The tide had already turned and was running hard over and across my favored area where it had set up a feeding zone close to the rocks. I approached slowly and set things in motion by hand lining the biggest eel I had out and behind the kayak. The eel began swimming nervously no more than 20 feet behind. I took a deep breath in anticipation and started my approach. Every nerve was on edge – I could feel the tension coming off the water. The big fish were still here. I knew I’d be in for a Nantucket Sleigh ride if I hooked up a late season bass.
After three passes – nothing. I settled down and thought things through. The morning was cool and clear with a slight mist coming off the surface. I blew lightly on my hands to warm them thinking “you’re nuts to still be out here in a kayak” but what the heck – I’m a fisherman! Feeling totally perplexed and a bit let down, I turned and headed out to deeper water. I was in 4 feet of water and the current was moving fast. I would swing out to the left and be on my way. Suddenly the quiet of the morning was shattered as a huge bass hit the eel just a few feet behind. The sound was explosive — it sounded like a well fed lab jumping in after a stick! I grabbed the rod, set the hook and knew instantly I was in trouble.
The rod began to buck up and down in my hand and the reel began to scream. I use a Shimano Thunnus capable of 20 pounds of drag and had that thing locked down. No fish had ever pulled drag like this, and I’ve caught them to 50 pounds. This was a monster. I was being manhandled right out of the gate. The first thirty seconds are crucial in a close-quarters fight. One mistake can end up badly in a kayak – you are in their element in a small craft and a big fish has the advantage. She was running sideways instead of directly in front, and I had no way of stopping her. I quickly glanced up to get my bearings and was immediately alarmed at the position I was in. I was 10 feet from the rocks and going directly into the rip! I use a trolling motor on my kayak, which is a distinct advantage in situations like this as it lets me use both hands and allows for good maneuverability. I quickly engaged reverse. Trouble is, she was still pulling sideways with that huge tail beating the water and I could feel myself teetering on the brink of disaster. No way was I letting go of my prized rod by Crafty One Customs. She’d have to pop me out of the kayak and in 13 years that had never happened. No sooner said than done. Everything began moving in slow motion. With the drag tight and her pulling sideways I was being lifted right out of the kayak. I hit the water in stunned disbelief as my inflatable jacket filled with air. My head was above water and I held my rod high and continued the battle. A valiant effort but there was not much I could do—the fight was over.
I had a heck of a time collecting what I could. Most everything had sunk to the bottom or floated away. After flipping the kayak I was able to get back in. The trolling motor was shot but I still had a paddle. I saw my cooler and went after it – there was one more eel in there and I wasn’t going back like a drowned and beaten rat. I put on that last eel and made another pass. As luck would have it – fish on! I went home cold and wet but feeling a bit better about not getting skunked. I had a nice bass and a great story to tell.
There’s a first for everything and this one had many lessons – I would change up a lot of my rigging and safety equipment as a result. I was glad she bested me and got away. I will never forget the explosive sound of her hitting that eel in less than 4 feet of water – it made my heart stop! I know I’ll get another shot at my personal best, and either way, I would have released her to live and fight another day.