Skinning the Cat

Years ago, when my dad was still living, every year for his birthday I’d take him down to West Point Lake and Highland Marina to stay in their floating dock house and do a little fishing for a few days. I remember when I was a little kid growing up my dad always took the time to take me fishing so I thought I would return the favor for his birthday in October every year after he retired. We had some good times down at West Point and the cabin we always stayed at was a floating cabin, so it made it very easy for my dad to get in and out of the boat. The back door to the cabin was about 3 steps from our docked boat so it was very convenient, especially as my dad got older and didn’t get around as well.

Back then I was a striper fisherman, and I netted my own bait at West Point when we went. Bait wasn’t very hard to find, and we could usually set out my Hydro-glow light at the cabin dock and net as much bait as we wanted, but if we needed more, I could usually find it back behind the marina where the water got very shallow and muddy. That’s where the gizzard shad liked to hang out. I could usually get a lot of threadfin shad to come to my Hydro-glow light just before dawn but netting the gizzards was usually a bit more of a chore, especially if you didn’t know where to find them. I had a few places back in some pockets behind the marina that usually produced the gizzards we were looking for though.

Fishing on West Point in October can be pretty good if you know where the fish are hanging out. Usually by October the fish are in the river along a stretch just north of the lake proper and it’s just a matter of using your electronics to find them. Once you’ve found them, that’s where the live bait comes in. I would put out live bait on downlines, freelines and my planer boards, which I manufactured and sold. We would usually have an average of about 6-8 lines in the water at one time which isn’t really uncommon for striper fishermen. The more lines you have out, the better your chances. It can be fun and when you find the schools of stripers and you can be busy for a while.

My dad used to love catching fish and sometimes we would be on so many fish he would be reeling in fish one after another. The stripers were usually 3-5lbs in size and they were perfect if we wanted to keep a few for filets to take back home. When we were growing up my dad did not believe in killing anything for sport or releasing fish if they were edible. His thoughts on guns were that they were only to be used for self-preservation, whether it was nourishment or self-defense and his thoughts on fishing was that you keep everything you caught. Sometimes we would catch 50 fish in a days’ time, and I told him that if he wanted to keep his limit, he was going to be fileting his limit; soon after that he decided that catch and release was kinda fun and within the confines of the law.

Growing up, we had a little 5-acre farm on the outskirts of town and my dad was very frugal. We didn’t have a lot of money and we would McIver everything or make do with what we had. We were always Gerry rigging something to get the job done so sometimes you had to think outside the box. My dad used to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat“. Kinda scary phrase when your young and your old man believed in eating anything and everything that had 4 legs, fur, skin or scales. We didn’t eat any cats that I’m aware of, but he did use that phrase a lot when he would be working on something and found a fix.

So anyway, back to West Point. There was one year that we went to West Point in October, and we couldn’t find the fish in the river that year. This was a year that it was still unseasonably hot, and a lot of stripers were still either down lake or way up the river, beyond where we could have gone so we chose to fish the lake that year. The first day of fishing, bait wasn’t a problem as I went behind the marina in a small cut, and we found the mother lode of 3–4-inch gizzard shad. They were so packed back in the pocket, I could fill my 8-footer with one bad throw. After getting bait we set out to find the fish, but we struggled to find any fish at all. The fish seemed to be scattered and we spent all day on the lake without much luck. Speaking of luck, I remembered a scene in the movie “Titanic” when the villain, Billy Dane says “I believe in making my own luck“. Such a cool phrase from one of my favorite villain actors. Well, by the end of the day we hadn’t caught any decent a fish, and I wasn’t not going to be satisfied with bringing my dad down to the lake for his birthday and not watch him catch plenty of fish. I believe in making my own luck so that evening I came up with a plan. I told my dad that we had plenty of bait at our disposal, so we were going to pack our bait tank full of gizzard shad and also pack a few 5-gallon buckets full of the netted gizzards and take them down lake in what I called the “bait relocation program”.

Early the next morning we went back to the gizzard hole, and we netted gizzards by the hundreds and put them in my big 50 gallon bait tank and the buckets of water. The bait was overpopulated in the buckets and tank but still alive for the quick move. I went down lake with the bait and I found a bay that had a west wind and waves blowing right into the bay. I positioned the boat at the mouth of the bay and started slowly driving across the mouth of the bay while we were releasing scoops of disoriented gizzard shad across the mouth of the bay. I believe some may call this technique “baiting the hole” but for this story we’re going to call this “skinning the cat“. That’s the plan I came up with. We scattered lively, half dead and disoriented gizzard shad across the mouth of the bay and let the wind-blown waves scatter the bait into the bay. At that point I told my dad that we were going to take a break and let nature do its thing.

We centered my 21-foot Carolina Skiff right in the middle of the bay and before long we started seeing fish on the graph below the boat. I baited my dad’s downline with a small gizzard and as soon as he dropped it down under the boat, he had a fish on. I spent all day netting fish after fish for my dad. Just as soon as he would lower the bait, his rod would load up and he had another fish to fight. He must have caught 30, 40 or maybe 50 fish that day, as I have no idea, but I know he was worn slap out that night.

The next morning, we went back to the bay and to our amazement the fish were still in the area, so we spent the morning catching more fish with fresh bait I had netted before leaving for home. All in all it was a great trip for us filled with fish catching and laughs. Had we not come up with the idea of moving the bait to the fish we might have had an unproductive trip. It was very easy to pick off fish after fish by drawing in the numbers and just dropping one line down at a time to catch one fish time after time after time.

West Point was a lot of fun for my dad and I in his last years. I always wanted to make sure he knew how much I appreciated all the things he had done for me over the years when I was growing up. This video below was one of our last trips to West Point Lake. We were blessed.

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