Fishing for glory

We fished in a tournament yesterday, and we lost.

The tournament was the annual Ladies Shoal Troll, a benefit for breast cancer research. Only women can fish, although men can (and do) captain the boats. Kevin and I invited our friends Amy and Beth to come with us.

This was a strategic maneuver. Amy owns Sports Port, the local bait and tackle shop, and could bring along gear and bait, which could help us catch fish. Beth owns Cape Cod Beer, the local brewery, and could bring along a couple of growlers of Beach Blonde Ale, which would help console us in the event that we didn’t catch fish. Had there been an award for Smartest Angler Invitations, we would have won, hands down. Unfortunately, there were awards only for largest striped bass and largest bluefish.

We certainly gave it the old college try, beginning with an alarm set for 4:00 AM. We got up, had a cup of coffee, and headed for the boat ramp. We had the boat in the water, set to go, by the time Amy and Beth met us there. By 5:00, we were underway.

Our plan was to fish the rips off Monomoy, an island that, on the map, looks like something gooey dripping off Cape Cod’s elbow. To get there, we have to motor through a couple of bays, and then travel a good twenty miles in Nantucket Sound.

Nantucket Sound can be a hairy place to travel twenty miles, and there were swells just shy of being big enough to make us turn back. Had they been traveling against us, rather than with us, I suspect we wouldn’t have gone, but a large following sea is a lot less uncomfortable than a large opposing sea. We hoped that the afternoon swells would be smaller because the tide would be going the other way, and we soldiered on.

A following sea makes for some pretty weird motion. The boat surfs down the surface of a wave, and then climbs up the next one. It often gets hung up, and slows down, at the wave’s top, and you feel like you’re just riding it. And then the boat goes over the crest, and you speed up down the next wave’s face. It’s exactly the kind of motion that can send your stomach into your eye sockets, and anyone with a tendency to seasickness can have a rough time of it.

I was the only one on our boat with such a tendency, but I’ve found that scopolamine works wonders. The only catch is that you have to remember to put the patch on the night before. I had forgotten, and put it on at 4:00. I had a rough time of it.

On the other side of Monomoy, though, it’s a different world. No more five-foot swells. There are flat areas of water over the shoals, and some chop in the deeper sections, but nothing like the Sound. The tournament was lines in at 7:00, and we arrived exactly on time.

Kevin and I had gone out to this part of the Cape just a couple weeks previously, with our friend Bob. We’d wanted to catch a specific part of the tide, when the water was ebbing fastest, but the ride out had been even worse than it was for the tournament, and took much longer than we’d planned. We had less than an hour of prime time, in which we caught two striped bass and lost two others – not a bang-up day, but not terrible.

This time, it was terrible. We tried the same lures we’d caught the stripers on before, with no luck. We tried different lures. We tried sending lures down to the bottom with lead-core line. We tried live eels. We didn’t get a single fish. And, the whole time we were out there, we didn’t see any other boat – and there were many – get a single fish, either.

There were fish there, but they were bluefish. You can tell the difference because striped bass eat fish head-first, while bluefish chomp the tail off and then eat the rest. If you bring up your pink Sluggo, and its tail is gone, you know it had a fatal encounter with a bluefish. It was likely a small bluefish, as a large one can take a Sluggo down whole.

We fished, fishless, until almost noon. And then we decided that we’d use the last two hours of the tournament to go out to our bluefish spot at Horseshoe Shoal. Horseshoe is about five miles dead south of Osterville, so we’d have to make our way back those twenty miles from the tip of Monomoy.

The water was still rough, but not as rough as it had been. And, by that time, my scopolamine had kicked in and I made the ride in relative comfort. “Relative” because all four of us got beat up by the constant upping and downing of the boat going into what looked to be about three-foot seas.

By the time we got there, we had exactly thirty-five minutes before lines had to come out at 2:00. Beth and I put out poppers, lures that stay on top of the water and imitate injured fish. Amy used a lure she’d brought, a mother-of-pearl Bomber, which goes under the water and moves back and forth in a very convincing imitation of swimming.

We put the lines in and started trolling. We had our first fish on in the first minute, and Amy reeled in a bluefish that looked to be about seven pounds. Now, a seven-pound bluefish is a good-sized fish, but it won’t win any tournaments. But I didn’t care, and I don’t think Amy or Beth did either. After being on that boat since 5:00 AM with absolutely nothing to show for it, we finally had a fish in the cooler.

And our day turned around. In the those last thirty-five minutes of the tournament, each of us caught a fish, and Amy caught several – her lure proved irresistible to those bluefish (and is available at Sports Port!). When 2:00 came around we were absolutely, positively having fun. So much fun that we kept fishing, even though nothing we caught after 2:00 would count for the tournament.

So, of course, at 2:10, Amy reeled in what was probably the biggest bluefish we’d ever caught on our boat, and the biggest she’d caught in her life. It weighed about twelve pounds – after Kevin had bled it.

We fished until about 2:30, and headed in with seven fish in the cooler. We did weigh our legal fish in – both Amy and I had caught fish that were almost seven pounds, and she edged me out by a couple ounces for the biggest legal fish of the day. Had her big fish been caught before two, and had we left it intact and chilled it on salt water, both strategies for keeping it as heavy as possible, we just might have gotten the bluefish bronze medal. It would have been close.

But I didn’t mind, and I don’t think Amy did either. Any day we go out and catch fish is a good day. And it’s an even better day if you get to go home, filet the fish, take a shower, and open a Cape Cod Beer Beach Blonde Ale.

Kevin and I have fished in a number of tournaments, and we like it. We invariably learn something about fishing our local waters, and we enjoy the camaraderie of other fishermen. But, for us, what makes tournament fishing worth it is the same thing that makes other fishing worth it – fish.