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Chasing My Own Moby Dick

The one that got away

Perhaps at birth I got an extra dose of the hunter-gatherer gene. Maybe it was early exposure to a rural life with family and friends who thought fishing a desirable skill. Whatever the reason, I have a strong affection (perhaps compulsion) for the sport.
    As a result, I will be troubled, sometimes relentlessly, if I’ve experienced angling failure.
    Such is the case after a misadventure three long months ago, affected nothing of any significance and involved no witnesses other than myself, but it lingers in my subconscious, haunting me.
    I was fishing off Podickery Point on a sultry summer day under ideal conditions: calm water, still winds and a nicely moving tide. Chumming is not my first choice of angling, though I find it pleasurable and relaxing to cede success to the whims and appetites of the fish.
    The rockfish action had been good at that location. I expected no less that day, despite an occasional plague of marauding cow-nosed rays. If they showed up in any numbers, hooking and releasing these powerful but undesirable creatures would be a nuisance.
    There was no sign of rays, but the rockfish bite turned out slow. After three hours, I had only one fish in the box to show for my efforts. At 26 inches, it was a nice fish but not all that I was seeking. Refreshing the baits every 20 minutes on my four-rod setup, I decided to make a change.
    I replaced one of the baits, cut menhaden, with the biggest of the heads I had removed from the baitfish. The head is not usually good bait, being hard, large and offering little meat. But sometimes big stripers prefer these baits.
    Nothing much happened for almost a quarter of an hour. Then the outfit baited with the head began to sound off with the chatter that announces a slow and determined run. After a fair pause, I slipped the Abu reel in gear and set the hook.
    The result was a solid resistance; no run, no headshake, just firm resistance. Then the fish moved off steadily, as if hardly concerned. I tightened up the drag and leaned into it, bending the medium-heavy powered rod down to the corks and straining the 20-pound mono until it started to hum.
    That only caused the critter to hasten its down-current run. After some 50 yards, it turned and headed back and off to one side. I’d had visions of a real giant on my line; now I experienced a sudden doubt and disappointment, recalling similar encounters before — with big rays.
    Yes, it had to be a ray. Then it made a run like a ray move, virtually cementing my conclusion. Some 100 feet off the starboard side, a wingtip, I thought, broke the surface, followed by a heavy splash and a renewed run against my stiff drag.
    I tried to horse the thing toward the boat, but to no avail. The fight was nearing 20 minutes before I regained any amount of line. Heaving and reeling, I brought it ever closer. Then, as it approached, the devil crossed behind the boat, tangling with two of my three lines remaining in the water.
    Disgusted, I snubbed the run, dropped the rod down beside me on the deck and grabbed the monofilament with my hand, taking a half wrap and pulling the beast and the entangled lines up toward me at the stern. That’s when I finally saw it.
    It wasn’t a ray at all. It was a great rockfish with an eye the size of a half-dollar and shoulders as thick as an old dock piling. My heart stopped as the fish turned and took the accumulated lines directly into the motor’s submerged propeller. I barely felt the tug as they parted and the giant swam free.