Around the area where I live, you don’t need a boat to go fishing, but it does help qualify the purchase of one: “Honey, don’t you want me to teach the kids how to fish? Well, I’ve just got to have a boat for that, don’t I?” People move here from up north and the first thing they want is a boat. Norm, retired from GM, bought a boat before he even bought a condo. Often retired but sometimes just uncontrollably drawn by the Sun, they love the idea of the old-fashioned barbershop, and eventually find my little shop.
“Where’re you from?” I ask.
“Yeah? What part?”
They tell me and I pretend to have some idea of where they are talking about, although I’ve never been to Michigan and I’ve never been interested enough to study a map. I ought to do that.
Anyway, they always ask me about boating and I always tell them I’m an airplane kind of guy but I do add this:
“Just make friends with a guy who has his own boat, you’ll be happier.”
They laugh and agree that what I’ve said is probably true.
But they just have to have one of their own.
They’re going to fish and they’re going to cruise and they’re going to “take the family” out in the woefully shallow Sarasota Bay to cheat death on a glorified inner tube tethered on a fifty-foot line to the stern of Their Own Boat. But who knows, maybe their idea of pure joy is shoveling money into a lawn ornament.
Now and then they will go out to fish. Some will even return with a good sized Grouper or a Snook, if (during season) they are lucky enough to find one within the small window of “keeper” size. Once the price tag of the trip is figured, dinner will cost about $189 a pound, but they don’t mention that part. I can appreciate that.
But boats are not a necessity when fishing Florida. In fact, I’ve been told there have been a number of quite large game fish caught at the various fishing piers and along the waters in and about Longboat Key. I cannot personally verify these claims because I do not fish. Oh, I have fished. Some. Like when I lived on the Outer Banks and everybody fished, particularly during the Spring and Fall Bluefish Migration.
The Bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) is a migratory game fish built for speed. Sleek, long and powerful, the Bluefish’s reputation is that of an indiscriminate killer with all the necessary tools. The fish is a blue/green/gray mix that comes to life in an array of brilliance underwater. I’ve seen them schooling around me while SCUBA diving.
During the Springtime, small, immature Bluefish move in great schools up along the Atlantic Coast from Florida towards Maine and beyond for the Summer. They are like Snowbirds, minus the RV’s. Once there, the Bluefish eat lots of lobsters and crabs and smelts and whatever fish they can fit into their growing mouths, lined with razor-sharp teeth. During that time they do what every creature does when it overeats: they get big. Huge. In the Fall, instead of sitting on the couch drinking beer and screaming at the big screen, they all get together and swim south again. Eating all the way.
The Outer Banks is an archipelago of sand commonly known as “barrier islands” situated off the North Carolina coast beginning near the Virginia border and stretching southward for more than a hundred miles, hugging the coastline. At that point, the barrier islands continue to follow the coast westward for a short distance, and then they vanish. An array of bridges connects the barrier islands with one another until you arrive at Buxton, home of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse (with the black “barbershop” stripe). There, one must board a ferry, first to Ocracoke Island, and then another to the mainland near Wilmington. I know it’s a long way, because I once rode in a 100-mile bike ride—a “Century” to avid riders—from Southern Shores, just north of Kitty Hawk, to Ocracoke Island (and yes, we all had to board the ferry, but that distance didn’t count in the Century). The land is flat, sandy and windy, always windy. There are still places along the way that are truly described as “wilderness”, desolate spots where the shore has greeted the raging Atlantic for centuries, just begging to be fished.
In both Spring and Fall, one can find a well-manicured line of folks of all ages along the water’s edge of North Carolina’s Outer Banks from Buxton to Corolla, standing next to at least one nine-to-ten-foot Surf Rod (often several). The handle of the rod is neatly slipped into a slightly-larger tube of white PVC piping anchored in the wet sand at what appears to be a slight but precise angle. Lines have been prepped, ready to be cast out to a place beyond the break and all eyes are watching the appropriate direction, South in Spring, North in Autumn.
Eventually, the eyes spot a tightly-circling gaggle of noisy gulls twenty feet above the water. Eureka. (I’m sorry; EUREKA!!). The cyclonic gaggle slowly inches down the beach like a hurricane in search of landfall. Soon, the experienced eyes will move their focus from sky to water, where the water will appear to be boiling. Hungry Bluefish will be in a feeding frenzy of the type seen at the Golden Corral, devouring huge schools of Menhaden in the never-ending circle of life known as the “food chain.”
Every once in a while, the Menhaden, not especially wanting to be devoured, will seek refuge in the shallows. This act is folly, as the Bluefish will follow, even to the un-depths of the shoreline. A barrel-shaped wave comes in and goes out, and the beach is littered with Menhaden—and some committed Blues—many no longer in possession of all of their body parts. Another barrel-shaped wave comes in and goes out, and the fish are gone. It is a piscine ballet that moves to the direction of an unseen choreographer, and it is beautiful.
Like everyone else, when the gulls and the churning water are just offshore in front of me, I stand, remove my rod from its holder, open the bail, rear back and throw. Occasionally, the line pays out in an arc that appears to have been planned. In the Spring, the lure is a double-rig “Bucktail,” of smaller dimensions for the immature or “Taylor” Bluefish mouth. The double rigging allows one to catch the immature Blues two at a time. I can think of no reason to need one, let alone two of the little fellows, but who am I to fight the system? In the Fall, it is a Gator Spoon with a treble hook for the Jose Canseco’s and Rosie O’Donnell’s of Bluefish. Either way, lines go out and fish come in. Due to the voracious and indiscriminate appetite of the species, this type of fishing requires no skill. My inclination is to believe that most fishing is similarly demanding.
“Two jerks,” said the scruffy old man in the burgundy “Ducks Unlimited” hat. I had wandered up the beach during one of the “down” times, before the Blues returned up the beach, and said “Hello” to the old guy. He was clutching a coffee mug that read “Do I Look Like I Give A Shit?” and wore a blue windbreaker with a grey hooded sweat shirt underneath. His pants were green work pants in which he had done an immense amount of painting.
I tilted my head to one side, respectfully trying to wrap my head around what the crusty old fisherman had just said. Naturally, as a novice I was open to any tip, but something told me that this was more. Something told me he was giving me his secret.
Two Jerks. I’d always known about the one jerk, to set the hook. I couldn’t recall ever having the opportunity to “set” a hook, and the old man’s words now made me realize why. Nobody ever told me about the second jerk! Or maybe he meant that the fish taking the hook was the first jerk, while the motion to set the hook was the second jerk. The combinations were playing hop-scotch in my brain. Was there some mysterious method to this madness that had escaped me? For a moment, I was frightened to death he was going to leave me with that, “Two Jerks.”
He continued. “That’s all fishin’ takes is, two jerks.” He smiled, “One on each end of the line!” And then he laughed so hard he began coughing and spitting and I laughed too as I gingerly moved up the beach, not so sure now if the guts splattered all over the sand were from a fish.
Nevertheless, I am surf-casting on the Outer Banks, an activity I reverently understand to be coveted by many accomplished anglers who’ve not had the pleasure, and I treat it with appropriate respect.Type or Paste your work here...