Wednesday, August 10, 2011
How I Caught the 81 pound Striper
Talk about laid back.
Since last Friday, when news about Greg Myerson's apparent world-record striped bass started churning up the Internet, his cell phone and email in-box have been jammed with messages. His friends and people suddenly claiming to be his friends have been agog with talk of big money from endorsements.
Nevertheless, Greg Myerson started Monday morning knee-deep in the cold, clear water of Munger Brook, calmly adjusting rocks on a small spillway he constructed next to his North Branford house.
"I'm going to wait and see what happens," he says about the possibility of benefits and fame derived from the 81.88-pound fish he caught Aug. 4 in Long Island Sound, just beyond Outer Southwest Reef off Westbrook.
His wait-and-see attitude is pure wisdom, because the fish must first be certified as a record by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), which approves and keeps track of such things.
"Approval of a record is a rigorous process," says Jack Vitek, IGFA records coordinator.
Not only must appropriate documents be completed but the fishing line and leader used to catch the fish must be tested and the scale on which it was weighed certified. No action can be taken until at least 60 days from the catch day.
Still, says Vitek, "I've seen photos of the fish. It's pretty exciting."
Scoffing at rumors that he would not submit his fish to the IGFA, Myerson, 43, points to his house and says, "I've got the IGFA papers in there."
With that, he tosses a handful of feed pellets into the brook, bringing the water to a boil of hungry trout, fish he has stocked there for fun.
A few minutes later, shutting off his noisy cellphone, Myerson sits in an easy chair by a large window overlooking the brook.
"I can feed my trout out this window," he says.
The Catch That Changes Everything
The big—he's 6-feet-4-inches and 275-pounds—former linebacker at the University of Rhode Island seems almost unaware that, in the angling world, at least, he has become an instant celebrity.
Obviously, however, Myerson is planning ahead.
"I want to start a company that sells online," he says. "It would market T-shirts, caps, fishing rods and maybe reels."
As for endorsements, Myerson adds, he is open to offers but not looking for them.
After news of the catch went out, Myerson says he was called with advice and congratulations by former record-holder Albert McReynolds, who boated a 78.8-pound bass off South Jersey in 1982. McReynolds, formerly of New Jersey and now retired in Florida, made a ton of money but also was targeted by cranks as a hoaxster.
Myerson has already been subjected to similar treatment. One well-known fishing writer wrote in his blog that the fish had been caught by an "Al Stromski" and when the name was corrected, noted that Myerson had suffered a panic attack after being badgered about the fish.
Some posts on the Internet suggest something is fishy about the catch besides the fish itself. The burly Harley-Davidson rider laughs it all off.
Fishing Since Childhood
Many anglers who know Myerson say he's paid his dues and deserves the record.
"Better he catches it than some guy who just happened to toss his line in the water," says a buddy.
During the season, Myerson virtually lives on the water, fishing night after night. Big fish are not a novelty to him. He routinely catches and releases stripers that would be another angler's fish of a lifetime.
Myerson has been fishing for most of his life. He started at age 12, fly fishing on the Muddy River behind a friend's house in his native North Haven. About the same time, he caught his first striper when a family friend took him to the turbulent Race at the eastern end of Long Island Sound.
"From then on, I wanted to catch stripers, he says.
Myerson recounts how he trapped muskrats to earn money for a boat. Fittingly, he chose a salty 17-foot Brockway skiff, a wooden craft built by Old Saybrook's Richard Earle Brockway, a New England legend who produced more than 5,000 boats in his cluttered yard near the Connecticut River, working virtually until he died at age 76 in 1996.
Brockway used a rusted old Cadillac to hoist and tow his boats, which were favored by true watermen for fishing and utility use. Plans for one of his models were circulated to fishermen in developing countries by the United States Peace Corps.
"I watched my boat being built," says Myerson, speaking of the time he spent among the lumber, old tires and tools strewn about next to Brockway's ramshackle home.
"I kept the boat at a marina in Branford," says Myerson. "My parents told me not to go past the town dock. I'd go a lot further than that," he admits.
He now keeps his boat at Pier 76 Marina, north of the Singing Bridge over the Patchogue River in Westbrook.
The Fateful Night
Myerson left the marina with a friend aboard before dusk on Aug. 4 and, once near Southwest, stopped at a bouldery hole marked "22" on his GPS.
"It's my lucky number," he says of the hole's designation. The number is the same as the length in inches of a rainbow trout caught when he was young, still mounted on a wall in his home.
Myerson started his drift about 8 p.m. He favors slack tide at dark's approach for the biggest fish. His reel was a Quantum Cabo and his rod a short, stout St. Croix, at six-and-a-half feet. The eye at the tip of the rod had been removed and replaced with a roller. "I use braided line. It wears at the eye," he explains.
He used a three-way swivel rig with an eel, pretty standard except that he opts for super-size eels, figuring they attract super-size fish.
Reeling Her In
As the drift progressed, Myerson felt a powerful strike. He lost half an eel and the fish. He began the drift again.
"I expected the fish would be still there, especially if it was hungry, he says.
(Turns out it was, exploration of its stomach revealed only a sea star.) The fish slammed the eel again and Myerson hooked it -- or, rather, her. It was obvious he had a whopper at the other end of the line.
"I know what a big fish feels like," he says. "Towing the boat, the striper bottomed then streaked away as stripers are known to do, ripping off line."
Myerson waited for the fish to surface, as he knew it would when it finished its run.
"Crashing the surface, its dorsal fin was so big it looked like Batman's cape," he says.
As Myerson pumped his rod and fought the monster, he slipped on eel slime that coated the deck and bruised his ribs. Eventually the fish tired before Myerson did. At the boat, it edged under the swim platform, which snagged the net wielded by Myerson's companion.
"I use a huge net," says Myerson.
After a few anxious moments, they freed the net and boated the fish. From the broken-off leader in the fish's mouth, it was apparent that someone else had missed the chance at boating a record.
Even though he suspected he had something special, Myerson, laid back as ever, stayed out and continued catching stripers. After finally returning to the rock, he iced the fish, put it in his truck and relaxed for a while at a nearby seafood spot. Only after he returned home did he weigh it. Then he went to bed.
The next morning, a customer was having a reel spooled with line at Jack's Shoreline Bait & Tackle in Westbrook. The phone rang and owner Jack Katzenbach answered. After the call, he turned to the customer and another man who was hanging out and told them, "A big striper is coming in for weighing, more than 81 pounds."
And that is what it turned out to be, on Katzenbach's scale.
Editor's note: This article previously was published by Killingworth-Durham-Middlefield Patch.