Saturday, November 22, 2014

Be careful what you fish for; you just might catch it (Part 3)

About to be put to the test.
Wednesday. As night arrived after a full day of surf-fishing for pompano and whiting, we left out a couple of rods a piece, stuck in rod-holders right next to the water’s edge, and strewn across a 50-yard stretch of beach. They were each baited with chunk of freshly-cut bait, impaled on a 7/0 circle hook, snelled to a section of heavy mono and anchored to the bottom with a 3 oz pyramid sinker. We were hoping for bull reds. That’s not what we got. 

Bluefish arrived first, right at last light. They provided some decent sport — and excellent bait — but tended to swallow the circle hook and fray the hell out of the leader. So, we adjusted by opting for heavier mono and nylon-coated wire. Then, bigger critters arrived. 

And that's all she wrote.
I was the first to beach a shark. A healthy, fat, four-foot-plus blacktip that pulled drag and decided to head east down the beach, which was unfortunate because my rod was on the western end of our spread. In a way, you could say we all caught that first shark, and after the fish was unhooked and released, all of us participated in the untangling, cutting and retying our lines. 

Emboldened but not enlightened (figuratively and literally; my headlamp’s battery was dying), I tied up another leader — this time with 80-pound mono — and crimped on another circle hook. I placed the hook through the belly and near the tail of a live whiting, which I suspected would result in a tantalizing offering to a big red or shark. I was wrong. After just a few minutes of waiting, the rod doubled and a heavy fish steadily peeled line from my reel. Losing an alarming amount of braid, I dialed up the drag to hopefully slow the beast. It did nothing, as the fish continued its march toward Cape San Blas. I followed it down the beach, as Fred followed to provide assistance should I be able to land whatever I had hooked. Twenty minutes passed, and the battle was at a standstill. I had regained a bunch of line and continued to walk down the sand at night, my rod-tip down and pulling hard to the left, drag locked down and hoping to turn the fish around. It wasn’t fighting like a big red, nor did it offer the electric runs that blacktip sharks provide. This was different. Like I had hooked a dump truck. 

Rigging up under the dim light of a headlamp in need of a new battery.
Suddenly, the truck stopped and pulled up on the emergency brake. I knew then that I had hooked a very large stingray. The big fish hugged the bottom, used it’s wings like a suction cup, and there was little I could do to move the fish. In the dark, by myself (Fred gave up 10 minutes before in order to go back to base camp), and a half-a-mile from my buddies, I decided that I’d had enough fun, and didn’t really want to mess with beaching a ray this big. I made sure the drag was tight, reeled up any excess, pointed my rod-tip at the stationary creature, turned my back on the Gulf and walked straight back towards the beach houses behind me. The line snapped and I reeled in the resulting slack. Thankfully, the line broke at the crimped connection, which hopefully meant the circle hook was soon to fall from the fish’s mouth. I’m sure the ray swam away no worse for the wear. I suspect it never even realized it was hooked. 

As I made the slow walk back in my buddies, my shadow haphazardly danced in the sand a few feet in front of me, and the waxing crescent moon fell low to the western horizon. Well down the beach, Joe and Fred were re-baiting rods, their activity betrayed by the twinkling lights of their headlamps. 

Every fish story needs a fish picture. Here's Chalky Joe with a tasty chalky.

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