Ive written about going fishing on Marthas Vineyard. About going fishing in the cement pond without bait and catching nothing more than my friend Reeds shirt. Yeah, thats what fishing means to five and six-year-old boys. Beyond that, there was true fishing, and I eventually learned about it.
Looking back, I realize that I didnt learn it from my dad or even my older brothers. It was the big kids; they showed me how to fish. As I had older brothers, I was lucky I had a fishing pole in the cottage. The older boys (two brothers, as I recall, their names consigned to the oblivion that is my middle-aged mind) took me down to the fish market, and we bought some frozen squid. Using our pocketknives, we sliced it up, put the bits on our hooks and dropped them in the water.
Yeah, I know, what are pocketknives? We were armed. Of course, these days, a kid so armed would be arrested or expelled from school. I write of a simpler time.
We sat on the floating dock of Oak Bluffs harbour, leaned back against the tar-covered poles, and waited for a bite. The harbour was (is) such a pretty place, and, in those days, it had such old-fashion quaintness to it, for lack of a better description. The small sailboats and stink-potters, as my dad called the motorboats, swayed and moved in the gentle waves; little stains of oil and grease rippled across the waters surface, and the eye-watering aroma of the fishing docks wafted across the harbour.
These days, the tar and pitch-covered poles are gone not environmentally proper, dont you know? Most of the boats are large and expensive working-class people can no longer afford such things, and the wealthy like their BIG boats. Most of the fishing boats are gone pollution has depleted the stocks, and the trawlers have to meet all the environmental regulations.
Those first couple of fishing expeditions ended in failure for me. The other boys managed to land some scup (thats what we called the fish; I dont know if thats their real name even today). The funny thing was I was never truly disappointed at not catching a fish. Now, dont get me wrong, I wanted to catch a fish, yet, it wasnt that big a deal; after all, Id had fun with my friends.
Then came our third or fourth time, and it was low tide in the harbour. The floating wooden dock had ramps at different intervals, to allow people to get from the dock to the sidewalk above. As the tide went in and out, the ramps get steep or gentle. Since we were there at the time of the very low tide, the ramps were very steep, and we picked out a spot on the top end of one dock, right under a ramp. It was nice and shady, and had plenty of open water around it. Sitting down to fish, we noticed that every once in a while a fish would come down the narrow space between the dock and the wall of the harbour, go around the end of the dock, and out into the deep water. After the first one, we made every effort to get our lines in the water right in front of the fish, but kept missing.
Until, finally, I managed to drop my line right in front of one, and hooked him! Reeling in that fish made my heart beat fast and my spirits soar. I did it. Id finally caught a fish. I caught one fish that day and, as usual, we let it go when we got ready to go home.
Within a couple years, I was quite the accomplished fisher. I was buying my own bait, fixing up my own hooks and sinkers, and even had a tackle box. I no longer went fishing with the older boys; they were now interested in, ugh, girls and, for some strange reason, had lost interest in smelly old fish.
Now I fished with Reed and even Lisa. Ah, the day I saw Lisa bait her own hook with a hunk of frozen squid without complaint, I knew she was the girl for me. To a nine-year-old boy who loves to fish, that is a gesture of true love and devotion. Some days wed fish from the docks, other times wed head off to the jetties. Then, on a truly special occasion, wed fish from the steamship wharf. You see, thats where the teens and adults fished from, so you had to be truly mature to hang out there. Moreover, you had to get there early to get a good spot. Once again, these days, I doubt wed be allowed to sit out there; the steamship authority would be all worried about someone getting hurt and suing them. Ah, such is progress.
Looking back now, I realize that we usually let all the fish go; none of us cared much to eat them. No, it was the fun of the catch, the chance to hang out together, and the view of the open water that always captivated us.
One of these days, I hope to partake of that simple joy once more.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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