A Rough Day
By Mike Burian
I went out one weekend to try out my new Abu Rocket reel on a Daiwa 12 ft. Sealine-X spinner, a rod which I had converted over to dual purpose use with this reel in mind. I got out just at dawn and made my way to the beach via Topanga Canyon Blvd., the last ten miles of the twenty mile trip winding their way through the foothills that surround the southwestern end of the San Fernando Valley. It's always nice to get out at this hour, as there is no traffic and one feels like one owns the road, if not the entire town. I remember a couple of years ago I was heading out when the latest comet was making its appearance, and everyone was straining to see it -going to the high desert, sailing out on yachts, or driving high up in the mountains for a better view. The comet happened to be right over the Los Angeles area at its perigee, and, as I was wending my way through the canyon in the 'ol Dodge pickup, I will never forget rounding one turn and, in the pre-dawn inky black sky, seeing the comet high above, framed by two mountains, with its majestic wispy tail flowing out behind and glowing like a lock of God's own hair.
As you get well into the canyon a good indicator of what to expect weather-wise at the beach is how hard the wind is blowing. From about five miles back a slight sea breeze will move the trees and shrubs, and the closer you get to the shore, the more the swaying of the foliage if the breeze is strong. This Sunday morning the brush was still, and as I neared my destination things remained almost completely calm, a rare and heartening omen. When I reached Pacific Coast Highway I could see the ocean, and I saw that the tide was down and that the surf was wavy, but not too severe. I made the left turn onto PCH but drove by my usual spot at Topanga beach, because there was work being done to the highway, and I couldn't park on the road without leaving myself a long walk back to the beach, lugging along all of my tackle with me. (you cannot park or drive anywhere on any So Cal beaches ).So I drove a mile or so up the road and parked near a spot that I used to frequent a few years ago, and that had yielded-up nice sand bass in the past (a fish common in the Santa Monica bay but rarely caught near shore ). This was a broad, sandy beach with only a few large submerged rocks 100 yds. out or so. It was a short walk from the slightly elevated roadside to my chosen fishing spot for the day.
Along with the Daiwa, I also brought a Cabela's Predator rod and an Abu 6000 reel. For back up, I had a Penn 525 Mag. Since the water was little rough, I started throwing 3 oz. lead on the Predator, and swung it around pretty hard and got nice repeating 60 yd. casts from the light graphite rod. I finally flung out a shrimp tail with a pyramid sinker and let it sit. My real goal for the day was to wring out the Rocket and see how far it would fly, and I was itchin' to get to it. I screwed the gunmetal gray reel into the Fuji reel seat and clamped it down good. This reel balances perfectly on the Daiwa, and it makes for a great medium action rig, a full step up in power from the Predator. I rigged it up and hung on a 3 oz. spoon sinker and swung it out easy to make sure my knots were good.
I was expecting long casts with the Rocket, and easy retrieves with the smooth gears and optional T-handle. What I was NOT expecting, however, was the incredible cacophonous din that this reel made on a hard cast. When tossed easy the reel was smooth and almost silent. But on the first bomber that I threw, the combination of the level wind clacking back and forth madly, the unbalanced spool buzzing loudly, and a faint, eerie shriek right at the end of the cast made it sound like an out-of-control sewing machine getting ready to explode. All subsequent casts sounded the same. I was waiting for the thing to seize up, but since the casts were going right out there, and all were landing around the same spot, and I was getting almost half way down into the spool, I finally decided that this was just the innate war-whoop of this particular reel. But just to settle the issue, and to make sure I was getting my money's worth on the distance, I unhooked the 6000 from the Predator and rigged it up to the Daiwa. The 6000 is not intended for such high powered high jinks as the Rocket, so I held back a bit. The lead sailed out there silently, but started doing some herky-jerky stuff when it got over the top, no doubt due to the heavier plastic brake blocks, and it was so quiet that, after the great symphony of the Rocket, it was actually kind of boring. So, I awarded the Rocket a full pardon, strapped it back on, and flung out a piece of shrimp into the dropping tide.
With the Rocket back out in the water, I had been tossing some practice casts with the Predator for a half hour when the following bizarre chain of events occurred: a gold Camry pulled up on the road and parked in front of my truck. A distinguished looking gentleman with white hair got out and a small child, presumably his granddaughter, followed close behind. They came over to watch me as I was reeling in a long cast on the Predator. I was up 20 yds. from the water's edge, and I had reeled the pyramid weight back up to the rod. Me and this guy exchanged some inane chit-chat about baits and tackle and such, and then he looked at the dangling sinker, which was covered in sand, and asked "is that 4 ozs. ?" and I answered, "no, it's only three". He kept staring at it and then said, "it looks too big to be a 3", and I said "well, this is a light rod and I never throw more than three ozs. with it". And then he said "are you sure?" On hearing this, the following dark response passed briefly through my mind: " Be it 3 ozs. or 4, having a chunk of lead this size bounced off the top of one's skull would be a very painful experience, wouldn't you think ?" But, being the polite and accommodating fellow that I am, I said nothing of the kind. Instead, I not only let him examine it as closely as he liked, but I actually began wiping the sand away to expose the familiar cast number on each of the facets, feeling a little foolish doing so, and wondering why the !@#$%# I was doing this at all. When I had finally gotten to the bottom of this deep mystery, and uncovered the faint no. 3 on this corroded, gnarled, and utterly insignificant lump of lead, this would-be Inspector Clouseau, with his snout only inches from the weight, and apparently now satisfied ..., said nothing.
But then suddenly he shouted out "Hey, look at your rig !". I spun around just in time to see the big Daiwa topple over like a giant felled redwood, and then get dragged through the sand seaward, at a moderate walking clip. I still had the Predator rig in my hand; the sand spike was 20 yds. away, and the other spike was prone in the wet sand; I had no time; I had no choice; I laid the Predator down in the sand and darted for the Daiwa, getting it about 20 ft. from the drink. This sort of thing has happened before, so I knew what was up. I hauled up on the rod and gave it a yank; it bent over double. I looked down at the Rocket: it was just full of sand; I lowered the rod tip and turned the handle a couple of times; I didn't feel any crunching sand in the level wind, so I decided to fight the bugger. The tide was low and the line disappeared into water that was only a foot deep. I reeled in a bit and started to close in on the surf.
That's when I saw the shark's tail. I turned up the drag a bit and the beast started to roam back and forth in the shallow foam. I was hoping that it was a nice leopard, but then I saw the flat head and knew that it was a shovelnose. These fish don't fight hard when hooked up close, but it was still a four foot long, 30# beast, and it was just starting to get its wind. The Rocket drag was working great, smooth and easy to crank-in the right amount of whoa, but when I tried to back off, I got that terrible graunching sound that sand makes when it's someplace that it's not supposed to be. So I left it set where it was and wrestled with the fish right at the water's edge.
He was starting to pull out now, and there was an old breakwater foundation on the shore that I had to avoid, so I started to go diagonally back from the wall as the fish swam closer and closer to the shore, pulling hard now, and putting my line in danger of a snap-off against the wall. And then, just as I had the beast coming back through the surf towards me, I felt the hook tear out. I cranked the reel a few times and only felt the pyramid bouncing along the bottom. I had a 2/0 hook on the rig with shrimp, hoping to get perch and such, but when I reeled the line out of the water, I saw that the hook was still intact, and somehow the big fish just pulled free. So, dejectedly, I walked back up the bank to size up my losses. The Inspector, who had been behind me and had watched the whole ordeal, was decent enough to take my Predator out of the sand and put it in the spike. But this was all quickly erased when he made this highly profound and astute observation: "Oooohhh, you lost it!" This final blast caused me to pause a moment and very seriously consider whether or not the following distinction is made regarding California jurisprudence: would a fatal attack with fishing tackle be considered second degree murder, or only manslaughter? Well, I don't have any extra time to spend in prison, so the best response I could muster was to lamely mutter "Yeah, I lost it".
I walked back over to the Predator and flung the baitless rig back into the water without looking at how much sand was on the reel. When I returned to the Daiwa, now back in its upright sand spike, I didn't WANT to look at the Rocket. My new reel, on its first trip, had sand in places where you never, EVER let sand get on a level wind. I took it off the rod and tried to turn the handle, but it would only go a bit before it seized up with sand. So, resigned to the fact that it would require a complete teardown at home, I set it down in the tackle box and tried to decide what to do next. It was then that I half noticed out of my peripheral vision the Inspector and his little companion skipping merrily back up to the road and get into their Toyotamobile, and blithely drive down the Magical Highway of life in search of their next Happy Meal.
And it was now my grim task to assess the wreckage. I decided to pull in the Predator and put it up, and fish with only one rig, something that I almost never do. So, I unscrewed the 6000, noticing now that it, too, would need to have the handle removed to get the sand out of that delicate area. I broke the rod down and walked back up to my truck with the two sandy reels and put them on the front seat and stuffed the rod in the cab. I got out my back-up 525 and carried it back down to the beach. I had to rinse the sand off threads on the Daiwa reel seat in the surf, and after doing this it was ready to roll. As I locked the Penn into place, I looked down at the little black hammer of a reel and thought to myself, "this here Penn, IT won't let me down..."
I pulled the line up through the guides and tied on a new 30# leader with a drop loop, but I didn't put a hook on yet, because I wanted to shoot some warm up casts with the Mag, and also to burn off some of the anger that had built up. I started with a 4 oz. spoon sinker and rifled out a few hard shots. As always, the 525 put it out there quite a bit farther than anything else I have. I have added two extra magnets on the carrier, so I had plenty of adjustment. After a while of this, I started to get into the rhythm of cast-and-retrieve with the smooth 6:1 gears, and I was beginning to forget about all the horrible mischief that had befallen me a mere half hour earlier. I was a little burnt from all the cranking by now so I decided to go to a 3 oz. pyramid, rig up a shrimp tail, and just heave it and leave it. I wanted to just let the bait soak while I thought about the best strategy for fixing the Abus when I got home. So, I put on the 3 ouncer and tried it, and the results of that first cast suggested to me a little formula for the 525 that I will try very hard to remember henceforth:
4 oz. weight + #4 mag setting = good
3 oz. weight + #3 mag setting = bad
After all of the warm-up with 4 oz., I just naturally fired the three, with the lower setting, thinking that the lighter weight would require less mag assistance. And for my trouble I got a huge, nasty, filthy backlash, of a magnitude that I haven't seen since the days of my aluminum spool, no magnet, no-skin-left-on-the-thumb Squidder days. Luckily, however, the mags slowed the spool enough to prevent the line from getting really tangled or damaged, and I was able to pull it free in only a few minutes. As I reeled the line back onto the spool I only noticed two serious kinks; one at about 50 yds. and one at about 30.
Hook on, shrimp on, mag switch set to 6, and finally, the junk was out there, and I could sit and think and rest my frazzled mind and nerves. . .
. . . and that's when I saw the first twitching.
I had sat down on the top of the bait cooler, like I always do, and had just raised my head and glanced at the tip of the Daiwa. It was thumping at a regular interval with the kind of thump that at this range and at this location could mean only one thing: sand bass.
I slowly got back up and stalked up to the rod, with my eyes pinned to the tip. I wanted to make sure that this was real before I jumped on the rig for the attack. It kept thumping and then it started to crank over. I swiped the rod out of the holder with one swoop and started reeling for my life. The fish felt big, maybe a 19 incher like the guys on the kayaks get, and it would be just the right size for my microwave. I reeled the Mag with a death grip on the knob and the the big dude started to shake his head, trying to dump the hook. All the while the Daiwa clearly telegraphed the rage of the fish and the bounding sinker on the bottom. I was reeling and leveling the line at top speed when the sinker jammed up in a patch of shallow sea grass. The fight momentarily stopped but the bass was still trying to throw the hook, so I lowered the tip and came up cranking hard and the weight ripped free. The fish was full-on rowdy now, kicking and screaming, and I kept reeling until I hit another patch of grass. This time I was jammed in good, and the action came to a halt. But I've been in this spot lots of times before, and the thing to do was try to rip the weight from the leader. The fish would keep the hook from getting snagged, and the Ande leaders I use would reliably break at the knot. So I backed up and hauled that Daiwa up for all it was worth, and I started to feel the grass go, and the fish was thrashing, and then.... SNAP!
I reeled back from the momentum of the break and nearly punched myself out when my rod hand came up to my face. The line broke right at the 30 yd. kink that was caused by the backlash, and I stood there numb as the line that was out of the water shot back and draped over me like wet spaghetti. I quickly removed myself from this indignity and slowly wound the line back onto the spool, as whatever emotion was left drained out of me and into the sand. I was defeated, busted, whooped, kicked. This was one of those times when not words, not even feelings can exist. I had to just stand there and breathe. I could have re-spooled the Penn after the backlash, because I brought extra line, but I really didn't expect to hook up like this. The 20# Trilene main line held up good and almost, almost, tore the grass. But when it went, it went, and now I was all washed up. I just kind of vacantly wound the rest of the line back on the spool and turned and walked back to my tackle box. I still had enough line to cast with, so I gathered up my gear and wandered up the beach and set up and threw back in. The tide was way low now, and the beach looked huge and empty. I left my shrimp out for a while, and got a few small taps, but I knew the day was over. So I just pulled it all in and headed back to the Dodge. The overcast was starting top burn off now, and it was getting sunny. The Inspector was long gone, and now normal folks were taking late morning walks. And I started to reflect on things; on how maybe I was using too much new and unfamiliar tackle, and not fishing by instinct, and not trying the same spot. . .
And so I loaded up and left for home,
A sadder but a wiser man, for shore....