Pulling Victory from the Jaws of Defeat 4/25/12
An Opening Day that Almost Wasn’t
I saw about a 6 to 8 hour window of fishability today and went for it, but it was almost a bust despite flat seas. I was ready to splash the boat at about 6:30 only to discover that both of my batteries were dead as doornails and required immediate replacement. Jim at Marty’s came to the rescue and was able to sell replacement batteries just before 7 am. Once back at the marina with new batteries in place, I discovered that my gas-priming ball had grown rigid with age. With no way to prime the engine, I had to prime all six cylinders with starter fluid to get the engine to roar back to life.
I was finally underway at almost 8:30, and by 9 am I had the boards out and was setting lines. At 9:15 as I was about to deploy my fifth line, I got a double knockdown. One fish hit the 2/4 oz white tandem back 100’ and became unglued, but the other fish inhaled the single chartreuse chute back 100’ and held fast. I had a swing and a miss at about 10 am on the same 2 oz single chute as I was heading back east away from the fleet. With the winds increasing and as I was bringing in the lines on the western side at about 12:30 pm, something big slammed the 2/4 chartreuse tandem back 80’ and started taking drag. The large fish shook itself free just as I started my retrieve. I was back at the dock at about 1:15, and pulled the boat a short time later after unloading gear and rinsing rods.
My 2012 spread remains unchanged from last year and is as follows: Off the starboard board I ran a 2 oz chartreuse chute back 100’, a 4 oz white chute back 80’, and 6 oz chartreuse chute back 60’ (all Aliens). Off the port board I ran a 2/4 oz chartreuse tandem back 100’, a 2/4 white tandem back 80’, and at 60’ back a “Skip Special” consisting of an all white 6 oz Alien with silver tinsel with a 9” see-through green glitter shad in tandem with a 2 oz Alien with a purple head and chartreuse hairs with a 9” pearl shad, all available at Marty’s. My lone boat rod was a 24 oz Chesapeake Bay Lures paddle tail in chartreuse with a 6-arm chartreuse umbrella back 60’ on a BPS offshore rod fitted with Pop’s old Penn reel from the 1970’s. Undeployed were my two inside 40’ board rods, 6/9 oz white tandem Aliens on a modern combo, and 6/9 chartreuse tandem Aliens on “Lucille,” one of Pop’s old 1970’s vintage Penn reels on a modern Penn slammer rod.. Also undeployed was my WWB (300’) consisting of a tandem 11/0 silver crippled alewife on a 30 foot leader with extra Sampos, and a white 3 oz chute on a 9 foot leader.
High tide at Thomas Point Light was at 7:52 am, low tide was at 2:58 pm, the moon was 10% visible, and the water temperature was 57º. Air Temperatures were a crisp 55º, skies were partly cloudy, winds were initially a forgiving 5 to 6 knots out of the southwest and increased to 12 to 15 knots as I was pulling the lines. Waves started out less than 6 inches, and increased to a 1½ foot chop as I was heading back up the South River. Salinity at Annapolis was about 10.3 PSU and rising. A nor’easter blew through over the weekend, and a cold front accompanied by another low-pressure system was approaching from the west.
More details can be found below
I have been trying to get a good day for some spring trolling for a few weeks now, but for a while the wind seemed unstoppable, and when it did lie down, I could not go. I had trips planned for Monday and Tuesday of this week, and they were both blown out courtesy of a weekend nor’easter pulling away that dropped a foot of snow in the mountains. Wednesday looked iffy, and with more weather on the horizon, Thursday and Friday were even iffier.
Window of Fishability
No one could go with me on Wednesday, and the initial forecast for Wednesday called for 10 to 15 knot winds with gusts to 20. So I initially had my doubts. However, just before I turned in, the forecast changed back to 5 10 to knot winds out of the southwest in the morning and increasing in the afternoon.
I arose at 4 am and immediately went to the computer to check the latest conditions. Worst case, I would see that today too was a blowout, and I would get an extra hour of sleep. The good forecast held overnight, and the winds at 3 am were calm to very light. So, I ate breakfast, loaded up the truck, and was on the road by 5:20 am. The window of fishability had materialized.
I arrived at the marina to see the flag hanging limp on its pole and Ramsay Lake resembling a mirror. Amidst a chorus of song sparrows and chickadees, l hooked up and transferred gear to the boat. It was fully light as I backed the trailer onto the ramp. A little voice in my head told me to get the engine running before I splashed her, and it’s a good thing that I listened. I turned the key on the boat, and nothing. Both 6-year old batteries, batteries that I arguable should have replaced a year ago, had given up the ghost. “You gotta be kidding! Nearly perfect conditions, and now this!” I said aloud.
I drove the rig up and away from the ramp, disconnected the trailer, and attempted to jump start the boat with the truck’s battery. No joy here, the motor would not budge. I felt helpless; I was seeing my opening day evaporate before my very eyes. I let out a few choice expletives and then contemplated my next move. I left Norm a message asking him if he had any recommendations for a nearby place where I could buy a marine battery at this early hour. I’m such an idiot for not replacing those batteries sooner.
Today Was a Spectacular Day, and I Almost Blew it.
Jim to the Rescue
“Hmm, I know. Jim may know where I can get a battery,” I thought to myself, and with that, I re-hooked the trailer to the truck and headed to Marty’s. I pulled into the parking lot at Marty’s to see Jim walking outside for a smoke break. I parked the truck and met Jim at the door of the store. “Hey Jim, do you know where I can get a deep-cycle battery at this early hour?” I asked. “Yeah, you can get one from me” Jim answered. I was ecstatic; I might salvage the day after all. I left the old dead batteries for Jim for recycling, and minutes later I was on the way back to the marina, new batteries in hand. Thanks Jim!
On the way back, my mind drifted for one brief, critical moment, for ahead of me were brake lights and stopped vehicles at a school crossing. I steered towards the shoulder, hit the brakes and locked the wheels on both truck and trailer. Blue smoke came off of my tires as I came screeching to a hard stop about 12 to 15 feet from a curb. I don’t know what I was thinking or where I was, but I should have been paying closer attention to what I was doing. I’m such an idiot, and I’m lucky I didn’t jackknife my rig or hit anything.
I arrived back at the marina, and backed my rig once again down the ramp. “Where are my good luck charms the tree swallows?” I thought to myself as I climbed into the boat. I went to prime the engine, but the gas ball was as hard as a rock from age. I put the full pressure of my foot on the ball, but it would only budge ever so slightly. There was no way to prime the engine. With fish crows calling in their nasal tone almost as if to mock me, the engine cranked and cranked, but I got not so much as a sputter. At least I wasn’t seeing turkey vultures, harbingers of bad luck that they are.
Luckily, I had a can of starter fluid on hand, and so I went to work priming two of the cylinders. I turned the key, and this time the engine coughed and sputtered but would not start. I tried a couple more times with a similar result, each time priming only two cylinders. I was starting to work up a little bit of a lather as the April sun beat down on me. This time, I didn’t even have time for choice expletives. Next, I took the time to prime all six cylinders. “Please start,” I thought to myself as I turned the key. This time, the engine coughed, sputtered, and then turned over. “Yes! Yes!” I exclaimed aloud as the 150-horse Yamaha roared to life amidst a pall of engine fogger-induced white smoke that belched from the exhaust.
I Was Lucky to Get Out Today, Let Alone Catch a Fish
Good Luck Charms
Minutes later, I was finally underway after a 2-hour delay. As I was heading towards the skinny bridge, tree swallows swooped over the flat waters in search of insects. My good luck charms had arrived. Minutes later, I was exiting the South River and entering a mostly flat bay, and by 8:45, I was on the western edge of the channel in 35 feet and was slowing to trolling speed.
By 9 am, I had the boards splashed and was on the western side of the channel away from the fleet deploying my spread. One by one, I deployed the baits as the boat under autopilot tracked east. By 9:15 am, I was getting ready to deploy my fifth bait when I heard a rattling off of the starboard side. I looked over to see that the outside board rod (2/4 white back 100’) had popped from its clip. The line was dead astern, the rod twitched briefly but then stopped. “What the? A knockdown already?” I thought to myself as I stared at the rod in disbelief. Another rattling noise off of the port side broke my brief trance.
The rod holding the 2 oz chartreuse back 100’ was twitching in its holder as the bait cleared the inside rods and tracked towards the stern. “I don’t believe it!” I said aloud as I grabbed the rod and started a retrieve. I was in 34’ of water when the twin knockdowns occurred. The phone rang as I was fighting the fish while keeping one eye on the fleet. While holding the rod with one hand I picked up the phone and barked “Fish on! I’ll call you right back” to the anonymous caller. Apparently, some of the boats in the fleet were equipped with bent-rod radar, for a few of them were now approaching me from the east which complicated matters. The fish initially came in fairly easily, but after about a minute it developed a serious attitude.
Today Was the Debut of My New Lowrance HDS-10
The Marks Got Better and Better as the Day Progressed
As I continued my retrieve, the fish exploded in a series of short, violent bursts. This was one ticked-off fish. After a couple minutes I saw a familiar looking striped figure off my stern. I started to fumble for the net, but the fish had other ideas and made a last minute run in an attempt at freedom as I hung onto the rod. I eventually got the fish to the side of the boat, grabbed the net and made a futile attempt to slip the net under the fish. This fish would have none of that, and made another burst away from the boat. “I may have to gill grip this fish” I thought to myself as I recalled a bad dream I had earlier in the week.
In this dream, I was in a similar situation, trolling alone and struggling with a fish, a very large fish. In this dream, I had a 50 inch rockfish at the side of my boat which I could not net. I reached down to gill-grip it; it thrashed, and pulled me overboard. I remember seeing my boat driving away from me as I was saying out loud “this is not good”.
Back to reality: I got the fish to the side of the boat again, and keeping my nightmare in mind, I bent over, grabbed the fish by the gills, and hoisted it aboard. “Yes! Yes! Yes! I got my fish before putting the entire spread out!” I shouted with glee. I was now on the edge of the fleet, so I started some corrective maneuvers. As I steered to port, the phone rang again. I picked it up thinking it was work calling, but it was Norm offering advice on marine batteries. I explained to him that Jim had helped me out and that I was not only on the water, but I had just limited out. I went on to explain that the fleet had found me, and that I needed to pay attention and get away.
The Monkey is off My Back and the Freezer is Restocked… …Life is Good!
I got the boat on a west-bound heading, and while heading away from the other boats, I started to examine my prize. Accompanying the 34-inch healthy male was something that I had not previously seen on my boat, sea lice! I snapped a couple quick pictures of the fish and the lice before I iced down the feisty striper. This fish was hooked by only the stinger hook, which could explain the other missed knockdown. I then reset the two tripped lines, and deployed the final two board rods and stopped there as I continued to track west.
Swing and a Miss
This had all happened very fast, and I did not have a chance to do something that I should have done at the marina being as I was out here alone, put on my life jacket. The day was turning out to be a stellar day on the bay, and I took time to take it all in. I was soaking in the sun at about 10 am in about 35 feet of water when I heard a now familiar rattling sound off of the port side. I looked up to see that the same rig that put the 34” male into the cooler had one again popped its clip. “What? Again?” I said aloud. The line was now dead astern but the rod had only a slight bow to it. I retrieved the line to see that the tail of the shad was curled around the hook. It was a swing and a miss, and perhaps destiny. I reset the line, deployed a single boat rod and called Norm back.
A Final Pass
I told Norm of my success and apologized for cutting him off earlier, and explained that I was now just goofing around and should probably pull the lines soon. I then left a phone message with Pop and then turned east again for a final pass. I listened to both the classic rock on the radio as well as the VHF chatter as I made my way east towards Bloody Point. I saw an open area devoid of boats near the deep drop-off north of Bloody Point and headed towards it. Against my better judgment, I passed though the fleet towards the open area to the east. I was actually hoping for no more knockdowns as I was threading my way though the other boats and I got my wish. Destiny? Perhaps. I ran the 90-foot ledge north for about a half mile, cleared the fleet, and tracked back to the west.
It was now about 11:30, I was starting to get hungry, so I then broke out my apple and soda. As I headed towards Thomas Point I heard the usual banter, sniping, and lying on the VHF radio, so typical when spring trophy season is in full swing. At one point, I heard one guy threaten another if the second boat got too close to the first boat’s planer boards. “You touch my planer boards, and that’s it!” the angry voice crackled over the radio. “Why do people do that? Why do so many of them try and occupy such a small area of bay?” I though to myself as I crossed the channel with nary a boat within a mile.
It was almost noon when I broke out the rest of my lunch. I continued to enjoy this glorious day as I ate my veggie straws and sandwich and Unfinished Business tracked west across a flat bay. About 20 minutes later, the wind machine made its presence known. The gentle 5 knot puff out of the west suddenly and without warning increased to a stiff 8 to 12 knot breeze, as if the bay herself was telling me to pack it in. Destiny? Perhaps. So, I then began the process of retrieving the lines, combing out the hairs of the chutes as I went.
A Violent Knockdown
By 12:45 pm, the wind was a steady 12 knots and the bay had gone from nearly flat to a 1 foot chop. I had just stowed my single boat rod, and was down to three rigs still out when history repeated itself once again. In 42 feet of water, and for the fourth time of the day, I heard the sound of a knockdown and a planer board clip popping. As so often happens, the scene took on a surreal feeling. I looked up to see, in slow motion, a rod (2/4 chartreuse tandem back 80’) doubled over, shaking violently and peeling drag. I’ve been trying to keep my drags pretty tight of late, and so I stared for a few brief seconds in disbelief.
“Holy cow, this one’s big” I said aloud as I snapped out of it and reached up to the rocket launcher for the rod. As I was wrestling the rod from the holder, I was conscious of not letting this beast rip the rod from my hands. I removed the rod without incident and began a retrieve. I felt one, two, three head shakes, and then nothing. The unseen and presumably larger than average rockfish had shaken itself free. Destiny? More than likely. Why risk gut hooking and killing a breeder-stock fish when I already had meat in the cooler? I had my share of luck today, both good and bad, and it was time to pack it in.
Four Clips Retrieved When I Pulled the Boards Back in from the Day’s Four Knockdowns
Snatching Victory Out of the Jaws of Defeat
I then retrieved the rest of the lines, combed out the last of the shads, and headed back towards the marina. As I sliced through the chop, I reflected on the day. I had a few setbacks, but I overcame them and in the end, I not only prevailed, I returned safely to fish another day. I had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. I returned to the marina, pulled and cleaned the boat after transferring and washing gear, and cleaned my fish as I enjoyed a victory beer.
Later that afternoon, I fished the local neighborhood pond, and it was on fire. I caught four largemouth bass, and I lost track of the number of crappies that I caught as I was serenaded by song sparrows, chickadees and cardinals. I consider today to be payback for being dealt some crappy weather the last few weeks; this was a day that I will not soon forget.
Today was Actually a Three-Species Day
Last edited by RiverCat09; 04-28-2012 at 02:26 PM.
Platinum TF Poster - Not a Tidal Fish Subscriber
What we do not go through just to catch a fish.
WTG not letting a few delays stop you and then getting out to catch your dinner.
Bet that fish tasted extra good.
What could be more mundane than dying of old age or of natural causes when there is death by misadventure to be pursued ? Skip