Friday, September 11

An Independence Day to Remember

"It has always been my private conviction that any man who puts his intelligence up against a fish and loses had it coming." John Steinbeck

Left in our wake from the slip were charter captains readying their boats and rigging rods. Leaving Indian River Inlet before 7:00, we were three on the Bird Dog, a 37 foot deep vee sportfisher. I was excited to go out with Jaime and Stacy, as I had been regaled with their tales from the deep for many years on the beach. Knowing them since I was a boy, it was great to go out fishing with them. We had been fishing many decades before, albeit in the surf. We joked over coffee as we motored toward the sun drenched seas.
A clear day, with a ten to fifteen mile per hour winds and seas of ~ three feet, we chugged under the Indian Inlet Bridge among the small center consoles holding position against the outgoing tide, with their rods awaiting a strike. Settling in, we increased speed to roughly seventeen miles per hour bearing due East for 45 minutes. The Bird Dog powered smoothly through larger rolling swells to the location where we would start our first drift. We passed rows of sea bass pots strung in lines, where the bass congregate on the bottom and the unlucky enter the pots for their last meal. Cutting our engines, we were readying 6' medium action rods with Shimano Calcuttas and braided line. The rig of choice was a hi-lo rig with 2/0 Octupus hooks and a surgeon's knot loop at the bottom to run through a 6 oz bank sinker eyelet. The lower hook was baited with a squid strip and the upper with live minnows lipped. Letting the rigs free fall, it seemed to take forever to hit the bottom eighty feet below. My anticipation for a bite slowed the reel, as I watched the plated reel spin out, then slacken.
Earlier I asked Jaime if I should let the bass gulp the bait, then set the hook, as when a striper strikes. He commented, "This isn't rocket science; you'll know". It was the older brother voice which I am so familiar with; the "ok greenhorn, no more questions, just fish" response. I leaned into the gunnels and waited. Within thirty seconds, there was a sharp tug on the line. Fishing with braided line, there is no stretch, and feeling every twitch of the line I knew this wasn't a crab nibbling on the bait. Reeling up quick, which at eighty feet takes a while, I pulled a nine inch sea bass on board. Stout with a spiny dorsal, you have to handle deftly to avoid the spines, as I did not. He was not at the twelve and a half inch limit and I threw him back, not before he left me a present. "Look", I heard from behind, "you scared the crap of him". We laughed as I washed up. I guess I did, poor fish.
This action continued on two more drift passes: checking bait; dropping the rig in the green-blue deep; catching, measuring, and releasing. The next reel brought in an oddity, which I thought was only in the imagination of Fred Schneider of the B-52's: a sea robin. Wiggling defiantly, with googly eyes and six bright orange feelers under its pectoral fins/spikes, it was a pretty hideous beast. Avoiding the pectoral spikes we got him (or it) back in the water and continued our hunt for a keeper. Always hoping our ruler was not going to be long enough, we also hit into summer flounder. While these do not fight terribly, they put a bend in the rod and you would think you had a monster on the line. A keeper had to be over 19 inches, and Stacy did manage to get one just a hair over the limit.
By this time, I was parched and wish I had taken the Bonine. My partners noticed this and jibed me as the "Silent Killer"…quiet, but reeling them in. After we repositioned for another drift, I fed the fish and rebaited. I felt better. They did their best to brighten my spirits. We finally hit legal tender on the sea bass and I was happy to not hook my hand as my head was swimming. The ride back was jovial and the wheelhouse was filled with the macho banter spoken during such times. The same rivulets of wisdom that flow in duck blinds, dove fields, and bait and tackle shops.
It was a fine day and while I must pay the price of a bruised ego sans Bonine, I did land a legal sea bass, which lightly seasoned and grilled was superb.
On that day, I tip my cap to my partners whose camaraderie made for a great trip. I also recognize and have a solemn respect for those men who risked their lives so that I could enjoy that day in a country that honors the sporting traditions.
And to George Read, a signer from Delaware, who defied a king to better the country he loved.