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Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

   2014 39.95 HSD w VIDor PH-Banner2-500-x-125

Tidal Slam and a Runaway Train

The sofa was telling my body that I really needed to stay put one recent evening, but my brain was saying otherwise. It had been way too long since I had put the boat in the water and wet a line for shad. So, when my wife came home I wrenched myself out of the comfortable grip of the sofa and hooked up the boat, tossed a few ultralight rods rigged with tiny crappie jigs in the truck and headed for town.
The City Dock area is not a favorite place of mine to fish, but each spring I do try to catch some shad there. Once I realized that by taking my small boat and putting it in I could escape the crowded bank, trash littering the ground and much of the loud conversation—I found the fishing to be better too.

After anchoring we began tossing our small jigs downriver towards the next bridge. The air was perfect, minus the pollen. At just under 70 degrees, casting was done with ease. My wife flung her jig towards the main channel, while I hugged the edge of it with my jig.

Geese honked as they flew overhead and much of the conversation that was overheard at the dock was left behind. Birds, such as robins, twittered in nearby trees. A pair of mallards zipped downstream at treetop level looking for a place to put up for the evening.

We had the channel edge to ourselves. No boats were seen up or downstream. Not bad for leaving the house 40 minutes prior.

Within two casts Missy hooked a nice hickory shad that was full of roe. For those of you that don’t know what roe is, think “poor man’s caviar”. I relish the roe, as do my daughters.

Missy enjoys catching the fish, but frowns at the sight of it cooking in the pan on fine spring mornings after a gobbler hunt. A cast later I hooked a nice white perch and promptly put that in the bucket as well. It too had roe destined for the pan that very night, along with those fresh filets. On the fourth combined cast Missy hooked into something quite big. I knew right away what she had, and I was jealous.

A few minutes later I confirmed what I thought and helped her ease the large American shad boatside. We took a few pictures and released it. These fish were in very short supply just ten years ago but now they are becoming relatively common thanks to the moratorium on keeping them and the massive efforts by VDGIF fisheries biologists. These fish are like miniature tarpon and dance and run with grace through the water. Although they are not good table fare, even when you could keep them, they are definitely sought after for their sporty fight.

I had not caught one in a long time and now Missy had two to her credit!

The fifth cast downstream yielded a striped bass approximately 13 inches long. Things were interesting. That was four different species of fish in five casts. The striper was immediately returned to the water.

I don’t keep up with the numbers and names much, but I am aware that some anglers consider catching more than three species on a single trip a “hat trick” or “slam”. We were approaching a tidal slam of sorts and by cast number ten we had it. Missy caught a herring, which of course was immediately returned to the water.

I gave up keeping track of how many fish were caught on what casts, but to catch five species in 10 casts is truly a testament to the spring run of fish and the blessing we had on the water that evening.

We caught several more striper, another perch, a few more hickory shad and I even caught a few American shad to enjoy. These fish were all roe fish but quickly returned to the water so they could run upriver and spawn. One of the hickory shad we caught was darting around the boat when we both saw a monster catfish turn on it and take a swipe, narrowly missing it. The catfish looked to be 36+ inches long.

The night was growing cooler, but in a pleasant way, when I realized it would soon be time to go. We could not ask for better weather or time together to enjoy the outdoors. We had roe for breakfast, fish for supper and an incredible evening that was about to be capped off with a mystery I would have loved to solve.
As I flung my tiny crappie jig downstream I thought about letting it fall to the bottom and then taking it back in. Just as I started to pick up line and turn the reel, I felt a sudden tug and then my rod bent in a deep U shape. Have you ever watched NASCAR and heard the air wrenches as they strip off the lug nuts? That was my drag in short machine gun like bursts. The tiny rod and reel were being abused in a most definite and sudden way.

“Oh no…Uh oh…” was about all I could say. More of the air wrench sound burst from my reel before the train of a fish turned to the bank giving me an opportunity to take up some line. Missy was frantically pulling in her line, watching wide eyed as the water boiled downstream from us. After having a four-pound American shad on my little rod, I thought I knew what a big fish felt like. I was most horribly wrong. Whatever was on my line this time was MUCH bigger and not pleased to have a small hook piercing its mouth. The fish ran towards us and I spun the reel handle frantically. Then my fight suddenly turned for the fish’s favor. The line stopped very abruptly as if the fish were making a decision. I kept the bend in the rod, not able to really turn the fish but not giving up any line either. Just as suddenly as it had stopped, the fish whirled and steamed straight away like a train out of control. My reel was screaming in agony as I mouthed, “NNNNNOOOOOOOOO!”
The screaming drag went on a few more seconds and then a sharp, “CRACK” echoed down the river and it was over. I sure wish I had seen that fish to know what it was. As if on cue, a train lumbered across the bridge wailing its arrival. It was time to go home.

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