Opportunities come and go, but how you play the game is no fluke.
Wonderful September weather and an epic canyon report pointed to an offshore trip where we vowed to get even with the pelagics that had eluded us much of the season. Promises to bring home tuna and mahi to family and friends egged us on. Unfortunately, a final early morning check in the engine room revealed a hemorrhaging transmission that wasn’t going to allow this trip to happen.
The discovery deflated us like a fender crushed between a concrete bulkhead and a steel longliner and the group split up, all pretty much disappointed. I had planned to fish that day and needed to wet a line. I went to my little boat, tossed a small spinning rod aboard, and fired up the two-stroke belch-o-matic. Late summer is prime time to enjoy nonstop snapper action, and while these juvenile bluefish in the nearby creeks weigh less than a half-pound, on ultralight tackle they don’t act like a hatchery-bred rainbow trout.
With the outgoing tide I quietly drifted along the shoreline, the reeds waving in the light breeze. On my third cast the rod tip warped over and I was into my first snapper, all nine inches of it. A young bluefish is an amazing creature. As juveniles, bluefish can grow an inch a week depending upon their food source, and fortunately for them there was an abundance of spearing—a durable forage species and all-around great bait fish—in the river. I was using a bright silver, hammered spoon called a Hippy that mimics a spearing with dead-on accuracy. As a Manasquan kid, I could bike down to Jim’s Bait & Tackle on the Glimmerglass and buy the lure for around 35 cents. It was good for a thousand snappers provided the hook was rinsed to prevent rusting, and I am sure many belligerent chopper blues caught from party boats probably encountered a Hippy in their youth.
That a lure from the 1960s continues to be effective more than 50 years later provided an epiphany between strikes that completely replaced the disappointment of the aborted canyon trip.
Fishing has always been a major part of my life. My father schooled me on techniques, on knots, on being a good sport. And on this beautiful morning, releasing one feisty snapper blue after another, I recaptured a part of my youth and felt like I was enjoying the best fishing day of my life.
Unlike that hatchery trout that is fed daily by human caretakers, a snapper blue is a wild thing. A farm-raised trout feels like a snag on the line when it hits. On light spinning tackle a snapper blue is all mayhem. Often several will follow the lure to the boat racing each other to catch the prize. Understandably, they are quite angry when they come aboard, their teeth gnashing at the small treble hook flexing their jaws in the air. Big bluefish can bite and draw blood easily and these youngsters will ape their elders given the chance, a lesson learned often by the unwary.
After an hour of releasing countless snappers, I sat down to enjoy my surroundings. Crab Town Creek was peaceful and quiet. Occasionally a frightened school of spearing would take flight as a marauding gang of ever-hungry snappers approached from below. It’s never easy being the small fry. Nor is it easy to accept that a potentially good fishing trip can be pulled out from under you for no fault of your own. But fishing is fishing. When you cast your line in the water, you don’t always know if you’ll get a bite. And if you can’t enjoy what comes your way because it’s not big enough, or it’s the wrong kind of fish, you’ll never be satisfied with whatever you catch.
I kept a dozen snappers for bait and later in the morning headed into the ocean and drifted for fluke, catching 28- and 24-inch flatties in short order. For a day that began with a rough start, I finished in a fine place. This is what fishing is all about.
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.