Reader’s note: I was very flattered by Ned’s guest post last week. I mean, who wouldn’t be? I was compared to some of the greatest minds in human history like Carl Jung and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin!
One bad hangover later, I am not sure I measure up to such greatness. So in the interest of balance, I present to you another guest post, this one by Peter Cammann. Peter’s articles about fishing have appeared in magazines like Field & Stream, Fly Fisherman Magazine, On the Water, Outdoor Life, and Vermont Life Magazine. He is the author of several books, one of which, a fictional work called Slipnot!, also deals with one of my favorite topics, the vagaries of workplace environments.
Peter’s post is a work of nonfiction.
James and I have been friends for about 40 years and we’ve spent (or wasted, depending on how you view it) many fruitless hours together, fishing. One unusually warm day in November, we set out in my canoe on Apponagansett Bay in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, in search of fish, any fish – given how late in the year it was. The tide was coming in and even though there was almost no wind, it took us a while to paddle out beyond the breakwater of the harbor. We found a marker buoy in the middle of the channel and I tied up to it, using the stern line to anchor us.
We’d packed along some small live crabs and our plan was to do a little lazy bottom fishing for tatoug, which are also known as blackfish. These bottom feeding fish are a lot of fun to catch, particularly in the early spring or late fall, when nothing else is really all that active. We rigged our lines with large, galvanized treble hooks, attached the crabs and lowered away.
It was peaceful out on the water that day. We watched the gulls, felt the gentle action of the water under the canoe and soon came to realize that the fish must also be feeling all of that tranquility themselves, being so undisturbed that they were probably fast asleep. Not a single one showed the slightest interest in our crabs and so we chatted aimlessly.
Nothing would have altered this scene had I not heard a faint slapping sound coming from the general area of the jetty at the edge of the harbor’s entrance. I strained my eyes (this was a good 30+ years ago, when doing so had half a chance of yielding some actual results) and watched. I heard another slap and then another. I peered at the jetty and finally, something came into view. A couple hundred yards from our position, just off the point of the jetty, a school of menhaden was thrashing at the surface. I reeled in my line, put aside the crab and tied on a bizarre lure my father-in-law taught me how to make, fashioned from three treble hooks, attached at equal intervals to a very light-weight, 18” length of chain, the same kind of chain you will find holding everything together inside of most household toilet tanks. I slipped the anchor line off of the buoy and we began to drift towards the school of baitfish.
The current carried the canoe steadily to the rising fish. I used my paddle as a rudder and before long, we had noiselessly moved into position, within casting range of the school. I heaved a cast to the right side, into the thick of the bait, pulled back on my line and neatly hooked a menhaden. I felt the small fish dive and almost immediately, my rod tip began to bounce up and down, signaling that a larger fish had taken the bait. I set the hook and the canoe swung around at a sharp angle, away from the menhaden, as my fish began to run.
I called out to James and asked him (politely, of course) to haul his goddamn line out of the water.
“No way!” he declared emphatically, never taking his eyes off the tip of his own fishing rod.
His reaction was quite understandable. As the canoe, now being towed by the fish at the end of my line, picked up speed, the crab at the end of James’ line began to bounce wildly along the ocean floor as the canoe was dragged away from the jetty and the school of menhaden. This had the effect of making his rod tip bump up and down each time the crab encountered the bottom. Yes, James was completely engrossed in waiting out what he was sure clearly had to be a very large tatoug, tapping at his bait, so much so that he had no idea that I was actually fighting a fish myself.
I implored, begged, and then became fairly abusive to my old friend until he finally relented, turned around from his position in the bow, and confronted me.
“What’s your problem, man?” he scowled.
I pointed to my doubled over fishing rod.
James sighed and with a resigned look on his face, he pulled his line in. I fought in what turned out to be about a 7 or 8-pound bluefish, which I stowed underneath my seat. If nothing else, we’d secured dinner for that evening. What was disappointing though was that as soon as I finished bringing in my fish and James had set himself up with a toilet chain rig, the menhaden and the school of bluefish had disappeared. James and I cast our lines, looking for any signs of life, but with no result. At last, James impaled a couple of crabs onto two of the treble hooks on his toilet chain and lowered the whole mess into the water, returning to his search of tatoug.
An hour past, and then another, but nothing disturbed our crabs as they swept along, just a foot or so above the bottom. The wind picked up a bit, blowing us further into the harbor and I could see my car, parked on the shore. Quite suddenly, James reared back in his seat, the tip of his rod bent at an almost absurd angle. As he reeled frantically, line ran first to the stern of the canoe and then wildly off to one side. He was making steady progress, although he was clearly struggling to keep his catch in front of him. The damned thing just seemed to be pulling against him and winding around in a confused circular motion.
Neither of us had ever seen a fish do anything like this and we excitedly speculated as to what might be at the end of James’ line. A striper can pull very hard, but James’ fish wasn’t actually pulling line off the reel so much as it was stubbornly resisting any pressure applied and kept darting about like a sea robin on steroids. Bluefish will make insane runs too and are also prone to jumping, so it probably wasn’t a blue either. Tatoug are famous for how they like to run close to the bottom, but the spiraling we were seeing reminded me more of how a shark fights. But it was November and the water was quite cold, not exactly ideal conditions for lacing into one of them
Simply put, we had no idea what was going on down there.
Which was why it shouldn’t have surprised us in the least when James ended up boating a very sturdy, six and a half foot long…fishing rod. The reel wasn’t in prime shape anymore, but you wouldn’t be either if you’d several weeks lying on the bottom of a harbor floor, waiting for just the right sportsman to float along and obligingly bring you back to the surface.
I keep going out on the water with James in the hope that eventually he’ll hook into something more useful, like a suitcase full of cash.
Copyright 2012 by Peter Cammann
All rights reserved.
Second Reader’s Note: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
Give a man a fishing rod, and he just might bring you reels!