Wilson Post Blogs
The proper use of the Shadgraph
By JOHN L. SLOAN
The shadgraph began to throb. The vibration in the rod tip showed a vibrato you could throw a bluegill through. Then it hit the dips-a left dip, a right dip, a double deep dip. I reeled the rod tip underwater about three inches and performed a perfect elbows up. The elbows up are a maneuver designed to sink the hook deep in the tough upper jaw of a Rockfish.
I invented the shadgraph because back then, I did not have a depth finder or graph. I believe Tony Bean invented the dip terminology and I don’t know if he invented it but I learned the elbows up from none other than Stu Tinney. Way back when, all three of us and a couple or six other anglers wore the warm waters of J. Percy priest and other lakes out, fishing for stripers,(rockfish, buzzards, zebras et al).
We all fished out of Elm Hill Marina and formed a rough fraternity of fishermen. In addition to the three of us who were actually guiding, we had such aficionados as Mickey Pope. He and I fished together a lot, sometimes as many as six days a week. Usually on a hot, July or August afternoon.
After dropping all those names, let me also say the late Mickey Pope may have been the greatest buzzard angler of us all. I guess much of his success was due to the fact that for some reason, he liked it. He actually enjoyed catching zebras.
But what happened when I set the hook? Well of course, the reel seat broke. It broke completely. The reel went three feet in the air and I caught it in my right hand. I was using a casting rod and the rod was in my left hand. As I caught it, I locked the reel handle down with the palm of my hand.
Picture it. Rod in left hand. Reel in right hand with the drag screaming because the handle will not turn. Thirty-something pounds of Rockfish heading for Seven Points. Mickey Pope collapsed in the front of the boat, holding his sides and urinating down is leg in mirth. Across the water comes the famous cry of Tony Bean, “FISH ON”. Yes, I did land him.
Those were some dadgum good days. We would wait for a cloudy or stormy lookin summer day, meet below the dam on Priest, and net our shad.
Then, in 5-gallon buckets, we would lug them up that cursed hill to the boat and race to the landing to get them in the livewell. We had about a 50% survival rate. Then away all boats to the cruising crease in front of Elm Hill where we would watch the birds.
In front of the fronts (not a typo), the birds would dive on the shad and rockfish would attack from below. We had a front almost every afternoon. We would hook a shad on a big hook and put a proper weight above the hook and drop it down, adjusting the depth until the shadgraph went off. The shadgraph is when the shad becomes so nervous the rod tip vibrates. That means a fish is about to dine.
Then would start the dips. That is when the fish has the shad in his mouth and is positioning it for dinner. The rod tip will dip to one side then the other and dip straight down. You let the rod tip dip a few inches underwater, then with elbows held up to prevent spraining a wrist, you performed a soketoaim. Also pronounced sock-it-to-him. Then you just hung on. It is quite similar to foul hooking a Farmall tractor.
We called it fun. Unfortunately I did not carry a camera much back then and so don’t have a lot of pictures. We caught rockfish many ways and in many places.
Even more fun was catching them in the jumps with artificial lures, especially top water lures like those big Redfins or the big Zara Spooks. Man, what an explosion. The most bestest fun was catching them on Flukes, soft plastic ones; only one hook to get caught in your thumb as they flopped and flapped and squirmed out of your hand.
Maybe leastes fun and certainly most dangerous was catching them below dams when the generators were running. We caught a lot of them below Cheatham dam that way. Caught some big ones. Dangerous and sure hard on your boat. In later years, Mickey, Bob Julian and I went quite often. I guess it was the thrill of it. For sure you wore your lifejacket at all times. I have even seen bigger boats with families catching them below Cheatham Dam.
I don’t know exactly when I quit enjoying catching them. It think it was probably about when the hybrids started running off the smallmouth. It got to the point whenever you caught a smallie; you had a hoard of hybrids move in on you. Then came the rockfish.
I never could figure out why those saltwater stripers were a delicacy in Northeast. I mean they pay a lot for them in fancy eateries. Up there, they call them striped sea bass. They are edible and some folks down here like them. I seem to recall Big Bird telling me his wife liked them. Then, in retrospect, she did marry Big Bird. That has to tell you something.
I don’t know. Can’t cipher it. Some people actually go out and try to catch them. Think I’ll go to the pool at the Floyd and kick back. It is way too hot unless a front blows up about 4:30.