Saltwater

Saltwater

I could say fishing is like a lot of things. I could tell you that fishing is a perfect metaphor for life; for the constant searching and ultimate gratification of finally finding that thing you’ve been looking for all this time. I could say fishing is like art or writing in its ambiguity and uncertainty. Or I could say fishing is like an old friend; familiar, reminiscent. But I won’t say any of these things.

It was spring and it was early—early in the season and early in the day; 4:30 a.m.-still-pitch-black-no-sight-of-the-moon-early, to be exact. And I didn’t exactly know what I was doing, to be perfectly honest.

I was standing alone on the moss and seagrass covered rocky shore of the Canal, while the flood tide flowed past me, left to right, in the direction of the Sagamore Bridge looming above like some broken down machine, silent but for the occasional car passing under its dull, yellow lights. The air smelled of spring and salt, but it’s cold. I was beginning to wonder what I was doing.

A massive red barge was suddenly in front of me, eerie in its subtly, crawling slowly through the white water. Probably five or six knots, I thought to myself. Against the current. Once the barge passed and the sun started to come up, I noticed another fishermen across the canal, standing on the rocks just like me. From my distance, he was just a blur. I saw what I thought was a half-hearted cast. He stood there watching the water move, then began reeling, jerking his rod tip back and forth. A term circled over the very center of the canal and let out a cry.

I was alone except for him standing on the seven-mile shore of The Ditch at the east end watching the water pass by. Probably four knots, I thought to myself. Four or five knots. It’s a fast tide today. I dug my cold hands into my jeans, trying to keep them warm, keeping my fishing rod under my arm. I blew into my hands but my breath was cold too.

It was May and it was freezing and it was too cold for fishing. I started to wonder why I was there. A light rain began falling, dimpling the water like an atmosphere peppered by dust.

***

Like any other fisherman, my first memory of fishing had to do with my Dad. We always had boats growing up and any time we were out on the water, we would always keep a few lines in the water with cut bait; mackerel or sea clam or sea worms. I remember catching a few striped bass a season, but it was never at the center of what we were doing. We weren’t really fishing. We were enjoying our time on the water and if we happened to catch a fish, we were happy. I loved fishing, though. I remember never wanting to leave.

I remember when I was probably eight, I begged my parents to buy me one of the lure sets from an infomercial that promised to catch me more largemouth bass. We had a pond in back of our house that I would fish almost every morning when we still lived in that house. I remember waking up and walking down and seeing and smelling the pond, the algae, the mist coming off the still water, and casting into the shallows, watching the line arch up and then lie quietly down on the top. I still dream about that pond all the time.

I remember one morning I pulled the biggest fish I had ever seen at that early point in my life up onto the shore, letting it flop around on the sand. I screamed for my Dad as loud as I could to come see my fish of a lifetime. Before he could come, the monster flopped back into the water and swam back into the lily pads.

“It was huge!” I told my Dad running back into the house, holding out my arms as far as I could stretch them. “This big!” He smiled, sitting at the table drinking his coffee.

“Have you ever heard of a fish story?” he asked me. I cried because he didn’t believe me.

I still believe that was the biggest largemouth I’ve ever caught.

Or maybe it was due to that strange phenomenon that everything seems so big when you’re so small. When I dream about that pond, it’s a sea; green and endless. But when I see it now, it’s a pool.

My grandfather loved to fish. When he died, I was given his fishing obsession; old boxes filled with rusty hooks, tangled monofilament, a few vintage wooden poppers, dented tins, dull knives, lead (real lead) sinkers, a few dirty tackle boxes. He wasn’t the most organized of people. My brother got all of his fishing apparel; all of those awful button-down shirts in bright blues and magentas with jumping blue marlins and feeding tarpon up and down the front of them, and three faded bucket hats with hook holes in them. He was happy with that, I think. I don’t know if he wears that stuff when we’re fishing to be funny or if he really likes it.

We found a couple of old Penn reels in his shed; an old, 704 and a few jigmasters. I picked up the 704, the scratched red paint cracked through to the chrome. I turned the worn, ivory handle-colored and tightened the drag. Every turn it made squeaked, but it turned smoothly and easily with barely a touch.

“Keep it,” my Dad said.

***

                I don’t know why I decided that I wanted to fish, truly fish, more than I ever had, at that particular moment in time. A few months after my grandfather died, I graduated college. Eager and anxious to find some type of job, I began writing for a fishing magazine on the Cape.

I was excited about my new job. Writing about fishing? Easy, I thought. It was a subject I was passionate about, a subject that I had something to say about. Not news or current events or technology. It was fishing. And I loved fishing. I walked into the office on that first morning and saw tuna and sailfish mounts on the wall, and the hooks, lures, wooden plugs and fishing hats hanging tangled from the ceilings. I was greeted by the editor who was wearing a dirty hoodie with a sketched striper on it and jeans. I felt a bit overdressed in my shirt and tie. I blew it already, I thought. Fishermen don’t wear ties.

I was introduced to the people in the office; others dressed in much the same way as the editor. As we walked across the room we stopped at an enormous striped bass mount just through one of the doors that led to the publisher’s office. We both stared at it. It’s mouth was wide enough for someone to put their head in.

“That’s her, the world record fish,” he told me quietly, respectfully. “88.7 pounds…”

“Wow,” I whispered, as if at an altar at church.

“You know how they talk about ‘once-in-a-lifetime-fish’?” he asked me.

“Yes.”

“This is a once-in-a-hundred-life-times fish.”

They put me at a desk that was beneath a large mount of an Atlantic salmon, always looking right at me with those marble eyes, always staring, big mouth agape, slapping its tail out of some unseen water.

At 8:50 one September morning, I sat at my desk when one of the other editors came in holding a ten-gallon bucket. He sat down at his chair roughly and placed the bucket under his desk.

“Morning,” I said to him.

“Morning.” He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a fishermen’s hat; the kind with all of the flies and hooks in it. I thought that was strange attire to wear to work, but who was I to judge?

“What’s in the bucket?” I was curious why he would be bringing a white bucket into work with him. I thought that maybe he was hungover.

“Eels,” he said without looking up from his computer screen. “For bait later.” He looked up and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say: Why wouldn’t I have two dozen live eels with me in a white bucket today?

It took me a few weeks to realize, but I soon understand something. Each and every one of the guys who worked at the magazine had been fishing before they came into work and were most likely fishing after they got out of work. Every day. I’d hear them talk about “this spot” or “this telephone pole on the east end” or “the south parking lot at an hour past high” were “hot.” These guys were hardcore. These guys were fishermen. And I wasn’t a true fisherman. They knew that. I was just a staff writer.

One afternoon, after submitting a particularly thrilling piece on fishing waders, I was getting ready to leave the office, when the circulation manager gave a little rap on my cubicle wall. He was smiling. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw him do anything other than smile

“You hitting that tide tonight, Bill?” He had a Coors Light in his hand. The office was pretty lenient about that type of thing. I looked up.

“Yeah, of course,” I said. I didn’t really know what he was talking about. He knew that, I could tell. “What tide would that be?” He laughed deeply and took a sip of his beer. He was bald and had a close-cropped, white-gray beard.

“Forty minutes after high,” he told me. “On the east end. Either side of the train bridge.” He took another sip of his beer. It was 5:07; I see it on the clock above my computer. It had a different species of fish on each hour. The hour hand was just past a blue marlin and an hour before an Atlantic triggerfish.

“I just may,” I told him. “I just need to finish up a few things here…”

“You’re a writer, aren’t you?” he asked me. I nodded.

“Don’t you need something to write about?” He laughed, took another sip of his beer and walked away. “I bet you’ll catch a fish if you go to that spot,” he called after me. I turned off the monitor on my computer and packed my things up.

On my way to the canal, I listened to the scratchy AM sounds of Joe Castiglione calling a homerun over the monster on the radio. I decided something then. I wanted to catch a “striper of a lifetime,” a fish to truly be proud of. I wanted to make it my season. I wanted to be able to tell everyone I know and will ever know about the biggest fish I ever caught, and show them pictures on my cell phone of me heaving it up smiling ecstatically for this camera.

But I wanted to figure something else out. I wanted to find out why people do this. Why would anyone find themselves standing on a rock in November in water up to their chests throwing plugs out into the black swelling water? I wanted to know why people wake up at three in the morning to fish a tide. Why do people endure bad weather and hooks embedded in hands and lost sleep and angry wives and girlfriends? I wanted to know what made people give up the comforts of life in order to fish. I wanted to experience this. Because it didn’t make sense to me.

I hadn’t fished much that summer, and now it was October. One thing I knew is that I didn’t expect to be on the edges of the Cape Cod Canal at dusk. I stood on the service road looking down into the vast, man-made waterway, cutting and carving its way through the shoulder of the Cape, lying under two bridges, three if you count that the railroad one, in between the two big oceans.

I had brought my grandfather’s rod and reel with me down to the canal and I only had a small tackle bag holding a few poppers, some metal and bucktail jigs. I walked down to the edge of the water and watched the tide run. It was dead high tide; the rocks were as submerged as they would ever be.

“Forty minutes past high,” I said to myself. “Almost there.”

I tied a bucktail jig onto the braided line on the old Penn reel and let it hang in the air. I cast it out, retrieving when it hit the water in short jerking motions. The ivory handle squeaked with every turn.

After a few moments, I looked around and found many more fishermen beginning to take their spots around me on separate rocks. They were all talking and laughing loudly, drinking beer from cans, smoking cigarettes and pot, and tying on their lures. I watched the tide begin to slow, and then finally come to a halt, sitting eagerly, folding over and over on top of itself. Then, the people around me began casting. The sun had almost gone down, leaving only rays of blues and pinks silhouetting the big bridge and trees around me.

After a few moments, one of the other guys pulled back and set his hook.

“Fish on!” he yelled. He let out a deep laugh, leaning back on his rod and reeling down.

“Yeah, fuck you,” I heard his friend say.

I cast my lure out and began reeling it in. People around me began catching. I only felt the weight of my lure as I reeled the squeaky Penn. No hits.

“Don’t be so anxious,” someone behind me yelled down to the rocks. I turned around and saw a skinny guy in bicyclist gear. “Let that thing swim, man. When it hits the water, count to ten. Then start reeling.”

“Okay, thanks,” I said looking down again. “Appreciate it.”

I cast my lure out again and began reeling. Nothing. I turned around and the guy wasn’t standing on the service road anymore.

I pulled back and cast my lure as far as I could. It hit with a splash and I waited.

Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco… I counted to myself. I don’t know why it was in Spanish. I felt the jig hit the bottom, and then began reeling. I felt a tap, and then a second. I thought that maybe I was just bouncing off the bottom, but the bottom generally doesn’t give headshakes, so I set the hook. The drag started spinning.

“Fish on!” I yelled. No one looked at me, but I didn’t care. After a short fight, I pulled a small bass up onto my rock and held him up to my face. He was small, probably five pounds, with broken stripes and tiny eyes. But I couldn’t stop smiling.

“Hey, you might win the pot today with that fish!” Somebody yelled to me.

“You know what we call a fish like that?” another guy asked in between gulps of beer. “What are you, compensating for something?” Everyone thought this was funny. I laughed and put the fish back into the water.

“Yeah, yeah. Well wait until you see the next fish I bring up.” I pulled the rod back as far as I could and collected for one, two…then flung it forward. As it came forward, the rod snapped in half, and the bucktail flew unattended halfway across the canal. Now, if they thought that guy’s jest was funny, then this was hilarious.  As I walked up the rocks carrying my half rod and squeaky old Penn reel, I got jests and highfives and pats on the back. But I didn’t care.

“You need a new rod,” an older guy in dirty jeans with a big gray beard told me. I saw him walk over to his dented, blue pickup, reach into the back and pull out a honey-yellow Lamiglas, an eleven- or twelve-footer. “Keep it,” he said, handing it out for me.

***

That winter, every night, I dreamed of fishing. I continued working at the magazine, which only fed my cabin fever. The guys in the office were still fishing—ice fishing, or taking trips down to the Carolinas to swordfish in the canyons, or chartering party boats out fishing for cod—but none of these activities held me. I went ice fishing once with the circulation manager, but I wouldn’t exactly call it fishing; more like grilling sausages and drinking beer on the ice. But we did have lines in the water.

I wanted the spring. I wanted the ice to melt. I wanted to catch a striper. Everyday, I’d find myself driving past water, any water, and straining to see the surface through the bare trees.

One day in late April, towards the end of that long winter, I walked from my car to the office and enjoyed the spring smells. I came into the office, late, at 9:03 a.m. and every light was out.

“Hello?” I called. No answer. I flipped on the lights and sat at my desk. On my computer was a sticky note.

Its spring, It read in the messy handwriting of the circulation manager. You know what that means…

I ran out of the office like a child, leaving my backpack and laptop at my desk, and drove towards the Canal.

When I arrived, I began to wonder if I had misread the meaning of the note. The water looked as quiet and peaceful as it had all those times I drove by it in the winter. A blue tug was huffing relentlessly against the current, pulling a big freighter underneath the Sagamore. I saw one fisherman down below the service road on the rocks casting a bucktail into the churning water. Then, I saw him set the hook and fight a fish. That’s a good sign. I took my place at another rock fifty feet away and looked over at him to see what he had caught. It was already released.

“You catching?” I asked him. He shook his head.

“Nope.” He took another cast. “Nothin’.”

“I just saw you,” I told him. He shook his head again.

“Nope, not me. But I hear they’re hitting on the East end.”

I watched the current flow from the left to right. Six knots. I checked my tide book. An hour until high.

“Well if they’re on the east end and the tides running like this, we should see them just after high at slack,” I said. He looked at me with a grin.

We alternated casts for a little while. I began to notice a few birds reeling restlessly just east of where we were. The guy on the other rock saw them too.

“Watch this,” the guy said.

I saw one bird reel, reel, reel, shoot straight down, pull back, circle once, twice, three times, then dive into the cold water. It came up with a little fish in its beak. Another bird did the same thing. Soon all of the birds were doing that. I began to see other splashes where the birds were diving. Big ones. Striper.

I casted my bucktail into the fray, right to where the birds were diving, and wait, keeping the line taught.

Uno, dos, tres… I felt a tap tap and pulled back to set the hook.

“Fish on!” I looked over at the guy and he was fighting a fish of his own. My fish was taking drag now, running with the current to the right of me. She started to swing close to the rocks so I tightened up the drag and swung her the other way. I eventually got her to my rock and pulled her out of the water.

“That’s a nice fish,” the guy called to me. “Nice job.”

I had never seen anything like that day. Birds, terns, everywhere, diving from ten, twenty feet in the air, fish on the surface slashing and frothing the water into foam. I caught a few more fish and eventually decided to head back, arms tired and hands sore. The guy followed suit and headed up the service road with me.

“Sometimes, we get lucky,” the guy told me before he got into his car. I nodded in agreement.

***

 I fished more than I ever did those next few months. When it started to get hot at night, muggy and sticky and almost unbreathable, I still fished. A beach on the East side this morning, or the Canal to hit this tide at night. I didn’t always catch fish. In fact, I sometimes went many days without a fish. But something was just right about standing at the edge of that vast ocean, casting.

One Saturday morning, after fishing a dawn tide at a rocky beach, I decided to drive to my parent’s house.

“Hi,” my Dad said, looking up from his coffee. He looked at my dirty sweatshirt. “Catch anything?”

I gave him a look and opened up the fridge.

“Nothin’, huh?”

“Nope.”

“How come you never catch anything?” he asked me. He liked to ask me these things to get me riled up. Of course, it worked.

“Do you know why things like pumping gas or shoe shopping is boring?” I asked him. I was annoyed.

“I don’t follow,” he said, shrugging, drinking his coffee.

“If I go to fill up my car, I know with one-hundred percent certainty that there will be gas to fill my tank up. If I go shoe shopping, I know for a fact that they are going to have shoes that will feet my feet at the store.” He laughed “If I caught something every time, I might as well be shoe shopping.”

***

One muggy pre-dawn morning, I was standing waste deep on a sandy beach. The false-dawn had barely begun to illuminate my surroundings. There were a few guys to my left and a long line of them that stretched for a few miles all the way to my right, dotting the long spit of land carved from years of sand and surf and hurricane and blizzard.

The two guys to my left were talking quietly. I casted my popper out into the breaking waves and began reeling. I heard a higher-pitched splash over the low-pitched rumblings of the breaking waves and felt that tap on my rod. The tip twitched and I set the hook.

“Well it looks like this guy is catching,” I heard one of the guys say. I began to back up and found myself on dry sand, pulling the fish up out of the water. I took the hook out of its mouth and held up the fish for the two other guys to see. They stopped what they were doing and came over to me.

“Nice fish,” the bigger one said. He was wearing patched waders and a dirty blue Sox hat. I nodded and put the fish back in the water, reviving it. It splashed and swam away.

“You guys having any luck?” I asked them. The smaller one shrugs.

“A few hits so far, nothing to write home about.” He has messy hair that he kept rubbing with his dirty hands. “How’s the season been for you?” he asked me.

“Pretty good,” I said. I was lying, of course. This had been the best fishing season I had ever had. “I got a few decent fish from the surf but I’ve got some bigger ones from my boat.”

“Eh, fuck that,” the bigger one said, spitting. “Boat fish don’t count.”

“I think the stock is in trouble,” the smaller one said to me, anxiously rubbing his graying hair. He couldn’t have been older than thirty. “I’ve never had a worst season than this. It’s all of these fucking cat food companies grinding up the pogies. There’s nothing left for the bass to eat. And all of these lawmakers don’t know what the fuck they’re doing…” he paused for a few moments. “It’s scary. I want my kid to be able to fish like I do, you know?”

We fished for another hour or so. I was in a good mood because catching fish puts me in a good mood, so I asked them something.

“Why fishing?” I asked them. They looked at me and didn’t say anything. “Why do you fish?”

“To get away from my wife and kids,” the bigger one said. I laughed but he didn’t.

The smaller one stopped reeling for a few moments and looked like he was deep in thought. Then he spoke.

“Everyone needs their clean, well-lighted place.”

***

In September, I came home from work eager to pick up my fishing rod and tackle to fish a tide at one of the Sandwich beaches. My girlfriend was reading at the kitchen table. I walked in.

“Hi,” she said. I walk over and kiss her hello.

“I thought you were working,” half questioning. She shook her head.

“I never work Mondays.” I didn’t think it was Monday. I left the room to find some of my fishing gear.

“Do you know where my hat is?” I called to her. “The red one? I just had it…”

She came into the room. “Do you want to see a movie?”

“Uh…” I stalled, still trying find my hat in the pile of dirty laundry. “Well I thought that I was going to fish tonight. I look at her and she gave me that look, the one that says: There is no way in hell that you’re fishing tonight.

She walked out of the room.

“Oh,” I heard her say. Now I feel bad.

“We can watch a movie tomorrow night,” I said. I found the hat and walk into the room and she’s sitting on the couch.

“I found the hat,” I tell her smiling. “Tomorrow night, we can watch whatever movie you want.” I smiled and kissed her on the cheek. “I promise.” She didn’t seem appeased but she smiled. I got up and walked out carrying my tackle bag, glancing back only once.

***

It’s October now, almost November. There’s no more scratchy baseball announcer on the radio, no more warm, unbearably sticky nights, no more complaining about water temperature, just bad music on the radio. I am in that same spot that I found myself in May. I still didn’t know what I was doing. But standing on those rocks, tying on a bucktail jig with freezing, saltwater-covered fingers, I felt like I belonged there; like standing on that rock was the only thing in the world that I should be doing. The thought of doing anything else was strange to me.

The sun was setting then, pushing that strange, low light from that low, pre-winter spot in the sky that just barely held above the tree line over the course of the day, shooting its pink and yellow and orange light through the million branches and pine needles and power plant towers and bridge columns, reflecting off the dark, churning, canal water.

I balance my rod out in front of me and let the bucktail hang down. I move it back and forth, swimming it in the shallow water. Then, I rear back, open the bail, collect for one second, two seconds, and fling it forward. The bucktail flies into the air, and I lose it in the pinks and blues of the setting sky. The bucktail hits the canal and lightly splashes the water before it begins its descent to the cold canal floor. Unos, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco…I count to myself, making sure to keep the bucktail swimming into the water column as it descends. When I feel it touch bottom, I engage the bail with one squeaky turn of the worn, ivory-colored handle.

“They hitting?” someone asks me in a soft tone from up on the higher rocks. I don’t look at whoever said that to me, concentrating on my bucktail swimming through the water column, waiting on that strike.

“Nothing yet,” I say slowly. I finish my retrieve and pull the bucktail out of the water. The man is now standing on a rock thirty feet to the left of me, tying on a bright yellow pencil popper. He’s a short man in a red hat, and his waders pulled up to his chest make him look even shorter than he is. He rears back and flings his pencil popper into the canal. It lands with a splash a hundred and ten yards out. I watch as it bobs in the current. The man takes three turns of his reel and a large splash erupts in back of it. He pulls his rod back to set the hook but he misses the fish.

He looks at me and smiles.

“I thought you said they weren’t hitting?” He’s still grinning. I don’t pay any attention to that and take another cast out. “Nice Penn,” he says to me. I look down at my reel.

“Thanks. It was my grandfathers,” I say. He laughs a deep smoker’s laugh. “What’s funny?”

“Using your grandfather’s old Penn reel. What a romantic notion.” He laughs again. “It’s just funny isn’t it? Us fishermen are suckers for the cliché.” I don’t think it’s very funny but I let out a laugh to let him know that I’m not a miserable prick. We continue casting at alternate intervals and after a few moments, I hear his drag zipping. After a short fight, I see him reach down into the water at his feet and pull up a little striped bass, eager and scared.

“Nice,” I say, but of course I’m jealous as hell. He smiles and nods, but continues looking down at the fish.

“This is what I miss,” he tells me. I watch as he revives the little fish by running it back and forth through the water. It kicks its tale and dives back into the depths. The man rubs his hand together and wrings the saltwater out. “I could never give this up.”

I nod and agree with him.

“This is what I miss on those cold winter nights,” he says. The sun had just about disappeared and we were suddenly bathed in the dull yellow of one of the streetlights kicking on. “This cold doesn’t bother me. As long as I can do this.” He takes another cast out. “Because I know I won’t be able to do this forever.” I think about what he’s saying for a few moments.

“But why fishing?” I ask him. “Why not something else?”

He doesn’t say anything for a long time, and I listen to the water push itself and fold itself off of the rocks in front of me, to a tern calling from up above the canal, of a bicyclist pedaling on the service road, to the sound of our lures smacking the water and to the creak of the worn handle of my Penn.

“Somebody told me once that fishing is the only thing that anyone can do that has the ability to make you go through any emotion.” He pauses again. “Anger, dread, boredom, envy… But everything becomes better when you feel that tap at the end of your line. That final accomplishment at the end of your journey. The happiness…” He concludes and trails off.

I cast again. The cold winds, those winter ones that we dread so much, begin to blow. I don’t mind them.

“Pure joy,” I say. He stops reeling, looks at me and grins, showing his yellowing teeth.

“Everyone needs something in this world that they love to do.”

We stand for a while on our separate rocks, casting into the unknown, yet known so well, water, that flows towards Buzzards Bay and then out into the endless Atlantic.

The man looks at his watch and hooks up his plug to one of the eyes on the rod.

“I’ve gotta go,” he says. “My son leaves for camp tomorrow.” I look at him and nod, keeping my jig off the bottom. “Keep fishing,” he tells me and walks up the rocks down the road into the darkness.

“Thanks,” I say back, but I’m sure he doesn’t hear me.

I stand in the darkness for a few moments, my plug swinging off the end of my rod. I look behind me at a half moon, glowing over the faraway lights and sounds of the bridge above me and the town behind me. The waves are lapping softly off my shins, warm water in the cold night. In the distance I hear a foghorn, mournful, hopeful. I take one more cast. The plug hits the water and I let it sink. Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, softly, feeling the braid, letting it flutter through the water column down twelve, fifteen, sixteen, eighteen feet. I engage the reel and make a half-turn.

The line goes taught.

I stop reeling.

Bottom, I think. Stuck.

I make one more turn and feel a tap.

Then the rod bends and the drag is singing, the line cutting the water right to left. My ears are ringing. I fumble over the drag and start to tighten, but the fish doesn’t give up, so I back down again.

“Holy shit,” I say out loud to no one.

Whatever is at the end of my line starts to slow so I tighten up the drag again and widen my base on my rock. I lean back on the rod and reel down. I think it gets the feeling that I’m winning the fight so it decides to take another run. This time, the drag sings like a freight train and I begin to see the red backing peeking through my braid on the spool. I tighten up the drag and cut the run short, pulling back, reeling down, leaning back reeling down. I do this for what seems like hours. Gaining line, losing line…

I don’t know how much time has passed. Eventually, I gain enough line and I feel the tired headshake of a defeated striped bass. My knuckle is bleeding.

A massive splash erupts ten feet in front of me and I see her tail. My arms are weak. I reel a few more turns and I see her looking up at me in the water; looking up at me from her home in the water at mine on the rock, with huge yellow-green eyes in the center of her wide silver-gray face. The moon peaks up over the powerplant.

I put my hand on her lip to subdue her and she lets me. Her body spans the size of my rock, seven stripes running thick from gill to tail. She’s the biggest fish I’ve ever seen. And I caught her. I don’t know what to do then.

I begin to lift her up out of the water. She doesn’t like this.

Suddenly, she kicks her tail and turns toward the center of the canal. I reach after her but lose my balance on the rock and fall in headfirst, saltwater rushing up my nose. She splashes me with her massive tail and makes another push, breaking the braided line from my reel.

Freedom.

I reach after her but feel only empty water, reaching my arms out in that slow motion way that most dreams feel like.

She was gone.

I sit in the water up to my stomach and listen to my heart beat. A tern circles over and cries out. A man passes by me on the service road of the canal, followed by his wife and one, two, three, four children. They’re all yelling and racing. I wipe the salt water off of my face and out of my eyes.

 

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