And then as suddenly and mysteriously as they appeared, so the big bass disappear. Lunch is over. The water goes emerald and white again, the gulls retire except for a few floating on the surface, too stuffed to take off. Not another fish is to be touched. Breathless, exhausted but happy, the fisherman takes stock of his bangs and bruises, his parted lines and above all, his incredible catch of walloping copper-hued monsters filling the fish box. He may have trolled and hunted for days without a strike. But that supreme moment makes up for it.
There is still one more thrill to experience when trolling with a clever and experienced guide through a risen school of drum in the calm and transparent waters close to the shore, and usually to the north of the inlet. The wily captain does his best to come through the school from the rear instead of head on, as the latter is likely to sink the fish. Sometimes the fish simply rise on all sides of the boat and proceed in the same direction. Then, looking out over the stern, or even better, trolling the bait from the roof of the cabin so that one can look down, one is treated to an awesome sight—a channel bass in the act of pursuing and taking the lure.
To begin with, it is fantastic and slightly out of this world to look back into a school of oncoming fish swimming beautifully and rhythmically at different levels beneath the surface of the sea, all at the same speed, as though one motor controlled them. It is the closest many of us can ever come to the feeling of life in another element and the smooth power of the monsters that reign there.
But now one of the big fish has seen the wobble lure flashing by, its polished surface shining like the silver flanks of a mossbunker going away.
In an instant the drum, which has been cruising, shifts into high—sometimes two make for the same bait—and comes on with a rush that is terrifying in its implications of speed and savagery. For as the hunter approaches the quarry, the enormous mouth opens as though this monstrous opening could engulf the world. Then there is a last lunge of the great red-gold torpedo, the crash of the reel mechanism, followed by the familiar humming whine as the fish turns and strips off line as though there were no drag to hold it back.
The channel bass in good condition will make from three to four runs before he can be pumped in and gaffed over the side. He does not leap or fight on the surface but usually sounds. Even when wearied he will sulk and give a series of bulldoglike tugs which can snap a line at the last moment.
The oldest, best and most experienced guide for channel bass off Manteo is Lee Dough (Manteo, N.C., when writing for reservations). Other first-class guides if Lee is tied up—and he is usually booked six to eight months in advance of the April-June season—are Ken Ward, Fred Basnight and Way-land Baum. The address, Manteo, N.C., will reach any of them.
WHAT IT COSTS
Charge for a day's fishing for five in a party, standard at Manteo, is $40 per day as of this writing. For each person over five, add $5. This includes the use of a rod if you haven't got one. But if you get excited, lose your head in one of those wingdings I have described and drop the rod over the side, you buy the guide a nice new outfit.
A six-ounce tip is the heaviest any sportsman should be caught holding in his hand for this fishing. A lighter one with a light line is of course even more fun and marks you as a gentleman as well as a sportsman. If you really want to have fun, take along a salmon rod, and if you get into a school, go after one with a cast spinner.