Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Turning 5-0 and condensing experience into meaningful sound bites

So, at the almost ripe middle age of fifty, I feel that time urges me to share some observations about my most favorite avocation.

This journey began when I was ten years old and was taken "deep sea fishing" on the Lynnway Marine in Lynn, Massachusetts. This was a small party or head boat that brought us barely outside the harbor's entrance, where we dropped our lines using Penn Senator reels and Christmas Tree rigs, which are small pieces of fluorescent tubes tied in sequence, pre-dating Sabiki rigs by over thirty years. Mackerel were the target and they obliged.. and obliged... to the tune of forty fish, brought home in a plastic bucket and cleaned in the backyard on a cement bench. I am certain many were not eaten as no one I know has ever asked me over for a mackerel feed, and for good reason.

Yet even with the slight heft of a mackerel, the moment of hook-up remained etched in my memory, a living connection between myself and the natural world that was tangible, mysterious and fun, all of which are components of any joyful experience.

And so began an odyssey of sorts, evolving over may years, and including summer days left by my mother at Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield, Massachusetts, learning how to catch panfish with worm and bobber, how to pull nightcrawlers from the suburban lawns of my neighborhood, watching mesmerized as an old-timer waded out and caught huge largemouth bass casting rebels along the edge of a patch of lilypads with spinning gear. He illustrated in stark relief the difference between pretending and knowing, faith and certainty.

I fished for stripers from shore during their crash, a cycle of desoluteness, in the mid-1970's and 80's. I recall snorkeling at the age of 13 off of Rockport's Cape Hedge beach and encountering a small school bass that took me a moment to identify... because I had never seen them before. They appeared and disappeared, striped apparitions hovering above the sandy bottom, perhaps 18 inches long. If they lived today they would be over thirty odd years old and far larger than the all time tackle specimen Al McReynolds caught. I spent many hours thereafter trying to figure out how to connect with these fish. I even fished hard in 1974 and 1975 off of Truro for a week with a friend who had a 14 foot dory and a 20hp outboard. We trolled christmas tree rigs with large jointed pikies, tony acetta spoons trimmed with pork rind, hoochie trolls, and large rebels. We cast reverse atoms that took on water and cut long sliding curves on the retrieve. Never did we see or catch a bass, always bluefish and the very largest kind, some topping fifteen pounds. As I look back it is astounding that we found no bass off of Horseshoe Shoal in Cape Cod Bay, only bluefish. I am, however, forever indebted to blues for having tenacity and incredible power, even on conventional gear with wire.

I am embarrassed to admit that I did not finally connect with bass until I was almost thirty, in part because I left fishing behind as I pursued school, livelihood and love. My first bass came while casting a surface popper off of Old Silver Beach in a summer evening, off a jetty. I cannot even recall the stage of the tide, except that there was decent depth. The fish hit almost immediately, as if I cast on top of it and it defended its space by a slashing strike. I looked at it with a mixture of relief and alarm. I saw a fish that had long eluded me and at the same time, since my in-laws lived up the street, I saw I would be plagued by impulses to find more. And that is what happened.

After pursuing trout out west, I came to that moment where I knew salt flowed through my veins and could not be dismissed. More later.

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