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My Biggest Catch

July 23, 2012

A friend recently returned from a fishing trip. He caught several large striped bass.  Bragging about the day’s catch, he said, “We just wore them out!”

The striped bass, sometimes called a rockfish, is the state fish of South Carolina.

In mid-June several years ago, three friends and I fished for striped bass from dawn to dusk on Lake Murray.  The lake was calm.  The sun was hot.  Fishing was slow. The striped bass would not bite.

The fellow who owned the boat wanted to call it a day.  The wind picked up making the water choppy. I wanted to try one more place. 

Near the islands in the big water of Lake Murray, the bottom drops quickly to a depth of 90 feet.  As we moved over the deep water, I reached in the bait well, grabbed a large gizzard shad, put him on my hook, and dropped my line to the bottom.  Just then, the rod tip bent beneath the water, and curved under the boat.  I set the hook hard.  The fiberglass rod broke in half.

It was like fishing with a stiff broom handle.

The fish on the other end made a run, pulling line off the reel.  Accompanied by that distinctive hum so thrilling to a fisherman, the striper continued its run.

When I saw bare reel, I knew I had to turn his head.  I gave one quick jerk on the rod.  The fish stopped.  We moved the boat to the fish, and I took in line.  When we were above the fish, I worked him up from the bottom of the lake.  Slowly, he came 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 striper 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 friend 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.”

Fishing adventures bring back memories of my youth. I started fishing before monofilament line was invented.  The rig I first used was a black braided line tied to a bamboo stick outfitted with a single hook, a split shot, and a real cork.  I caught a lot of bream, my share of bass, and a few catfish using a cane pole. Once I even hauled in a snapping turtle.

Though I have enjoyed deep-sea trolling, angling on mountain streams, and fishing in large lakes, there is sheer delight in fishing a farm pond.  The biggest largemouth bass I ever caught was an eight-pounder hooked in a North Carolina pond.

My grandfather, Pappy, taught me to fish.  When school was out for the summer, we went fishing at daylight nearly every day except Sunday. A farm pond near Walnut Grove was our fishing hole.

To this day when I fish, I spit on my bait, just as Pappy taught me.

“For the fish, it changes the smell and flavor of the bait,” Pappy said.

That is true, especially if the fisherman smokes cigars as Pappy did.

When I was ten, my grandfather gave me my first rod and reel and a few quick lessons on how to cast.  Using a wooden Chub Creek minnow with treble hooks, he demonstrated the technique.  I was sure I could do it.

Rod and reel in hand, I reached back to cast with all my might.  On my very first cast, I made the biggest catch of my life.  I hooked my grandfather – right in the eyebrow.

When I set the hook, Pappy used some of his Navy language.  To create slack, he grabbed the line cutting it with his pocketknife. The Chub Creek minnow dangled from his eyebrow, and blood ran down his face.  Taking needle-nose pliers from his tackle box, he rolled the hook through his eyebrow and clipped off the barb.  The hook was removed.

Pappy bit the end off of his cigar, chewed it up, and made a poultice for his wound.  Once the bleeding had stopped, he tied a new lure onto the end of my line and said, “Now let me teach you how to cast.”

My biggest catch ever was my own grandfather. He was definitely a keeper!

 

Kirk H. Neely
© July 2012

 

 

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