Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Voices from the Past: William H. Hand, Jr. on his Record Striped Bass (1915)

This is a nifty description of William H. Hand's prize winning striper ca. 1915, from the pages of Field & Stream. The fish was caught using a Vom Hofe reel and a hand made rod.


By William H. Hand, Jr.

Winner First Prize Striped Bass 1915 Contest

As I now view the event after several months have passed, I cannot recall that the largest striped bass which-I ever took required any more skill, time or patience than many smaller fish which I have taken from year to year. While I realize that it seems to be considered proper to have a heart-breaking, nerve-racking struggle with the largest fish, I cannot conscientiously and truthfully say that the prize fish of 1915 gave any more trouble or put up any more of a fight than many others weighing from thirty to forty pounds. He made a good fight and some strong runs as do all striped bass, but being hooked in the angle of the jaw, the strong pull of the line held his mouth open and he drowned quite quickly as do all fish similarly hooked and held strongly.

For ten years or more, I have fished for striped bass in their so-called "favorite haunts" around the mouth of the Sakonnet river, off Westport, Cuttyhunk Island, Nasahwena Island, Squibnocket on the southwest end of Martha's Vineyard Island and Nomansland. I have been fortunate in being many times in the right place at the right time, from year to year, and have taken many large bass, but prior to this year the largest fish caught weighed but a little over forty-three pounds. This year a school of very large fish made their home on the south side of Cuttyhunk Island during the month of August. Many of these fish were taken, as is proven by the fact that in the Field And Stream contest, the first, second, third and fourth prize fish being caught off Cuttyhunk.

A few years ago striped bass fishing at Cuttyhunk was an extremely popular sport and the records of the Cuttyhunk Club show that a great many very large fish were taken. The fishing then was done from stands built on iron framework out over the rocks. The fish were taken usually with a lobster tail for bait, and were attracted to the neighborhood of the stands by "chum" prepared by grinding fresh menhaden into a mass of hash-like consistency and sprinkling this on the water. In recent years, but very few of the stands have been put up for service, and the sport has been more or less neglected by those who formerly fished "hard," often both night and day. Now, most of the fish are caught with live eels as bait, the fishermen working along the shore just outside of the breakers and casting the eel into the surf and reeling back to the boat. This enables the fisherman to cover a great amount of territory in a day, providing he is fairly skillful as a caster and has endurance and patience, very necessary requisites.

On August 11th, in the early part of the forenoon, Capt. Wm. Head, of Westport, my fishing partner of many seasons (an unusually skillful boatman and fisherman) and myself, dropped off in my small V-bottom surf-boat near the west end of Cuttyhunk with the intention of trying for bass, as conditions seemed favorable. There was a comparatively smooth sea, although there was a little roll in from the ocean and a southerly wind rippled the surface. We worked to the eastward along the south side of the Island, casting in and reeling back every fifteen or twenty yards without a strike. We worked along for a mile or more and then across Canapitsit passage and down the shore of Nashawena, where I landed a twenty-five pounder. Casting a number of times in that neighborhood failed to produce another strike. We worked along slowly back towards the motorboat with the intention of going back to Westport, and when near the west end of Cuttyhunk, suddenly a fish struck. I allowed the fish to have the bait for five or ten seconds, then struck and was fast to a heavy fish. He turned and ran in towards the breakers and the rocks. I held him very hard and succeeded in turning him off-shore before he had been able to get around a rock, which seems to be a favorite trick of striped bass on rocky shores and something which causes many broken lines, for the sharp barnacles are too much for the best lines. He then made a good run off-shore, which I was able to check before he had taken a total of over seventy-five yards of line. He then made zig-zag runs of varying lengths and finally I worked him near enough so that I got a "good look" when he went through a sea. It was then, for the first time that I realized I had an extra large fish. In spite of Capt. Head's warning, I held him quite hard, having faith in a good new line and a rod which had killed many big ones, and within a few moments had worked him near enough to gaff. Capt. Head reached for the fish with the gaff hook and got him as intended, but it was here that something happened which caused a little flutter of excitement (and some eloquence), for the gaff hook and handle parted company. The fish was then nearly drowned or exhausted and, quick as a flash, Capt. Head reached out, caught the gaff hook and the fish was over the rail and in the bottom of the boat without ceremony. Capt. Head measured him rapidly with his eye and remarked, "There, Bill, there is your gun!" and later events have proven that he was right.

Prize Contest Certificate Record.
First Prize Striped Bass, 1915 Prize Fishing Contest.
Weight—55 lbs. 2 oz.
Length—51 hi in.
Girth—30 in.
Caught—August 11.
Where caught—Cuttyhunk, Mass.
Reel—Vom Hofe.
Line—Abercrombie & Fitch, 21thread.
Lure—Live eel.

-- Dr. Todd

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