Fishing with the Master
Part II: Lessons Learned
Al McReynolds - IGFA Striped Bass World Record Holder
by Bob D'Amico
Originally Published 1998
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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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