Monday, August 18, 2008

All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I don’t even know how to start this one. But here it goes, right to the point: Joel joined me on the water and landed his largest striper (or fish, for that matter) ever. Here’s how the story goes…

It had been a so-so summer for me and Joel in terms of fishing together. In previous years we would already have several days of wild fishing stories under our belts by mid-August. But this year was different. Partly due to our schedules and partly due to the marginal luck we had had so far. Early season outings were dampened by poor weather or mediocre tide conditions. Then there was that streak of bad luck due to having Dave Grossman on board to photograph us. Dave was worried that he’d become the banana in the boat, but that changed when finally I took him out to witness an orgy of keeper bass on the surface. Maybe Joel was the banana.

But anyway, a day finally surfaced free for both our schedules and I was happy about that. Joel and I have a blast fishing together. We tend to go all out and we often tend to do well. But most of all, it is fun to fish with Joel. I was telling him a few days ago that I was really looking forward to having a day on the water where we’d relive some of the best fishing times in the history of mankind. Seriously.

Five AM was the start at Mattakeesett and soon we were in the harbor, among a few other early risers, to snag a few pogies. I assumed Joel would be into getting right into some livelining – a fishing technique we rarely, if ever, attempted together. Usually we’re throwing specific topwater or swimming lures (many are custom designed by Joel) or we’re flyfishing. Baitfishing was something we both had ample experience doing, but not together. (We did do some awesome livelining in the Bahamas for barracuda, but that’s a story for the future archives, if I can write that). And really, we’re not purists in the sense of one fishing technique over the other. Basically, whatever is challenging and fun is the rule.

So in the harbor, in the low dingy light, we snagged about a dozen pogies (menhaden, aka bunker or “moss bunker”) and kept them alive in my baitwell (a black fish tote fed intermittently by 5-gal bucket). Then we cruised out to an area that I had only fished a few times with live pogies. The tide was dead low and the idea was to drift along the incoming in this area where large bass were known to hang out. On our way to set the drift we witnessed a guy hook into a large fish and our hopes shot up. I felt like we were definitely going to score some large fish this morning. And only ten minutes into our first drift we did get some action on the live pogies, but no hookups. After moving around a bit and getting nothing we decided to move on. I had other spots in my mental map and the tide conditions were now perfect.

I can’t use the name here, but we arrived at a named spot somewhere in the bay where I have had years of good fortune with big, and I mean big, bass. It was a regular spot for many people, at least the area around it attracted boats. Typically I would refrain from fishing there if others were around. So we did a few drifts there, along with another boat who seemed happy to be hooking up. My manners got in the way, however. I wouldn’t get into the honey hole while the other guy was there. This would be fine, usually, but this time I got a little pissed off because the other boat (a Grady cabin) decided to motor itself steady into the rip which posed a dilemma to those of us who don’t want to fuck things up for the other guy. Akin to anchoring, this guy kept his motor steady through the rip and most likely scared off lots of fish, and kept me away.

So off to another site we went, keeping the pogies alive with constant replenishments of water with the 5-gal. The next site was poor…full of mung and looking bare. Ugh. I really wanted this trip to be productive and Joel did too. We discussed the possibilities – just an hour into the flood, which is a tricky moment on the bay because the fish are in (or out) of new and interesting areas. So we just kept our focus on the rips. I decided on a specific place to set up for a while and it wasn’t too far off. An amazing sunrise with the prospect of some low clouds, mist, and rain which would be good to keep the fish up and the idiots away. We did see some idiots, by the way. Upon setting up on some nice drifts we were fairly frequently accosted by folks who figured that if they simply find a boat fishing then that is where the fucking fish are and just simply plop right up next to us, after a few hesitant 360s (because they don’t know what they’re doing) , and watch, and fish with the wrong tackle. But I won’t get started on all that.

Basically Joel and I ran this rip alone for quite some time and this is how it went:

Joel, with live pogie, got his bait hassled by big fish, then…caplumpt! Line went out and we were in business. It was a pretty long fight, I had no net, just Joel’s homemade bamboo short gaff. Joel brought the big fish up to the boat and so I gaffed the thing (nice and clean like) and it came up on board. Woah…wow…a nice one. We both literally couldn’t speak, talk, or really communicate because the laughing, rather – wheezing – was too thick to cut through. It taped out to 40 ½ inches and was just beautiful. “Wow, holy fucknuts daddio,” said Joel. “This is the first fish I’ve taken on live pogies!” Indeed, a beauty and it was, as Joel has exclaimed in previous situations, the fucknuts.

Joel’s next fish was a screamer. Took lots of line out and after some good fighting, the line parted and that was that. Joel figured it was a knot he left in the braided line that cut through itself (later we figured otherwise). And he was pretty pissed. He was almost as pissed as I was, having not had a good hookup yet. But I didn’t mind. This morning was one of those one-sided situations where one guy gets all the luck. That’s the way it goes.

So, to continue describing his amazing streak of fortune, Joel’s next fish was landed (due to my agile gaffing techniques) within 10 minutes of the previous breakoff. This one was also nice – 37”. He was on a roll.

So we ran up to the next drift and set up ourselves. Joel asked me about the dead pogies, whether to save them for the lobster pots or whatever. I said, “We should probably throw a chunk out there as we liveline and cast. “Sure thing, dadio.”

But what Joel ended up doing was totally intuitive and I understood exactly what he was up to. He began to filet a pogie. That’s right, filet a pogie. He only did one side, then removed as much of the bones as possible from the remaining one-sided frame. This rendered the poor thing as a floppy, bleeding lure which Joel tossed over into the deep eelgrass. And then in about 3 minutes the line was screaming and I reached for the bamboo gaff, as if I were a conditioned chimp.

This thing took so much line off of Joel’s reel that I actually asked if things were OK up there on the bow. “Daddio, I think you might want to motor up on this one a little bit.” Hmmn. So I did, then again, then again…we didn’t cover much ground, but allowed Joel to at least get 20 m of line in. Still lots to go. So in the end, the fish finally succumbed and showed itself to us. It was of an amazing size and I readied the gaff and after a few clumsy attempts, hooked the gill and brought him aboard.

Holy Fucknuts. This fish was absolutely huge. Upon its landing Joel and I just dropped everything and wheezed for a good five minutes…seriously, we couldn’t hold it in and had to simply laugh to exhaustion. This was to turn out to be Joel’s largest landing: a striper that measured out to 48.5 inches and weighed 41 lbs. Yar, indeed.

We went in and ate an early lunch with our morning coffee. Everything was out of synch, so after some tackle work we ended up out on the water again. This time on the dropping tide, Joel managed another 31 incher, as did I but on a sluggo. Then we moved to some active rips and went crazy with somersaulting stripers that averaged the mid-20s in length and this was really fun. We stayed out until a squall started throwing bolts our way and then made our way in.

Back in the driveway Alex M. and Jon N. showed up to share beer and fish and stories, and this made a great end of the day. Rain, lightning, and thunder accompanied our short happy hour. The day ended and I was onto the next world of dinner parties and family activities, leaving the moments of Joel’s amazing day in my memory.

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