By Kierran Broatch
They say records are meant to be broken. What they don’t always say is what should be done once you break them. The following is a first-hand account of my experiences on Friday, August 5, 2011, when news of a potential new world record striped bass spread through the fishing community like wildfire.
What started out like a pretty normal work day soon turned into anything but. I was in New Haven, Connecticut, waiting in line for a bacon, egg & cheese sandwich when, at 10:30 AM, a text message from a friend flashed on my screen: “81 lb striper being weighed in Westbrook right now.” A profanity slipped from my lips as I quickly paid for breakfast and picked up the pace to my office. Just moments later my phone rang and On The Water editor Kevin Blinkoff’s name popped up on the caller ID. Word had reached their Falmouth, Massachusetts office already. Kevin stated that they were over two and a half hours away and asked if I was busy at work. I was, but not busy enough to keep me from an opportunity to see the holy grail of the striper world in the flesh.
Within minutes I had finagled my way out of work and was running down the street towards my vehicle. The 20-mile ride felt like forever as I watched the GPS countdown the time until my arrival. Thankfully, no Connecticut State Troopers were taking radar on I-95 North that morning or I would have been in trouble. Jack’s Shoreline Bait and Tackle is tucked away off Route 1 in the quiet town of Westbrook. I blew right by it on my first attempt, half expecting to see a crowd of anglers and cameramen hovering around the prized catch. However, the parking lot was almost empty and inside were there were only three people and zero fish.
I introduced myself to the man behind the counter, shop-owner Jack Katzenbach, and told him I was with On The Water Magazine. One of the two salty old men milling around wisecracked, “The only way news travels that fast is by telegraph, telephone, or tell-a-woman.” Unfortunately, news didn’t travel fast enough because I had missed the hoopla and historic weigh-in. However, Jack did me a huge favor by picking up the phone and dialing the legend-in-the-making, Greg Myerson.
Mr. Myerson is no stranger to trophy striped bass. In the 2010 Striper Cup, he took home the coveted ‘Angler of the Year’ award with a combined weight of 191.55-pounds from his three heaviest fish! Greg also landed the 2010 Cup’s ‘Striper of the Year’ honor with a 68.75-pound behemoth. To ensure last year was not a fluke, he’s already a monthly winner in 2011 with a 61-pound bass, and also weighed in 57- and 47-pounders this year for good measure. Around Jack’s shop, he is nothing short of the local sharpie. As you walk in the door, one of the walls is adorned with several photos of him holding his giant linesiders from over the years.
The phone conversation was brief and Jack wrote down an address. He handed me the piece of paper and told me I was to go to the home of Greg’s friend if I wanted to see the monster fish. It was not what I expected to hear, but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see what could possibly break a world record that has stood for nearly 29 years. I wished the gentlemen a good day as I hit the road and headed to a residential neighborhood to track down an 81.88-pound bass. When I rolled up to the house, there were two pickup trucks in the driveway, one of which had a giant cooler in the bed. Two burly men walked around the corner from the backyard and one of them quipped, “That was fast.” I shook both their hands as I introduced myself and thanked them for allowing me to visit. Greg was wearing a tattered Red Sox shirt and a Striper Cup hat. I was also donning a Sox shirt, so we broke the ice by talking about the upcoming weekend series with the Yankees. He was noticeably hurting, both from a bruised rib that occurred during the fight with the fish and a hangover from partying at the dock after the catch. His hands also looked like they had been through a meat grinder.
Cutting to the chase, Greg walked over to the cooler and hoisted the lid so I could glimpse what could potentially be the largest all-tackle striped bass ever weighed-in. He stuck his mitts in the gill plate of the giant fish and pulled her out of the cooler. The size of the fish blew me away. The gaping mouth and belly on the 54-inch fish were incredible, and I imagined it had no problem sucking down big meals like keeper blackfish and fluke.
The massive bass had been dead for 15 hours by now and was in rough shape. Its color was fading and the fins were growing blotchy red. I couldn’t help but notice a long monofilament leader hanging from its gullet to a few feet out of its mouth. Greg said there had been two rusty hooks embedded in its jaw that were pulled out already too. We all have said at one time or another that we’ve hooked and lost the fish of a lifetime, but at least three anglers weren’t fibbing!
I asked Greg if I could take some photographs of him with the fish and he agreed, so we chose a good backdrop and went to work. Greg is a big guy and former college football star, but even he was struggling to hold up the beast for pictures. After documenting and gawking at the fish for a while, he put it back in the cooler and began to tell me bits and pieces of the story. Like hundreds of times before, he and a friend were fishing a Long Island Sound reef off Westbrook. Greg has perfected the method of three-waying live eels in his 18-foot boat and his remarkable catches are testament to that. He told me that the bass, like many others, hit at slack tide. Greg noted that really big bass prefer to feed during slack tide periods, instead of fighting heavy currents for their meals.
His set up consisted of a stout 6-foot, 6-inch St. Croix tuna rod that Greg bought off an old Vietnam War vet who piloted Marine One for three U.S. Presidents. He favors the roller rod tip because he’s broken way too many traditional tips on big fish in the past. The conventional reel was a Quantum Cabo that he won as a prize at last year’s Striper Fest. It was lined with 50-pound braided line attached to a long 60-pound fluorocarbon leader via three-way swivel. On the business end was a gold 6/0 octopus hook, tied on rather than snelled. When I asked how big of an eel he used to entice the fish, Greg stretched out his hands to about 16 inches and stated, “I only fish with snakes.”
His boat, appropriately named One More Drift, was towed around the reef for twenty minutes during the fight. At one point throughout the melee, Greg fell and bruised his rib and told me he had trouble breathing since. With the bass subdued, he knew he had something very special, yet kept on fishing. Greg realized there would be no tackle shops open until morning to weigh the fish and there could be other bass in its size class still out there. They snapped some cell phone photos and continued to catch stripers, just nothing in the same universe in terms of size. After the memorable night on the water, friends gathered on the dock to celebrate the historic catch.
Early Friday morning, the fish was brought into Jack’s Shoreline Bait and Tackle, approximately 12 hours after capture. It was put on the certified digital scaled that hung outside the shop. To the amazement of every set of eyes there, it read 81.88 pounds! Who knows what it could have weighed when it was first caught, but it probably had lost at least a little weight since. Any student of striped bass knows that the current world record was set on a fateful night in September of 1982 along an Atlantic City jetty. Al McReynolds landed a 78-pound, 8-ounce moby striped bass from shore on a plastic Rebel plug. And anyone who knows that may have heard of controversy and allegations that jealous anglers and non-believers stirred about Al and his career catch. Along with a new world record fish comes a whirlwind of attention – not all of which is positive. That fact alone may have played a small role in the early decision making process of one Greg Myerson.
Jack filled out the official weigh slip for the Striper Cup tournament and some more photos were taken of the fish. After the initial hysteria cooled down, that’s when Greg brought the bass by a fishing partner’s house and in that front lawn is where I met them. I couldn’t help but bring up the question of what Greg’s next steps were with the fish. He calmly said he was going to take a nap and then had a full day of stuff to take care before he went back out fishing again that night. I asked if he had yet contacted the CT DEP or IGFA to notify them of the potential state and world record striper. He had not and didn’t really plan to at the time. Somewhat shocked, I tried to be a voice of reason and laid out some potential options and outcomes of the decisions he could make. Some say there could be a lot of money involved with sponsorships, endorsements, and speaking engagements, not to mention droves of free gear from the manufacturers of the products used to subdue a record fish. Greg wasn’t interested. He bluntly told me, “I don’t need the money.”
To him it was just a fish, even if it’s an accomplishment that millions of anglers along the Eastern Seaboard have been chasing for a long time. The world record striped bass is a huge deal to many, but no one (other than Al McReynolds) can truly say what they would do if they were in Greg’s shoes. Everyone was texting and calling him like crazy throughout the morning. He was the least bit interested in all the fanfare and attention that his catch was garnering. Perhaps sleeping on it would change his mind; after all, he was foggy from partying and in pain from a fall on the boat. I suggested taking the fish in for another weigh-in and photo session. At the time, Greg wasn’t having it. He was sure the weigh-in and witnesses at Jack’s Shoreline Bait and Tackle was all that would be needed if he changed his mind and wanted to pursue the record.
Greg allowed me to take some scale samples to send to a marine biologist with the State of Connecticut in order to age the fish. He plucked a scale off its broadside the size of a quarter and I collected a few others on the ground. The huge scales had several rings around them like that of a tree trunk, which, under a microscope, would tell how many years she has been swimming on this earth. I peeked at the fish in the cooler one last time and profusely thanked Greg and his friend for the once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a fish of that caliber. He closed the bed of his truck and drove off on his way to the E.R. to get his ribs looked at, with an 81.88-pound striped bass in tow.
Before driving back to New Haven, I once again stopped at Jack’s shop. This time he was alone, but the phone would not stop ringing. He kept checking the caller ID, yet wouldn’t pick up while talking to me. Jack laughed and said it had been ringing off the hook for over an hour. Word of the catch was now reaching far and wide. He said news crews were on their way. I asked Jack if I could see his certified scale and the official Striper Cup weigh slip. I documented both and thanked Jack for helping me with my assignment and wished him luck with the publicity that was surely coming.
When I finally arrived back to the office, the online rumor mill was already swirling. Two popular striped bass message boards had threads with a combined 15 pages of comments on the subject, ranging from congratulatory to lambasting. One of the more outrageous claims was that the fish was caught by a dragger boat. Another was that someone named Al Stromski had really caught the bass. The most comical rumor, however, was that Greg went to the E.R. not to get his ribs checked, but for a potential-record-induced panic attack! It’s sad that an can angler catch the fish of their lifetime only to have to deal with rumors and false accusations.
In the end, it’s Greg Myerson’s decision and his decision alone whether to pursue the new world record for Marone saxatilis. As he told me more than once that morning, he just loves to fish. I am forever grateful that I had to the opportunity to be a small fly on the wall for a few hours of this mega day in the striped bass fishing world. It was a real pleasure to meet Greg and talk with him, one fisherman to another. Greg is a cool cat and one hell of an angler, and I hope he is portrayed that way in the stories and articles that are sure to come. Hats off to you, Mr. Myerson.
Editor’s note: Our sincerest thanks to Greg Myerson for granting On The Water this interview immediately following the weigh-in. Later in the day, Field and Stream magazine conducted an interview with Myerson in which he stated that he has decided to submit an application to the IGFA, which maintains world records for saltwater and freshwater fish. On Thursday, August 11, the IGFA confirmed that they have received Myerson’s certification packet and will be reviewing it over the next 60 days. ~Kevin Blinkoff