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Volume 15, Issue 24 ~ June 14 - June 20, 2007

Sometimes, the Fish Are Biting

Then, you don’t have time to wonder why

My old hunting buddy Wilkie and I trekked upland fields often in recent years, scaring the dickens out of quite a few grouse and pheasants. But this was the first time in a long while we’d fish together for rockfish, and I was looking forward to it.

Late May angling was complicated by some stiff winds and a May worm hatch. But our host, charterfishing captain Frank Tuma, was pretty sure he knew where the fish were. Whether they would bite or not was the question to be answered.

That day’s answer was quick in coming. Just north of the Bay Bridge, not a half-hour into our cruise, the sonar screen on Frank’s 23-foot Grady White, Downtime, was cluttered with just the marks we wanted to see, big, bold, and suspended. Rockfish, and lots of ’em.

At the same time the screen filled, a screeching noise started up next to my right ear. It was line peeling out on a firmly set drag. Wilkie was first up, and as he grabbed the straining rod out of its holder, we saw the fish broach 200 feet behind the boat. From the amount of water it threw and the size of the tail that threw it, we knew it was a good one.

About 10 minutes later, and in spite of some overly eager net handling on my part, a nice 15-pound fish came into the boat and went on ice. Wilkie had a grin the width of Sandy Point on his face as we congratulated him on his luck, not to mention the skill he exhibited in dancing the husky striper around five trolling rods with lines still trailing lures aft.


It wasn’t over, though. In fact it was just starting. My turn came next, and after a second arm-wrenching struggle, a twin of the first fish joined it in the ice chest. As we reset the line, but before we could relax to admire our good fortune, the day turned into mayhem. All six rods went down simultaneously.

It was anxiety and hilarity at the highest level. With all three of us holding deeply bent rods and attempting to separate lines holding obviously big fish from lines holding other big fish, we crossed over and under and around each other and then back again.

Shouting incoherent, unheard instructions and blurting out expletives that I still blush to recall, we were a study in confused exuberance. Just about the time one of us would have a fish clear and to the stern, it would bolt back out in an arcing run, re-fouling at least one, sometimes all, of the other lines.

At the same time, Frank would periodically dash back to the helm to correct our course — all the while holding onto one of the straining rods with his other hand. Finally, exhausted and spent, mostly from laughing at the futility of it all, we got the last fish into the boat. There were eight of them; two of the lines had had doubles, and the smallest of all the fish was about seven pounds.

Releasing four and icing down the others, the balance of our limits, we surveyed the chaos that sprawled across the deck. The lines had coalesced into one twisted. tangled mess. Only radical surgery could restore order.

Cutting lures free and tying new leaders, we re-rigged all of the rods with the tandem setups that had been so effective. We were still laughing and remembering the bedlam as we finally streamed out the lines and began fishing again.

Our object this time was to re-locate the densely packed school for some catch-and-release action, for it was still early in the day. But it was not to be.

As quickly as the bite had come on, it was over. Though we circled the area thoroughly, we could only locate a few scattered remnants of the stacked school that had so fiercely attacked our baits. They had simply melted away.

As we worked our way back toward home port, still vainly searching for fish, Wilkie and I related some of our bird-hunting experiences for Frank’s entertainment.

Tales about clever dogs, long walks, bold birds and embarrassing misses contrasted nicely with the salty air, wide water and gorgeous fish that had blessed us that morning.

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