Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Zach's Classics: The Rockfish

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I may have said this before, but bass fishing wasn't exactly my *thing* growing up. Don't get me wrong, I caught a LOT of bass growing up, but always from the bank and always at Humphrey Lake.

Dad didn't exactly have a bass boat, or really the time to bass fish. My granddad did, however. And, if you didn't know, I spend most of my summers and free time with my grandparents. Granddad LOVED fishing. But, he wasn't too keen on bass fishing.

He did, however, have a fair obsession with rockfish. Now, if you don't know what rockfish are, take a second to do some research. Now, in the late 80s, rockfish were all the hype up at Tim's Ford lake. You could catch some MASSIVE rockfish. At the time, the record (now broken) was around 45 pounds. And, each and every trip to the State Park, I would spend all the time I had staring at these mounted rockfish on the walls. Every trip up there, I would dream about hooking into one.

Now, in approximately 1989, we took a guided fishing trip out of the State Park on Tim's Ford. We took at least 8 family members on this trip. It involved dragging 8 inch shiner around suspending them in 20 feet of water (or more) and hoping to come across a school of these massive fish. That day, we hauled in a 20 pounder and my granddad was HOOKED.

Being that I was 5 years old, I don't remember how long it was between this trip and our next one. But, Granddad mimicked, as close as he could, the process we had seen on our guided trip. We showed up at the State Park before dawn. Granddad, a sucker for sweets, bought us breakfast, which were home made doughnuts and eclairs. Myself, I enjoyed a creme filled and chocolate covered eclair and washed it down with coffee. Yes, I am a 3rd generation engineer, which means I *literally* was born drinking coffee.

After eating our doughnuts and getting some local scouting info, we purchased a dozen or so gold fish, because they were out of shiners. Granddad eyed them very carefully, since this was NOT what we had caught the fish on the previous trip. But, considering they had nothing else, we took them. We dumped them into his custom made bait tank. He had learned that baitfish will get in the corners of a tank (if it has corners) and kill themselves. I don't really know how, unless they give them a deadly concussion. Additionally, these baitfish need massive aeration. Since his 15 foot Crosby didn't have a livewell, he had taken a rectangular foam cooler, taken sheet metal and slipped it inside the rectangular cooler, making the inside round, then made a custom aerator. It worked fantastic, even if it took up half the boat.

So, with the scouting info we had, we drove the old Crosby to the local "hotspot". If I recall, what we did was, we took the bait and hooked it just under the backbone. Several feet above the hook, we attached a ounce or 2 ounce sinker. Then, 6 feet or so above that, a very deep diving crank bait.

Looking back, this wasn't the optimum way of rigging it, knowing what I know now. But, it was the best way to covering area while maintaining the current depth. After all, it was much harder to target fish way back when, because fish finders certainly weren't what we have now.

Granddad wasn't big on using the latest and greatest fishing equipment, so I was rigged up on my Zebco 33 reel and rod. I was perched up on the front deck of the boat in the plastic backed swivel chair. Granddad drove the boat while holding a rod, and Granny sat in the rear swivel seat holding her own. I recall that it was a hot day. I think it was August or September. But, I have to say, I was an absolute trooper, as you will read from my Classics.

It was around noon. We had eaten our lunch of boiled eggs and Vienna Sausages. And then it happened.

Something smashed the baitfish. And, it nearly jerked the rod out of my hand. I don't know what pound test line was on the 33, but it must have been stout to put up with the fish. The drag was set too tight, but I didn't know what drag was! Granddad kept yelling for me to loosen it. In a panic, I hit the release button and the fish took off for deep water, yards and yards at a time.

He jumped up to the front of the boat and loosened my drag. I engaged the reel and started pumping the rod. I would take in some line. The fish would strip off some line. I lost all track of time, except that each time the fish made a run, I would have to prop my feet on the rail to keep the fish from jerking me over board. That sounds dramatic, but in this case, it wasn't. I was 5 years old and I might have weighed 50 pounds. Probably closer to 40. The fish tired. I tired. But, I had help.

As the fight went on, Granny would hold the rod tip up for me while Granddad maneuvered the boat. Eventually, we spotted the deep diving crank, so Granddad killed the motor and grabbed the net. The fish rolled up to the boat and he netted the monster. The net had a built in scale, which topped out at 13 pounds. Granddad deemed this a 13 pound fish.

Now what? The bait cooler was huge, but wouldn't come close to holding the massive fish. Granddad was never one to toss back a fish. He believed in eating them all. Even a 13 pounder. And, since Tim's Ford is pretty far away from our home, and we were pretty far out on the lake, we had to figure out a way of keeping this fish alive.

Finally, he rummaged around and found some rope. He threaded it through the fishes gills, then dropped the fish over the side. It managed to preserve the fish terrifically until we got home.

After we had already headed home, Granddad remembered that he had a host of baitfish left over. What would we do with them? He planned to toss them in the woods and let the raccoons eat them. But, I didn't see any reason to waste them. After a bit of begging, I convinced him to let me have them. My dad had a large aquarium that never was used anymore. I filled it up and dumped the fish in. Amazing, the hearty fish lived for many many years. This fish did not. He was eaten.