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My First Trophy of the Year

Catching this rockfish was one great feeling

I hadn’t been set up long. Fishing big chunks of cut fresh alewife on the bottom in 40 feet of water, I saw the rod in its starboard holder quiver, then dip. I reached over and slid the reel’s clicker off so there would be no resistance on the line. The spool started up, then stopped, then started up again … ever so slowly.
    Picking up the bait-casting rig and thumbing the spool lightly just to be sure the movement wasn’t due to tidal current, I was rewarded by the feel of a fish moving off. I allowed a bit more time for my quarry to get the piece of alewife back in its jaws. Then I put the reel in gear and began to take up slack. Nothing.
    The fish had dropped my bait. Disappointed, I continued retrieving line until I realized it was moving back toward the boat faster than I was cranking. The rascal was still on. Lowering my rod tip, I gathered slack with the reel until the line was almost straight down at my skiff’s stern. Then it came tight. I lifted the rod firmly and felt good resistance. Then I lifted harder.
    This time it came really tight and a fish began to shake its head and move off deliberately. My drag, which was firmly set for the 20-pound mono, hissed as the fish ran about 100 feet, then stopped. More head shaking. I had fished the day before and got a couple of heavy throwbacks. This one felt larger, but I wasn’t sure it was going to be legal sized, over 35 inches.
    Having learned the hard way never to prejudge an unseen fish, I kept the pressure on, lifting and gaining line only to lose it as the fish bulldozed away. As I was alone and had three more rigs in the water, I didn’t put a lot of extra rod strain onto this guy as long as it stayed off to the side and away from the other rigs. The surest way to lose a good fish is getting lines crossed.
    At something past the 10-minute mark, I decided to challenge the fish with some significant effort. With my thumb locking the spool, I lifted until the rod was bent over, almost to the corks, trying to force it to the surface.
    The fish shook its head and ­headed out and away, again with no hesitation, pulling line steadily until my thumb was scorched. At this point, I decided that it was quite likely a keeper — if I could get it to the boat.
    Another long 10 minutes of tense back-and-forth action finally brought the fish near the surface and provided a first glimpse of my adversary. The size limit was definitely not going to be a problem.
    Grabbing the net, I watched the beast make another determined run. I bided my time and let it have its head. A patient fight has one definite advantage in the last moment of the battle. Though the longer the struggle the greater the chance of losing, at the moment of truth when the net is in the water, the fish is usually so exhausted that there is no last-minute explosion.
    Such was the case this time as I brought the brute to the surface again. Managing it into my skiff at last, I had quite a handsome trophy rockfish, my first of the season.


Light-Tackle Fishing
    I’ll be teaching a course on Chesapeake Bay Light-Tackle Fishing at Anne Arundel Community College Saturday, May 6, 9am-2:30pm (course AHC 36): 410-777-2222.