Saturday, July 13, 2013

Broken Curse & Personal Best

The curse of the 60lb Boga has finally been broken; allow me to explain...

Up until two years ago, I never owned a fishing scale and I'd usually never know how heavy any of my fish were before I released them (although one can get fairly close with measurements and formulas). Then after landing a handful of striped bass that floated somewhere in the mid-30-pound range, I thought it was time to invest in an expensive Boga Grip that would accurately weigh my fish up to 60-pounds. Of course, as luck would have it, as soon as I began carrying this tool on my surf belt, bigger fish evaded me like the plague. That all changed this week, however, when I landed the largest fish of my life.

My good friends Mike, Derrick and I reached the shoreline a little after 10 PM on Wednesday night. There was a decent breeze out of the west, but not stiff enough to ruin our plans of throwing eels for a couple hours during the high incoming tide. Mike fished this same stretch by boat the night before and landed a 38-pound striper and a few others north of 20-pounds. This spot had treated all of us well in the past from the boat and surf, including my personal best bass from shore a couple seasons ago (of course I didn't really know just how big it was because I didn't have a Boga!). In any case, we all realized this location had potential to cough up greatness on any given cast, especially when equipped with big eels. 

Donning wetsuits and loaded for bear, we broke ranks at the surf line and entered the water up to our necks to find submerged boulders to fish from. Mike went way left out of shouting range, but I could still keep tabs on him with the occasionally flicker of his red head lamp. Derrick was off my right shoulder about 30-yards, yet close enough to hear each other if one of us latched on to a decent fish. I brought some plugs, but I left them on shore with the intent of strictly fishing eels for the remainder of the flood tide unless bluefish showed up in force.

For over an hour, I lost myself in a rhythm of casting, slowly retrieving, and repeating. No one said a word during this time and only a dim light went on once or twice for an eel change. Around 11:30, I launched my eel for what felt like the hundredth time and let it sink for a couple of seconds when I felt something different. On the drop, a fish had picked up my bait and when I came tight and realized what was happening, I set the hook hard and then again a second later for good measure. I ensured the drag on my ZeeBaas was set tight before fishing that night, so I knew that I was connected to a good fish as the spool began paying out steady line on its initial run. This was one of the first few surf outings with my new custom rod that a friend built me for situations exactly like this and it felt great to have a serious bend in it. 

I had the utmost confidence in my gear and kept my cool during the back and forth exchange with the fish until I flicked on my red light to glance at a giant tail slap the surface about ten yards away. I quickly shut off my light and the striper made its last ditch effort to escape capture. After I turned her for the last time, the fish glided along the surface and, with my 10-foot rod in my left hand, I reached with my right and lunged my hand into her mouth as she clamped down. With a death grip on her lower lip, I jumped off my rock and did a hurried back stroke until I was in knee-deep water. I didn't call Derrick over until I put the bass on the scale and saw it bounce over the 40-pound mark. I admired the beast in the water as I knelt beside her waiting for Derrick to come over to serve as a witness and photographer.

A brief congratulatory was given before I shared the unfortunate news that my good camera was home and I only had my iPhone in a waterproof case with me. I struggled to hold the fish up properly as he tried to get the best photos he could as quickly as possible. After a couple mediocre shots, it was more important to me to send the big girl on her way and I waded out to deeper water hoping for a successful revival. Derrick went back to his perch and I sat with the sulking fish, rocking her back and forth in the current. For over 30 minutes I tried to coax life back into the old battle-worn bass, but it was in vain. Her dorsal fin popped straight up and its tail kicked hard a few times, yet it was not to be. She gave all she had in the fight, the water was warm and the photo session proved too long. She was coming home with me. 

I have nothing against harvesting fish for the table as long as it's within your legal limit and none goes to waste. I personally let the vast majority of what I catch go, unless a family member or friend has a special request. The last thing I wanted to do was kill this fish. A barely legal fish would taste much better and would have been much easier to lug back to the truck. The silver lining with taking her home was that Mike had a camera and I could better document the best fish of my career so far. So I waded with the bass about a hundred yards to the east and found Mike casting away unaware of the whole situation. He asked if I had any bumps and gave a nice yell when he saw what I was swimming out to him with. We traded places on the rock and he jumped in the water and snapped some awesome photos with his waterproof camera.

We all realized the possibility for other big or bigger fish in the area, so Mike and Derrick kept at it for another half hour or so to no avail. I was totally content watching from shore and soaking in what had just went down. Who knows how many hundreds of surf outings I had logged before landing a fish over the 40-pound mark and who knows how many fish of that size I've hooked and lost over the years. It was a great accomplishment for me and I relished in the moment. Many praises came from friends in the surfcasting community who realized it was a milestone fish for me. To hear words like "well deserved" come from casters of their skill level were the best compliments I could receive. 

From his days working on charter boats, Mike is handy with a fillet knife. He made short work of the bass on his front lawn around 2 AM and we couldn't help check its stomach contents to find absolutely nothing. I brought the huge fillets home in freezer bags, put them in the fridge and my head hit the pillow very late for a work night. The next day I was still riding high, especially when I got my first glance at Mike's shots of the fish. The high continued the following day as I divvied up the fresh meat to friends and relatives. I took my share to my parent's house and we wrapped the fillets in tinfoil with lemons, onions, parsley and butter and threw them on the grill. With a nice salad and red potatoes, it made for a splendid meal that my family raved about. I was extremely happy to catch that fish and so glad none of it went to waste. I'll remember that night for the rest of my life.  

My new personal best striped bass 47.5" and 40.5-pounds (photo by Mike Roy).

Monday, July 1, 2013


Every angler has certain offerings that he or she is partial to; the first ones out of their box, bag or bucket on any given outing. Plain and simple, fishermen catch more fish when they're confident in what's on the business end of their line. Whether it's a live eel, a favorite fly or a plug dripping with mojo, it pays to believe in what you're casting. To build up that confidence, anglers must experiment. After all, you'll never catch fish on something if you don't give it the old college try once in a while.

A popular artificial lure that I have always lacked confidence in is the bucktail. Simple in design, it consists of a lead jig head with a single hook and ample deer hair tied around it. For added action and to lengthen the profile, it's usually tipped with a strip of pork rind or soft plastic. One of the cool things about the bucktail is that it can be used to target a wide array of species in both fresh and saltwater, but I'm most interested in their deception of striped bass. Despite the fact that there have been countless articles and books written about the art of jigging, and that bucktails have most likely accounted for more stripers than any other lure out there,  they still haven't played a prominent role in my surf game. Thankfully, I'm slowly starting to change that.

I wish I had a good reason as to why I haven't utilized bucktails more in my local fishing. It's mostly because the surfcasters I learned from on my home waters of Long Island Sound just didn't fish them all that much. Yet as soon as I branched out to places like the Cape Cod Canal, Rhode Island breachways, or the south shore of Long Island, I began to see how standard they were among surf fishermen, and for good reason too. All the aforementioned destinations have at least one thing in common, strong current. Bucktail jigs excel in places with current and any surfcaster worth their weight in salt will tell you that striped bass love moving water; it's like a conveyor belt for their meals.

While I've always carried various sizes and colors of jigs in my plug bag, in the last few seasons I've made a point of actually using them. The spring herring run in Connecticut tidal rivers provides optimal jigging opportunities as bucktails offer a close representation to this slender baitfish and there is no shortage of current to work them in. Sort of like nymphing in a trout stream, an angler must match the speed of the water with a properly weighted jig. In one highwater instance this past spring, a half ounce made all the difference between a skunking and a decent outing. That day I only had jigs in my bag up to two ounces, yet two and half to three ounce jigs were scoring the stripers stacked in a rip like cordwood. Thankfully a friend lent me a bucktail in the magic size that put me on the board. I still owe Paul a cold beer.

There was another time this spring when I was lucky to find a popular jigging spot nearly void of other anglers. The fact that it was a rainy weekday helped thin the crowd. I held down a prime position with another caster and we worked in tandem tossing our bucktails upstream in the whitewater, then letting the current swing them downstream with occasional twitches of our rod tips. The first hit I got was unmistakable, almost ripping the rod right out of my hands as the ripping current made this 16-pound bass feel twice its weight. After a quick photo and release, my very next cast was met with an identical fate, a jarring hit from another teen-sized striper almost as soon as the bucktail hit the water. It's outings like these that quickly build confidence in angler's offerings and presentations. Now I have to take my newly acquired jigging confidence and apply it outside of tidal rivers into the open surf. Baby steps, people.