Every night’s a new act
There was a violent swirl underneath my plug as I worked it sputtering across the tidal current. Fighting to control my reflexes, I waited to feel the attacking fish’s weight. But the line stayed slack. Then I saw the lure bobbing serenely on the widening rings of disturbed water. I carefully twitched the lure once, then again and the surface erupted as the striper returned, smashing at the bait.
But once more I saw the silhouette of my plug dancing free. My hands were shaking now; I could barely control them. Again I induced just a quiver in the lure, then another. This time the water churned as the fish came boring back and hit the lure again and again. I was ready to scream in frustration when at last my rod tip surged with contact and I hauled back and socked the hooks home. Fish on.
It was an hour before sunset on a mild and placid evening up in a mid-Bay river just off of the prettiest rocky point you have ever seen. There was just enough current and wind to nicely ripple the water.
A long-time sporting friend who had moved to San Francisco, Mike Kelly, was visiting for a couple of days. This was our last Bay outing before he had to return to the Left Coast.
Mike had scored a small striper the evening before, but my stories of hefty, raging rockfish in three feet of water were yet to be realized on his visit. He was beginning to rub it in.
Now he was all eyes. The fish tore line from my Ambassaduer’s drag at will as it churned through the shallow water toward more open spaces. Then it broached, swapped ends and headed back the other way. The amount of water it threw in its wake was impressive and noisy. It was just the show I had hoped for.
After some long, tense and tumultuous minutes of struggle, the fish finally closed on the boat. Mike got the net. As he lowered it, the stripers broadside flashed as it panicked and bored off. “Whoa! That’s a big fish,” he blurted as he brought the empty net back aboard.
After another few minutes of boat-side angst and some skillful net-work, Mike finally got the 12-pound striped rascal safely on board for me. “Man, that’s a really nice fish,” was all my friend kept saying.
It had been a tense evening up until now. This was not the first action we had had. We’d already missed at least three fish that had made explosive hits. For some reason, they were not immediately eating the lures, just battering them. It was nerve wracking. We adjusted our technique.
The key seemed to be surviving the impulse to strike on the fish’s initial assault, then antagonizing it into finally engulfing the bait by twitching and inch-hopping the lure after each miss.
Mike got the next fish on its third consecutive strike on the same retrieve. It was an eight-pounder, and the spirited fight it put up had my friend on the ropes with his light spinning outfit. The fish charged the boat twice and spent the rest of the time trying to drench both of us with flying water. It was wonderful.
I missed another through a total failure of nerve, jerking the lure away in a reflexive strike as the fish came charging in on another abortive attack. Then Mike hooked up. It was the twin of his first, but he seemed to have no trouble coaxing this one into eating.
These were the most weighty and muscular fish I had seen all year. Their heads actually seemed small for their hefty bodies.
We continued to work the shoreline flats as evening fell. There were some halfhearted swirls and false strikes, but we failed to hook up with any more fish. Finally, full darkness ended the top-water activity, and we headed home.
Mike was ecstatic with his catch, even more so since he had bested my score on my own home water. As for me, I was more than happy to share some of our Chesapeake magic with an old friend.