Sunday, July 1, 2018

When Things go Wrong, Keep Calm

On Friday, Patrick Barone of Charter the Berkshires was kind enough to let me join him on a morning expedition on Long Island Sound looking primarily for stripers and blues. Friday was to be the first day of the long heat wave we in New England are currently experiencing. It wasn't bad on the water, which is always a temperature moderator, but as soon as we came in the river to pull out we were hit by the heat. It had rained a lot the day before, the sun was out with very little cloud cover, and I think those factors really made things more difficult for use. We found fish in one spot. There is a lot I could write about this day, but there's one point I really want to focus on. And that's the importance of keeping calm and focused while fighting a good fish.

Bluefish get me excited. More specifically, big bluefish get me excited. The only spot where Patrick and I were able to catch anything was loaded with blues. Most, probably 95%, were small, but we were pretty easily amused by throwing a bunch of different lures and flies at them for a while. I tried for a while to get two on one plug, a 9 inch musky doc, but it didn't work. What I did notice while doing that was that the fish very specifically hit the hooks, which lends some credence to my claim that leaving hooks on a plug but cutting the point off for use teasing big bass and blues to the surface work better than taking the hooks completely off.

The two biggest fish of the morning, very much outliers as they were both more than twice as big as anything we caught or saw caught, came in the form of one of the most interesting doubles I've experienced. Patrick hooked the first one, probably a 6lb fish, very respectable, and when he got it close to the boat we could see that it had two slightly larger followers. We very quickly were on the same page: I had to hook the one of the followers and make this a double. I immediately began casting in the vicinity of Patrick's fish which he let swim at the right distance from the boat, trying to get my Beast Fleye in the right place. It took longer than you'd think. I had to get the fly within a couple feet in front of the bigger blue as it was coming out from under the hooked fish and then strip the fly away from it. When I got it right the fish hammered the big fly right at the surface and started the initial run.

I have a way of providing myself with unexpected challenges while fighting good fish from boats. Tangles, knots, rod sections separating, you name it. This might be a jinx, but I also have a way of making it out on the other side without loosing the fish. It's all about keeping calm and keeping focused. This time, the line looped around the trolling motor. I hate using a stripping basket if I don't absolutely have to. A basket limits my ability to manipulate retrieve. My preference on a boat is to go barefoot so I can feel the line if I stand on it, and do what I can to keep the line away from various hazards... like a trolling motor. It isn't always easy to do when you are focused on a blitz or a single big fish right in front of you. So here I was in moderately rough conditions with a big bluefish on and the fly line wrapped around the trolling motor head. What to do?
Let's take this step by step.
-What is the fish doing, and can I let it keep doing what it's doing?
In this case the fish was just finishing up the initial run. I had a little bit of line, no more than five feet to work with between first stripping guide and the tangle. The fish wasn't burning out line so I let up on pressure. Most of the time this will at least slow the fish down. Putting more pressure on a fish early in the fight will NOT stop it, it will make it pull harder.
-How severe is the problem?
In some cases it can't be resolved while the fish is on, there just isn't time. If that happens the only option is to chase the fish down, which is something I have done twice in the past with false albacore. In this case Patrick and I quickly saw that the tangle was not a severe one.
-Can I solve the problem on my own and still hold the rod, and if not, can we afford to divert focus away from the surroundings for the time it takes to solve the problem?
In fast current, rough conditions, shallow water with rocks, or lots of boats around, you need to prioritize between the fish and the safety of yourself and others. In this case Patrick saw that we weren't going to drift into any of the other boats if he took a moment to help me get the tangle undone, and we were drifting away from the rocks and roughest part of the rip. Remember: no fish is worth wrecking your boat and risking life and limb.

Keep calm, act fast, focus. It may not always work out, but when it does the story way better than a cut and dry hook, fight, net story.

Put a bruiser on my new 10wt, finally got to spend some time on the sound with a good friend, didn't get sunburned. Satisfaction.


  1. Yep, things happen, and I like your strategy for making it work for the best outcome. That is a great fish.
    Tie, fish, write, conserve and photo on...