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Beyond the Keeper
Part III
An Excerpt from The Trophy Striper
by Frank Daignault

any believe that either an All Tackle World Record or something close to that in size will foster independent wealth or launch that person into a new career in the outdoors retailing or guiding or through endorsements. I was friendly with Charley Cinto who boated the biggest lineside in over 50 years and all he got were two reels, a case of plugs, and a week (without pay) at a sporting show.

The notion is somewhat controversial, but I believe that no grand accolades are likely to follow a person with a high level of trophy striper. The idea of exaggerated, overblown, rewards has put a price on the head of all important gamefish. What a bounty on a great fish of any species does do, is act as an incentive for a greater number of cheaters to be involved. It may be as important to avoid the appearance of evil as well as the evil itself. Here are some things that you have to know to prevent yourself from screwing it all up when you do take a monster.

People with a big fish commonly forage around looking for a tackle shop that will give them the best weight. The guy has a 100 pounder but, no, it has to be a 102 pounder. Whenever this is done, it is a certainty that word of the weight is going to get around and then every gin mill and coffee shop in the state will be abuzz with the results of whatever weigh station is being talked about. People know that some weighmasters are using scales where enough marlin, tuna, and halibut have hanged for 30 years for the scale to read six pounds before anything hangs on it. You could have the next World Record, but, if some folks saw 98 pounds and others 105, the discrepancy is what they are going to remember. Big fish news travels fast on the Striper Coast. Weigh your fish once at a place that is above scrutiny.

Back when the world was young, I used to be in a fishing contest that required a lineside to weigh 15 pounds in order for it to qualify for competition. One pound less than that, one ounce less than that, was worth zilch. After a weekend at the beach, I was heading home, palms all sweaty, hoping that I could hang the scalp of this striper from my surf belt. I stopped at a tackle shop for a weight and was informed that my bass barely made the eligible weight of 15 pounds. I had a signed and stamped affidavit to prove it.

The Trophy Striper by Frank DaignaultThen I stopped at the nearby fish market to sell it and was distressed to learn that my fish weighed a mere 13. To me this was clearly a crooked scale. I actually wanted to call the cops until I realized that tackle shops liked it when you stopped by. What do they care what it really weighs as long as they don't have to buy it? The person with the sealed scale, suitable for trade not fishing contests, even told me that the season was a particularly bad one for 13 pounders, as he had experienced a continuous stream of outraged competitors.

Everybody knows that fish lose weight out of the water. There has been some amateur science in this regard, and the people who have sought to determine a rate of dehydration commonly agree at 1/2 to one percent in a day. However the drill that I have seen as accepted form is to weigh it as soon as possible and make no allowances for dehydration. However, I have known people with a huge bass to store it in a bathtub (their wives must love that). Others have put the fish under a wet towel in a bed of ice until a shop opens; by the way, this technique is accepted in sport fishing circles. Garden hoses down the throat are something else.

The issue of weight loss with time gets plenty of attention because sometimes, especially years when there are concentrations of a certain size fish, coupled with competition, an ounce here or there can make the difference. It is something that people feel that they can do something about. One time at a bluefish tournament in Rhode Island, where the contestants were lined up with their best fish, the sameness of entries had gotten uncanny. The weighmaster was about bored to tears: "Sixteen pounds, two ounces. Fifteen, fifteen. Sixteen, one." It seemed that hundreds of blues came from the same mold. Of course the anglers standing in line in the sun were getting nervous because they truly believed that their weights were melting away. All of a sudden, a bluefish exactly the same size as all the others, dropped on the scale and the weighmaster called, "Seventeen one!" The crowd burst into enthusiastic and simultaneous applause while the proud angler, from Massachusetts I think, blushed with delight. Then the gurry master pressed an ice pick into the fish's gut and a geyser of water rose five feet before being driven by the sou'west onto the gallery of onlookers. How this bluefish became pressurized -- garden hose or high speed tow -- was never determined since the champ melted into the crowd.

Because I lived on the beach, my club bought me a good scale, had it sealed, then made me a weighmaster. Once the word got around the beaches that I was an official weighmaster, two things happened: My time was not my own because of all the surfmen who came to my buggy to weigh their stripers, sometimes after I had gone back to bed; and, I was first to learn who was catching what and where. That's another thing about bragging that I should have told you a long time ago. If you are going to show off and boast about all the fish you catch, tell the truth about where you catch them. If there is one thing that others will never forgive you for, it is sending them on a pointless world tour. There is an old story that circulates on the Striper Coast about the gang being sent to a fictitious spot only to knock them dead there. Surely, if striper fishing had its own book of priest and rabbi jokes, the one about a guy showing off a great fish then lying about where it was caught then having the gang make a killing there would be a memorable adaptation. There is major power in being a weighmaster. In addition to having a little rubber stamp that says so, you have the authority to validate. I once had a guy who wanted an affidavit for a 25-pounder -- without the fish -- for a bet that he had with a friend. He offered me a case of beer for my trouble.

Shenanigans in the weighing of fish is a direct result of peer pressure and the worst source of that is competitive fishing. It is subtle but the implications of contests and their result is that the best fisher wins when, in fact, there is little relationship between the winner and fishing ability. I am not able to say what quality fishing contest winners have, because I neither know nor believe that it is the same in all cases. As is the case above, I have seen a lot of things that sport fishing can do without. I do know that in early middle age, say 35, I devoted myself to such competition and today view it as one of the darkest periods in my angling life. People who produce contests today have learned to make them less of a slaughter by encouraging catch and release to some degree. They are also smart enough to weigh all fish on the same scale. Even so, some aspects of the end result cannot be changed. For instance, it is highly unlikely that the biggest fish will survive. Since no one knows what that is going to be, there usually is any number of big fish killed that falls just short of the winning position. Salt water striper tournaments have a problem that seems to defy solution -- the difference between a surf winner, a boat winner, and an overall winner. It is widely known that fishing from shore is unlikely to produce the overall winner because of the usual disparity in results between surf and boat fishing. The top fish is not the problem but how it is registered. For instance, let's say Buck has a 40 pound bass for the tourney but has just learned that a 42 is in the lead. As a result of the fact that he is registered in the boat division, he can't submit it in the surf division. But Buck knows that his 40 will win from shore, so he gives it to his brother-in-law, "Dinkie", who is pre-registered in the surf. Tournament officials had hoped to prevent this through the registration process which forced all to declare how they were going to fish. Where was Dinkie fishing all this time? In the boat with Buck who would bring in any fish that either of them caught depending upon which category suited what they had. As a surfcaster, I would never enter another contest because officials cannot offer a suitable prize for shore fishers. If they do, it will only encourage more cheating. I once actually won the shore part of a tourney with a 38 pounder that paid off in a lawnmower worth under $100. Meanwhile, the winner of the overall -- a boat fish in the high 50s -- took home over $5,000 in prizes which is, inflation considered, not bad in the backdrop of nearly 30 years ago.

The late Gene Lambert, a competent striper fisherman whom I had known for over a generation, once brought in a 52 pounder to a tourney in which he was registered. All contest fish were placed in a cooler for sale later. Within a day, Gene's monster slipped into second place. Asking to see the new lead striper, Gene was shown his own fish. Pointing this out, he was told that his fish had been sold so that it would be fresh for the market. Who caught the new lead fish in the contest that no one got to see? A member of the club that was running the contest. Hello, are you still there?

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Copyright 1998-2014 Frank Daignault, All Rights Reserved

Frank Daignault
Frank Daignault is the author of Striper Surf, Twenty Years on the Cape, Striper Hot Spots, The Trophy Striper, Eastern Tides and Fly Fishing the Striper Surf. Autographed copies of any of these books can be ordered directly from Frank, HERE.

Twenty Years on the Cape StriperSurf Striper Hot Spots The Trophy Striper Eastern Tides Fly Fishing the Striper Surf
Articles by Frank Daignault
Bait Behavior: How It Affects Your Striper Surf
Bay City Fishing
Beyond the Keeper An excerpt from The Trophy Striper
Canal Stripers Have a Long Season
Casting Tips for Distance
Connecticut's First Stripers
Cow Country: A Look at Monster Striper Hot Spots
Daignault Meets Cinto After 30 Years
Eel Imitators in the Surf
First Stripers -- Let the Game Begin
Flavor it Mackerel
Herring Choices for Spring Striper Fishing
How They Hit
Hurricane An excerpt from Twenty Years on the Cape
Inside Narragansett Bay
Is Cape Cod Dying?
Memorable Stripers - An excerpt from The Trophy Striper
Memories of Nauset Beach (Part I)
Memories of Nauset Beach (Part II)
Migrating Stripers, How Will You Do?
Moby Stripers Then and Now
Montauk On My Right and Provincetown on my left! (Two Parts)
Penetrating the Water Column
Seasoned Salt - An Interview
Surfcast? Are You Crazy?
Ten Killer Striper Flies
Ten Years of “Ask Frank”
The Forgotten Cape
Where Stripers Call
Winning With Big Surf Stripers
Your Big Striper Chances
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