There doesn’t have to big fish involved to make a fishing trip memorable, but a little family competition can definitely boost the stakes.

As the diesel engines of the Bay Princess fired up, it was clear that our four-hour foray would turn into more than a friendly fishing trip – it would become the “Kocan Family Battle on the Chesapeake Bay.”

My family recently traveled to Virginia Beach, Virginia, for vacation and reunion of generations. There was no doubt that a fishing trip would have to be part of the adventure and that it would be a trip that family of all ages would have fun going on. The perfect option for our group, ranging from ages 7 to 73, was bouncing bait along the bottom of the bay.

We laid out the ground rules for the competition as the boat idled from the dock. We gathered some money in a hat for most fish caught, biggest fish caught, smallest fish caught and for the ugliest. All categories had to have a clear winner and any disputes were to be settled by a majority of the group.

The fishing consisted of dropping two hooks baited with squid to the bottom and waiting for the quick tapping of a bite. We all used identical fishing gear. Our prey was whatever wanted to take the bait, but croaker were all that were biting on this particular day. They may be a small fish, but there seemed to be an endless supply for the catching.

With each drop, the tension grew as croaker after croaker came over the railing. Every few minutes a call to report catch totals would start.

“How many you got?” someone would yell out, and we would go down the line reporting with varying forms of enthusiasm. This would be followed with heckling back and forth about each other’s fishing abilities.

The trip made me reminisce back to the Gulf of Alaska a few years ago when we all fished in the same scenario for halibut. We all lined up along what could have been the same rail on the same side of the same boat. While our venue and prey had changed for this trip, the spirit of the group seemed no different.

It was pretty clear on the last drift that it would take a miracle for me to claim a prize. It was also clear that my niece was going to claim star angler of the day. It became official when the captain came over the P.A. and announced, “That girl in the front is putting on a clinic.”

The kids won the contest and a new chapter of family fishing stories was formed as we rehashed the adventure on the ride back to the dock. Croaker may not be most prized catch of the bay, but the competition that ensued will ensure this adventure is one that will stand tall in my families fishing lore for a long time to come.

Jon Kocan is the Stillwater News Press outdoors writer and a longtime hunter. He can be reached at

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