Sometimes It’s Fishing
It was a few minutes past sundown, but the failing light still burnished the water’s surface, making it glow like molten metal. What little wind there had been had died, leaving the water flat. Conditions were perfect for top-water fishing. But it was late. If the fish were going to show, they had better come soon.
I had been missing the surface bite so completely that I felt as if I had become a Jonah. I had stopped partnering lest I subject friends to the same fate. The day before, the day after, this river or that; it didn’t matter because whenever and wherever I was, the fish — at least legal-sized fish — weren’t.
Live-lining remains the most reliable way of getting nice rockfish. The False Channel is holding the best sizes, though Podickery Point and the Bay Bridge sometimes surprise anglers. Live-lining should continue hot until we get a few cold spells, sending the best baits, Norfolk spot, on their way to more southern waters. Gum Thickets has been excellent at times, as has Bloody Point and the area south of Poplar Island for bluefish and Spanish mackerel as well as rock. The Thomas Point area has had some good top-water action for rockfish. But in general the surface bite has been difficult to anticipate.
Ducks: Oct. 13 thru 20
I launched a fast, flat cast toward the edge of the grass in a lovely cove that hadn’t given me a striper the past two seasons. I was desperate now, and this was the last place to try along this particular shoreline before darkness. The areas I had worked earlier had proved barren.
I was throwing a black Stillwater plug, my favorite brand and color for this time of day. As it reached the end of its flight, I thumbed the spool lightly so that the lure landed straight away in the water, ensuring the plug’s hooks didn’t foul my leader.
Only one good striper had given me a tumble recently, and that was a week earlier. It showed as big around as my leg as it smashed my plug in two feet of water and made a couple of good runs before I lost it. This long string of fishless mornings and evenings followed that loss.
I chugged the lure hard, and the effort shot a twinge of pain through my tired shoulder. Swimming the popper slowly along for a few feet, I then chugged it again. It disappeared in a boil of water. That was so unexpected that I didn’t react. I didn’t need to. The pressure on my line was instant and heavy. I had hooked up at last.
Feeling the bite of the treble and recognizing that its prey was suddenly its captor, the fish came out of the water sideways. Scarcely touching down, it launched into the air again, shaking its head against the lure wedged in its jaw.
Four jumps later, the striped acrobat abandoned that tactic for deep water. My drag sang a song that I hadn’t heard in far too long as the beast shot out of the shallows. Keeping my rod low and to the side, I let it run.
I worked the fish first from one angle then another. Short-stroking and then plunging my rod deep in the water as the fish crossed underneath my skiff’s hull, I paid strict attention to the striper’s moves.
The net was next to me. When my fish finally surfaced nearby, there was no last-minute drama. I led him into its folds and then into the ice. It was a nice six-pounder, thick and healthy.
My breath was coming quickly. Squinting into the darkening shadows, I sent my next cast back toward the same area, again lightly thumbing the spool as the lure touched down.
Curiously I could see no splash as it landed. As I threw my reel into gear and tightened my line to begin working the plug, I understood why. There was immediate and solid resistance. A fish had eaten my lure as it fell.
This fight was different than the first. No aerial display. This rascal went right to work trying to rub the lure out on the bottom. I could feel the vibrations up the line as it scraped my leader and popper along the floor of the cove.
I had to relax the rod pressure for a few long seconds until the crafty devil finally backed out of the crevice it had found. Then I cinched it back up, and the fight resumed.
The striper was a twin of the first. I soon had them nestled together in my fish box. Amazingly, the next four casts resulted in four more fish, all close in size to the first two.
I was relieved and happy as I started back to the ramp. With the luck I’d been having, I didn’t know that I’d be feeling this way again anytime soon.