PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The following was originally printed in the StriperSurf.com Message Board's New Jersey Fishing Forum but it is such a great account of a once in a lifetime event it deserves to be a permanent article.
any may not believe this tale, I don't care. I have witnesses, I have pictures and I have memories. In early July 2002 I was on vacation in Avalon staying in a beautiful home on 59th Street and Ocean Avenue. After a day at the beach my wife took the kids into Stone Harbor for ice cream and told me to stay home and relax until dinner at seven.
After they left I gathered a couple of crab traps and a couple of drop lines, some frozen bunker I had in the freezer, and walked barefoot down a block or two to the 54th and Bay crabbing pier in Avalon. It comes after the 57th Street crabbing pier (which had about 6 people on it) and the public boat launch at 55th and 56th streets. The crabbing pier was about ten yards long out into what amounted to a sod bank lagoon about 40 yards across. On the other side of this lagoon were acres of sod banks and other lagoons leading out to a bay and ultimately Townsends Inlet about 54 blocks away. It was 4:00 in the afternoon, bright sunshine and 92°. The tide was half way in and the water temperature was approximately 80°. The lagoon was loaded with bay anchovies, baby spot, killies, and an occasional splash from large bunker.
I walked out on the pier and dropped my gear at the end. I cut a bunker into four pieces and put the head on a drop line and tied it about half way up the pier. I threw the baited drop line over the side and walked back to the end of the pier to set up a trap. As I was on one knee setting up a trap I heard a commotion in the water and saw through the spindles of the pier railing my drop line being violently pulled away from the pier. I was curious, but not exited, I thought it was a turtle trying to swim away with my bunker head, my daughter had caught two turtles crabbing on the pier the day before.
I walked down to where the drop line was tied and looked down. There was a four foot striped bass in three feet of water trying to shake the bunker head off the line. I stood there in shock for a second, then yanked the drop line (somehow believing that the fish would choke on the head and I would get him. There was a huge boil and she was gone. I stood there for a second with the bunker head in my hand and cursed audibly as to what an idiot I had been for scaring this fish away. I threw the bunkerhead drop line back in the water, and the fish instantly reappeared from under the dock. I walked quietly off the dock, leaving all of my crabbing stuff, and sprinted back to the house.
Gasping and wheezing I arrived at the house. My father was sitting on the deck and ask my why I was running around in the heat and humidity. I told him there was a giant striper under the crabbing dock and I was there to get my rod. He laughed at me, told me to stop drinking if I was going to be away from the house, and went back to reading his book.
I grabbed my St. Croix® Ben Doerr™ nine foot rod with the Penn® 6500SS™ spinning reel loaded with 30 pound braided Power Pro® line and a three foot 25 pound fluorocarbon leader with a 2/0 Mustad® steel bait holder hook on the terminal end. I had used this set up for kingfish earlier in the day. I realized this hook was probably too small but didn't want to waste anytime digging around for a better one and retying. This fish was under the dock, most of my crabbing stuff was on the dock, and people come there to crab all the time.
I ran back to the dock with the rod. Walked quietly to the end, grabbed a piece of frozen bunker originally to have gone in a crab trap, and dropped it right off the dock next to me drop line. The water boil, the fish ran away from the dock on an open bail, after it ran about 30 feet I closed the bail and hammered the hook home. The striper took off like a rocket, the idiot that I am did not set the drag, it was locked down. Thank god the anti-reverse failed, the handle spun backwards at a high rate, busting up my knuckles, but saving the line and the rod from what would have been certain failure, the fish ran the reel in reverse for about 25 yards, then stopped. I held the line taut, set the drag properly, then began to coax the fish to turn towards me, there were a few more runs, shorter and shorter, as I coaxed the fish back towards the dock. The fight was not as long as I would have expected for a fish of this size. My guess is the high water temps and shallow depth accounted for this.
As I got the fish within 20 feet of the dock a reality set in, I had no net (save a crabbing net) no gaff and no help. There was no way I could hoist the fish in (at the time, judging by its length and my adrenaline I thought it was 60 pounds) I was afraid it would wrap around the pilings at the end and all would be lost.
I made a decision. I would get the fish within ten feet of the dock then I would jump over the rail into the water and grab the fish, walking it back to the nearby sod banks. The fish came up on its side, I slid over the rail, rod in hand, into the water. The fish tried to make another run but really just turned upright for a moment and swam a little, pulling no drag. I grabbed the fish by the gill, sliding my hand through its gill plate and out its mouth (suffering several puncture wounds in my hand which I did not feel at the time but which bled allot and hurt like a bitch the next day). I walked the fish the ten yards or so to the nearest sod bank, threw my rod on the bank (still attached to the fish) and dragged the fish up and onto the grass. I then dragged the fish to the base of the pier and cut the line (the fish had completely swallowed the hook). I left the fish there, hid my pole and crabbing stuff in the tall grass, and carried/dragged the beast back to the house.
My father fell out of his chair, my daughter fell down the stairs, and my wife asked if it bites (because of the blood on my arm). Pictures were taken with my kids and niece (it was bigger than them) and I took the family car to pick up the crabbing stuff and get the fish weighed. It weighed 47 pounds on a rough scale and measured 51 inches long. The guy in the tackle shop didn't believe me at first, but came around. The next day there were dozens of people on the dock. As I learned later, the "harbormaster" of the marina saw the whole thing from his perch. He was on the radio as soon as I emerged from the grass, and there were a dozen boats drifting bunker in that lagoon that evening.
The biggest fish I caught in the surf that week was a 14 inch kingfish.
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