On The Hook: Fishing equipment goes wanting

Bill Walsh

This storied episode was clearly my fault! A cardinal rule for any of us who fish is to make sure you have fishing equipment aboard to handle any circumstance that you know may occur during your outing.

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Hold on! I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s double back and begin at the git-go.

Earlier this year and before the monsoons opened up on us, we had two or three weeks where the waters were unusually placid. Well into the building heat of the late spring, the waters were dead flat (aka, no wind). Couple that with nice clean water and you literally could see the schools of bait 10 to 15 feet beneath the boat out on the first and second reefs.

We had several charters the prior week that were fantastic. You could head out the Capri Pass into that gorgeous blue-green water and pick most any spot along the line of old time “tire” reefs that inhabit the 20’ depth range just offshore. First thing you’d do is sink that block of chum and tell the crew to watch the mackerel and blues race by under the boat.

By the time you got the first tipped jig in play it was actually struck before it hit the water’s surface. You literally could not keep up with the baiting, releasing and fixing severed lines. Folks would plop back in their seats after an hour of that frantic action and literally plead to go somewhere else where the action was more reasonable.

Customers departing the marina could be identified with irremovable smiles plastered on their faces.

So that was the backdrop for our featured story this week. I got a call early one evening from a vacationer asking about availability of a charter trip the following week featuring his “fishing nut” 12-year old son. His preference was backwater, but I quickly talked him out of that, recommending near shore, with the mackerel and associates tearing up the action on those close-in reefs.

The morning of our charter dawned picture perfect. Blue cloudless sky, a great morning; incoming tide with just a light easterly breeze that gently rippled the gin clean water. The 12-year old, Johnny, was so excited he could hardly sit still. He asked his dad, if we could catch some big fish and his father glanced my way with a quizzical frown.

I winced. We had not expected that inquiry and had loaded up with light rods and 12-pound test line totally focusing on the great mackerel action. If we were to encounter a sizable intruder, we would be at a distinct disadvantage.

I kind of brushed off the inquiry; this was my fourth or fifth trip out here to the mackerel bedlam and we had not yet encountered any major intruders.

Our arrival and anchorage on the reef spot in amongst a half dozen other boats was routine. In fact, it was better than that; the bait schools were on the surface and being slashed by mackerel in a feeding frenzy and the gulls and pelicans were feeding from above. Some show!

We didn’t even need the chum block as the feeding frenzy stayed in place right over the center of the reef. We had a strike on just about every cast using tipped jigs on light wire. We were all catch and release that morning and that became my full-time job along with replacing cut-off rigs.

We had been at it, non-stop, for close to an hour when “it” happened.

With the gin clear water, even in the thrashed surface you could see hooked mackerel from the other boats racing by 10-15’ down. Then, all of a sudden, there was a four- to five-foot shadow streaking after one of the hooked mackerel; the sharks had arrived. Johnny just screamed as did youngsters enjoying the melee in the other boats.

Dad was in the middle of a retrieve when there was a thump on his line and it went slack. He reeled in his gear with one-third of a mackerel dangling bloodied from his hook.

The 12-year old went bonkers! “Let’s catch the shark ... can we, captain?

Long shot! A formidable shark on 12-pound test in open waters would be pushing our luck to the limit. Told them to keep fishing (and landing) mackerel while we put jury-rigged tackle together.

On the 12-pound line, we tied on two connected wire leaders and crimped a 6/0 long shank hook to the business end; then opened the drag and got set to weigh anchor.

We impaled a freshly caught mackerel hunk on the 6/0 and set it the current flow. With Johnny on the rod and dad as the cheering section. It didn’t take a millisecond for the strike to occur.

The loosened drag screamed as I pulled anchor and fired up the engine. We were going where the shark was going with both anglers working from the bow of the boat.

The loosened drag worked. At least we still had the shark “towing” us. It would be a series of 30-yard run offs followed by laboring 25-yard retrieves, over and over again.

The shark was running south and after an half hour of passing the rod back and forth between Johnny and his dad and trying to ease muscle cramps, we had a decision to make.

“We have to move to a completion of some type here guys. We’ll either exhaust the shark to his demise or ours; so I’m going to speed up a bit and we’ll take a turn or two on the drag and see if we can get him alongside.”

The, now exhausted duo, were all in for the intended action. We closed the gap rather quickly of the tiring shark and soon had a beautiful 4-5’ blacktip alongside and dad taking every imagined photo of Johnny and the shark.

As intended, we cut the line as close in as we dared and with a flip of the tail our energetic catch headed home.

And so did we, with an unremovable smile on Johnny’s face. A day of struggle with one of nature’s greatest battlers using well undersized tackle.

Wonder if it would have been such a hallmark achievement for them, if we had caught the shark on 80# test line on a “broomstick” rod?

Don’t think so!

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Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com.