For many inshore and surf anglers out there, catching a 50-pound striper is the ultimate accomplishment. For 13-year-old Ben Lowder who makes his home in the Hudson Valley, he not only caught his fish of a lifetime, but he landed the huge fish under circumstances that made his catch even more remarkable.
The youngster is no newcomer to the striper game. He and his dad Bruce, fishing from the family’s boat on Long Island Sound, had caught hundreds of stripers over the previous month, but not a single keeper. His biggest ever striper was a 25-pounder, but this season’s onslaught of shorts had him getting desperate to catch a keeper. He had been following the reports coming from the South Shore where many quality stripers were being caught, and catching a keeper seemed like a pretty sure bet. So for Ben’s 13th birthday, the father and son team steered south to Captree on Long Island’s South Shore. The youngster had fished aboard Capt. Ken Higgin’s Captree Pride a couple of years before and had won the pool so he never hesitated when it came to picking a boat. No doubt he was hoping to repeat his good fortune. Little did he know he would do it in spades.
Despite Ben’s optimism, keepers were not coming easy on November 12. While others on the boat managed to land a fair number of keepers, Ben and his dad kept falling just short of the 28-inch minimum size limit. They were down to the last drift of the day, and the chance to catch a keeper was fading fast. Nearing the end of the drift, Ben noticed a school of bunker nearby on the surface. Relying on past experiences from fishing Long Island Sound, the savvy youngster had a spinning rod with a bunker snagger rigged and ready for just such an opportunity. He wasted no time grabbing the outfit and immediately snagged a bunker. Within a minute of snagging the big baitfish, the youngster’s light action rod doubled over and he was hooked up to what was obviously a good size fish.
Unfortunately, some of the private boats nearby also spotted the school of bunker and raced in to take a shot at snagging these prime baits. One guy, in his haste to get within range of the school, or who was just being plain inconsiderate, passed within 30 or 40 feet along the side of the railed Captree Pride. This despite all of the yelling from captain, crew and other anglers on the boat. As a result, he ran across Ben’s line, which by some miracle was not cut by the boat’s prop, but did manage to foul somewhere on the boat’s bottom. The guy finally stopped, cut his engine, and raised his stern drive to try to free Ben’s line, but to no avail. Captain Ken then sprang into action, deftly maneuvering the Pride just off the other boat’s stern, from where the mates were able to use a gaff to grab hold of Ben’s line beyond where it was caught under the boat. They then spent the next few minutes working with the youngster to land the fish by hand-lining it. The big striper took them completely around the boat, and then all the way down to the stern, where they finally managed to gaff it.
Needless to say it was quite an adventure, with lots of luck involved. How the 20-pound test did not break or get cut after being stuck on the other boat’s bottom is anyone’s guess. Ben and his dad were quick to point to Captain Ken and his crew for their efforts in overcoming all of the obstacles it took to get the big bass to the boat. They deserve a lot of credit for helping Ben catch what turned out to be a fish of a lifetime. To my knowledge, it is the biggest striped bass ever landed on a party boat. Back at the dock, the huge fish pulled the scale at Captree Bait & Tackle down to 58.25 pounds!