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Fishing with the Master
Part II: Lessons Learned
Al McReynolds - IGFA Striped Bass World Record Holder
by Bob D'Amico

Originally Published 1998

ith the wind blowing in our faces we set up for bait, I put on one of my "Jersey" High Low rigs and Al had some kind of a local Virginia rig that didn’t look too well designed or strong enough to handle a big fish but the locals are happy with it. We used fresh mullet that Al had been storing in a bait bucket in his hotel bathroom, which apparently wasn’t a problem for his wife Karen. Now my wife on the other hand would have had more than a few choice words if I tried to bring a bucketful of bait into the house but I guess Karen is a special person.

At first I started to catch bass, this usually happens to me, I get the first fish and then whomever I’m with ends up with the largest number but I don’t complain too often because there’s something special about being the first. After I pulled in a few shorts Al started looking closely at the design of my High Low Bait Rig and told me I should consider manufacturing and marketing it. Good idea but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life tying rigs so other people can catch MY fish.

I was doing quite well, out fishing the master, so to speak until the wind and water started to really rock and roll. That’s when I decided to forever kiss off Breakaway sinkers, the surf gets up and they roll like a ping pong ball. Both Al and I thought we had hits at the same time and reared back on our rods, double and triple pumped them and then realized that our lines had crossed and I was the culprit. Our lines were more than crossed, they were forever intertwined and although Al was calm and tried to get them free it was hopeless. All I kept thinking was "Geez Bob, this man is doing you a favor just talking to you and you go and screw up everything." He eventually ripped up his Virginia rig and I gave him one of my custom made High Low Bait Rigs. I took off the Breakaway and put on a 6 oz Hatteras that solved the problem. Then the worm turned and Al started catching everything although I was holding my rod while he had stuck his in a spike.

I realized that as we talked his eyes never strayed from his rod tip for more than an instant. I was standing there holding my rod looking at the water, the sky, the birds and whatever when Al strolls over and says,

"You just had a hit, didn’t you feel it?"

"What, I replied, all I can feel right now are the breakers pulling my line."

"I’d hit it if I were you, I think you got a bass playing with your mullet."

So I set the hook, just hoping that he was wrong but he was right, another short fat bass that put up a hell of a fight in the surf before I could get it in.

"How’d you do that?" I demanded to know. Al explained that when you fish as often and as long as he does you can see the rhythm of the rod and line in the surf.

"I watch the line all the time, once it breaks rhythm there’s something going on. It’s usually a crab or a skate but if it’s a bass you have to hit it fast because they’re just mouthing your bait. Bass like to taste things before they swallow them."

He went on to explain that he thinks that more bass are driven off by rotten, stinking bait than any thing else. "You cast some rotten bait into a good hole and you’ll drive the fish out!" I thought about all the times I bought bait that must have died prior to the Franco Prussian War, didn’t catch squat and assumed that I was fishing in the wrong place or the fish weren’t around. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with Al’s theory but all I know is that when I fish with fresh live clams or fresh bunker I do catch a whole lot more fish.

My next lesson was in "southern hospitality." For all the bad things you hear or read about regional fishing etiquette whether its someone slamming the locals in Montauk or the Cape or even the local yokels on the Hook nothing beat these gentlemen from Virginia. Four guys come walking onto the beach with their rods, spikes and 5 gallon buckets and set up on either side of us. The two guys on my left were within 10 feet of my rod and the two on Al’s side were even closer. No words were exchanged, like "Good Morning". I had my bait out of the water when the man immediately to my left made his first cast, which he shanked to the right cutting off the beach. I did a double take, I was so amazed, I looked at Al and he just shrugged his shoulders. I put my cast out straight, so perfect even my father would have been proud. Naturally the lines crossed but it wasn’t my problem since I was there first and my bait was out a whole lot farther than his. He ignored this challenge and just strolled over to his buddy and started talking. When I had a hit and a fish on the line I yelled at him to move off but he was in no hurry so I horsed the fish out of the way and managed to even get it clear of the next man on his left.

The same thing happened to Al but somehow he was able to keep his fish moving straight in before he dipped his rod tip almost to the sand then pulled it upward and hauled that bass up onto the beach. Yankees 2 – Locals 0. While we were re-baiting I asked Al what the hell was going on. He explained that they were just trying to run us off because it’s their beach and we’re catching their fish.

"This happens all the time, no matter where you go, there are places on the Cape that you don’t dare fish without permission but the South is worse. I don’t complain, you learn to live with it."

Maybe we’re not so bad here in New Jersey although we’ve got our fair share of guys who are two fries short of a super size.

We hung tough, the wind was really blowing down our throats and the fish were few but our new friends weren’t catching anything and I at least was enjoying putting it to the locals. One finally wandered over and asked me what kind of rig I was using so I showed him the High Low and told him it was a special design. He asked, "You got mor’em"? I replied, "No, sorry this is my last one." Actually I had five or six more in my surf bag but I wasn’t sharing or in the mood to negotiate a "beach price."

Once the locals surrendered we waited another fifteen minutes and then pulled out and headed for the shelter of the hotels parking garage and some hot coffee. I took the opportunity to ask Al the big question,

"With all that you’ve told me, if you knew that you had the world record bass on your line, what would you do differently?"

Without hesitation he said, "I’d cut the line."

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