Here is the story…
Monday night September 21st, 2009, began like so many others before it. After the kids were tucked in and sleeping peacefully, I said goodnight to my wife and tossed my skishing gear in the truck. It was going to be a good night, I could feel it. The place I was going in Rhode Island had yielded the nice 46” fish pictured below just two nights before, and was loaded with sand eels and lobster.
I pulled into the lot around 10:40pm, killed the engine, and started gearing up. After donning my wetsuit, I lay down in the bed of my truck and watched the brilliant stars in the moonless sky as I waited for the arrival of a guy I had arranged to meet there that night at 11. The tide had just turned, with a light onshore wind, and we would be fishing the outgoing that night. “ChefChris” pulled up right on time and by 11:15 we were heading away from the trucks toward the beach. He would be rockhopping a section of shoreline that has usually been good to me on an outgoing tide, while I was determined to skish around a point to the left of him.As we approached the location, I pointed out some rocks where he might start out, and described the submerged structure
As we approached the location, I pointed out some rocks where he might start out, and described the submerged structure than lay beyond. As he started off in that direction, I called after him, “If I don’t come back in by dawn, call the Coast Guard!” I donned my fins, then reached into the bag on my belt, pulled out a nice large dead eel and hooked it onto a 1.1oz tin eel squid (wobble head).
Making sure my rod leash was securely fastened to my belt, I walked backwards into the surf. I could see Chris’s light in the distance as he picked his way through the slippery rocks toward his spot, and felt a little sorry for him as I swam through a large matt of floating eel grass. The onshore wind, though light, was pushing a lot of weed against the shore, which would make plugging difficult. I continued finning out toward the point of a large rock outcropping, picking the grass from all my gear where it collected as I swam.
Finally I got to the edge of the weeds and into cleaner water, just as I got to the outside of the point I was planning to target. 15 yards further out and the water lit up brightly with phosphorescence with even the slightest movement. “This can’t be good”, I thought, as there seemed to be only a 15 yard strip of dark water between the edge of the weeds and the ‘fire’. I floated there for a while, trying to decide if I should just head in, get Chris and move to a different location. Screw it,,, I should at least make a few casts first before heading in. I slowly moved back toward the weed edge to get out of the ‘fire’ and then fired my eel parallel to it toward the rocky point.
I let the eel sink until it touched down on the sandy bottom in front of the rocks, then very slowly worked it back to me, the tin squid sliding along the sand. Nothing. One more cast, a bit to the right, retrieved the same way also produced nothing. By now the tidal current was starting to move me back into the weeds, so I slowly and quietly finned my way back into the fishable zone. After repeating this a dozen or so times, fanning my cast a little to the right each time, I decided to give that area a rest for a while, spun a quick 180 and casted in the opposite direction along the weed edge. The bottom is a little rockier in that direction, so I kept the eel squid off the bottom and let the action of the wobble head work against the current as I gently lifted it up and down through the water column. 5 casts and no takers there either.
I just had to give the rock point one more try before I moved on, and swam against the slow moving current back toward it, getting a bit closer than I was before. This allowed me to cast beyond the point and work the eel past it. I also varied the retrieve on this cast keeping the eel off the bottom and letting the wobble head give the dead eel a bit more action. Then I got hung up solid. Crap. I didn’t think that cast wasn’t close enough to the rocks to get hung up in them. Wobble heads are hard to hang up anyway. I gave the rod a quick tug to free it from whatever it had caught on, and that’s when the fun started.
The ‘Rock’ apparently decided that she was not fond of being tugged on and shook her head as if to say, “No, I don’t like this” I had my drag fairly light (about 4lbs) as I usually do when skishing, and I couldn’t budge her at all without the drag slipping. She still hadn’t moved at all from the spot where she first tasted my eel. I knew that my light drag setting was going to be a problem on this one, so I turned the knob 1 full turn, which brings my drag setting to about 6 or 7 lbs. That’s as much drag as I’ve dared to use while swimming, even though I know that my 30lb test Fireline can handle much more.
I sat back for some leverage and pulled again. This time the fish really didn’t care for it at all and decided she wanted to head for some deeper water. As the smooth drag of the ZeeBaaS whined and the line peeled off the spool, I could feel every stroke of her tail. At this point I was fairly certain by the feel that it was a bass. But I’ve never caught a large shark before either, so that thought definitely did cross my mind. The power behind each long slow sweep of that tail felt incredible. Still the line poured off the reel. This could be a problem soon, I thought, as I saw the rocky point get further from me. Then she stopped and just sat there. Each lift of the rod pulled me closer to her and I gained back maybe half the line she had taken before she decided to move again, this time parallel to the shoreline with the current toward where Chris was fishing from the rocks..
It was probably a dumb move on my part which could have resulted in a parted line, but I really wanted to see how fast she would pull me and was afraid of getting spooled, so I gently palmed the spool until it stopped and I was being dragged through the water much faster than I can swim. Now THIS is skishing!! After a while of this she stopped again and I was able to half pull, half fin my way closer, reeling to keep the slack out of the line as I approached.
I got to within 50 yards of her before she must have decided to come check me out. This surprised me very much as the last thing I expected was for the fish to turn and swim right at me (still not sure it wasn’t a shark) and I reeled as fast as I possibly could to keep the slack out of the line and the fish passed about 20 feet to my right, spinning me around and pulling drag back in the other direction toward where we started. After 30 seconds or so fish turned and started circling me. I pulled my large dive knife from its sheath on my right calf and gripped the blade in my teeth, ready to cut the line if the fish did not turn out to be a bass, then reeled when I could to lessen the distance between us.
As the fish’s large spiked dorsal fin broke the surface of the water, I hooted with joy, sheathed my knife, and then resumed the fight with renewed vigor. She was tiring, and so was I. My arms ached but I was determined to win this fight. I felt the Alberto knot between the Fireline and the 10 foot 40lb test Ande flouro leader pass through the tip guide, then strip back out again as she kicked her tail. This happened quite a few times and I began to be concerned about the knot failing, but it held firm. When she seemed to have all but given up, I turned on my light, spun myself in a quick 180 and launched myself toward the fish with a scissor kick, grabbing the leader and wrapping it around my gloved hand. I pulled and as her gaping mouth slid toward me, I reached with my other hand and caught hold of her jaw. She didn’t like this at all and started thrashing and trying to roll. I dropped the leader (rod still leashed to my belt) and reached for the bottom edge of her gill plate with that hand. The tin squid must have dropped from her upper lip at some point during this struggle, because by the time she settled down again she was no longer hooked.
I floated there in front of her, catching my breath, and trying to decide what to do. I’d never handled a fish of this size before, much less while swimming, and despite my 6’3” 210lb frame, I felt very small. Not just physically small, that too, but I also felt small in the way a peasant might have felt if brought before King Richard the Lionhearted. What majesty! I did not deserve to win this fight. No way. My heart was about to beat right out of my chest, and my emotions were forcing my eyes to pool with tears as I hung onto her head. A photo of me standing beside this fish as she hung from a hook at the tackle shop flashed through my mind. Screw it,,, I don’t deserve that either, but least I can get a measurement before she regains her strength and starts to fight me again.
I turned her on her side and let my legs float up underneath her so that she was lying on top of me and pulled her up until the fork of her tail was straddling the top of my boot. Letting go of her jaw, I reached down, grabbed my rod and positioned it on top of her with the butt of the rod also on the top of my boot. There was exactly 1 palm width between her nose and the first guide on my rod. She didn’t have a beer gut, but she was no skinny fish either. She had obviously been eating well, and I was kicking myself for not having something on me with which to measure her girth. Oh well, at least I got a good length measurement (though at the time I did not know how many inches it was exactly). She flopped, interrupting my thoughts, and I righted myself to get out from under her.
I took her by the lower jaw, letting go of the gill plate, and guided her in a circle around me as she slowly kicked her tail. After a few minutes, she had regained enough strength and twisted her head sharply wrenching it from my grasp and slipped away into the darkness. Fair well ol’ girl. Come see me again sometime……
I just floated there for a while, thinking about what I’d just done. Yeah,,, I did the right thing. Who cares if anyone believes it,,, that’s not what is important to me. Getting to watch her swim off into the dark was more satisfying than any personal glory or fame that would have been gained by killing and weighing her. May she live on and prosper.
After cutting out scuffed up sections of my leader and retying, I hooked another large dead eel onto the tin squid, made a half hearted cast and started finning with the current back toward where Chris was, trolling the eel as I went. I was done. How could I top that in one night? After a while I caught site of Chris’s headlamp and could see that he was working his way to another rock further down the coast. Obviously he wasn’t done yet, so I decided to stay out a while longer. I ended up picking up two more fish in the mid 20lb range as I drifted in the current past where Chris was, and then finned my way back to where I got in. Time to get home and at least grab a shower before work. I walked the shoreline to where Chris was and when he saw me he worked his way back off his rock. He said he’d picked up 4 fish on plugs. I told him I got 3 and one was big, but wasn’t sure how big as I didn’t have a measuring tape to measure the mark on my rod. He said he had one in his truck, and we headed that way.
Once back at the trucks, he got out his tape and we made the measurement. 58” on the dot. I was quiet for a few minutes then we chatted about other things for a while as we put our gear away. I saw I’d missed a call from Chad and called him back. He’d had a great night, too about a mile down from where we were. On the ride home, I relived the events of the night over and over in my head and felt strangely depressed. I had just successfully released what will likely be the largest striped bass I will ever get to see, and I was depressed about it. I had to keep convincing myself that I’d done the right thing and wishing that I had a waterproof camera with a flash so that I could have somehow gotten a photo of her. Oh well… maybe next time…..