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Rehearsing for Rockfish Season

The fish are willing — but is the caster able?

I hung the first rockfish almost an hour into my early-morning effort. The strike wasn’t violent; more a sudden stop followed by a long struggle. I had to put my electric motor into reverse to separate the fish from the structure and bring it onto the side of my boat.
    That fight established the pattern of all the fish I was to catch that day. Each insisted on remaining in one area as opposed to running for deep water. They stayed as close to the bottom as they could. I lost only one, but all the battles were perilous.
    My catch-and-release outing turned into an extended casting effort. The fish on this heavily overcast day were scattered singly among bridge supports, over submerged structures and along docks and jetties in water less than 10 feet deep. It took almost four hours to hang five nice fish.
    If I allowed my skiff to drift in too close, the stripers would either leave or shut off. If I didn’t hold the boat well away from the structure, my chances of drawing a strike were about zero. I had to drop the lure close to whatever structure I was fishing, and I had very few strikes in open water.

Fine-tuning the Caster
    I had rigged up a pair each of casting and spin rigs and armed them with variations of my basic lure, a Bass Assassin on half-ounce jigheads: five-inch Saltwater Shads in four colors, Opening Night, Albino Ghost, Ripper and basic white. Ripper had a strong edge in seducing the bites, though I had a hit or two on just about all the colors.
    I had lost accuracy with winter’s inactivity. Initially my casts tended off target: too short, too long, to one side or the other.
    My effectiveness varied with my equipment.
    With spinning equipment, once I released the throw the cast was done. I was either on or off target.
    With revolving-spool casting rigs, on the other hand, I could make in-flight adjustments by thumbing the spool and changing the trajectory of the bait accordingly, shortening the cast when desired and to a lesser degree moving the lure’s impact right or left. The ability to make those adjustments also depended on quickly shifting my focus from the target to the lure as it flew through its arc. Otherwise, I could never react quickly enough to make the necessary correction.
    About halfway through the morning, I realized that it was the casting I was enjoying. It was satisfying to eventually place the baits just where I wanted them, at long distance and often inches from a concrete pier or just off of a large bolder — particularly with the casting outfits.
    The whirr of the spools was mesmerizing, while comparing casting to spinning made for a more interesting trip. The spin outfits excelled at quick casts to medium distances where pinpoint accuracy was not particularly necessary. The casting outfits were perfect for the more demanding presentations.