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A big man, a giant striper and a whale of a fish tale

I was jawboning with the owner of a tackle shop in Westbrook, Conn., on a quiet midweek morning when a confident voice crowing about the previous night’s catch rolled through the open door just ahead of the man who had spoken the words.

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“We crushed them last night!”

I turned from my conversation with proprietor Jack Katzenbach, and the large man who strode through the door smiled and put out his hand. “Hi, I’m Greg Myerson.” And then he finished his thought. “One was really nice, about 45 pounds.”
Unwittingly and perhaps a little reluctantly, Myerson recently became something of a celebrity within the angling community along a good swath of the East Coast when he caught an 81.88-pound striped bass, a pending world record. If approved by the International Game Fish Association, Myerson’s catch will break the record set in 1982 by Albert McReynolds, who caught a 78.8-pound striper from the surf off Atlantic City, N.J.
The striped bass record has long been one of the most sought-after in saltwater circles, in large part because of the everyman quality of the fishery. Not only does the fish grow to an impressive size, but striped bass also are abundant in coastal waters, where they are avidly pursued by both small-boat anglers as well as those fishing from shore and surf.
Myerson’s big fish struck a live eel drifted over Southwest Reef off Westbrook in Long Island Sound on the evening of Aug. 4, at the beginning of the ebb tide under a waxing half-moon. After a fight of maybe 20 minutes, the big striper was in the boat.
Myerson and I sat on the porch of Jack’s Shoreline Bait & Tackle and talked for almost two hours about everything from the trout he feeds in the stream that runs past his home in North Branford, Conn., to the details of his remarkable catch, including the fact that he went out the next night and caught a 61-pounder. The next night.
“I’ve been studying fish my whole life,” the 43-year-old union electrician says, “trying to think like them.”

The record night
Just after sunset on the second drift of the evening, over a large submerged boulder that typically holds big bass, the record striper struck the large eel, and Myerson reeled his way into the record books.
“Right away, I knew it was a giant fish,” he says. It made one strong run that caused Myerson to tighten the drag to keep the fish from getting into the backing. The striper eventually came up off the bottom and thrashed on the surface, which signaled the fight was almost over. “It just thought it was another big fish.”
Once it was in the boat, he says, “I thought it was a good 60 pounds.” Not thinking it might be a world record, Myerson and his partner continued fishing. They landed a 48-pounder and maybe a dozen smaller bass before conditions got too rough and they came in for the night. Ashore, they went to a seafood restaurant to eat and relax. The record striped bass, meanwhile, lay crammed in a giant cooler on ice in Myerson’s truck.

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Midnight surprise
It wasn’t until he got home around midnight that he and his fishing partner put the big fish on Myerson’s digital scale. “It went right to 82,” recalls Myerson, who says a marine biologist told him the striper was probably 25 years old. “We looked at each other, and I called Jack’s cell phone. He didn’t answer. It was around midnight.”
Katzenbach got the message and was at the shop at 5 a.m., waiting for the fish and the fisherman, who finally arrived around 8:30. By then, a small crowd was gathering, and the word started to rev up quickly via e-mail and various Web reports. The coconut telegraph connecting the loose fraternity of striper fishermen from Canada to Martha’s Vineyard to the Outer Banks of North Carolina buzzed with news and rumors.
Myerson has been surprised by the attention the fish has brought. “I just didn’t expect the storm of media coming behind it,” he says. “As far as phone calls, [I’ve received] thousands. It burns out my i-Phone before lunch. I never imagined this … over a fish.”

Football, bow-hunting, giant eels
Myerson is fair-skinned, with reddish blond hair. He has what we used to call a “moon tan,” another way of saying he fishes exclusively at night, when striped bass are most active. “I never fish during the day,” says Myerson, whose passions are bow-hunting and striper fishing. “I’m like a baby hamster in the sun. I don’t go out till dark.”
And the photos of Myerson holding his record fish probably don’t do justice to the size of the monster, in part because the angler himself is so large. Myerson stands 6 feet, 4 inches and weighs about 275 pounds. A high-school football standout, he played linebacker and on special teams at the University of Rhode Island, which he attended because of its proximity to striper waters despite scholarship offers from larger Division I schools.
“I went to URI so I could striper-fish,” he says. Some would say the man has his priorities straight. An angler since boyhood, Myerson still goes at it hard. “I fish every day, weather permitting,” he says.
Myerson fishes out of an 18-foot Triton center console powered by a 115-hp Evinrude, with a Garmin plotter and a Garmin fishfinder, which he watches intently during his drifts. Since much of the fishing is done with the engine off, Myerson can work a tide on a near-shore reef and burn only about 6 gallons of gas. He drifts over the reef with the current, fishing eels close to the bottom, before running back up-tide, turning off the engine and repeating the process. He likes to keep things simple: big eels, sharp hooks, good knots, a good fishfinder, a reliable and economical boat.
Myerson’s tackle is pretty standard: 50-pound Berkley Gorilla braid, a 50-pound fluorocarbon leader, a 6/0 Mustad hook, a 6-foot, 6-inch rod made from a St. Croix blank, and a Quantum reel. And the bait, of course. “Giant eels, the bigger the better.”

Lifelong passion
Myerson is no stranger to catching large striped bass. Last year he landed three weighing more than 60 pounds, a feat that earned him On the Water magazine’s Angler of the Year honors, a title he’s likely to secure two years running. And back in 2005, he notes, he caught and released a bass that hit 71 pounds on his digital handheld scale. He says he gave the record fish to a Rhode Island fisheries biologist, who is studying it.
This wasn’t the big fish’s first brush with capture. She’d been hooked before. Myerson found a 5-foot section of monofilament leader trailing out of the fish’s mouth attached to a large Mustad hook buried in the roof of her mouth. Myerson’s hook was lodged about 3 inches away. The angler says he also removed a couple of smaller rusty hooks from the outside of her head.
Myerson has fished all his life. When he was about 12, his horizons expanded significantly when he bought a 17-foot flat-bottom skiff from Earle Brockway, an iconic Yankee builder and character who cobbled together wooden boats with plywood, roofing nails and roofing tar beside the Connecticut River in Old Saybrook. He paid for the boat himself from money he’d made trapping muskrats and selling their skins.
Myerson clearly has a knack for catching big striped bass. When he was about 13, he says, he caught a 50-pounder from his skiff that measured 50 inches, a remarkable catch for a kid. He is friendly and more open than many striper anglers I’ve known regarding the “where” and “how” of what he does so well.
Myerson says the fish and the attention it has brought won’t change who he is. “I’m still going to be the old smelly bass fisherman,” Myerson says with a laugh. “I don’t think I’ll change much. … I come in and I reek like fish. My clothes smell so badly that the raccoons drag them to the edge of the woods before realizing they can’t eat them.”
Spoken like a true fisherman.

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"We waived the luxuries and comforts of a well-appointed yacht and concentrated on seaworthiness and a reasonable price. The lure of a seagoing ship, of tarred ratlines and a hand winch was a strong one. Later on we learned that an ounce of ice was worth a pound of romance." - Edward H. Dodd Jr.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue.