Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stupid Big Fish Tricks- Tarpaulin Cove

There are moments, albeit fleeting, or so we think, when we wish that we could get a re-do. I have several. Okay, maybe a few thousand. However, when one has been in pursuit of big fish , it is hard to forgive oneself for mistakes and missteps. This particular memory has been burned as vividly into my my mind as the braid that was burned into my hand. And, like most catastrophes, it begins with simple mistakes that cascade, like an airplane co-pilot who refuses to question their captain about the de-icing procedure and pays the heaviest of prices.
In this instance, you must first understand the setting and the characters.
The Elizabeth Island chain, running southeast below Woods Hole, Ma, represents the most prolific striper habitat in that fish's northern range. These islands, owned by the Forbes family, have been kept pristine and beyond development, perhaps the mark of an ecologically minded capitalist dynasty. Seemingly in conflict with the addage that great fortunes are made of great crimes. Nonetheless I have a fondness for the deceased Malcom Forbes who rode a Harley in the gang know as the Capitalist Tools. At least the guy had a sense of humor, and a personality, which is more than we can say for some of his progeny.
These islands harbor the most fantastic shorelines, mainly rocky glacial deposits with sand intermixed. Rocks some twenty feet in length jut to within inches of the surface causing Vineyard Sound's treacherous currents to whip past them in rips and runs that make anyone adept at spotting good lies mutter to themselves like a streetwise schizophrenic. One of the finest spots is Tarpaulin Cove along Naushon Island. At slack tide, it sleeps, quiescent and without pretension. Put some water behind it, drain it, and a rip a hundred yards long amid a boulder field makes your senses tingle.
Such was like the moment I found it, with my best fishing buddy Dan (see pictures with innumerable smiles) in the Fall of 2006. We positioned my boat , an 18'Maritime skiff, off the rip and began casting spinning gear using surface plugs. My first few casts with Bluish Smackit popper drew little interest. On the next one, an explosive device went off. Having fished for bass many years, I was relatively adept at honestly appraising a take. This one was beyond my experience when I saw the distance between the tail and the dorsal fin, a steady, irrefutable, indicator of the fish's size. It was immense. I had caught fish to 20 lbs (39') before. I knew immediately it was my best fish to date.
A little history is in order, if only to build the dramatic tension. I have been fishing for bass and bluefish since I was in 7th grade. My experience with big fish during my formative years left me breathless and hollow; which is to say, in need of a greater and greater fix. Before this day, I had fished Cape Cod and Maine for upwards of fifteen years in search of my best fish and had banner days along with soul-crushing ones. While I am an optimist at heart, I am capable of long riffs involving alcohol and mindless self-flagellation when necessary. All of which is to say that a moment in time involving cruxification can be preserved in human memory with undue vividness.
This fish cast away my demons, as it drew braided line from my Penn without any intention of stopping. I had 8o lb mono tippet done loop to loop with braid. This was a rig i had tried only a few times before but felt confidence in. Not having a swivel allowed the line to pull cleanly through the guides. Not having a swivel also allowed the lines to bite deeply into each other when under great stress.
When I felt the weight of the bass, I struck it and put immediate tension on it. I had a single piece Ben Doerr Spinning rod, eight feet tall and with serious wood at its base. This fish ran without so much as a quiver or hesitation. No matter how I clamped the drag down, it ran. Fifty pound braid! I put just enough tension on it to see if I could get its head to turn. I let my palm rub the casing of the reel and .... tck. Off.
I suppose I could have thrown the rod. I suppose I could have slashed my wrists. All would have been to no avail.
In the end we take these lessons in humility and try to get them to synchronize with our view of the world. For me, I will never be without a swivel again.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September Madness

Unlike March Madness, which elicits endless online betting and flat screen watching, this is madness of a different type, fueled by a metaphoric sense of life's end. Every September, no matter where I live, I always get a quickening pulse at this time of year. Living now in Oregon, it is a bit separated from the source, the Atlantic Ocean and the world's greatest migration of living creatures- bunker, herring, rain bait, false albacore, bluefish, and striped bass- which mass along the coast and, sensing the shortening of days, begin to gather together and sweep in a gigantic movement southward before the ocean's great cooling. In Maine, the migration has begun. Bass leave the bays and inlets, the coves and rivers, and combine by age and size to form football shaped hydrodynamic clouds and begin moving. I have witnessed this in many forms and it is both exciting and sad. Exciting to think of the opportunity to witness feeding frenzies so necessary to fuel this movement. Sad, because we know what follows- months of cold and hollowness to test the spirit until the spring renewal.

And yet, I have a fondness for the Fall. I realize, now that I am pushing fifty, how limited our vision of these natural miracles really is. I see that we have a kindred spirit with the fish, who only respond to stimuli we otherwise can only guess at. When I say it is metaphoric of our own mortality, I mean it. Each year that passes brings us closer to a conclusion we have no control over writing. If I knew I could fish for another fifty years, perhaps the moment would lack something, a dimension of poignancy that gives it richness. As Orson Wells said, Death gives Life its succor.

And so for those on the edge of the Atlantic, I say get your ass out there and enjoy this moment. The best fishing of the year is upon you and you will need rich memories to get you through what follows. Now I have to start tying steelhead flies for the coming months. Ha.