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Articles:Avid Contributors :

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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". Sound familiar? Well, this story has a little of both to be told. I could not tell the story of how I caught a 65 pound striped bass without there being a moral or a few lessons attached. That would be too much like bragging! It began like one of the many fishing adventures that Len Lapsys and I have had since we have known each other. The weather was good and the anticipation for tangling with stripers was high. Our juices were flowing, we were excited, just like kids in a candy store.

The fishing had been good and steadily improving over the last two weeks before that late October day. We had great expectations! We were loaded with excellent live bait, a dozen blackfish and at least four dozen eels. Little did I expect that this would all be needed. How happy I am that it was not eleven blackfish! We began fishing near the inlet, on the ebbing tide, early that morning and immediately were into fish. About half the fish we were catching were legal keeper size of 36 inches. We released all these fish waiting for a big one. We had our hearts set on catching a good sized fish, one of at least 30 pounds or more. We were having a great time, enjoying all the action and glad to see the great numbers of bass that at one time had been so scarce. This enjoyable situation did not last long, and rapidly degenerated into a nerve wracking experience. As the number of boats increased with the late risers entering into the scene, the mugging as I call it, became unbearable.

Mugging on the water is no doubt a lot more common than in our inner cities. Instead of taking your money or pocketbook, the fish muggers take away your opportunity to fish as you would like to, in a spot that you found first. Muggers do not do very much on their own. They certainly do not invest any of their time in finding a productive area where they can fish on their own. They position themselves where they see some boats and usually search with their binoculars to spot a fish being caught. Sometimes they will stop nearby and ogle you as if you were naked, waiting for you to do something that they might be able to copy. They then run right up to the boat that is catching the fish and casually drop in, close enough to have a conversation in whisper tones. They also will usually run directly over the fish, spooking them, instead of circling the area when returning to make a new drift. They are prone to short drift, dropping in on the down-tide side of your boat, so they can pass over the productive spot first. These people would probably not stare in public or invade someone's private space, but on the water they seem to think it is perfectly acceptable to be obnoxious. Sometimes I really can't keep from laughing at their foolish attempt to appear casual. In general, when this happens, things get chaotic, and fishing becomes a lot less fun.

On this particular day it was worse than ever. Although fish were being caught in several of the productive inlet areas, whenever I would move to escape the muggers and explore other promising areas, they would follow with a vengeance. At one point that day, near the end of the ebbing tide, I dropped a small marker buoy to help me align my drift. I will sometimes do this during increasing or decreasing tide flow, when the wind is blowing across the line of the drift. These conditions make it particularly difficult to line up a drift so that the boat will pass directly over what is usually a small productive piece of bottom. On each successive drift the tidal force is changing and the wind will effect the direction of drift to some varying degree. This is common during the last hour and first hour of a tide. With a small marker buoy and a little use of the boat engine, a close pass can usually be accomplished.

I should have known better than to attempt this maneuver, but I figured that moving a good distance away from all the boats, to an area that was quiet, would get me some breathing space. I dropped my marker near a small ledge that I knew had produced fish in the past and proceeded to make some short drifts near it. Len and I each caught a fish on the second pass and marked a good bunch on the video recorder. Within five minutes however, the boats descended upon us like a pack of wolves. They surrounded us, drifted over my buoy, fouled it in their lines, and dragged it all over the place. As a result of the commotion I am sure, the big body of fish I had marked, moved from the area. I moved too!

The reality of that day and just about any other day during the peak of the bass run, is that there are fish in many spots. Almost every move that I made produced fish. Some of the places that were productive, were places I had never previously tried, others were old honey holes. Finding the fish is a very big part of the excitement of bass fishing. The bass mugger never allows himself the opportunity for this enjoyment. There is a lesson to be learned; you don't have to fish where everybody else is fishing in order to catch fish. When you do catch in your own spot, you will appreciate and enjoy it much more.

Another observation I have made over the years is that the big fish tend to group together and, the biggest of the big feed first. This is the other great advantage to finding new spots, moving from place to place, and being the first to fish a given area. When I am bass fishing, I am always looking for the big fish. If I catch a small fish or two, I will move, looking for the bigger ones. When I find them, the biggest one is usually caught first. I guess they are the best at what they do, that's how they got so big. On that day I moved more than I would have liked to, but as it turned out, it worked out for the best.

When the tide shifted to incoming, the flood, many boats headed for home. I guess someone told them that bass only feed on the ebbing tide. The same person probably told them where to fish. When the tide changed and the fishing stopped in that spot, it probably never occurred to them that another spot might produce more fish. Most likely they just didn't want to spend some of their own time learning about the ways of the bass. Instant gratification of the unearned type permeates our society. Len and I decided that we would not quit until we had caught a big fish, ran out of bait, or ran out of energy. I continued to keep moving, trying all likely areas, but now not impeded by the opportunists that were so numerous earlier in the day. At this point, it was really Len's spirit and determination that kept us going. He is as dedicated and accomplished at the art of fishing as one could ever be. Len knows that patience usually pays big dividends. He is willing to stick it out through the slow times because experience has taught him that better times will come. "Paying your dues", "Putting in your time", these expressions are the hallmark of the successful and fulfilled fisherman. Onward we went!

It was after about two hours of no action, no marks on the machine, and ready to make the proverbial last drift, that we hit the mother lode. On the first drift through the area, we both had runoffs. On the second drift and every one after for the next two hours, we were into a fish. These fish however, were not the average size fish that we were catching all season and earlier that day, most of them were large, 25 to 35 pounds. In keeping with my philosophy, one of the first fish caught in that spot was a good keeper. I put it on my hand scale and it registered 38 pounds. Len decided he wanted to keep it but it would not fit in my aft fish box. We laid it on the deck and kept it wet during all the hot action that followed.

Not knowing how big a fish we would boat or how long the action would last made it difficult to resist the temptation to keep our second fish which would then fill our limit. We were determined however to not take anything short of a real trophy. I am sure that several fish we released were over the 40 pound mark. At this point the tide was easing up, and we were running out of bait. Eels were the hot bait that day and we had run out. Between the bluefish chop-off and other normal attrition, we were at that point down to two live blackfish. As the tide slowed to a crawl, the action died. Was it over? Was that it for a great day of fishing? Of course not, we still had two baits left! I decided to push our luck and try one last spot before calling it quits. We still had bait and room for one more fish so we made a move and dropped in another spot, once again all alone and with beautiful drifting conditions. As soon as my bait, blackfish number twelve, hit the bottom, I had a strong pick-up and runoff. I struck the fish to set the hook and pulled the bait from its mouth. I could tell from the resistance on the line that the bait was still on the hook, so I immediately dropped back line, free-spooling the reel to allow the blackfish to stand still near the fish I just missed. In a couple of seconds it paid off as I was again picked up with a strong take and tremendous runoff. I struck, and this time set the hook in the fish. At the same time, Len got hung in the bottom. My fish took a nonstop run for the shallows near the beach. In fact, the fish nearly beached itself and was thrashing about, half submerged in about six inches of water, trying to shake the hook. He had stripped about seventy five yards of line from my Penn 25 GLS reel. Before I could concentrate on this fish which I knew had to be a good size, I had to try to save Len's bait, which was hung on bottom. I tried to maneuver the boat to free it but we ended up breaking it off. So much for any more fishing after we hopefully boated my fish.

I slowly worked the fish toward the boat from the deep water where it ran after the beach routine did not work. I knew the fish was big, and I had my hopes up for at least the upper forties and maybe, if the Gods were smiling, a fifty pounder. When the fish broke water about fifty feet behind the boat and then sounded again, its tail came completely out of the water. It looked like a broom! I new then it was really big. I told Len to get the big gaff and be ready. I finally worked the fish to the side of the boat, and we were both astounded at the size of the fish. I knew immediately it was at least fifty pounds. Len, having always seen me lip gaffing bass so they could be released and being used to lip gaffing big tarpon he fishes down south, naturally went to lip gaff the fish in its huge gaping mouth. He managed to get hold of a good bit of tissue and started to haul the fish over the side. As all of the weight of the fish came to bear on the gaff, it tore free and the fish fell back into the water. I had the instant realization that the fish would probably break off. Experience paid off as I immediately dropped the tip of the rod deep into the water to give me the split second required to disengage the drag and thumb the spool. This allowed a controlled drop-back and prevented the 25 pound test Ande line from snapping, which it would have if it had come taut. I once again slowly worked the fish to the boat, and this time we successfully gaffed and boated the fish.

When we laid the fish on the deck next to the 38 pounder we had caught earlier, it dwarfed that fish. I tried my fifty pound scale, and it smacked hard against the bottom. Len and I were both overjoyed. We had put together the finest bass fishing day of both our lives. We had more than achieved our goals for the day and for the season, despite the earlier adversities of the day. We had hung in there and kept looking, trying on our own, and being successful and rewarded all day for out efforts. We had caught our trophy fish, used up all of our bait and run out of energy doing it. It was a great adventure shared between good friends. It doesn't get any better!

Good Fishing, Capt. Al Lorenzetti Al Lorenzetti 1991Published in
"The Fisherman" 1991


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