I was prefishing for the NEKF Striper Shootout in Salem, MA and was planning on fishing all night for the next four days. Wednesday night went well and I planned on going back to the same spot the following night. However, the unexpected happened. My friend Mike Baker showed up at Al’s tackle a day before originally planned. We were both fishing the tournament, but I didn’t think he was going to show up until Friday.
“So where do you want to fish?”, Mike asked. We talked about two spots and finally Mike said, “Let’s toss a coin to see which spot we choose.” I didn’t hesitate and reached into my pocket for a coin. This is usually the way it is when Mike and I fish together. I don’t remember if it was heads or tails, but Mike was unsure of the outcome. Sometimes when this happens, I go for the best 2 out of 3, but that night I had a feeling in my gut and we let the first toss decide the spot.
We got on the water with just a little light left and right away we spotted something in the water. Mike said, “I think those are bunker”. If you aren’t familiar with bunker, also know as Menhaden or in New England as pogy, they are excellent striper bait. They are plankton feeders and don’t take bait on a hook. It’s legal to snag them for bait. I didn’t have a good rod with me for snagging, but Mike did. Mike didn’t have any snagging hooks but I did, so I passed a hook to him and he pretty much snagged a bunker right away. After getting our bait, we headed to our spot to find out if any fish were around.
Mike chunked up the bunker and gave me a piece. Then we dropped our hooks and waited. Around 11:30pm Mike hooked up with a fish around 40 inches on the bunker. Looks like we may have found the bait for the night, but we only snagged one. Mike decided to try to find them again to snag a few more. He headed out and I stayed. I got a good bearing on how long it was taking me to drift the spot with the tide - around 20 minutes. I knew it was going to be a long night so I decided to paddle back to the start of the drift and set my alarm for 20 minutes. I dropped my bait with the clicker on and was quickly asleep drifting on the ocean.
Mike finally showed up with 3 more bunker and asked if I had anymore hits. I informed him that is was pretty quiet and I snuck in a nap. He quickly cut up more bait and tossed me a head to put on the hook. Stripers like the heads because blue fish usually don’t eat the head and it sinks down below the bunker school and the big stripers are there waiting for their snack.
About 1:15am Mike hooks into a fish and gets towed a good distance. It’s a monster and Mike is having to strain to lift her out of the water. I paddle over next to him to help him get a measurement but he already knew it was his personal best. My ruler goes to 48 inches and there looked to be at least 6-8 more inches of head so this fish was easily over 50 inches. Mike was holding her with lip grips but the weight was just too much and they let go. The fish sank back into the water along with our hearts. I instantly felt bad for Mike since this has happened to me and just about every fisherman. We all know there is nothing you can do about it and if you let it get to you, it will ruin your trip. We moved on quickly and started fishing again. With fish that big around, you don’t waste time.
About a half an hour went by and I felt a tug on my line but the fish dropped it. She came back about 10 times and finally, she grabbed the bait and I pulled back and then put the Truth SG in free spool. She didn’t drop it this time. She took off and I let her have a few feet of line, then put the drag on and set the hook. I learned last season not to horse a big fish in when I broke a beast off on 50# line. I let this fish take as much line as she wanted. Let me tell you, she did.
She started heading into some rocks and Mike warned me not to let her wrap around them. Well she did and the line went tight. I could tell the line was wrapped around something so I didn’t pull. The trick is to let them have slack. If you pull, it makes things worse and a lot of times the fish will swim back out if you give them slack. She did and the fight was on again. However, now I was confident that she was worn down enough to put some pressure on. I got her to the kayak and knew she wasn’t as big as Mike’s catch. But I knew right away she was my personal best. Just about every time I fish with Mike I upgrade my PB.
She was 46 inches and I knew no matter what happened the next 2 nights wouldn’t really matter. It would be nice to win the tournament, but now I was OK if I didn’t. I could catch a bigger fish, which would be nice, but it didn’t matter. I think Mike probably felt the same way, however he caught a 46.5” fish Saturday night and won the open class. The rest of Thursday night was good, Friday night was decent and Saturday night was dead except the winning fish that Mike caught. The next time someone wants to decide on a spot with the luck of a coin toss, I know one thing. I’m in.
The NEKF Striper Shootout is a charity tournament based in Salem, MA and raises money for the make a wish foundation. More info can be found at http://www.newenglandkayakfishing.com/