I was born into a family that at one time fished for their very existence. Therefore, it was only natural that this rite of passage be passed to me at an early age. It required a two dollar bamboo pole, which I grasped onto like a child would cling onto his mother while taking his first steps. Unlike the latter, I held tightly to that twisted cane pole long before I was stable, or totally mobile. My first targeted quarry was juvenile Bluefish, or snappers as they are commonly called. I hate to make the reference but in those days, the back bays and neighborhood canals were overflowing with them. This was also the time when their parents roamed our shores and oceans in numbers as large (if not larger) than the bison once did.
It was a short drive to the local marina, a place I had previously spent many days and nights. To a child, it was a classroom, hunting ground, and amusement park all rolled up into one magical place. If I was able to contain my excitement without running, I had to walk only a few feet from the parked car to marvel at a wide assortment of creatures that lived beneath the waves. Life began directly at the marina’s rock strewn shoreline, which regularly held a pair of mating horse shoe crabs. Without fail, these blue blooded mollusks always held my undivided attention as though I had never seen one before. During each encounter, I would carefully touch the pointed end of their shelled tails before inspecting their insect like under carriages. After I was finished with the alien like crabs, a short stroll down the dock would guarantee to yield something I had never seen prior. Even if there was nothing new to check out in a boats cockpit or on the community fillet board, I could always eavesdrop on a conversation about the fish that got away.
Listening to several often repeated layman’s versions of “The Old man and the sea,” could fill hours of my day before I finally made it to the farthest seaward slip. An old Texaco pump and extra long hose transformed it into a floating gas dock. I was not certain of the cause, but somehow a few errant drops of fuel would always create a kaleidoscope of orange and blues hues on the surface. Beneath them, I would often be lucky enough to spot a lone remora looking for a ride back out to sea.
After I had explored enough, I could create my own fish story by simply laying across the floating docks and peering onto its barnacle encrusted side. As I watched, that same dock I used as a classroom, would transform into my personal bait locker. There were mussels for chum, and if I moved my hand stealthily enough over the barnacles, there were grass shrimp to add to the end of a hook as well. With my freshly baited hook, it only required a quick drop down to the bottom with a split shot. This always guaranteed a few taps on my line before I pulled up a bergall, toadfish or porgy. At the time, it really didn’t matter what I caught… just that I was fishing. The bonus was catching something with a tail attached to it the booby prize was something catching me!
This was also the same dock where I learned the hard way not to crab the blue claw crabs that hid behind the pilings. That crab’s pincer drew a high pitched yelp from me before I shed my first blood. The combination of the surprise bite and minute amount of plasma were quickly followed by tears. The result was a gentle over dramatic finger inspection from several nurturing generations, and a reassuring squeeze of my narrow shoulders.