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“A Big Fish Story”

September 1, 2005

My cousin recently returned from a fishing trip with several of his buddies. The group returned with two large coolers filled with striped bass.  I enjoyed sharing the moment as he bragged about the day’s catch.  Everybody on the trip reeled in his limit of the large fish.  “We just wore them out!” he said. 

      The striped bass, sometimes called a rockfish, is the state fish of South Carolina, a saltwater fish found along the east coast from Maine to Florida.  An avid angler from Georgia caught the South Carolina record in 2002.  His 59 pound 8 ounce rockfish was landed at Lake Hartwell.

      Stripers, by nature, migrate from saltwater up freshwater rivers to spawn. Before the Army Corps of Engineers constructed dams on our major rivers, striped bass would swim from the ocean into the Santee-Cooper River system.  When the dams were built, some of the large stripers became landlocked rockfish, an unfortunate oxymoron for any fish.  Eventually, large impoundments like Lake Moultrie, Lake Marion, Lake Murray, and Lake Hartwell were stocked with striped bass.  The fish have become acclimatized to freshwater.

      Listening to my cousin, I reflected on a day in mid-June several years ago.  Three friends and I left early in the morning to go to Lake Murray.  Striper fishing was our agenda for the day.  The lake was calm.  The sun was hot.  Fishing was slow.  By lunchtime, we had only one striper in the boat.  We fished through the afternoon.  The sun was blazing down.  On the sonar device in the boat we saw an indication of fish, but the striped bass would not bite. 

      At about 5:00, the man who owned the boat said, “Maybe we ought to just call it a day.”  The wind had picked up.  The water was choppy.  Fish sometimes become more active in rough water than in calm water.  I asked if we could try one more place. 

      Next to one of the islands in the big water of Lake Murray, the bottom drops quickly to a depth of 90 feet.  As we moved over that area of the lake, echoes on the sonar indicted large fish right on the bottom.  I reached in the bait well.  I got the largest gizzard shad I could find, put him on my hook, and dropped my line to the bottom.  I placed the fishing rod in a rod holder.  Just as I did, the rod tip bent down beneath the water, and curved back under the boat.  I grabbed the rod and set the hook as hard as I could.  The fiberglass rod broke in half above the last metal rod guide. 

      I watched as the end of the rod slid down the line toward the water.  I might as well have been fishing with a broom handle.  The fish on the other end made a run, pulling line off the reel.  With that distinctive hum so thrilling to a fisherman, the fish continued its run until I could see bare reel.  I knew I had to turn his head.  I gave one quick jerk on the fishing rod.  The fish stopped.  We moved the boat to the fish, and as we did, I took in line.  When we were above the fish, I worked him up from the bottom of the lake.  Slowly, he came closer and closer to the surface.   The striper ran again, this time not so far. 

      Because the rod was broken, I could not feel the fish.  I knew he was large.  My arms and back were aching from the extended fight. When I finally saw the fish on the surface of the water, I could hardly believe my eyes.  I reeled him to the boat; one of my friends netted him, and brought him aboard.  It was the largest freshwater fish I have ever caught – a 23-pound striped bass.

      My cousin said of his striper fishing, “We wore them out!”  I would reverse that in sharing my own striper story. “He wore me out!”

      I had my picture made with my prized striped bass.  When my uncle saw the photograph, he quipped, “Whoever caught that fish was lying.”

-Kirk H. Neely 

© H-J Weekly, September 2005

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