So, I’m casting my six-pound ultralight rig with a tiny bucktail tipped with shrimp in a small tidal creek for panfish, when I feel a bite and jerk the rod back to set the hook. But there’s no give – not one little bit. Darn, I must have hooked bottom… and then the bottom began swimming away. A knock-down, drag-out fight ensued, and 20 minutes later my buddy slid the net under a mammoth blue catfish. Well, actually he slid the net under it’s head, then gyrated the net back and forth until he had maybe half of the fish in it. Enough to lift the fish into the boat, anyway.
The giant catfish was just about the last thing I expected to catch that February afternoon, but it reinforced one of the best things about fishing: you simply never know what’s going to happen next.
It reminded me of an afternoon last summer, when I was fishing for sheepshead. We had run through out shrimp and my buddies had caught their fish, but the target species had not hit on my line. I’d caught trout, flounder, grunts, puffer fish, lizard fish – just about everything except for a sheepshead. Now, with the shrimp gone, all we had left for bait was a bag of smelly old crab bits that had been frozen, thawed, and refrozen. I had brought them along as a back-up bait, thinking they’d just get tossed over the side at the end of the day. With more than a little desperation I held my nose (WHEW!) and threaded a chunk on my hook for one last try. And wouldn’t ya know it – bam!
Another day years ago we made a long run to deep water to fish for golden tilefish. Tunas had been completely absent that season, and we spent most of our time offshore filling the cooler by deep-dropping. This particular afternoon one of our deep drop lines suddenly went slack. Believing it had been cut off by a shark I started reeling in slack. A solid five minutes later the slack line suddenly came tight, and the rod bent over. When I finally battled the fish up close we looked over the side and saw a yellowfin tuna in the 50 pound class. It had eaten a chunk of squid on a bottom rig 830 feet down, then swam up through the water column with a four-pound weight in tow. We gaffed that fish, swung it over the side, and celebrated for hours. You just never know… and that’s the beauty of fishing.