It Doesn’t Always Come Easy
Even a hard day’s fishing will still put a smile on your face
I have always been a reluctant early riser, and as my age has advanced, the agony of a pre-dawn awakening has only increased exponentially. But I had gotten word of a red-hot, early-morning rockfish bite on the Bay Bridge pilings.
So the wee hours found me bleary eyed and brain fogged, meeting up with a friend, Dave Posner, in the parking lot of Anglers Sport Center. Once again the lure of big fish on light tackle had outweighed the pain of rising before the roosters.
Launching in the pre-dawn darkness at Sandy Point, we headed first for the nearest structure likely to hold the small perch we needed for bait.
Fish Are Biting
The best action seems to have moved below the Bay Bridge. High water temperatures and low oxygen are probably the culprits, but the rockfish are undoubtedly moving and mostly toward the south. Big perch are finally showing up in our areas, and a lot of them are being found in shallow waters. Beetle Spins and Rooster Tails are hanging the best fish. The croaker have started migrating back to the ocean, but big spot are still hanging around, and the bluefish have been getting bigger. The end of summer is just around the corner; better get as much of it as you can.
As with any critical endeavor that is left until the last minute, this one proved unexpectedly difficult and time consuming. There were perch all around, of course; there always are. But we could find only nos. Too big for bait; too small for dinner. It took a series of relocations and many throwbacks before we got a sufficient supply.
Arriving at our intended location with the sun already visible, we searched with our sonar around the bridge pilings. If the rockfish had been bunched up and eating at first light, they now were scattered and wandering.
Our window of opportunity had closed. Any feeding frenzy was over. What remained were difficult prospects at best.
We evaluated the options: cowboy up and tough it out or quit and try again another day. Inwardly I yearned to be back in the sack with a big soft pillow under my head and the prospect of several more hours of shut-eye. But of course two guys in a boat are genetically doomed to the first option: We fished.
Toughing It Out
The tide was still moving softly enough for some effective drifts. Choosing a piling with a few suspicious fish marks on the sonar, we sent our baits swimming on down. There were no takers.
It wasn’t until somewhere toward the end of the first hour that I finally had a pick-up. I felt the baitfish run and a vicious strike; then my line streamed out. I gave it a good long seven count, dropped the reel into gear and, when the line came tight, I set the hook.
Five minutes later, Dave netted my fat, bright 27-inch striper. The skunk was vanquished with a very nice fish, but now the hook was set in us as surely as it had been in that fish. We were fully committed to stick out the day.
It took another hour before Dave managed his first fish, a twin of our first. Relieved, celebratory, but already getting uncomfortable in the hot July sun, we had to break off to catch more bait. On a difficult day like this, only a lively fresh baitfish can trigger a strike. We would use a perch for only a drift or two before changing it out, and we had quickly gone through our whole supply.
After we returned with a full bait bucket, the third striper took another two hours to find. There was a solid hook-up and a couple of drag-screeching runs. Then the fish surfaced about 100 feet away from the boat, rolled and spit the hook. It had been noticeably larger than the two in our cooler. I was philosophical, while Dave was upset. Of course, it was Dave’s fish.
In the meantime, temperatures had continued to rise, and we were increasingly uncomfortable. Then in the early afternoon I finally hooked another, a chunky 23-incher. Burying it in the ice in our cooler, I had an urge to crawl inside along with it.
Relocating for yet another drift, we joked about the likelihood of getting a fourth fish to fill our limit before we expired from heat stroke. Both of us were sweat-soaked, tired, dirty and we weren’t exactly smelling nice. In an unusual moment of clarity, we decided that we had had enough.
Wordlessly we pulled our baits, cleared the deck and headed back to the barn. We were beat, but we did have fish in the box, nice fish, and on a very tough day. That was good enough for two big grins all the way home and then some.