Captain Ben barked out his stereo typical bullshit about how none of us could fish and he was the best and we had a lot to learn and on and on. That all works well when the boat is filled with newbie's. The 6 guys on these charters were so seasoned, we all were nicknamed after herbs!!!. We smiled, none the less, and watched his Captain Bligh spiel. All of us had fished for stripers with a 3 way rig and eels. We knew from many past moments that the fish in this bracket are serious cows. To this day, I still try to go out and attempt a tide of 3 way eel fishing in the fall...........in the RACE!. A night survived in the race can yield more cows than you may tally in 15 years of surfcasting. I'm not saying I prefer it over foam fishing...but it is amazing!. We never, ever, came back without every guy on the boat having a keeper over 36 "..until the time we insisted on making that one last run of the year!
Charter boat captains can put you on just about any fish in the area with some degree of success........but I would expect that to be the case in order to assure future employment!!.Right?. However, many times they are very proficient at one particular approach to a certain game fish....and knowing those areas of expertise are the key to locking up with the proper captain for your quarry. Captain Ben could set up a drift in the Race as good as anybody....and he was a durable bastard. He would keep us on fish...longer and with bigger ones than anyone. This was his expertise.....and we were well aware of that! He was perfect for us. cuz these guys...were hardcore anglers.....and I assume still are.
This avenue of big striped bass pursuit has its drawbacks.......LIKE BEING AT THE DOCK AT MIDNIGHT most times!! The nights were cold and tiring, with this all occurring in the Race. When we got there on Nov 24th at 1 am, it was as windy and cold as it had been all season. The nights darkness seemed even darker than usual and the air smelled of the mist from the rough seas we heard in the distance. Not a word was ever said about the conditions. Our motto was, if the Capt. doesn't mention it.....we go. The early choking of the twin diesels starting up,said we were going. The docks were empty. Everyone had called it a yr . But last week we scored big out there and we were convinced they were still there. Ben liked the look of our green backs. so he THOUGHT they were there also. All of us have very good gear. Knowing the seas are bad, had us tying the rods down and fastening this and that. Rough seas are not a joke. In the course of this busying around. I peeked in the eels bucket. BEN?...there are like 100 eels in here!!!!! This is the last go around mike...we are gonna use them all. Even in the dark, I could see the smiles come from all of us. Hey, what's another night on roughs seas.....a few more boat bruises! Oh well......you want good fish? pay the price!. I bet that sequence of words went through all our minds right then and there. Oh , but wait a minute.......as Mark let the last tie loose from the dock.....it began to sleet, freezing rain, whatever your term. None of us smoked cigarettes.....but yet our breathe from this influx of new ice air, made us look as though we were , as conversation rolled out of our numbing lips.
The classic 3-way swivel is the key to this presentation. You need to have some pre- made rigs ready for the trip...cuz fiddling with stuff when its 35 degrees... pitch black ....6 foot seas, and ice....is futile. I know this is very simplified, but sometimes verbal detail can assure clarity when you are reading......Start with the swivel! Off of one side....your line will be attached. The next section of the swivel will hold the Sinker. I use a 12-18" section of lighter 20 lb test .....so that if the sinker gets hung up during the drift you can pop it loose without losing the whole rig. simply retie a sinker to the swivel. Use a sinker that will allow you to go right to the bottom. regardless of the depth and pull of the tides stage. Having quick contact with the bottom and "feeling" your way through the drift.....is crucial. The remaining part of the swivel will hold the eel. This is a 50 lb section of line and longer than the length of line used for the sinker. Use a very sharp # 7 hook and the knot that you feel is most secure......cuz that linesider is gonna pull when she hits that eel! That's a 3-way rig...Put that rig on a 6-7 ft boat rod, with a good reel and 50 lb test and you have....the most effective way to present an eel in a drift. Of course catching stripers with it.....is another story
To this very day I am amazed at the Great stripers ability to right itself and feed , in the foamy insanity of surfcasting breakers. Their broad tails and great strength, allow them to actually hunt in an area that would kill most fish. When I had the "blessed" moment of catching a blue fin tuna from the beach, I recall the fish ...... I had no idea it was a blue fin..... It acted very disoriented and powerless, when I fought it into the actual surf. The power of the surf, assured the tunas demise. The power of THE RACE.....is no different!
A race, or rip, or whatever local terminology for these conditions, is called, end up being essentially the same thing ....the conditions are always the same. Radical fluxuations in the depth.....in a short distance and are most effective during radical movement of the tides. These Races are always a converging area of unbridled turbulence and fury. If that sounds to vague, perhaps this is more clear. If you fell overboard, ...........you would drown in seconds! Is that clear enough? None the less, these maelstroms of ocean water are exactly where these big striped bass position themselves to eat whatever is "soup de jour", as the tides move EVERYTHING, except the striped bass. They are one of the great athletes in the fish world to withstand these surroundings. Remember this though.....they may be able to hunt in this furious water, but they do so while taking some refuge in the rocks/bottom. If your eel does not pass close to them...they will not risk the hellacious fury of the open water......in the RACE.
Capt Ben seemed to take forever to properly position the boat for a good drift. The positioning for the drift.....in waters that start at lets say 60 ft and rapidly increase to as shallow as 10 feet, is the big reason why our rods were bent so often. The seas were just too rough for him to fight his way into position. Finally, neutral..."Alright, don't wait a second. get the eels down" So we all sent our 3-way rigs and lively eels.....right to bottom...reel up about 3 or four cranks.......and at that point you begin to try and occasionally feel the bottom with your sinker to tell you that you are at least in the fishing zone. It is hard and can take a while to get used to and may also cost you many broken rigs and lost baits due to getting hung up in the ocean bottom nooks and crannies that just eat up unmonitored rigs. On November 24th.at 130 am, the RACE was scary. Waves were 6 ft and constantly spilling over the sides of our very seaworthy vessel. The winds howled and glaze ice made the ever present risk of a slip over the side, all to real. A swim on this pitch black nite, in 52 degree water with erratic waves all around you, reminded all of us just how seriously dangerous and unforgiving the ocean is.
So how do you keep the Bottom, or as they say, stay in the fishing zone under these hardships? Sea Legs my friend! You must absorb the ups and downs, "Cork in the ocean", scene that this fishing puts you in. Its like absorbing moguls when you ski or riding a horse in rhythm instead of taking a saddle beating. Your arm must also be loose and able to guide your rig through the complexities of the ocean floor. The night we had to do this was as severe as possible without risking our lives and it was November 24th.....the water temp could have turned just enough to send these late season cows packing. This night was not a night for novices or babysitting. Capt Ben try's to keep the boat afloat and we fish. If you were not totally self sufficient. You were wasting your money. Capt Ben knew we could all fish....were are rugged and tough as a lead Spartan brigade and sea worthy enough to survive this insanity......So as the nite worsened, thoughts of going back faded, as one of the 3-way rods arched over. The cows were still here! This is the point where striper fever can make safety a lesser priority. I netted Marks big cow and it came over the side, I also saw Johnny slip and fall from the ice and a huge wave crest and break at a dangerous angle to boat as Capt Ben was gunning the motors to re position us after the fight. I have been in hairy places before. This place was a PONYTAIL!
The insufficient light from the boat made me feel like I was in washing machine. Surf was raging all around us....all sides...all directions...The Race at is meanest . It was exhausting fighting to maintain balance and actually fish while doing it. John was actually sitting down on the floor of the boat with his rod over the side. His fear of slipping over had altered his style!! This was pushing the envelope. So why stay????? Back as this angling lore began, I mentioned that Capt Ben was The Best at setting up drifts at night, in the best spots. We made it a point to tell him toooo. He also knew that he had never had clients like us ...who were so independent and fishaholics. To keep us as customers...Ben made it a point to NEVER come back to the dock with out each of us keeping a fish of choice over 36 "and we NEVER DID . Approximately 2.5 hrs in to the fishing trip we had caught many stripers.
Three of the chosen keepers for the 6 of us were big cows over 40 ". The problem was that we only had 5 fish over 36" and BEN was determined to make it 6. So we spun around for another drift and at this point, this very sea worthy vessel, was being pushed to its limits.........with us in it!
Somehow, while Ben roared back to the point of origin for the next drift, we all had found an eel , and rebaited. Those two actions were triumphs at this point. I could not even hear Ben yelling directives anymore, but the boat was in another drift, so we dropped the lines. As usual Ben was right on and Butch and I went off immediately. Neither of us could hook the fish . the bobbing was so bad in the boat we didn't have a taunt enough line for a solid set. We raced to re bait in order not to miss this drift, which only takes minutes.
As great as Ben is at the helm, he must have let the boat turn to a bad angle or maybe it was just a rogue wave, but when SIX FEET of water came over the side of the boat and directly hit butch and I in the back and almost filled the back, Ben counted all of us......realized none had been washed over and said "Reel them up you guys........its time to save our lives!!" Once we busted out of the Race the 3 foot chop on the way in was a joke.
Maybe we were just all exhausted from being up all night and that was why the car ride home was so silent. I tend to believe that we were all reflecting on the previous hours and why we are drawn to such events that bring the possibilities of such serious consequences. The subtle smile on the quiet faces of 6 guys that just danced with such danger made me realize why.
Ask yourself, which trips do you remember most vividly?? I'm totally convinced that adrenaline imprints moments forever. GET ADRENAL.