What the heck is there to do during January? If Santa was listening, maybe you have a new rod and reel to rig up for the 2021 season. If the old gear is still in operational order, it is a good time to check guides and replace those that may be chipped, corroded, repair frayed wrappings, check and or sharpen hooks, all that basic stuff we may sometimes forget during the season. Especially if you have been fishing in weeds, rocks or rough underwater terrain, check for fraying and if need be, replace the line.
The last thing any angler wants to see is a knot sliding through the guides and into the water should you hook a hard pulling, large fish either intentionally or by accident. The accidental catches are generally more fun and interesting.
Reel maintenance, oiling, cleaning of salt deposits in hard to reach places, simple chores like that can help minimize the odds of having a failure during a critical time.
The most thrilling of these unexpected hookups are when something gigantic grabs the fish you are reeling in and eats it for a snack.
Many years ago, a long time friend and I were in his boat catching bluefish for a mid-summer family reunion dinner. We needed maybe eight or ten bluefish and were a fish or so short but there was plenty of tide and time to fish.
I hooked what was probably another six to eight pound blue, or so it felt as I winched it up out of a hundred and fifty feet of water using a relatively cheap rod and reel set up. This one was a yard sale special my buddy’s neighbor gave me the first bid on.
About halfway to the boat and everything stopped with a sort of thud. It could not have been a snag of any kind being it was sixty feet or so off the bottom and there were no pot warp or anything like that in the area. Currents were too strong.
This fish took off swimming with the tide, literally ran nearly all the line off the reel before it began falling apart, bound uptight and the line parted, shortly after the butt portion of the rod cracked nearly pulling what was left of the rig into the water.
With maybe a hundred yards of line flapping in the current, with no weight on it what so ever I began to reel it back and quickly realized the spool was not spinning. All the gears had been stripped so I had to use my thumbs to save the line that was the only surviving part of that entire rig.
Initially, we postulated that a shark had taken that bluefish, though after twenty more years out of a lifetime of fishing, I personally think it was a giant tuna, which in those days were much more abundant in the waters within a short boat ride of the mainland. That fish I lost simply swam way too fast. That fact, the sheer weight and evident size made a giant bluefin tuna the likely suspect.
On a similar note, ten or fifteen years ago I was fishing with a friend for pike in one of our favorite local places. At that time there was a healthy population of those toothy critters in the lake and the ones we hooked were often in the mid to high thirty inch range. I don’t know why but for some reason we always did better at catching pike in this lake during the late summer and fall than spring when spring snowmelt and cool waters had lake levels up.
Like all other fish, pike don’t read or necessarily follow any set of human created rules.
That day we had been casting spinner baits for largemouth bass, something a hungry northern would also attack without hesitation. I had taken a break to pick up one of my micro ultra-light rods rigged with a tiny jig head and a piece of a night crawler to catch some yellow perch.
I had a couple in the live well, healthy and ready to release if I didn’t catch enough for supper. I call those tiny rods “dink” rods and pan fishing “dink fishing” as a joke with my friends. It is a very effective way to catch small panfish.
Instead of a tap-tap, there was a solid thump and a couple of feet of line peeled off the spool (pike are not long-running or hard fighting fish in my experience). The fun and thrills are their hard, often point blank strikes. As with many large fish and game, the act of getting them is a hunt.
Initially I thought I’d hooked a largemouth bass and a decent one at that. I was not too long before the pike came to the surface in the shallow weedy cove we were fishing, coaxed to the boat, netted, photographed and released.
The interesting thing and the primary reason the fish didn’t cut my light line off with its pointy needle-like teeth is the fact that the tiny hook was stuck right in the tip of its snout, so the line was not exposed to that pin cushion mouth. One of my truly lucky surprise catches. Anyone who does enough fishing will have some oddball things happen, such as when bass fishing, having a bass literally jump out of the water and catch a lure before it hits the surface.
Another odd experience that is not a “catch” the IGFA would agree with, was a time when I was cranking a fast moving lure, probably a spinner of some sort. I didn’t like the placement of that cast so popped it out of the water near the boat and out of the small hole it made a thirty three or thirty four inch northern pike burst out, over the gunnel, landed in the bottom of the boat and was quickly picked up and put back in the water with no harm done other than the loss of a little slime plus a good alien abduction story to tell his fishy buddies.
My wife who has a habit of odd encounters with fish did the same thing. She is famous for putting on a different or new to her lure, simply pulling a couple of feet of line off the reel, flipping it to the side of the boat to see its action. She once caught a small, twenty-four inch striper doing that, along with a number of freshwater species, mostly northern pike during the trips we used to take to northern Ontario Province Canada.
If you do anything long enough there will be some odd, lucky, funny and interesting events along the way.
Forty years ago I was a newly hired marine fisheries biologist working in Long Island Sound. Another new hire was our statistician, a computer wise, very nice, Midwestern guy, who had never seen the ocean until he took this job.
Around that time, which was I think the early 1970’s, there had been cases of swimmers who inadvertently or intentionally tried to do the “Jacques Cousteau” thing and swim in a school of fish. Ok if it’s menhaden or something like that. Stupid if that school is being attacked by swarming hungry bluefish. Initially, the bites were blamed on sharks but quickly biologists pointed out the facts and people were warned against swimming in schools of fish along the beaches.
This guy had read or heard a report or two on the news. Soon after arriving and we had a chance to get to know each other he asked some questions about the bluefish attacks on people, noting he thought they could have been intentional on the part of the bluefish.
One evening after work a couple of us were going fishing for blues and invited him along to catch his first. Telling him simply not to put a finger or body part into the mouth of even a small or dead one, they do have double-edged serrated teeth designed for chopping and cutting chunks out of their prey. I have seen the results and had fish literally chopped up while bringing them in by feeding bluefish. My buddy Eric once had a small but legal blackfish (tautog) made illegally short by a mid-teen sized bluefish he ended up hooking and catching.
That trip with our Midwestern friend didn’t take long to find a school of blues on top so we began casting shallow swimmers and poppers, hooking up constantly. One of those fish, a small one maybe six pounds dropped off the hook as it was swung into the boat, bounced off the deck, traveled a couple feet and clamped onto his jeans just below his calf, a few inches above his ankle.
He was cut but not badly enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room or a doctor’s office. Alcohol and keeping it clean for a few days while watching for a more serious infection was all that was necessary.
When the bluefish “attacked” his lower leg he looked at us and said, “See, see, I told you these things went after people on purpose!!!!
A statement he was never allowed to forget or live down. He was a good guy, with a sense of humor and became a pretty skilled saltwater angler.
Happy Holidays to all as we settle into that long wait until the weather breaks this spring and the ocean and its creatures wake up for a new summer.