Taking the Record Striped Bass of 1913On August 17th, last past, in company with my brother-in-law, Carl F. Kraut, I started out in my 13 foot smack-boat to try my luck at striped-bass fishing. We sailed down to the south side of Nashwena Island to some favorite bass pools of mine, for I have fished these pools for 28 years. Nashwena Island is one of the Elizabeth Islands. This group of islands extends from Woods Hole to the Sow and Pigs Light Boat and separates Buzzards Bay from Vineyard Sound. We had had a strong breeze from the southwest for three days, and there was a heavy swell running and the water was quite thick, which is favorable for bass fishing.
As Told by Charles B. Church In His Own Words
Going through Cannapitsit it was quite rough, so I did not stop on the point but kept on down to the big bend, which is about midway of Nashwena Island. I took in my little sprit-sail and Carl took the oars; as we neared the shore I noticed there was quite a lot of seaweed floating on the water, so I said to Carl , "We will try the bend, but it looks as if we can't fish here." I took my rod, which is made of bamboo, tip being 6 feet 6 inches, and weighs 11 ounces, butt 12 ounces, and was made by Abbie and Imbrie of New York. I then took a dry flour bag, as I use live eels for bait at that time of year, and took hold of an eel about 12 inches long and hooked the 7/0 limnick* (sic) bass hook through the lips of the eel, which was very lively. I then reeled the eel up to about two feet from the end of my rod, ready for a cast. Carl then backed the boat in towards the shore, keeping her headed towards the surf, for the nearer shore you get, the rougher it is and we had to keep just outside the breakers, for it is all rocks and each rock is covered with rockweed and every swell that rolls in this rockweed washes in and the undertow washes it out again, ready for the next sea.
Getting close in as we dared to, I cast the eel into the surf within two feet of the beach and then I reeled it in towards me just fast enough so that it would not get in under one of the many rocks that are there. When I got the eel close to the boat I noticed there was some long eel-grass on the hook , so I took a match out of my pocket and bent it onto my line about two feet above my hook so it would catch this eel-grass and in that way, keep my eel as clear as possible. I then made another cast and felt a strike, so I said to Carl "Hold on!" but the fish did not take it.
I will here have to explain a little so you will understand that when a striped bass sees an eel he swims by it, striking it with his tail, which stuns the eel and it sinks, then he grabs the eel by the head and he swallows it. This is when you strike him. Now, you see, when I felt the strike I said "Hold on!" for Carl knows what's coming. If he had kept rowing I could not have let the eel sink, or, if I kept reeling him towards the boat, he would not sink; so, you see, it is very important that your oarsman knows his job, for in the surf it is very easy to get tipped over and both of you have got to be wide awake all the time. I then made another cast and very quickly had another strike, but he would not bite. I said to Carl, "He must be a small one; perhaps there is another one with him. Let's try the five-rock pool" (which is only about 100 feet to the eastward). Carl kept the bow of the boat off, as the wind was still southwest, and we soon got abreast of the pool. I then made a cast in front of the two inshore rocks and behind the three off-shore ones. The eel had hardly struck the water when I had a strike and said I, "This is something else!" for I saw a whirl which I knew was made by a large bass. I waited for a few seconds before I struck him, for he was swimming round and round in a circle, my line lying loose on the water. I did not dare strike him up and down, because a bass has a row of sandpaper teeth in the center of his upper jaw and if your line hits that it will cut like a razor and you will lose your fish. Carl was as wise to the situation as I, and he pulled hard on one oar, splashing it all he could. That scared the fish and he started off for deep water, going by the boat on the west side, so I could strike him sideways and the line would draw down in the side of his jaw, for all bass caught with live eels should have the hook down in their stomach if handled properly. I use a thumb-stall knit out of twine on my left thumb, and just as soon as I strike the fish I hold the rod straight up in the air in my left hand, my thumb against the reel, the butt pressing against my stomach.
The fish started off shore; so did Carl, for deep water was the only place for us to save him. He took about 100 yards of line on the first rush, then he started to roll, but I reeled up on him so hard he came like lightening right for us and ran under the boat. But Carl was watching the line as well as I , and was turning the boat as fast as he could, so that when the fish ran under the boat and got on the other side, my line was all clear. Then he made for shore full speed. I yelled for him to pull hard to the westward, holding all the strain the rod would stand and hearing the fish to the south. I kept him clear of the three large rocks, but he went around one large rock to the eastward of them, so Carl acked water for all he was worth directly east 'til we got south and east of this rock, then we backed due north so I could draw the fish clear from that rock before he cut my line off.
It was awfully rough and the boat would ride way up in the air on some of those swells so I could hardly keep my feet. I held the rod just as high as I could, and we took in about a half barrel of water, when the fish started for the boat, going out across the stern for the southeast and then off-shore for about 150 yards, for I did not attempt to hold him very hard, as I wanted to get offshore myself. I was getting tired and Carl was all wet, as well as tired. The fish lay quite still 'til I reeled almost up and down on him, and we were in seven fathoms of water, then he would run a short way, but he was getting tired like ourselves.
We had no idea as to how large he was then, but when I undertook to raise him to the surface my rod bent so I was afraid I would break it. Carl yelled "For cat's sake, don't lose him!" He rowed away from the fish and I had to bring him to top water that way. Probably I as 50 yards from where I started to lift that fish alongside the boat. After getting him on top of water, it was so rough and the tide was running so heavily to eastward against the southwest wind that we had some job. Carl backed down toward the fish slowly, while I reeled in the line 'til I got within 50 feet, then he took in his oars and got ready the gaff hook. I led the fish alongside, but the tide would set him so fast to the eastward, with the sea and the wind blowing us northeast, that it was only after three attempts that I got him alongside, where Carl could get at him.
I knew it was all off when he reached for him, for he was never known to miss one, but when he took the bass over the side of the boat I noticed he rolled in; as a rule Carl lifts them clear of the gunwale, so I said, "Some fish!"
After we had weighed the fish we could hardly believe it ourselves, but it certainly was a beauty, 73 pounds, good and strong. My reel was made by J.B. Crook of New York. It is a German silver reel, one that my grandfather had and must be 100 years old, for I have used it for 28 years. My line is a Hall line, 15 thread. I like the Hall lines better than any other for the reason that the dye does not come out and leave the line rotten, like the other lines, and I have used a lot of them.
I was born on Cuttyhunk, and have fished with all the old members of the Cuttyhunk Club. Last year I caught 38 bass; this year only 17. I have used all kinds of bait, but there is nothing like a live eel, only don't do what almost everybody else does: strike when you feel their bite, for the bite is his tail striking the eel.
I hope I have made it plain for your readers, so that those who have not caught a bass can realize the sport there is in it.
Charles Church, Gosnold, Massachusetts
Date: August 17, 1913
* Limerick hook: At this time the finest fishing hooks were manufactured in Limerick, Ireland. More information on the history and development of hooks at A Fly Fishing History
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