For years I’ve been fishing Staten Island and one of my favorite spots is a place we called Carmen’s Restaurant. It’s a beautiful hidden spot with a few nicely placed big rocks offering cover for some quality striped bass. The spot is below Carmen’s. A couple of friends of mine – Mike Napolitano, George Panetta and Herman, all great surfcasters – were fishing with me this particular afternoon.
It was one of those beautiful days in the middle of September, about 4 p.m. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and very little wind. The water was crystal clear. The waves were spread out about 30 to 40 feet, which made for a nice pool of water in between the waves. Within about 5 minutes I was catching blues between 5J and 10 pounds. There were four other fishermen plugging away and also catching blues. After about a half hour, the action began to quiet down so I took out a yellow Stan Gibbs popper and tossed it into the gap between two oncoming waves.
As soon as the plug landed, it looked as if someone had dropped a Volkswagen in the water! The way the fish came up and crashed the popper was unbelievable – a sight I will always remember. By this time the tide had dropped considerably and there was no more than three to six feet of water where the bass hit. I set up on the fish and she dove straight down. She must have hit bottom because she immediately reversed course and came flying at least five feet out of the water. She was literally airborne! Everyone stopped fishing and stared. I was in an out-of-body experience at that moment, and hooked up to the biggest bass on of my life.
People in the Restaurant above us came out to watch as the big cow bass ran 40 to 50 feet of line and then came completely out of the water again. Now everyone was transfixed, as this fish that we all guessed at well over 50 pounds acted like a sailfish on steroids. I couldn’t help but admire the striper’s tremendous power and determination as she struggled for survival. After the second aerial display, the big fish ran parallel to the beach about 100 feet out and then incredibly jumped completely out of the water a third time.
That third jump sapped more of her strength and I began reclaiming some of my line. I worked her in close but she was down the beach about 50 feet to my right. There was another fisherman in waders close to where the fish was coming in and I asked him if he could grab the fish. After I said it, I knew that was a mistake. He could not get hold of the fish so I started working the big bass closer to me, while I walked toward the fish. When he got to within 10 or 15 feet, I could see her clear as day in the water – a huge, beautiful striper. As I stood in awe of her size and beauty, I must have given her just a tiny bit of slack because she rolled like an alligator, wrapping my line around her big head. I had never seen a bass do that before. I panicked and was afraid she would break my line so I lowered the tip of my rod to let up on the pressure. As I did, she righted herself and shook her head back and forth with her gills flared. The Stan Gibbs popper flew straight at my head, narrowly missing my right ear. It was almost like she was saying “take that!” Then she turned and with a great flip of her huge tail, slowly disappeared out of sight as she headed for the safety of deep water. I dropped to my knees in the water in disbelief at what had just happened. Everyone on the beach and those on the deck above us, and especially myself, had enjoyed this epic battle with one of the smartest stripers I have ever encountered. I felt honored to have gone to battle with this majestic striper and was content knowing that she had won. She had certainly earned her freedom and I couldn’t be happier.