I have been told by many of the old timers that, before I came along, and even before the Shenandoah National Park was in existence, people used to turn their hogs loose in the mountains to forage for themselves, mostly on the wild chestnuts that were so abundant. The animals had cut marks in their ears so they could be identified and I would imagine the folks took some care to know the general area the hogs were using.
That little bit of history leads me to the saying that I have heard many times, that even a blind hog will find an acorn once in awhile. Which means, as you can probably ascertain, we all get lucky every now and then.
During my time here on the third rock from the sun, I have engaged in a number of different games. Besides the game of life, with marriage and children, I am talking about some of the lighter pleasures and pastimes all of us occasionally get involved with. I have played the hunting game, the fishing game, the music game, the flying model airplanes game (I now own a drone), the drag racing game (on the track, not the road), the garden game, the writing game, the motorcycle game and on and on.
For the last four or five years I have tried the surf fishing game. I have not been terribly good at it. Eight or nine years ago, when my bride and I owned a small recreational vehicle, we drove it to Nags Head and I did a little surf fishing. I hooked into one, repeat, one, nice big striped bass there in the surf off the barrier island, but the hook pulled out, and he went on his way, none the worse for wear, as far as I could tell. Not so for me. I had been hooked better than the fish.
So, for the last few years, along with my son and his cousin, John, I have made an annual trip about this time of year to Chincoteague and Assateague Island to have a go at surf fishing, and maybe try to catch a flounder or two in the channel. On previous trips I have caught skate, dog fish (which are quite tasty), horseshoe crabs, small sharks and flotsam and jetsam. That’s about it. This year had a slightly happier outcome.
Preparing for the adventure, I let the young men do most of the work, carry the bulk of the gear to the shore, etc. Several mornings I slept in, had some good coffee and breakfast, and headed on out to the shore to see how “we” were doing.
They had five or six surf rigs sitting up on tall sand spikes, and the hooks were all baited and the lines drawn up tight against a 5- or 6-ounce sinker. Then you wait. I took a chair. I found I was a better and more patient fisherman if I took a chair.
I hate to admit this, but there is a fair amount of luck involved in this type of fishing, at least the way we do it. When all the rods are prepped and in their holders, there isn’t a lot to do but keep careful watch on the tip of those surf rods and hope that one of them begins to dance, with rapid motions toward the surf. You never know which rod, if any, the fish is going to hit, and you never know which person is going to standing closest to the rod that gets the hit, if any of them do.
Normally, the person closest to the rod that starts dancing grabs the rod and tries to reel in the fish. If he doesn’t move fast enough, he is liable to get trampled by another person who saw the rod get hit.
It’s not a terribly large striper, or striped bass, but it wasn’t the smallest one caught that day, either. He was about 34 inches, and weighed right at 18 pounds. In the picture, you will notice that I am pretty well covered up with clothes. That is in deference to the melanoma that lurks in my body, and the desire to stay as far away from the surgeon as I can. I also had on socks and shoes. With two strong young men willing to brave the chilly Atlantic Ocean to cast the rods and dig sand fleas, I saw no real need to get wet.
When the surf rod next to me began the dance, I wasted no time getting it out of the holder and doing the very best I could to keep the fish on the line. On the shore where we were fishing, there was a pretty good incline from where the rods were set to the edge of the ocean. As I made one mighty heave to gain some advantage over the striper, he took off in the other direction and pulled me down the bank and into the water.
I did not care one bit. He could have pulled me to Bermuda, but the rod tip stayed up, and, when I could, I kept cranking. The battle lasted more than a few minutes. The striper headed south, and Jason kept saying, “square up,” meaning keep the fish directly in front of me. I did the best I could. At one point, near the end of the battle, the tension fell off the line and my heart sank. I thought he had pulled off. Someone must have seen my jaw drop, because they yelled, “You’ve still got him.”
And I still had him. I kept reeling. Jason waded into the water and grabbed the fish. I was happy. John took a couple of pictures. I told him to send one to my email address so I would have it when I got home. We shook hands all around. I had no cell phone service. I asked John if I could call my bride with the good news. He dialed her up and handed me the phone. When she answered, I didn’t get to say anything. She said, “Did you catch that fish?”
I said, “What fish?”
She said, “The one Molly just told me about. It’s on Facebook.”
Don’t you just love technology? Or not.