August 6, 2002

Looking Back at the One(s) That Got Away

Frank G. Dwyer
August 6, 2002

If you fish, more than likely you have a “one that got away” story. Even if you don’t fish, you have probably had to endure one of these stories in your lifetime. I certainly have some, and in fact I sometimes I feel I have more than my fair share!

This season alone I’ve had three fish on the line that did not make it to the boat. The first fish that escaped my eyes gaze was a striped bass (I assume this since I did not see it all but for a brief flash) that hit a fly I was casting almost as soon as it hit the water. There was a violent surface explosion as the fish inhaled the fly, then made a maddening run, with me struggling to get the fish on the reel. Ten minutes into a terrific battle, the line went slack and I reeled in my line, minus the fly. The leader was broken off, but there was no “pig-tail”, the tell tale sign of a weak knot, therefore I could rationalize in my head that I had lost the fish because of its size and my light leader.

I lost another big fish I hooked on the fly on that same trip, not more than a half-hour after the first lost fish. This one was more painful as I got a very good look at this fish. In fact, I had the fish in my grasp but he shook his head, which banged against the side of the boat and loosened my grip, allowing the full weight of the fish to snap my leader. I’d estimate the striped bass at 35” and perhaps 20 pounds.

Another fish was lost boat-side this year while taking a friend of a friend fishing. This was a particularly painful incident since I was trying to corral the fish that our guest had hooked. We were anchored and using chunk bait since the fish were not cooperating by hitting any of the various lures and flies we had tried earlier in the morning. My guest angler enjoyed the several drag-singing runs that this striper took, and was probably looking forward to a nice picture with his prize. He would have to settle for a mental picture as the fish was hooked perfectly in the corner of the mouth, and upon trying to pull him into the boat, he shook the hook and took off before we could get him out of the water. This was another 20-pound class fish.

A friend of mine from high school was visiting several years ago and I took him fishing on a brisk Spring morning. He still talks about the one that got away that day. We were casting small soft-plastic lures rigged on lead heads just beyond the Ice Breaker in the river. My friend is not an avid fisherman and I was giving him some good natured ribbing about his casting and retrieving techniques when his rod bent over from a tremendous hit from below the waters surface.

The reel began to spin as the line stripped off the reel at a tremendous clip. I assisted my now very excited friend by checking the drag, but it was already screwed down quite tight and I did not want to risk putting too much pressure on the 12lb test line that continued to peel off the reel. We were using fairly light tackle as it was spring and the striped bass had just begun to return to our waters. I was following my typical routines for spring fishing, which dictated light tackle for the small schoolies I was used to encountering this time of year.

My friend continued the back and forth fight with what was still an unknown species, at times questioning me on what my thoughts were. I told him that he was involved in the best fish fight I had ever been witness to on the Merrimack, and that continues to be true to this day. He fought the fish for just about a half-hour, and towards the end the fish did not run quite as much, but seemed to cling to the bottom of the river. My friend made some progress in getting some line back on the reel but as he was pumping and lifting the fish off the bottom, the line snapped and ended what was a terrific fight. I’m haunted to this day by that fish, and can only guess at what it was. 50 pound striper? Atlantic Sturgeon? I don’t know, but I think about it quite often.

There’s really no end to it. That tarpon on Marathon Key. The shark my wife lost off Martha’s Vineyard. A tail dancing marlin off the coast of Cabo San Lucas. While these fish and others may have been the ones that got away, they are treasures that have been caught again and again in my mind.

While the fishing may have slowed as we enter what are typically the “doldrums” of summer, striped bass fishing continues to hold up, particularly for bait fishermen. Bluefish are still in the mix as well. The respite from the hot and humid weather a few weeks ago may have helped just as much as this past week’s return of the steamy weather may have hindered the fishing.

Fishing two Saturday mornings ago yielded some excellent striped bass action as I boated (and released) several hearty striped bass with my friend Don. We were anchored just beyond Butler’s Toothpick at the end of the incoming tide. The fish finder was showing larger fish than usual, anywhere from 16-24 feet. Don and I both tallied 4 large fish each, the biggest topping out at 30 inches and just over 15 pounds.

What a difference a week makes. I was back at the same haunts this past weekend, and the fishing was tough! We managed a few small bass, but nothing to write home about. A trip along the oceanfront looking for bluefish yielded no fish.

Joppa Flats was a bit more consistent with the arrival of the cooler weather two weeks ago, with anglers doing well on both outgoing and incoming tide drifts from boats. The areas around the American Yacht Club moorings and Woodbridge Island remain the most productive. Wading anglers have reported the fishing remains slow. Once again, the return of the heat slowed things down. Nighttime fishermen may want to think about the time tested live eel for a change of pace.

The Parker River NWR continues to offer anglers fishable beachfront at parking lots one, six and seven. Surface bluefish activity was reported this past week at parking lot 1 at sunrise. The Emerson Rocks and Sandy Point areas have also produced healthy amounts of fish.

Kay Moulton from Surfalnd Bait and Tackle on Plum Island reports good fishing over the last few weeks. Randy Smith landed a 39.8-pound striper in the wee hours of the morning of July 26. The fish was caught from a boat on a live eel near Joppa Flats. Chris Sterritt caught a 31.3-pound striped bass fishing from shore near the south jetty. Kay reports that bluefish have been arriving in numbers at the mouth of the river, mostly at low tide.

Bluefin tuna reports are starting to crop up and I’ve heard first hand reports of some decent tuna being landed out at Jefferies Ledge. Cod, haddock and pollock fishing has remained strong by all reports.

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