Once you hear those words, it’s too late
There’s no sweeter music to the ears of an Izaak Walton than those two words. They signal a fish has taken the bait. The fight is about to begin.
That’s why the fisherman at this keyboard goes fishing. He’s primarily aboard for the fight; the fish, one can get at the market.
Fish On! is only the prelude. The crescendo comes with the cheers and jeers of fellow anglers disappointed that this fish had ignored their baits to take this particular one.
The fisher grabs the rod from its holder. The moment of truth is at hand. If this fish has spit out the bait, the angler feels no more fight than one does grasping a broom handle. That, and agonizing disappointment.
If the hook is imbedded within the jaws of this fine fish, the fisher holding the rod feels this fish. It’s not just something pulling the line off in the opposite direction as when the bait is snagged to a boulder on the bottom. That feeling quickly deflates the fisher. Hearing the jeers adds to the misery.
But if the fisher at the rod senses a strong and throbbing resistance like that of a dog’s tail saturated with hormones, there comes the elation of knowing a big fish is secured at the other end of the line. Whether this fish is only 25 yards or 100 yards from the stern, the fisher must close the gap by cranking on the reel.
The line it looks so thin to the fisher is the only connection to the fish. If it’s of monofilament, it will stretch appreciably; if of wire or the latest super strings, it won’t. This fish is big, real big, the fisher realizes: the line keeps peeling off the reel, whose spool is turning like the wheels of Mark Martin’s racing car.
The angler’s apprehension intensifies. Is there enough line left?
I knew I should have put new line on for the beginning of the season; why didn’t I?
Too late now; the hand is dealt. To slow the fish down, the fisher adds the thumb’s pressure on the line remaining on the reel.
How much pressure can I apply with my thumb? Not too much; the line will pop.
The fisher has to slow down this fish. But too much thumb pressure on the reel, and the fish will part the line. Not enough and the fish will spool all the line off the reel.
Why didn’t I get new line? Why didn’t I check the drag on the reel? Why, why, why?
Why is right. Fishing reels have drags, a mechanism that determines how much pressure the reel will apply to the fish before and if a thumb is applied. That drag must be tested before a fish is on; once the fish is on, there is no telling what the setting is. To change the drag setting while the fish is on can be disastrous. Theoretically, the drag, the setting of the resistance on the reel, should be one-quarter of the pound test of the line, one-third at the most.
But I don’t remember what the pound test of the line is. I bought it two years ago. Why didn’t I get new line? The spool doesn’t have much line left. I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to stop this fish.
The fisher adds pressure on the line, feeling the burning thumb from the friction. There is no choice; this fish can’t take all the line off the spool. Do or lose.
Thumb burning, another thought comes to the fisher.
Is the hook on the bait wire or steel? Why didn’t I check? If it is wire, it can bend easily under pressure. The fish will be free, just a memory of what could have been. Even a steel hook can bend enough to allow this fish to be around another day.
Then comes another thought.
How solidly is this fish hooked? If it’s deep, I’m okay. But if in a fleshy part of the mouth and the hook applies too much pressure, it will tear free from the mouth. I’ve got only about 50 yards of line left.
The fish slows down, then stops. The angler feels it thrashing in the deep. It, too, realizes the moment of truth is at hand, but that long run, pulling all the line off against the reel’s drag and the thumb has taken its toll. The fish is exhausted.
The fisher breathes easier, lowers the rod tip a bit but not enough to lose the bend in the rod; then pulls the rod up vertical; then lowers it again, not too fast, while cranking in the line. The fisher can feel the throbbing of the fish’s resistance, but a few yards have been gained. There’s another hundred or more to go. The rod is lowered again while reeling in line, then raised, again and again.
The fisher doesn’t crank on the reel while raising it. That won’t help; only complicate things. The momentum has to be kept up. Arms and shoulders are beginning to tire, then ache. But, there’s no time to hold the rod still. That breather will also afford this fish a brief, but reinvigorating respite. Off it will go again with only that thin thread between it and the boat.
Hey, this is supposed to be fun. So why do my arms feel numb and my shoulders so sore? Why isn’t this reel handle a little bigger? My fingers keep slipping off it. How long can I keep raising the rod tip? This is work, but I can’t ease up or lose the momentum.
No mistake can be made now, with all eyes upon the fisher.
Where is the leader line? I can’t keep this up much longer.
The sinker, terminal tackle and leader eventually appear from the brine, but the fish sees the boat. Exhausted as it is, it knows its last chance is at hand. As it puts all of its energy into a bid for another run, the mate grasps the leader to start bringing it in hand over hand. He sees the fish. It is of awesome size, and the fight is literally down to a hand-to-hand struggle.
How heavy is my leader? Why didn’t I check? I can’t lose this fish now, not after all that.
The leader holds, the fish is in the net, a whopper. The fisher puts the heavy rod down, and while admiring the fish shakes lowered hands and arms. They hurt; the thumb burns. But the fisher is more than ready to do it all over again.
This scenario is what’s coming up April 19 when the Maryland trophy rockfish season opens. Be prepared. Don’t be a jerk at one end of the line waiting for a jerk at the other end. Once a fish is on, it’s too late. Enough said.