Memories of a fishing fraternity

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Several times in my life I have been privileged to be a member of angling fraternities. I am not referring to formal angling clubs, but to those informal groups that just seem to happen when the same guys fish the same waters a great deal.

The first of such groups I remember was on New Jersey’s Manasquan-Bay Head Canal. Now, this canal is a curious place. Probably about 100 yards wide and three miles long, it links the Manasquan River with Barnegat Bay and it is about at the beginning of the great inland waterway that extends all the way to Florida.

By day the canal belongs to great throngs of bait dunkers who, according to the time of the year, fish for winter flounders, tautogs and an occasional fluke or summer flounder. However, after dark the canal attracted a secretive group of anglers who prowl its bulkheaded banks in search of striped bass and an occasional gray trout, called &uot;weakfish&uot; up there.

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Even these striper fishermen were divided into groups. There were the ultra-secretive regulars and the not-so-secret anglers who really didn’t know a whole lot about fishing for stripers, or anything else for that matter. This group usually came early and left early, but the regulars would arrive as the turnings of the tide dictated.

I was one of the regulars. I fished every night and knew all of the other regulars with whom I shared the fishing intelligence of the day. We were a close knit group. Seldom did we meet on any pre-arranged schedule, but meet we would, usually one on one, on the canal or at the Sunset Diner which was the unofficial feeding place of our nonexistent group.

Yet, with these fellows one had a sense of belonging. I was a kid, just out of high school who ran a tackle shop.

We exchanged information about the fishing, about tackle and we sometimes just enjoyed small talk at the diner. We seldom called one another or met anywhere except on the banks of the canal. In later years. Just before I ended my &uot;membership&uot; by serving in the Army, we started a formal organization: The Shore Surf Club, which was a huge organization the last time I checked.

The next time I found myself in a similar group was right here in River City, another informal group that fished the Chicka-hominy River and Lake. Sometimes we ran into each other at the old James River Ferry Landing at Jordan Point. Or we would bump into each other at Ed Allen’s Camp on the lake or at Lacy Allen’s Camp, the old Allen’s Camp # 2, (now the Riverside Camp) on the river. Like the group on the canal in Jersey we simply knew each other and because most were die hard fishermen who fished in any kind of weather the year around we respected each other, swapped secrets and dispensed fishing information that proved to be valuable.

Of course bass fishing was infinitely better in those days. An eight-pound largemouth was still a fairly attainable possibility and there were days when an eight fish limit wasn’t too hard to collect. It could be that those old bass were a little slower. We didn’t need a 100 horsepower motor to catch them. Most of us carried 7.5 or 9 h.p. motors in the trunks of our cars and either rented a boat on the lake or river or had one tied out somewhere. The bass boat hadn’t been invented yet

Actually, I fear for the future of bass fishing. The fishing pressure being brought to bear on them is awesome on some lakes. One fellow told me this week that he landed a five-pound bass on Buggs Island Lake Saturday, but before he landed it seven boats had converged on him. Actually, there are weekends when there are several hundred boatloads of anglers on Buggs Island Lake.

To their credit, most anglers practice catch and release bass fishing, but somehow the average bass keeps getting smaller and the bass are more scarce. At least that’s the way it appears to me. I call about 30 to 50 freshwater locations each week. I hear a six-pound bass will break the jackpot on Chickahominy Lake.

The British have been into competitive fishing for decades. They call it Match Fishing, but it is not a single species sport. Their contests are similar to a surf fishing tournament here. Each contestant is assigned a fishing location and the weight of the mixed bag in a specified time determines the winner and all fish are returned alive.

One problem I have with surf contests is I spent a lifetime learning how to &uot;read&uot; a beach. Usually, I can find a good spot to catch fish. If I’m assigned a fishing location I can’t try to test my skill and that’s part of the fun. Also, I like to call my bass lures plugs, not crankbaits. And I call them by name. What ever happened to the Jitterbug? Besides, I always though crankbaits were boxes of chocolates for your mother-in-law!

Field Notes

The Feds are testing the waters to see if white marlin should be declared endangered species and lots of American anglers are angry. Even if they are declared endangered it will cut no ice with far eastern long liners who kill most white marlin…Off shore, the Fingers area is hot for gaffer dolphin, bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna and bluefish…Cobia fishing remains good in the bay…A new federal rule prohibits leaders on pound nets in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay with a mesh 12 inches or larger as a sea turtle protection measure. Leaders with stringers are also prohibited. Between 1995 and 2001 a total of 958 loggerheads, 59 Kemp ridleys, 17 leatherbacks, one green turtle and 32 unidentified turtles were found dead on Virginia beaches in May and June…The manatee seen in the river was probably the same one said to be seen in Back Bay recently….In Seattle a protestor drove his car in front of a federal agent’s car while the agent was rounding up resident geese near an airport .The protestor, a 55 year-old man, was charged with assault. Both the officer and the protestor were injured…Excellent croaker action is reported in the Reedville areas where anglers are encountering quite a few going 2 to 2-1/2 pounds….Large spot are showing at Harrison’s Pier…Three cobia were caught at Grandview Pier last week and one was taken at Buckroe Pier. ..We should be seeing some waterfowl forecasts shortly..The lack of rain bodes poorly for grain production on dove fields…This is the time when geese are molting and wildlife people are catching and tagging them…Smallmouth bass streams are still running very slow. The waters in these rivers are warm, sending the larger bass to the bottom of deeper holes and the smaller fish to the riffles where there is more oxygen in the water.

Jack Randolph regular contributes a column to the Suffolk News-Herald.