The One that Got Away
Far sweeter than the ones I ate
The incoming tide had just started by the time I slowed my skiff at the Bay Bridge. Nervously, I hooked up a nine-inch spot on a 6/0 hook and eased up to one of the larger multiple pilings. It would take a big rockfish to eat this bait.
Throwing the motor into neutral in the slack water just down-current of the structure, I lobbed my baitfish out between the large concrete columns. The spot swam off, stripping line from my freely turning spool and making for the bottom 20 feet down.
Rockfish are mostly roaming the eastern side of the Bay, though some anglers are scoring fish here and there in the west. The dead zones this year are forming throughout the mid-Bay, and in many areas the water is algae-clouded and foul. Best bets on the western side are for perch, spot and croaker.
Then, almost immediately, the vibrations transmitted by the baitfish morphed into panic. The spool spun faster as I eased my thumb down to control the run and test the resistance. I could tell my bait had been eaten by a large fish, for there was a determined strength now pulsing back through that thin 20-pound braid.
Keeping in mind the size of the bait I was using, I gave the predator below a good long 10-count, then threw the reel in gear and let the line come tight. With a mighty heave, I set the hook.
The fish hardly moved, and at first I was afraid that I had become fouled on one of the many obstructions down among the base of the pilings. Then the rascal took off. My rod — a six-and-a-half-foot, stout-action St. Croix — bucked into a hard arc as the fish sounded. I could barely hold the rod with both hands.
Something was very wrong.
My drag was frozen. Line was not feeding into the fish’s powerful sprint. I desperately wanted to loosen the drag, but the force of the fish was such I needed both hands to hold the rod, and that fish just wasn’t stopping.
Then my line snapped.
Trembling I wound the loose braid back onto my reel. I fingered the shortened length of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader as the boat drifted away from the Bridge and into open water. The leader had broken at about the halfway mark under the incredible stress.
Recompense, Recollection, Regret
That my knot — usually the weakest point in the line — had held was small recompense for losing such a powerful fish. I adjusted the drag properly and started to re-rig, and as I did, I recalled the ending of a previous fishing trip.
My last bait of the day, a very frisky white perch, had gone down into some deep-water structure, fouling my line. Unable to free it, I tightened the drag on the reel until I locked up the spool. Backing my boat away, I broke off the perch and called it a day. Obviously, I had never since readjusted the drag setting. In retrospect, that was a disastrous oversight.
But as I baited up again, my attitude brightened. This wasn’t the first time I’d lost a fish. The morning was beautiful, the wind was light and the nighttime’s cool had not yet been dispelled by the newly risen sun. I idled back toward the Bridge pilings for another attempt.
The day turned out well enough, and I got my limit of rockfish. But as hard as I tried to ignore it, regret clouded my mood every time I recalled the awesome power of that striper that had snapped my line.