Wheeling birds drew us to an acre of stripers feeding on frantic baitfish
I pulled my ball cap snugly down, reached back for the throttle and quickly brought the 14-foot skiff up on an easy plane. I was eyeballing a distant group of excited seagulls in the early morning light.
My young son Rob was forward, sitting securely, clutching a light spinning rod in one hand and the gunnel with the other. His eyes were locked on the same birds.
Fixing the location, I twisted the throttle and the old Evinrude howled as we accelerated, our hull skipping across the top of the water. Below those wheeling birds was an acre of feeding stripers, and we wanted in on the action.
A light breeze was blowing, not enough to raise a chop, but I knew it was enough to affect my small boat’s drift, so I favored the upwind side of the scrum. I also began to factor the direction of the tidal current into my approach.
We covered the distance in very few minutes and, dropping off plane, slowly closed on the melee. Gauging the rate of the feeding school’s movement and its direction, I intended to quietly shut down somewhere well ahead of and off to the side of their path, and let the wind and the tide move us quietly into casting distance.
The last thing I wanted to do was end up in the middle of them. As long as the engine wasn’t running, we probably wouldn’t alarm them at first. I’ve inadvertently split feeding schools by blundering into their midst, and I wanted to avoid that. I lowered the electric motor for last-minute adjustments in our positioning.
Within a minute or so, we were almost within range. My son could barely restrain himself as he stood on the forward casting platform, his arm cocked and his eyes locked on the maelstrom as it approached. The frantically leaping baitfish and the feeding predators below made a noise like a hundred swords slashing through the water.
Rob was throwing a quarter-ounce, chartreuse bass assassin, and he knew enough to aim it at the edge of the school and to let the soft jig get down where the bigger fish were apt to be cruising. I reached for my own stick, a nine-foot, eight-weight fly rod.
Before I could get the reel cover off and strip some line onto the deck my son yelled, his rod bent double. The drag sound from his reel announced that this was not some diminutive schoolie on the other end of the line. It was a good fish.
He immediately began to call for the net, though it was obvious to me that the need for that was at least a few minutes away. But I knew I wouldn’t have time to get my own line in the water, so I reluctantly put the fly rod down, retrieved the net from under the deck and began giving advice which, of course, he ignored.
As he drew the rockfish nearer the boat and I stepped up to position the net, my young son warned me not to get anxious. His comment was irritating, mostly because of its accuracy.
Easing back until at last the striped beauty rolled on its side, a sure sign of defeat, I finally moved up and lowered the net into the water. Rob led him gently into its folds. It was a definite keeper. There was no need to measure that one except for bragging rights.
We were lucky that day as ours was the only boat in sight and we had the hungry school to ourselves. Carefully and quietly working at the edges, we fishing over an hour before the baitfish dispersed and the rock disappeared.
Rob was hooked up almost continuously the entire time. I made one or two more futile attempts at getting a rod in action before finally relegating myself as gillie to the angler in the bow. It was one of the best days ever for both of us.