Saturday, November 25, 2017

Matt's First Big Shark

Night on Ocracoke 10 years after Matt's First

Matt’s First Big Shark

The 13-inch croaker I caught would serve as bait, cut into large chunks. Trish winced as I tried to ignite a lantern with wind blowing 20 knots, no use. Surf wasn’t heavy. Wind drove at our backs as we faced the waves. In darkness exposing stars we could almost reach and pluck from the sky, I heaved two fish finder rigs and piped the rods in sand spikes. One for our six year-old-son, Matt, one for me. We sat ready.

A long afternoon and evening on Ocracoke Island had ended, and we called it fair play to rely on a flashlight for this stint at night fishing, another beam from Lowes forgotten at the rental house. Having caught plenty of small pompano and cooking them in a pit for charcoal dug in the sand, Trish and I enjoyed a couple of microbrews bought at a specialty store in Ocracoke Village, all of this activity legal and feeling just as it should anywhere.

We sat in fold out chairs. Matt and I positioned right behind our rods. The cut bait soaked for several minutes before Matt’s rod lurched from the spike. He leapt from his chair, grabbed the rod above the reel before it could crab-walk to the suds, and slammed the butt into the sand with total determination. “Damn!” I shouted. Both of Matt’s hands near the gathering guide, he held the rod near his chest, its bend like a palm suffering Hurricane Andrew. Sixteen-pound test mono raced over his knuckles, drag squealing like laughter, but he was dead serious. Trish shot a look at me. Help him, you fool!

Matt gave me the rod. “It’s too big,”

“It’s your fish,” Our eyes met squarely as I took the rod and reel with light, gray-toned mono from Japan I prided, but now seemed too light to stop this fish. To insist my son put up the struggle would have felt absurd. If I could stop whatever kept plowing out to sea, we might beach a great redfish, I believed all too wishfully. That’s what I desired and imagined might be on the other end, but this was an August night, not November when great schools of drum frequent surf. I knew in my shaking bones I was fighting a shark—probably a sand shark, possibly a tiger, blacktip, or even a bull shark. All of these species represent reasons we get out of the water before the sun goes down. I tightened the drag just slightly, keeping stress on the fish by a strong curve of the rod. It stopped shortly before the arbor knot would break. I anticipated a very long heave-ho, beginning to pump the rod and gaining on the fish.

“Matt, you hardly sat down before you hooked it!” Trish said. She looked at me, and I could just make out her face. “Do you really think you’ll get it in?”

“I’m getting it in.” I gave her a haggling look, surprised no second long run had ensued, losing very little of the line I gained.

“What is it?” Matt said.

“A shark of some sort.”

“I hooked a shark!”

“Big one.”

I got the fish just outside the breakers and could not budge it any closer. After a minute of stalemate, it began heading north along the beach.

“I’ll follow it up the beach and holler when I need the flashlight,” I said.

“How are you going to get a shark out of the water?” Trish said.

“That’s what we’ll need the flashlight for.” I tried to sound fully convincing. There’s good reason for beach gaffs applied to the dorsal fin area, or a thick rope with a slip knot looping around a tail. But I was going to—very carefully—just try and figure this out. I could have nodded my head as if in false agreement with myself. Sure I will.

The bruiser heading to Hatteras, I steadily paced to keep up. A long while later at even longer distance, I watched the fading light of our flashlight. Sickly yellow. Low battery. I watched a few minutes later the light go out.

After brief silence, I made out the voice of my son screaming. “Dad! Dad!” For a few seconds, I felt a solemn moment between me and the great fish. Then I placed my thumb on the spool and let the line break. I turned and sprinted to my son and wife.

“You all right!?” I said.

Trish was laughing. “He thought the shark pulled you in.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thoughts from a Short Walk

My family took a short Round Valley hike early this afternoon, taking a right-angle turn east at the end of the asphalt leading to the water from the camping launch area. That edge is just in the water now, whereas last fall, dry gravel and sand extended a number of yards to the water. Reservoir remains plenty low, but it will fill in four or five years. after the structural work on the dams is done, not that they're leaking, but out-of-date.

Matt and his Mom stayed close together on the walk, talking politics, while I took in the scenes, felt gravel under my boots, and exercised with my D7100 Nikon. They got way out ahead of me with Sadie the Black Labrador. Just as well, because I can't keep up with those two on the state of our nation. In terms of politics, that is. At least the current events reflected upon from various news sources.

What a difference since September. The last I walked this shoreline, I was in bad shape. Not overweight and weak in the musculature; my energies were wrecked and misdirected, though the themes my mind processed from those energies were consistent and interesting in a sort of horrifying way. It was brave of me to go there and fish, trying to catch bass after Fred Matero informed me of some then recent action, but I really wondered if it would take me years to recover from what I suffered. As events turned out, I was almost back to normal four days later, and three days after that day of recuperation off from work, I was firmly back to life without fear.

However Edgar Allan Poe really died, I can just imagine him getting his brain circuits crossed in ways that took him over the edge, never to return, but to the best of my knowledge, he wasn't an angler. We anglers always find a way.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nothing Lost

Sometimes I just say, "It's enough," and hope that later on there's time for some more. My son, Matt, is back from Boston University, and I had planned on us getting in on the striper fishing "busting wide open," as The Fisherman puts it. I had planned and prepared for us getting a shot at it this morning at Long Branch. I've felt many times that I've done plenty, but as we had turned around and drove CR 514 into Highland Park, I couldn't remember ever having chickened out. Stunts plenty, but abandonments? I still can't remember a single cop-out, but by turning back, I knew my personal commitment to my job is more important than risking it.

I meant to leave promptly at 7 a.m. We left at 8:00, and I knew about rush hour traffic on I-287, but I hadn't remembered how bad it typically is. We got through the two slow stretches; it was the very slow traffic headed back towards Bedminster that gave me the heebie jeebies. Matt found a calculation on this mobile device that indicated return time should be normal, but I just couldn't shake anxiety. What if, despite likelihood, we couldn't get home on time for me to get to work? And fish with that uncertainty on my mind?

We turned around at Raritan Center. I have to be at work by 3:00. This is no casual job I have, which would allow me to just call out. Not without repercussions I do not want to bear.

Point Mountain Trout Conservation Area will work on Saturday. Doesn't depend on a clearly undependable superhighway. As far as stripers go, spending a couple of hours preparing tackle last night refreshed my relationship to these fish. I definitely want to try again sometime, though I really have no idea when this might be. Could be a decade from now, before I catch another. I don't have many decades left to fish, so mostly, I feel the fishing we've done is satisfactory, but if you know me, you understand an obsessive mind may not actually be crazy, but it sure drives a body, as Tom Sawyer would say, towards stunts outdoors, for which maybe most people spend entire lifetimes without ever catching a glimpse of appreciation for what the value means.

Nothing lost this morning.