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Sometimes even Babe Ruth struck out

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Updated May 5, 2014 at 10:18 PM

Dawn was painting the eastern horizon a pastel doves-breast pink, and all along the shore, lights in lakeside homes were starting to blink on sleepily.

It was so quiet you could hear the crickets yawning.

Chuck Campbell and I eased across the glassy surface of Percy Priest Lake, the boat's running lights adding to the colorful shimmer. We were looking -- and listening -- for tell-tale splashes of big rockfish and hybrids that were rumored to surge into the shallows this time of year for a breakfast of shad and other baitfish.

But the water was calm, the mirror-like surface disturbed only by the occasional splat of a little yellow bass or the purpose-like roll of a drum or carp.

I'd heard about Priest's springtime rockfish runs for years but never experienced it. I used to catch rockfish in the fast water below the dam, but I'd never fished for them in the lake.

A fishing buddy claimed he caught over 80 last year, ranging from four to 25 pounds. Chuck said he and a friend had found the fish in this area a number of times.

We had planned the trip for weeks, having it derailed by everything from bad weather to bad colds and family obligations.

Finally we made it.

Chuck advised me to bring heavy tackle. When a big hybrid or rockfish hits, it's like snagging a runaway locomotive. All you can do is hang on and let it run, peeling line, sometimes 50 yards or more. If it hasn't broken off by then, you've got a good chance of landing it.

I selected a medium-size spinning reel and loaded it with 8-pound-test line. That's considered light for rockfish, but I landed a 20-pounder below Cheatham dam last year on that same tackle, and up in the deep, open water, fighting one would be even easier.

Once in Canada I landed a 28-pound Northern pike on a fly rod with six-pound-test leader. I was fishing for walleyes when the giant pike hit the tiny jig. It took about an hour, but I landed it. It's hanging on my wall right this minute, and still has a sort of surprised look on its face.

Chuck was skeptical of my light-weight rockfish tackle. As it turned out, he had no need to be. I never got a chance to prove that I could land the biggest fish in Percy Priest on my little bass outfit.

Using only the trolling motor for stealth, we slipped along the shoreline from cove to cove. Nothing was feeding, other than an occasional yellowtail or largemouth chasing minnows in the grass.

The sun climbed higher and higher. Six o'clock came and went, then seven and eight. At nine we surrendered. Apparently the rockfish decided to sleep in that morning.

I remarked that at least we were treated to a spectacular sunrise on a splendid spring morning. Chuck grumbled that when a fisherman starts talking about how pretty the day is, that means he's not catching any fish.

I admit that rolling out of bed at 4 a.m. and driving for an hour to watch the sun come up is not something I'd want to make a habit of. Fishing is more fun if you catch a fish.

But even the great Babe Ruth didn't hit a homer every time he stepped to the plate.

Sometimes the Babe, like Chuck and me, struck out.

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