Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Surprises can be good, too!

The wind was blowing 15-20 MPH with higher gusts, which is perfect for Red Drum fishing on the south side of Hatteras Island.  It doesn't make for a nice beach day, but it produces memories and in the end those are what we'll have when we're too old to throw 8 ounces of lead and a mullet head.

Having spent the first part of the day working on some long-delayed camper maintenance, we decided to slip down towards Hatteras Inlet to see if we could catch a few of the large Red Drum that slip out of the Pamlico Sound and feed against the ocean shoreline.

It was June of 2011 when Sandy landed her first citation Red Drum, a 48" beast that had nearly pulled her off her feet.  She did a great job fighting and landing that fish in the rough surf.  This gave us hope that we could repeat that performance this evening.

Sandy's 48" citation Red Drum - June 2011

The first casts were shorter casts in the deep holes between the shoreline and a shoal that appeared where you'd normally have the first bar.  This close to the inlet you don't have a regular bar, but a scattering of shoals and holes.  This shoal was doing a fine job of producing a blanket of foam on top of the water as the wave crumbled on its way to shore.

Periodically our lines would suddenly slacken and move toward shore.  This caused us to grab them from the spike and run hilariously toward the dune, all the time pumping them in an attempt to pull out the slack and cause the circle hook to find the corner of the fish's mouth.  After a couple of smaller bluefish and a few empty hooks it became apparent that the bluefish were lifting the 8 ounce pyramid sinkers off of the sandy bottom while cleaning off our hooks.

We had arrived at dead high tide and were now about halfway down the tide.  The whitewater in front of use looked perfect and I was confident that there were Drum feeding.  We just had to get through the bluefish first.

I sent my next bait a little farther from shore, this time dropping the sinker and a chunk off Spot onto the closest edge of the shoal in front of us.  We were now about halfway down the tide and the whitewater looked like a Currier and Ives print, if either of them had been drum fishermen.

After a few minutes without any action, I reeled in the bait a few feet to make sure it wasn't buried in the sand.  It's not uncommon for a sinker and bait to be buried in minutes.  Everything looked good and so I sat back down on the tailgate, tucking out of the wind which, by this time, had dropped to about 15 MPH.

After all of the slackening lines we'd seen, I told Sandy that I'd just like to hear a 'classic' drag run where the clicker goes off in that delightful sequence of accelerating clicks until it is screaming "Fish! Fish! Fish!".

A few minutes later I heard it.  Click, click click click, cliiiiiiiiiiiiiiick!  Then it stopped.

I carefully lifted the rod from the spike, turned off the clicker, tightened the drag on the Saltist 30 reel and reeled as I lowered the rod tip.  A slow upward sweep of the rod tip and we were hooked up!

I got a series of surges that felt like a big drum then the line went slack.  I started reeling the line in as fast as I could trying to get some tension on it again.  I felt pull enough to know that the fish was hooked but was swimming directly to shore.  Suddenly I had a strong steady pull on the rod and my heart sank.  I looked at Sandy and said "I think this is a damn ray!".

Suddenly I saw a boil in the water just behind the trough at the edge of the beach and then felt head shake as the fish took off down the beach.  This was no ray.

I ducked under the other line that was still out and took off in hot pursuit.  I was behind this fish and I needed to get at least even to it so that I could apply some leverage and get it to shore.

The fight didn't feel that much like a Drum.  The head shake was a little quicker and not as 'deep' as a Drum's deep, slow surges.  Still, I knew whatever it was I was going to do my best to land it.

About 150 yards up the beach the run stopped and I had gotten the fish into the breakers at the edge of the shoreline.  A flash of a forked tail told me this wasn't a Red Drum, but made me think I had on a shark.  So much for a Red Drum citation from the surf.  I was going to reel in this shark and at least be happy for the fight.

Another couple of waves gave me the opportunity to pull this fish in a little closer and as the 'shark' rolled I saw the unmistakeable side of a Cobia.  Each wave would roll the fish and allow me to take another 15-20 feet of line onto the reel.  Each pause between the waves would allow the fish to turn and swim towards the ocean, taking that same 15-20 feet of line back in a game of piscatorial tug-of-war.

This went on for several wave cycles and finally it appeared that the fish was wearing down.  Finally the 50 lb. leader entered the rod tip and made its way onto the reel's spool.  This was a minor victory in that I didn't have to worry about the 17 lb. mainline breaking any more, but there was still the chance that the hook could tear loose if pulled too hard.

Another couple of waves and the Cobia slid up the wash and onto the smooth wet sand above the surf.  I remember thinking that this fish needed to 33" to be a keeper.  Looking at the fish laying there, it felt too close to call.

I grabbed the end of the tape in one hand and the 33" mark in the other and pulled it tight.  There was fish left over!  I let my fingertips slide down the tape until I finally reached the tip of the tail at the 47" mark.  The needle on the scale at the tackle shop hit a solid 35 lbs.

Cobia near Hatteras Inlet, NC - 47 inches, 35 pounds

In closing, I say "Go fishing."  You never know what can happen, but you have to have a hook in the water to be in the game.

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