As the tide waned, the fish vanished, almost instantly: one minute I'm getting a hit every cast, the next, I am getting zero, ten casts in a row.
I was actually happy with it: I had to work in the morning, and it was already almost 12:30am. My arms were tired, and I was starving. I had a donut with my name on it waiting for me in the car.
I ended up landing over twenty fish that night. Over half of those fish were keepers with more than half of those again being into the mid teens.
I got home, rushed to rinse everything off and get in bed. As I begrudingly set my alarm for the next morning (6:45am is going to come fast!), I thought, "what if I had given up at the first spot?"
I smiled to myself knowing I didn't, and drifted off to sleep.