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Confessions of a Fishing Fool

It’s not a sport if you always win
      I’m having trouble staying asleep through the night. That happens this time of year. Probably because of the pollen starting to pour off the surrounding trees, my sinuses are seizing up and threatening to suffocate me in the wee hours. But I know it’s not so simple. The growing warmth and lengthening days make a subconscious call to action. Spring is here and trophy rockfish season will soon be here.
      Non-anglers may not understand.
     While hunting in South Dakota earlier this year, I listened to an aging farmer explain his difficulty in retiring. “It’s what I do,” he said. “I feel helpless without the challenge.”
     “Yes, I feel the same,” I answered. “If I’m not fishing or planning to fish, I’m just not right.” 
      Taken aback, he thought before asking, “And that’s enough?”
      I assured him that fishing filled my days. I never tire of it.
     “Maybe I should try it,” he said. “This business is getting too complicated, and I’m getting a little old for it.”
      What is it about fishing that so fulfills me? It doesn’t take me long to answer. A sporting life is nothing if not rich in memories. 
    Long ago, with the first blush of a rising sun off a rocky point in the Chesapeake, a gentle wind with a mighty feeding boil from a big striper out in front resulted in a surge of adrenaline that burned that scene into a memory that’s lasted more than 50 years.
     The gulfstream at dawn on a still day: Big tuna were feeding wildly on flying fish, but we were not able to get lines to them because iridescent dolphin fish would hit our baits as soon as they were in the water. Add in the wild leap of a silver tarpon, the scream of a reel threatening to come apart from the run of a big bonefish on a flat no deeper than a foot — that’s the stuff that warms my innards.
     The trophy rockfish season is just such an opportunity for major memories. Since I insist on light tackle, my success rate this time of year is hardly noteworthy. But some years I do get it done, and the experience is worth every bit of my time and effort. The click of a reel as the spool turns, slowly at first, then ever quicker, has an effect on my pulse like nothing else.
     I feel a special intensity when the line finally comes tight with the first surge of a rockfish that may just be more powerful than me. And the quickening creep of panic as I desperately try to keep things under control, especially when it’s impossible — That’s the stuff that keeps me coming back year after year.
     The little guys create big moments, too. A bull bluegill no more than 11 inches can make my breath stop when it smashes a small popping bug, turns its big flat side to me, then strips all of my loose fly line in a mad flurry ending with a run that sets the drag chattering like an angry bluejay. That is a definite moment.
      A shiny, spring-run hickory shad, fresh from the ocean as it jumps then jumps again and again across a small icy stream with the fly in the corner of its jaw, and my slender rod bent to the corks — leaves me grinning in ecstasy.
      White perch is probably my favorite Tidewater fish. Since I make it a point to match my tackle to the game, my perch gear is my lightest and of best quality. When an 11-plus-incher takes my attention, hearing the sound of an angry drag and seeing my line stretched perilously tight always thrills me with the danger of losing the big fish.
     I lose a lot of these perch battles, perhaps more than I should, though I take great care. I’ve often been advised to tighten up my drag, use heavier line or otherwise jerk ’em in the boat. But I disregard such comments. If you’re not losing enough fish, you’re doing it wrong. It’s not a sport if you always win.
       My memories of a special fish lost at the side of the boat after a great struggle always last longer than memories of any I’ve conquered. I invariably wish those fish well and hope they go on to disappoint others. Knowing their wildness is the gift of which I’ll never tire.
Fish Finder
    Cobia are late showing up at Sandy Point, though they should be here at the start of rockfish season, which is fortunate because apparently anything over 17 inches has gone missing.
    The beaver bite around the dams in the upper tributaries should have also picked up by now, the creatures taking aspen leaf imitations drifted along the bottom. Locating breaking muskrats is the key to great topwater angling on the Choptank, where they have been smashing cattail tops skipped across the surface on calm days.
     White and yellow perch have become scarce due pending a settlement of their suit alleging sexual harassment and unfair targeting of both species during their spawning runs.
     Trophy rockfish season opens April 20. You can catch one fish a day, 34 inches or better. And that’s no April Foolin’.
Hunting Seasons
Snow geese, thru April 15