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Cape Cod Whoppers or Beth’s 50-pounder

January 12, 2010

November 26, 2009

Back when I was young and free and smelled like bait, the whoppers I encountered usually came in the form of fish stories, told and retold from the shoreline to the tackle shops and back to the beach. Having learned through inheritance the superstition that surrounds most fishy business, I never told tall tales about fish or the spots they frequent, as it seemed a way to squelch the mojo I depended on for landing dinner. (I’m less charitable about spreading the wealth these days, but I still would avoid whistling on a boat, as it could whistle up a wind and I never put cans in the cupboard upside down, as I don’t want to be responsible for sinking someone’s ship.)

I did, however, have to own one whopper, because it somehow made its way to the late, great Molly Benjamin, rest in peace and tight lines. I didn’t spill the beans about the 50-pounder that got away – I only count the ones I catch. But there were a lot of anglers there on the tip of Nauset Spit that afternoon and we all collectively lost our minds when acres of striped bass began finning and breaking along the outer bar and streaming into the inlet close to shore. Oh yeah, and there was a rainbow. And it was late afternoon. And it was incoming tide, about an hour from high. You know, one of those days on the beach.

I jumped into the fray, intent on landing a couple of decent dinner bass to share with family and friends. I had recently asked Tony Stetzko about fishing that exact spot, and he kindly took a moment to show me how he would cast across the channel to the bar and retrieve the plug as though it were bait moving over the bar. Duh! I, like everyone else, had seen that spot and cast out into the deeper part of the channel, looking for lunkers. But the lure isn’t a fish-finding missile, it’s a fake piece of bait, and big, smart fish are looking for bait fish that act like bait fish. As fishermen followed the working birds and exploding fish, they piled in to my right and left and cast with abandon. They cast straight, I cast diagonal, and they caught schoolies and I caught keepers – one 33-inches, then another 36-inches. They came in more slowly than usual and the fight was intense with some startling runs for smaller fish. Each keeper was pulled back to the buggy, wrapped in a towel and stashed in the back. I should have just went home, but I had only fished for 20 minutes or so. And there were still bass thrashing like blues for as far as the eye could see.

I thought, “Okay, I’ll take a few more casts and anything I get I’ll release.” I moved back onto my piece of beach – a rare thing in a smoking hot spot jammed with fishermen. My ponytail might’ve helped or they were all having a religious experience, who knows. I made a few casts and hooked a fish that sent my line screaming off the reel. I worked her in, little by little, and followed her down the beach with more than a few “scuse me’s.” That fish did not want to come in. Was it side-hooked? Was my reel malfunctioning? I couldn’t figure out what was going on. After a serious battle, I had her close and used the waves crashing on the spit to get her almost home. I could see her head, and it was huge. I saw some of her side, and it was very, very wide. I had her – on my favorite plug – and with one more wave I would grab her and check her out. Hold on tight, don’t overreact, don’t jerk that lure, don’t touch that line.

Another angler, who was watching every second of this fight moved in from my left. Let’s call him Schneider of Expensive Waders and Tricked-Out Land Rover. He also saw that big head and wide side and he coudn’t handle it. In one heart-stopping moment he splashed over to the fish, grabbed the line and the fish was gone. Idiot! Thanks but no thanks, buddy. You can’t grab 50-pound leader under extreme pressure from a heavy fish. It will snap. He peered up at me with a face that looked like it had just been slapped, saving me the trouble. He apologized, I shook my head and I left. The family all enjoyed some bass, and I took the reel to the tackle shop to have all the line stripped off and replaced and to find out what was wrong with my gear. It turned out that after having line applied to the reel twice, by two different shops, the wrapper was still on the reel. So the whole spool was spinning. Needless to say, I haven’t had mono or braid applied to a reel by a tackle shop since.

A sorry fishing experience like that is one you’ll never forget, but one you’d prefer to leave behind. I got to read about ‘Beth Gibbons’ 50-pounder’ in the Cape Cod Times the following week. It was cute, but remember: it’s only 50-pounds when you pick it up and weigh it. In all other cases, it’s just a fish.

Thanksgiving has passed, and I think we can consider the striper season over, though the gannets are working hard and the silversides are just now thronging in the Harbor. It was a funky season for surf-casting, and for most everything else I was doing, but there were some whoppers mixed in with the poor showings. Some big bass showed up in some weird spots, while tried and true honey holes were completely barren. In other news, I dug the biggest steamer I’ve ever seen, the radishes were gargantuan, the onions were of mammoth proportions, and there were giant cucumbers and 6-foot tomato plants. Oh, and this gardening season also took the prize for Most Worms Ever Found in the Growing Beds.  As we put the striper season and the garden to bed for the year, here’s hoping the next season will be an abundant one, full of true whoppers you can’t wait to tell.

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