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Articles by Dennis Doyle

Be ready for fish with the year’s most appealing lures

High winds, dark days and 20-degree temperatures have limited anglers’ choices this ugly February. Enforced home time is just what you need to prepare for next season.
    Among good news last season was the appearance of vast schools of schoolie rockfish. Many proved under the 20-inch minimum size, meaning many will have grown fat and legal by the time fishing blossoms again.
    Be ready for these coming-of-age fish with the most appealing lures. You won’t want to see nearby anglers scoring cast after cast while your offerings are getting only minimal acceptance.
    On a quick and casual survey of tackle shops around the Chesapeake, I made a list of lures that should produce as the 2016 rockfish season commences on the Tidewater.
    An eclectic enterprise on Kent Island that prides itself on being first in identifying new trends in lure design had some interesting recommendations. Blueblue, a Japanese lure company with scant exposure here, has a couple of lures that have given their anglers particular success.
    They are the Blueblue Searide Jig and the Blueblue Snecon 130, a swim bait in green with an orange belly or yellow with a red belly. Both lures have a radically different noise and swim action from traditional rockfish lures, which may explain their effectiveness. Both are worth examining.
    An Annapolis tackle shop with a long tradition of handling excellent artificial baits offers some light tackle lures as well. Big (10 inch) BKDs in white or chartreuse are definitely favored on black one-and-one-half Mission jigheads for springtime trophy efforts. The Tsunami holographic soft plastic baits in bunker color in all sizes are also worth a look, especially on hardhead two-tone jigheads. They’re said to work equally well for casting, jigging and trolling.
    Five- and six-inch soft plastic, Saltwater Bass Assassins in Opening Night and Albino Shad have remained consistently productive, customers say. But Panhandle Moon- and Ripper-colored five-inch Saltwater BAs on one-and-one-half Mission jigheads were reported as superior for most of the second half of last season.
    Stingsilvers, especially when rigged with a dropper fly, continue to be among the better metal baits to work with in vertical jigging for rockfish. Silver is the most productive color followed by gold when fishing in overcast or stained water.
    A reliable Edgewater tackle store added that Mirrolure Popa Dogs, a top water popper with walk-the-dog action and a unique sound, was a surprising and overwhelming favorite last season. The redhead, white-body model was tops in sales, which numbered in the hundreds.
    Soft plastics by Bust ’em Baits, competing with BKD and BA lures, are also achieving local notice with a unique construction that delivers a more pronounced undulating action.
    Time will tell if they are worth making room for in your tackle box.

It’s the critical link to your fish

In my considerable exposure to big fish stories over the years, I’ve noticed that many failures and disasters focus on one recurring cause: tired fishing line. That is unfortunate, especially as the cost of replacing the line on most reels is less than a six-pack.
    How do you know when it’s time to replace your line?
    If you’re asking yourself that question, the answer is yes. When in doubt, replace.
    Monofilament can degrade rapidly with exposure to ultra-violet sunlight and fluorescent lighting, eventually from wear, changes in temperature and humidity and sometimes from simple age.
    New monofilament has a particularly lovely shine on the reel spool. With time and use (especially in saltwater), that shine disappears. Eventually the line becomes chalky. A flat finish is suspicious; chalkiness is definitely bad. Both are signs that vital components of the mono have leached out.
    Braided line, brands like Power Pro and Berkley Fireline, is much more resistant to age and wear than mono, but it is not immune. Extreme use and repeated exposure to the elements eventually cause that line to fail as well.
    When a line begins to lose its integrity from age or use or both, knot strength is the first thing to go bad.
    Next, try the knot test. On lines of indeterminate age and from 10- to 20-pound breaking strength, tie an overhand knot and give it a hard jerk. If it breaks, get rid of the line.
    When lines below 10-pound fail the test, you face a judgment call. Are you ready to chance a good fish?
    Replace your line regularly. Every season is best for monofilament, and every three to five years you should replace braided line.

Line-Shopping Guide
    When buying new line, do not look for bargains. A low or steeply discounted price may indicate old stock or questionable quality. Both mean trouble.
    I have a fishing buddy who cannot resist a bargain. He had chanced into a small out-of-the-way shop selling spools of a popular line at such a low price that he bought a lot. After the start of the rockfish season and the third inexplicable break-off in just the first couple of trips, that line disappeared from his reels and that bargain was never again mentioned.
    Since spools of fishing line do not bear a discernable manufacture date, you never know how old they might be. Thus knowing your supplier is another good rule in buying line.
    Many low-cost lines are excellent, though not superior. Higher-quality lines are monitored for uniform breaking strength. Manufacturing methods are routinely upgraded, with the latest (and usually most expensive) softeners and lubricants added, resulting in better longevity, suppleness, ease of use and knot strength.
    Unless you don’t mind losing gear and fish to break-offs, buy the best you can afford. Purchase your line from a reputable dealer that rotates stock and sells a lot of the product. If you are having your line spooled at the store (always wise), ask to see the bulk spool. Inspect the line for age (if mono, it should be shiny), and don’t hesitate to give it the knot-and-pull test.
The 20-Foot Solution    
    Before the start of each season, discard the first 20 feet of line off each of your reels. Repeat after every half dozen or so trips, particularly if you enjoyed a lot of action. The first 20 feet undergoes the majority of the wear and is most likely to fail under high stress. Landing your next big fish may depend on it.


Conservation Alert

Maryland Governor Hogan’s administration plans to suspend Bay oyster restoration. They are also opening to commercial harvest many oyster reserve areas that have been off-limits. Oysters have been driven down to the last one-half percent of their historic population levels, and these actions, while popular with the commercial sector, are bound to push this vital Chesapeake resource closer to exhaustion. All Bay-lovers should respond to these misguided actions: http://takeaction.cbf.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=18053.

The waterfowl hunter is a different sort of man — or woman

The sound of a half dozen rapid shots followed by a pause, then two or three more measured reports rolled in from the nearby Magothy River. I was drinking my first coffee that morning, still in my bathrobe and looking out the front window when I heard the gunfire. It was bitter cold, windy, overcast and an altogether miserable morning. The duck hunters must be in heaven, I thought.
    Foul winter weather drives migrating waterfowl down the Atlantic Coast. It also moves birds that have already arrived off open wind-riven waters to seek shelter and food along the shoreline coves and the tributaries. That’s where these specialized hunters wait, crouching in blinds or shivering in layout boats next to scores of decoys, fingering long, slender shotguns and waiting for their quarry to be attracted into range.
    Waterfowl hunters are not like normal people. During duck and goose seasons, spates of sunny days and moderate temperatures send them into irritable funks. Forecasts of storm warnings and gusting winds, snow or rain, overcast skies and plunging thermometers cheer them and lighten their step.
    Waterfowling is a sport only for the hardy, those inured to harsh, frigid conditions and ready to expend any amount of effort in preparing for their sport. They must also be immune to long days of inaction, for experienced gunners know well that often the birds do not come to the hunter.
    The sport requires specialized hard-weather clothing, tough waterproof coats and trousers with heavily insulated cores. All come in camouflage patterns designed to make the wearer as inconspicuous as possible to the migrating ducks and geese. Those birds have virtually telescopic vision.
    It takes strength and good physical condition because gunning the Chesapeake requires an inordinate amount of hard labor. Preparing blinds and duck boats, lugging any number of decoys, setting them out before sunrise and carrying bags of gear: That kind of effort will raise a sweat and exhaust many before the first shot is even fired.
    Challenges are often extreme. The hardy, long-traveling, powerful birds that test these gunners do not seem bound by the normal physics of flight.
    I remember gunning many years ago on Lake Erie. I was in a layout boat behind four-dozen decoys on a blustery day inside Presque Isle Bay. A string of a dozen canvasbacks had plummeted in from on high. I rose up to lead the first duck by at least a half-dozen feet. My shot struck the water just behind the trailing duck as they flew off. If those geese weren’t exceeding 100 miles an hour, I’ll eat my hat and yours as well.
    In spite of the challenges, this sport has long had a hard corps of dedicated practitioners. And make no mistake, it isn’t strictly a man’s sport. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially these days, when the women in our military are earning Army Ranger badges and queuing up to compete for the most exclusive areas of Special Forces.
    Woman or man, the waterfowl hunter is a different sort of individual.

Bird watching, fishing and hunting are all in season

Late January can be a great time for outdoor lovers, including bird watchers and waterfowl hunters. The arrival of colder weather has encouraged migrating waterfowl to finally head our way along the Atlantic Flyway. The Ches­apeake and its tributaries are ideal resting and feeding areas where these birds will linger, at least until additional foul weather convinces them to continue to warmer climes. Some will eventually travel as far as Mexico.
    Now’s the time to see some 250 species of migrating birds and waterfowl including tundra swans, snow geese, Canada geese, loons, wood ducks, canvasback ducks, widgeons, mallards, black ducks, golden eyes, buffleheads, old squaws and eiders.
    Great sites for viewing (and in some cases, hunting) these visitors are parks and refuges including Blackwater Wildlife Refuge (near Cambridge), Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge (near Rock Hall), Elk Neck State Park (near North East) and Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area (near Queenstown).
    Small-game hunters seeking a clever but tasty animal will find this is one of the best months for success in hunting Maryland’s prolific gray squirrel. Despite being sought by owls, hawks, weasels, foxes, coyotes and the like, the gray squirrel has continued to expand its range and numbers.
    Its wily nature in the forest can make it a difficult animal for hunters to approach. However, mid-January marks the beginning of the mating season, and romantic inclinations make them especially active. With the trees clear of foliage, squirrels are more vulnerable to quietly moving hunters than at any other time of the year.
    Squirrel meat was the primary wild game in the original Brunswick Stew (cooks.com/recipe/5h5f08i5/brunswick-stew.html) that fed Colonial America during the wintertime for nearly a century until the forests were eventually cleared and other game species (and domestic animals) became more numerous. Our state game management areas are ideal places to seek out this cautious but delicious critter. Try the DNR website http://tinyurl.com/MD-DNR-wildlife for more information.
    Anglers on the Chesapeake haven’t for quite some time had a winter rockfish catch-and-release season like the one now going on at Point Lookout at the mouth of the Potomac River. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel has also been having a good run, the best in the last few years, and there you can keep one fish over 28 inches.
    Crappie are schooling, as are yellow perch, and both should become available in the very near future as they begin to spawn, especially short warming spells continue. Six- to seven-foot medium-action spinning rods with six- to 10-pound mono are ideal for both of these delicious creatures. Best baits are minnows, grass shrimp, bloodworms, earthworms and wax worms, in that order. Fish them on a shad dart under a bobber or on a high-low rig on the bottom. Target along the shorelines at the high tides or the deeper channels during the low phases. Crappie and perch both like to hang out around submerged bushes and trees.
    Chain pickerel are probably the most reliable and aggressive game fish in both fresh and salt water in mid-January and into February. These fish seem to be energized by the colder weather. A toothy fish that can easily reach 24 inches (citation size), the pickerel likes to ambush its prey and can be usually found lurking around downed trees (laydowns), piers and docks (the older the better), floating rafts of leaves and debris and rock jetties. They will also follow the schools of yellow perch that are moving up to spawn in tributary headwaters.
    Hikers along the Bay’s shoreline should keep an eye out for the graceful lion’s mane jellyfish that show up in good numbers this time of year. Large brownish creatures of five pounds or more each, they are clearly visible on calm days pulsating along the clearer waters of the wintertime Chesapeake.

When you can’t fish, practice casting

Looking out my front window on a beautiful January morning, I could see that the sun was shining brightly and the wind calm. My eyes settled on the skiff in the driveway, covered with its blue winter-weather blanket. I mused that with a little effort I could pull the cover, hook up the trailer and be on the water inside of 20 minutes. Then I mentioned the thought to Deborah, my long-suffering wife.
    “Great idea,” she said. “It’s all the way up to 35 degrees, and while you’re out there you might help DNR look for the guy that fell overboard near the Bay Bridge the other day. They haven‘t found him yet.”
    “I wasn’t serious,” I countered, “just wishing.”
    The real situation was that I was still recovering from abdominal surgery in early December and forbidden by doctor’s orders from activities that involved lifting anything heavier than a six-pack for at least three more weeks. Launching a boat was out of the question, and springtime had never seemed so far away.
    I reminded myself that the next best thing to fishing was playing with fishing tackle, and I had made promises to myself last season to improve a number of skills. One was my casting accuracy. Lawn casting is a low-impact exercise that would get me out of the house and keep me active.
    I especially needed to work on placing a bait under piers and docks where perch and rockfish hold during warmer months to beat the heat of the climbing sun.
    I had once thought that the fish moved from shallow-water structures to deeper water as the sun rose, especially with a falling tide. However, an accomplished skinny-water angler named Woody Tillery dispelled that idea. Woody’s strategy was based on his experience that, as the sun rose, the fish felt exposed and so tended to congregate in the cooler shaded areas under the piers and docks. The shade rendered the fish mostly invisible to marauding osprey and herons.
    Anglers, however, could cast into those shady refuges as the water level under the structures fell.
    Using that strategy, Woody’s score of white perch was impressive and often included a surprising number of keeper rockfish. It was quite a revelation at the time.
    But I found that method of casting was far from an easy task. An angler needs to practice to become adept, and that is not an on-the-water project. It is an old angling axiom that you can either fish or practice casting, but you can’t do both at the same time.
    I addressed my accuracy issue by constructing light, easily transportable ersatz dock structure with some PVC plumbing pipe and fixtures. Setting up the apparatus on the lawn or a parking lot, I practice casting to and under the target. It’s challenging. The wrist snap necessary to keep the lure trajectory low and accurate is not simple. However, I expect the practice to pay off once I’m back on the water.
    Other techniques for working under or close to these types of structure include flipping, skipping, pitching and shooting. All can be practiced on that same apparatus and are demonstrated in a number of YouTube videos (search on fishing docks). I plan on upping my score considerably next spring by this expansion of my angling repertoire.

The gods do not subtract from an allotted lifespan the hours spent fishing

There is hardly any human activity more restorative, calming, comforting and just plain relaxing than a day on the water attempting to convince a fish to bite your line.
    Lots of popular recreational activities offer competition, strenuous exercise, adrenaline surges and challenge. Fishing promises quiet contemplation, fine scenery and communion with nature — with the outside chance of scoring a healthy meal.
    It is not a particularly strenuous sport. Other than casting out your bait or lure, most of your time and attention is spent waiting for the fish to decide whether or not to eat it. That pretty much puts any pressure for success directly in the hands — or fins — of the fish, leaving your mind free to wander.
    Search the word fishing online, and you’ll get over a half-billion hits. The next most popular sport, golfing, scores scarcely five percent of that number. Not bad for a game that simply requires at its most basic, a pole, some string, a hook and a worm and a good-looking piece of water.
    Children take to fishing like few other activities, which is proof positive of its basically pure and simple nature. Older men revel in its intricacies and total absorption of the self. As the novelist Thomas McGuane said, “Angling is extremely time consuming. That’s sort of the whole point.”
    I have devoted a great portion of my life to chasing fish and have never regretted a single moment. In fact, I’m a firm believer in the adage, You can never fish too much; it just can’t be done.
    One of America’s favorite sons, the author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, is often credited with saying, “Many men go fishing their whole lives without ever realizing that it isn’t the fish they are after.” That may be the reason that the sport is so consuming and restive. It gives opportunity for philosophical reflection without the actual decision to indulge in such highbrow activity.
    I’ve never slept better than after a day on the water; that alone is an important thing in this fast-paced civilization that we’ve created. Now more than ever, our health and well-being depend on finding ways to relax and take in life.
    The secret of a happy and content life: The best time to go fishing is whenever you can.

I’ve got a couple more big rockfish to catch before December 20

The last of the rockfish season is a particularly difficult time for me.
    As always, I’m hoping for one last good day on the water. I’ve caught a fair number of rockfish the last few trips, including a great 30-inch fish on a recent afternoon under the birds off of Poplar Island. Yet none has given me the feeling of that last hurrah. For that you need a couple of big fish.
    All around, friends tell me of 28- to 36-inch fish brought to the boat on days I’ve been absent. Tales of sea lice and bright, thick rockfish have keep me up at night while I scheme to get back in serious action despite the nasty winds and rain that have plagued my scheduled days.
    Taking a couple of weeks off in late October and early November to do some bird hunting cost me dearly. I lost touch with the bite and with fish movement. Even now I’m pretty much clueless as to finding the fish, the good fish anyway.
    My error has been in chasing rumors and planning only short trips with a simple Plan A but no B or C. That’s not a new story. Spending a couple of days searching and fishing a logical pattern should solve that problem. The remaining problem now is getting those days.
    The late mild weather has been very encouraging. Looking at the most recent forecasts, I’m guessing if I stay ready there will be good opportunities with temps in the 50s for long stretches. Rain will be the only impediment, and that can always be worked around.
    Reports from anglers fishing bait have been alarmingly good for this late in the season. I may have to try. Fresh menhaden remains available at some sports stores. Most of the success stories, however, have come from trollers. In trolling the key to success is finding the fish, and that takes persistence.
    The white perch scene is also promising and tempting. Fishing near Poplar Island last week, we noticed perch on our electronic finder at 50 feet, stacked up thick off the bottom. Reports have similar gatherings around the Bay Bridge and around the deeper channels of the tributaries.
    So I am gathering up my Bomber Rigs. The Bomber is a bright, feathered, two-ounce, metal jig rigged on a leader with a smaller dropper fly about 12 inches above.
    Fished vertically just off the bottom, this setup is deadly on perch. Down deep, big lurking rockfish have been known to smack it hard.
    I could use a couple more Ziplocks filled with perch fillets to get me through the next few months, and a few extra rockfish are always welcome.
    In the last few days of rain, I’ve used the time to clean up my tackle and prepare for one last assault. With luck, I will be able to face the last day of rockfish season, December 20, with a smile.
    Otherwise, well, there will always be next year. And, of course, the yellow perch will start running in just a couple more weeks.

How to find hot wintertime fishing

A big El Nino winter is expected, possibly moderating Maryland temperatures. That’s good news for anglers wanting to get in a few extra rockfishing trips, as the season remains open until December 15 on the Bay and year-round oceanside.
    Despite El Nino’s predicted warming effect, however, planning any fishing trip this time of year means getting good information on weather conditions. A 10-day forecast is a good place to start.
    I refer first to the temperatures and, because I have a small skiff open to the elements, eliminate any day predicted to be under 50 degrees, especially as damp, salty air always seems to be extra cold. Even if you have a 30-footer with a heated cabin you will be forced out into the open when the action starts.
    Next, look to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Forecast for guidance on wind speed, direction, precipitation and sea conditions. The first two days of the forecast are generally on target. The third day can be fairly accurate; thereafter, refresh your data as your target date gets closer. Expect significant change.
    On the Bay, winds above 10mph are not recommended for open boats. The seas push higher, and the resultant wind chill can make things very uncomfortable, even dangerous.
    Wind direction is also important, especially if it is from the northwest or southeast. Those directions mean the wind is coming the full length of the Bay, and that has an amplifying effect on wave height.
    For real-time local conditions, look to the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System at buoybay.noaa.gov/locations. Constant reports originate at 10 Bay locations. The rule I follow is that if any two weather sources are in conflict, expect the harsher version to be the more accurate.
    If you’re a shore-bound angler, dress warmly, have extra clothing handy and carry a hot beverage. Temperatures should be above freezing; otherwise your line will ice up in the rod guides.
    Fishing the colder months also means the fish will react differently to bait or artificial lures. Expect very hesitant, almost imperceptible bites. If you’re working lures, do it slowly and methodically; when you feel a bump, react deliberately, staying poised to drop back to give the fish another chance if you feel no resistance.
    Bait anglers will have to watch their rod tips like hawks and will still find their baits stolen. Adding scent such as menhaden and shedder-crab oil to your baits can pay extra rewards this time of year. Jumbo bloodworms are worth the extra cost. Rockfish metabolisms have slowed with the declining temperatures, so they will not eat as often or as much as during warmer months. Persistence and patience are critical to success.
    There can be excellent big-striper action in winter around Ocean City (minimum size 28 inches, limit one fish). The inlet, particularly, is a haven for big fish that can be jigged up or caught on live bait. The surf fishing can also be excellent, and fly and light-tackle anglers working parallel to the shoreline, just behind the break, have hooked up with some giants.

Fine dog work, great company and challenging birds make for a ­memorable hunt

A double layer of warm technical clothing, heavy brush chaps and a stout hunting coat were barely holding the elements at bay.
    Out front a wild pheasant had just broken from cover, speeding low over dense treetops and right at me. Backlit by the sun, I couldn’t tell if it was a rooster or a protected hen, so I held my fire, waiting for the bird to display its colors. Fingering the safety, I tried to warn my partner of its approach but doubted that he heard me over the roar of the wind across the thrashing prairie grasses.
    I was standing at the end of a South Dakota shelter belt, a quarter-mile line of closely planted trees outside an inner row of thicker evergreens, bordered by smaller bushes and then more evergreens. It was the only cover that could withstand the relentless gale ripping since dawn across the flat agrarian Huron County countryside.
    The belt offered weather protection to the farmhouse and barns some 200 yards distant. As the trees also bordered an enormous harvested cornfield, it also offered ring-neck pheasants an ideal laying up spot on a 30-degree morning.
    Gusting at 50 mph, the wind was at my back and I had to guard against being pushed off balance. Off to my right about 25 yards distant stood my partner, the ramrod of the hunt, Tom Schneider. We were blocking at the far end of a drive that hoped to break some wild, tough Dakota ring-necks out of cover and into range.
    The rest of our party from the Maryland-Virginia area — Jim Zimmerman, Kevin Klasing, Mike Wilkerson and Steve Roth — were pushing from the other end of the shelter belt behind their trained springer and cocker spaniels, in a hammer and anvil movement.
    Then the bird out front lifted from the trees, turned, opened its wings and caught the wind. Its long, graceful tail and iridescent green head — set off by a brilliant white collar — announced that it was a rooster. I threw my gun to my shoulder. The bird’s air speed was boosted by the gale, blowing from a leisurely 30 mph to about 70 in an instant. I fired twice but never came close as the bird zoomed toward the horizon.
    Stuffing two more shells into my gun’s magazine, I peered under the trees and saw a half dozen more roosters running toward us in front of the spaniels. As they neared, pandemonium broke out. Birds were flushing everywhere through the trees and into the wind. Shooting and reloading, then shooting again was as exciting as it gets hunting ring-neck pheasants in South Dakota.
    Wind-burned and exhausted, we all agreed it was one of the best hunts we’d ever had. We seldom came close to downing the legal limit on most days, but we had shared the finest aspects of the wingshooting sport: fine dog work, great company and challenging birds.

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.