Yes. This is the story about the one. Finally.
But, there's a problem...
Over the past three years, I've learned a lot about the kayak tautog fishery in the lower Chesapeake Bay. I've put in a good amount of time, and if I had to guess, I've probably caught nearly 200 togs during that time. Though some were under 15" and not worth talking about, I've also had my fair share of near trophy togs and everything in between. Coming within less than an inch of citation twice this year made my desire to catch that 23"+ tog that much more insatiable. My quest for Togzilla became an obsession.
The day started with my wife going to yoga. By the time she got back, I was contemplating just staying at home since I wasn't going to have too much day light left by the time I got down to Virginia Beach. Tautog are a daytime only species. But the weather was so nice with the wind laying low, so I decided I had to give it one more try before switching gears for the big stripers. My little girl wished me good luck and I made the long drive down. After a tough time finding bait, I finally got on the water a little after 2pm.
My trusty Werner paddle got me out to the spot by 3:00, leaving me about 2 hours of tog-able time left. I had exactly one tog bite in those two hours. But, it was just like the two other 22"+ togs from earlier in the year... a single solid thump, and I didn't hesitate. Setting the hook, I knew immediately it was a heavy fish. After the first few cranks, the response came in the form of a violent jackhammering of the rod. I loved it. The bulldog of a beast put a nerve-racking bend in my rod that started from the handle and line started peeling off the super tight drag. I really didn't want it getting back to it's hole, so I stayed confident that my tackle would withstand it, and I pumped the rod and cranked. It fought hard the entire way up. When it got to the surface, before I could grab the leader, it slapped it's tail and went on another awe-inspiring run that had me praying that the hook stayed in. It did and my second landing attempt went smoothly. I grabbed the leader and as the head hit the gunwale, I used my leg to scoop it in. I smiled but didn't let myself get too outwardly excited until I measured it. Please, please, please be 23"...
23.5" RELEASE CITATION TAUTOG!
The emotions came pouring out. My screaming "Yeah! Woohoo! $#%^ yeah!" turned into maniacal laughter that echoed under the bridge. The lack of wind made it seem even louder. I was on cloud 9.
I released it in hope of keeping this kayakable fishery strong. Especially since it's a big female. Not too long after, the sun started touching the horizon which marked the end of my tog season. I laughed out loud and had yelling fits of joy during the entire paddle back. It was the greatest ending I could have asked for.
I should have stopped there. Before I left the house, my wife said "if you catch 'the one' today, you should just come home right then". And I agreed. The thing is, I bought eels before I got on the water, just in case I didn't catch "the one". But now I couldn't let the eels go to waste, right? Plus, Johnnie Caldwell sent me a message telling me he caught a 51" 47lber a few days earlier. I had to try.
I checked the car. Lots of damage, but it seemed drivable. I checked the bastardly buck. Dead. If I knew how to field dress a deer, it's ass end would have gone in the cooler. My thoughts went back to fishing since I was very close to where I was headed, Kiptopeke State Park. I figured I was already so close, I might as well dunk those eels. The car got there ok and I spent about 5 hours on the water. My buddy Ash Bishop came out to join me and he had two nice runs, but no hook ups. With no bites for me, I called it a night around 2:30 am and packed it up. I got a little past the toll booths coming back when my car started overheating. Crap. The radiator fluid was all gone. Lucky for me, Ash wasn't too far behind and picked me up. By the time he dropped me off at my parents' house in Virginia Beach it was 5am. The car was towed across the bridge-tunnel a few hours later.
Needless to say, my emotions are torn at the moment. I'm still smiling when I think of my long awaited trophy, but cursing under my breathe and damning the entire deer specie. But as time goes on, I'm sure Togzilla will prevail as the dominant memory and my insurance will make the mess go away.