Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Coming Clean

No, this is not the spot.

I took the kids to daycare on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays but my wife’s part-time job left Tuesday and Thursday mornings for fishing. If I was on the road by 3:30am, I could be fishing by about 4:00am, leave when the bite slowed, and still arrive at work by 8:00am, long before anybody else.  Unlike my other co-workers, though, I was a worthless bag of protoplasm by about 2:00pm because of sheer exhaustion.  And if the fishing had been good, I’d get almost nothing done because I'd replay the events in my head all day and plan the next trip.  When I would roll into my job at the Ivy League university where I worked with “bass thumb”, I’d look at all the geniuses around me and say to myself “I know things you don’t know.”

I loved everything about the striper scene I came to know in my few years on the east coast. I liked the gritty industrial environment, including not just the rusted cranes and decaying buildings, but the people as well. I saw Augie a few times when I met others there to fish weekends or nights but he left once there was a crowd, which to him seemed to mean more than one or two other anglers.  Once I started my pre-dawn Tuesday-Thursday routine, though, he and I were often the only two fishing and before long we started to expect each other. One morning as we were leaving, Augie said to me "I want to show you a different spot on Thursday.  You can't fish this spot except at the bottom of a big moon tide, but it will be right  Thursday.  There will be herring too, so bring big flies.  Don't tell anybody." He gave me directions to the spot and I realized immediately that although I’d never fished it, the spot he was referring to was, in fact, hardly a secret. It was popular with bait fishermen and plug casters; I'd read reports on one of the local internet forums.  But he was right about one thing: because there was no backcast room under most conditions, we could fly fish the spot only when we could wade far enough from the bank and this could only be done at the lowest of lows.

I got there early and alone. As Augie had said, the tide was low enough that I could wade far enough out for a backcast and still be only waist deep  It was 3:45 am when Augie arrived 15 minutes after I'd started and though he hadn't seen me catch the three 30 inch fish I’d already landed, as he waded out he smiled and said "It's good, isn't it?"

At the next tide cycle I was back in our spot one morning and saw Augie in the distance.  I waved and asked him if he was having any luck and he shouted back something I couldn’t make out.  When I got closer, he shouted again and this time I could clearly understand him: “Get out!  You told!”

“What?” I said as I got closer.  Apparently one morning Augie had run into two of my friends in the same spot.  He knew these guys well and saw them often, but never here, in the morning, on a moon tide, during the herring run.

“You told.  How else would they know when to come?” he shouted.

“It’s a moon tide, Augie.  Everybody knows this.”

“How did they know to bring big flies?”

“It’s the herring run.  Everybody knows this, too.”

The truth of the matter was that folks were talking about the herring run, and big stripers, on all of the local internet boards. Augie didn’t know this because he didn’t use the internet - at all. He simply had no use for it. I was angry that he was blaming me for the arrival of two fishermen when the knowledge necessary to predict that this was the place to be was free for the asking to anybody willing to do a little internet research. But although I hadn't admitted this to him, he was right: I had told my friends about my success.  I just couldn't keep my big fucking mouth shut about it. I think if Augie had known everything – the public advertisements, the internet chat boards – his reaction would have been the same.  I’d revealed to him that I wasn’t one of them - "them" being members of the secretive and serious striper angler society.  That morning he seemed more disappointed than angry.  It was the last time we spoke.  I never fished there again, and two years later my career took me far from the ocean.

The urban striper sharpie has to solve a multidimensional puzzle that includes all the challenges of access (including, sometimes, not just getting to the water but also doing so without getting mugged, or worse), but also the timing of tides, river herring migration and light.  What this means is that by revealing a spot - a physical location - you’ve committed perhaps a minor misdemeanor.  But if you reveal not just one, but all of the dimensions, the penalties can be severe.  You serve your sentences for revealing tide, season, light and location consecutively.

[This piece was published in a slightly different form in the Spring 2015 issue of "The Drake" magazine.  Thanks to Tom Bie and "The Drake" for putting it out there.]

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