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Summer’s Heavy Toll

Hot weather is hard on anglers and hard on the fish, too

The first big fish came rather promptly, though in the end it proved a questionable blessing. I had flipped the half soft crab out to one of the bridge pilings and fed line under my thumb. The tide was crawling along, just slow enough to allow my quarter-ounce lead to sink the bait into the sweet zone.
    The sweet zone that day was at about 15 feet, halfway to the bottom. That’s where the fish arcs had shown on the sonar with our first exploratory drift past the bridge support. On our next pass we had dropped the baits.
    I felt a tap-tap, then a steady pull. Having been plagued by undersized rockfish the last few sorties, I did not want to deep-hook a fish that had to be released. So as soon as I had any indication that my quarry had the bait, I put the reel in gear and struck.
    My rod bent down, line feeding out against the firmly set drag, as the fish headed directly for the nearest concrete piling. Thumbing the spool a bit to slow that tactic convinced the clever devil to double back toward us … then to cross under the boat. The only thing to do in such circumstances is to plunge the rod tip deep into the water and hope the line doesn’t contact the hull. Fishing line rarely survives contact with a boat’s propeller or any of the other sharp metal edges down there.
    I struggled with the powerful rascal until the tidal current and wind twisted our skiff away from the structure. Then I put the helm hard over and shifted into reverse to clear the line from under the bottom. With the edge now in my favor, the bass began its surrender. When it flashed a few yards off of the gunnel, my partner readied the net.
    No need to measure this one, I thought. The fish was definitely in the 25- to 26-inch range, heavy and well proportioned. Then as it rolled into the folds of the net, I saw the ugly red sore on its shoulder. Without bringing the afflicted fish aboard, I removed the hook and turned it loose.
    The rockfish looked healthy enough otherwise, and I hoped that the coming colder water would kill the bacteria causing the infection so the fish could regain its health.
    The next few rockfish were undersized releases; then we got lucky with a fat 22-incher and put him on ice. But after that, no matter which bridge pier we drifted to (and there were many), the shorter rockfish plus some sizeable perch showed up to consume the rest of our supply of soft crabs.
    Heading back to the ramp tired and with just one fish in the box, we were happy to be nearing the end of summer. The latter part of August had not been kind to our efforts. Foul hot weather, temperamental fish (too many of them bearing sores) and the arrival of large numbers of undersized schoolies had jinxed us.
    September and the coming of autumn hold the promise of better things. Colder weather and cooler water seem to improve the vitality and size of the Bay’s rockfish. Plus, from recent reports and the count of boats launching in late afternoon, there is every evidence that the shallow water bite may come early this year.
    Fishing has often been described as the most optimistic of sports, a triumph of hope over experience. With the changing seasons, that pretty much describes my attitude.