- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2002

When Fred Passarelli called to firm up a date to hunt bass, perch, and whatever else might be available in a tidal stream near my house, he informed me that he would bring his ultra-light spinning rods and reels that were filled with ultra-light line.
I balked worse than a nervous pitcher in a backwoods baseball league. "Don't do it, Fred," I told him. "You just never know what's going to happen when you fish with scent-filled plastic grubs this time of year. Bring some kind of gear that can handle a big fish."
"Yeah, right," said Passarelli, a robust man who looks more like he belongs in a commercial fishing scow than the new car showroom offices he's used to.
But only two hours after we launched my boat and started "grubbing" for yellow perch in a tidal creek in Maryland's Charles County, Passarelli looked at me and said, "I don't know what it is, but it's strong and it's pulling out line whenever it wants to and, no, I don't think it's a perch unless it's one of those big Nile perch we read about in magazines."
Fred's rod doubled over, the line shot under the boat, then it came back out and pointed to the opposite shore about 100 yards away and all Fred could do was hold on for dear life. "I can't do anything with him," said Fred, smiling from ear to ear, obviously delighted that the line held and the fish wasn't about to break away.
Then we saw a red/orange flash and both of us laughed. "It's a carp what else could it have been?" exclaimed Passarelli.
By the time we got the huge "goldfish" in, netted it, and removed a ⅛-ounce jig hook that held a small, chartreuse grub from the inside of its fat lower lip, the carp began to bleed a little from a gill injury that occurred as we lifted it from the water to snap a photo. We quickly released it, and from all appearances it seemed to be OK. The 20-pounder swam off toward deep creek channel water without effort. The carp fought the good fight. It deserved to be treated kindly.
That out of the way, we began to discuss the foolhardiness of light-line fishing in unpredictable waters. I mean, if you cast for hatchery trout in a stream that contains only hatchery trout and maybe a few fallfish and bluegills, you can go with 4-pound monofilament on your spinning reel, even lighter tippets on a flyfishing outfit.
But when your water of choice is part of a tidal river that can be a monster when nasty nor'easters blow and also is a waterway that invites an incredible assortment of wild fish, some of them from distant ocean shores, others that live in its depths year-round and know how to cope with nasty elements, occasional food deprivation and commercial nets that are strung up like picket lines you don't take a chance with gear that is intended for the smallest inhabitant in the neighborhood. No, you make sure you carry equipment that isn't scared of the occasional oddball with fins or the omnipresent deadfalls that are loaded with razor-sharp barnacles.
Passarelli knows it now. We've known it all along, what with spending an awesome amount of time in these waters that we love so much.
Our spinning reels are loaded with very thin but strong 12- to 20-pound braided lines. We have baitcasting reels that are filled with 50-pound braid that is no thicker than 12-pound monofilament. And when we do use nylon line, it'll be more than 12-pound-test so we can pull a snagged wire hook on a jig-head free without losing the whole rig.
True, when a half-pound yellow or white perch takes the artificial lure, it doesn't have a chance of breaking free. Pretty much the same holds for a largemouth bass. But there have been hundreds of instances when a carp like Freddie Passarelli's sucked in an offering and headed for underwater badlands. The same goes for channel or blue catfish and fat river stripers that can turn on the afterburners like a waterborne jet. The monofilament that an ultra-light angler uses could never cope with such ferocity and power. If you believe otherwise, you're only fooling yourself.
Let us also not forget the times on Virginia's tidal Rappahannock or James rivers when a bowfin also known as a mudfish or a grindel wraps sharp rows of teeth around a lure to teach you a lesson. You don't mess with a big grindel if the reel is loaded with 4- or 6-pound monofilament line. Should you dare and succeed, you're lucky, that's all.
If you go after panfish in tough water, have the good sense to use strong enough line to handle the unexpected: uninvited species that sometimes happen by this time of year.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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