The alarm went off at 5:45am and my eyes were wide open. No snooze button today. Optimism swelled as I brushed my teeth, kissed my wife, and got in my already loaded car. There was no traffic the entire way, not even at the HRBT and the tunes were cranking when I pulled into the parking lot at Ocean’s East 2 tackle shop. As I get out of the car, the guy taking out the trash smiles and askes “how many fiddlers today, bud?” It almost felt like Cheers, where everybody knows your name and already has your beer ready for you. 4 dozen please, big bag of ice, and I’m off to Chicks beach, lickety split. I’m ready to launch to perfect conditions at 8am when a family comes over and oohhs and aaahhs and asks about what I’m fishing for. I tell them sheepshead, which they never heard of. I just smiled and said “they’re a ton of fun”. As my butt hit the seat of my “cool ride”, I was wished good luck and happy hunting. I yelled back “thanks” as I took my first few paddle strokes. I love the first few strokes of the day.
After a smooth paddle out, I was on the spot under the CBBT. For those of you who really want to know, I use 30lb braid, to swivel, to 40lb leader with dropper loop, size 1 Owner J Hooks, 2 or 3 oz sinkers with the swivel on top. My dropper loop is around 6 or 7 inches above the sinker. All on a 7’ medium heavy Shimano Teremar rod. Anyway, I get out there and immediately I get bites. They’re quick and fluttering bites, so I knew they weren’t sheepies. It turned out to be these guys.
I switch pilings and immediately felt a different type of bite. Light, subtle and before I knew it, my hook was clean. I knew it was a sheepshead. I quickly re-bait and get it down to the same spot. As soon as it hit bottom, I felt that same subtle bump and as soon as the second tap came, I energetically swung up with the rod and... swing and a miss. Without hesitation and as quickly as possible, I re-bait again. I get the fiddler down to the bottom, hoping to feel that tap again, but it’s not there. A few minutes go by and my heart beat goes back to normal and I let out a long sigh. And bamm! There it was, barely a tap and my muscles instantly knew what to do. I guess the adrenalline was still pumping. Drag ripping mayhem ensues as my kayak gets banged around the piling I was on and I see my line rip towards the next piling, I finally get my leg around to the right side, kick off and away from the piling and desperately try to stop this fish. He gets turned around, I get him close enough to see (or for him to see me) and he goes on another amazing run. Taking drag he pulls me all the way back to the bottom and I feel something strange happen and he’s gone. That strange feeling was my sinker getting lodged in something and getting broken off at the swivel. The swivel was still on the bottom of my rig, but no lead, and my hook was bent open. I was in shear and utter amazement at the power I just felt. I pulled on the line from the reel to feel how much drag I had going. It was pretty tight. I remembered looking on Shimano’s website and it said max drag pressure for that Corvalus reel was 11 lbs. so I tightened it all the way down.
The next couple of hours were spent talking to God. And I’m not really the religious type, but it’s funny how fishing will do that. I fed a bunch more puffers, had a few more highly suspect sheepshead bites, but no hook ups. At this point, I was even running low on fiddlers. I took a deep breath, looked up at the sky and on my exhale, I told myself, it’s a beautiful day, gorgeous sky, a perfect light breeze, it’s not insanely hot, happy families playing on the beach, I’m out on the water, doing what I love to do..... today is a good day. Sure as hell beats the office anyway!
Well, just then, my muscles went into auto drive again and set the hook on something huge. Even with drag rippping, 3/4 of my rod is pulled into the water and my kayak started leaning as the line shot under the boat. I desperately held onto the rod as I leaned back the other way. An intense battle commenced as I brought him to the surface and he dove back down. If I remember it correctly, he did that about 4 or 5 times and each time he dove back down, drag ripped and my heart came up to my throat... once again, praying to god that the hook stayed in him. Eventually, I got him to stay on the surface. When I saw that the hook placement was good, I grabbed the leader, dragged him over the gunwale and it was like that Berkley commercial where they show a bunch of guys yelling “Woo Hoo!”. Except mine was louder and followed by “#%&K YEAH! I LOVE THIS $H*@!!!”
About 20 minutes later I ran out of bait, so I paddled in, proud of my one fish. I packed up my equipment and drove over to Ocean’s East to show them what their fiddlers did for me. It ended up weighing exactly 11lbs and was my first citation sheepshead. I felt the adrenaline still rushing as I signed the paper work and I was all smiles when I asked for 4 dozen more fiddlers. The guy looked up and asked “Are you serious?”. I looked at the clock. It read 11:45 am. I said “Damn skippy, I took the day off of work and I’m gonna spend as much of that time fishing.” He replied “Sounds good man. Go gityerself ‘nother one”. I smiled, got my bait, a bite to eat and I was back on the water in no time.
Well, I know this story’s getting kinda long, so I’ll wrap it up. I spent 4.5 more hours on the water, hooked and lost another one, and ended up with 2 more citations!!! 13lb 4oz and 13lb 2oz !!! One of them wasn’t hooked very well so I used my leg to help lift it into the boat and I got the marks to show it.
I showed back up at Oceans East and put on a spectacle. After signing the paper work, I dropped off one fish at my parents and before I hit the road I stopped off to get some gas. As I was pumping, I looked at my reflection in the glass and realized my fishing shirt was on inside out. I chuckled and said to myself “Today was a good day”.
p.s. I might have to wear my fishing shirts inside out from now on.
Also, I decided that I’m not going to keep any more of these big sheepies.