Wanna catch a big fish? Look at this:
Easy. I’m gonna tell you how.
First, you need a rod and reel. Go to the store. Whatever you get will probably be fine. Truth is, the fish don’t see this stuff until it’s too late for them anyway.
Second, you need tackle. This is fisherman-speak for a hook and a lead weight to keep the hook lower in the water column where the fish are hanging out that day. Their precise location is revealed by the Garmin electronics people. They show you a live color picture of what is happening under your boat. Of course, the picture usually shows there are no fish down there while guys on boats all around are bending rods. Hmmm. Probably Russian hackers. Then again, sometimes the machine does show fish--but that is only when they are not hungry, i.e, when “the bite is off.” Why does “the bite” turn on and off, and when does it do that? Sorry, I am not allowed to tell you that.
Let’s go back to tackle. The most important element is a fish hook. The manufacturers of hooks, in an effort to justify charging a dollar apiece for something that costs them three cents to manufacture, make hook selection as complicated as possible. They assign numbers to the hooks, and, of course, the smaller the number, the larger the hook. You knew that, right? Then they put zeros adjacent to the numbers to confuse the size issue further, so that 6/0 is different from 6. Aside from size, you would think a hook is a hook, right? Hah, there are a plethora of different shape hooks, and everyone is certain that the shape he uses is better than the one you use. Long shaft, short shaft, offset, straight, circle, octopus, it goes on and on.
All fish hooks do have two things in common: i) a sharp point, and ii) a barb just below the point. The function of the sharp point is to facilitate the easy entry of the hook into the fish’s lip or the fisherman’s thumb, and the function of the barb is to keep it there. I have made use of both characteristics. Two stories:
First time this happened, I was fishing with 10 yr. old son Robert. We put a very unhappy bluefish in the fishbox. The fish had taken one of the hooks on the treble hook I was using. In case you have not already figured this out, a treble hook is basically three hooks stuck together so they have a single shaft, but the bends in the hooks face different directions. The fish was banging around in the box and I reached in to get him. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Not only did the fish defeat me by staying on his hook, he managed firmly to impale my thumb on hook number two. So there I was, harpooned, and worse, the pissed off fish was still jumping around and I was like a marionette, dancing and howling to the tune of this green chopper. Robert just ran and hid under a boat cover. Fortunately, two guys fishing nearby were watching the show, came alongside, and one of them hopped aboard our boat and managed to snip hook one and separate me from the fish, which, of course, left me sporting hook two. And this was before body piercing became fashionable.
Okay, with just the hook in my thumb I could manage the boat, but obviously would need medical attention when I got ashore. Steve Jobs had not yet invented mobile phones, but I had a VHF radio (the joy and pain of VHF is that everybody listens in. It’s one big party line.) I called the Coast Guard on channel 16, then switched to their channel 22, told the Coastie radioman of my problem, and asked him to call my wife and ask her to meet me at the dock and drive me a doctor. I don’t need to tell you how many guys came on the radio when I was finished with my conversation. All sorts of advice. Some of the proposed strategies might even have worked if I weren’t such a coward. Anyway, the radioman reported the conversation to his duty officer, who passed it on to a clerk, who called my wife. I have no idea exactly how garbled the message was by the time it got to her, but basically all she gathered was there was a United States Coast Guard emergency call involving her husband and son at sea! She was in a great lather when she met us at the dock, and when she discovered the emergency was a hook in my finger, she was furious. “For this you called the United States Coast Guard, who called me and told me of an emergency involving my husband and my son? I was already contemplating widowhood. A fish hook in your finger? That’s it?”
This happened 25 years ago, and the memory of this incident is now so dim that she brings it up only once a week.
We did go to local clinic, where the laid back doc removed the hook and dropped it into a tray of similarly removed hooks. Why he kept them, I dunno. Pinks was still pissed, but he laughed. “This was easy. You oughta see what goes on here when the mother learns the father took their daughter fishing and hooked her anywhere but in the earlobe.”
Hook incident number two occurred several years later. A buddy and I were drifting for bass in the Shinnecock Inlet. I was no longer using treble hooks, but did use a rig that had two striper hooks about a foot apart. I hooked what I thought was a big fish that was surprisingly docile. Maybe that’s because my “fish” was a four foot chunk of water-logged telephone pole. When I got it to boat and leaned over the gunnel to disengage, I demonstrated once again how little I had learned about self preservation. Instead of snipping the line and letting the !@#! thing settle back to the bottom, I tried to save my rig by pulling the hook out of the log. That effort failed, but I did succeed in sinking the other hook deep into the meat at the base of my thumb. Now I had a non-wiggling log pulling on the bass hook firmly seated in my hand. Barbs on fish hooks really do their job. I was about to succumb and jump overboard to relieve the pressure when my pal came to the rescue and snipped the leader. I was really hurting from the hook in my hand, and did not see how I could navigate my way home through the tricky Shinnecock Bay shoals. What to do? Of course, call the Shinnecock Coast Guard station, which was but a couple of miles away. They came roaring out in their big red boat, sirens howling, blue lights flashing, a crewman came aboard, and escorted me to their dock, where an ambulance was waiting to take me to Riverhead Hospital. A little excessive, ya think? Hey, it’s all by “the book.”
I get into the ambulance and the EMT tells me to lie down on the stretcher so he can strap me in. I say, “Wait a minute, can’t I just sit here with you? I am not critical, I just have a hook in my hand.” Nope, once again “the book” prevails, and I lie down, get strapped in, they take my blood pressure and the guy said it was the highest blood pressure reading he had ever seen in his life. Off we go to Riverhead Central, more lights and sirens.
This was the July 4 weekend, and that had two consequences:
First, the ER was jammed, and the triage nurse put me in group three, which is reserved for those of us who are so minimally injured we get to ripen in the waiting area indefinitely.
Second, the recent med school grads begin their internship on July 1. As a result, the guy in the white jacket I finally got to see was a pleasant 16 year old who was trying to grow a mustache but wasn’t quite old enough to make it happen. He looked at the hook in my hand and I saw panic. He was a born and bred city kid, never saw a fishhook in his life, and they didn’t cover this at Harvard Medical School. Bottom line, he had no clue how get that hook out of my hand, and because he was so new at this job, he was reluctant to get off on the wrong foot by bothering his boss, a real doctor who was up to his elbows treating patients in triage category One. Because I had more experience at this than my caregiver, I talked him through the proper procedure: Step one, local anaesthetic. Step two, push the hook all the way through so that the point and the barb come through. Step three, snip off the hook just below the barb. Step four, back the hook out the way it went in. Step five, a shot of antibiotics. Step six, apply a Band Aid and send the patient home. He was grateful for my instruction, executed steps one and two with adequate skill, but when he tried to snip off the hook below the barb with what looked like a pair of cuticle scissors, he could not dent, no less cut through the heavy bass hook. Neither of us was happy. He surrendered and departed our cubicle to consult. Minutes later he returned with good news: a maintenance department guy was coming with a more suitable surgical instrument. Sure enough, the distinctive tool-belt jangle from the corridor signalled the approach of the cavalry. The maintenance supervisor, who had never before so directly assisted in a treatment protocol, swaggered into the treatment cubicle, selected a small bolt cutter from his belt and proudly plunked it down on the instrument tray. The doctor and a nurse audibly gasped. He had just contaminated all their toys! And there was no way could they use that unsanitary device. All offending instruments were immediately removed, and an hour later, when the bolt cutter had been degreased, scrubbed, and sterilized, I got my third novocaine shot, the hook was snipped and removed, and I was patched up and set free.
My wife, who had received an accurate telephoned report from my fishing buddy, had arrived at the hospital soon after I did. This was her revenge. “You rode in an ambulance because of a hook in your finger?” Ha ha ha. “Strapped down on a stretcher? Ho, ho, ho.”Flashing lights and sirens?” Hilarious. I have not forgiven her, and will not.
Okay, back to catching a fish.
Now, to get the fish to eat the hook, ya gotta give em some sort of incentive. There are lots of methods. Some fishermen tie feathers to the hook and jig it back and forth. (Feathers? For fish? You kidding me? Fish mistake the hook for a chicken? Fish like chicken?) Then there are things called bucktails--a hook with deer hair attached. I am not kidding. When have fish encountered deer? Why would they eat hair from their tails? There's more: some guys put a two inch long strip of pork rind on the hook. Pork! Yup, a guy named Uncle Josh has created a whole industry of different colored pork strips to put on bass hooks! Hey, everybody loves bacon, right? But fish? All I know is it works. And then there are the guys who hide the hook in a piece of rubber tubing. Surgical tubing. Different colors yet. Why do fish wanna eat surgical tubing? Are fish really that stupid? Yeah, they are, and that’s why it’s our job to kill em and eat em.
My preference is none of the above. I bait my hooks with eels--without a doubt the single most disgusting creature in the sea.
Okay, so you buy a mess of eels, put em in a bucket with small drain holes in the bottom, then ice them down to freeze their tiny brains a bit, lest they commit eelcide by literally tying themselves into knots. Seriously.
Eels have several other attractive characteristics. When they are distressed they emit a whitish slime along the length of their bodies that makes them totally unmanageable. Ugh. So when the time comes to grab an eel, you use a washcloth you have stolen from home (the ones with the purple flowers from the guest bathroom seem to work best, and you can blame the guests when your wife remarks upon their gradual disappearance from the linen closet) and then try to hold the small snake steady enough to hook him under the chin and out the top of his head--the eye is best. This is really a fun part of the day on the water, especially when the eel has recovered from the temporary brain freeze, wraps his tail around your wrist, then puts out enough slime so that the washcloth has the coefficient of friction of a wet Kleenex. When the eel escapes your grasp, you get to chase it. Picking up a slimed wriggling eel from the deck of a small pitching boat is a hoot. I am surprised Parker Brothers or somebody hasn’t made a parlor game of it. I guess nobody really wants eels in their parlor, but It is a barrel of laughs, believe me. Right up there with a hook in your lip.
So, that’s how easy this is: You attach a hooked eel to one end of the leader, a lead weight to the other end (more secrets-- what shape lead, what weight, what kind of attachment, there is no end of choices, and the fish really cares) tie that rig onto your fishing line, and drop the thing overboard. While you are drifting with the tide, you wipe your hands on your shirt to get rid of some of the eel slime, take out your lunch sandwich (Hey, it’s 9 A.M. already!), and as soon as you take that first bite, the fish hits and you get to catch a striped bass just like the one in the picture.
It's all so easy it make you wonder why everybody doesn't do this all the time.