This is the time of year when I hate weekends, when
everyone who owns a boat and hasn't used it all summer
feels compelled to get those last few days of striper
fishing in. Don't misunderstand, I'm not greedy about
the water. It's a big ocean with a lot of fish. What
I do find irritating is the lack of expertise and
etiquette, the speeding through blitzing fish and
putting them down or the swamping of my kayak with
three-foot wakes in a no-wake zone.
This Sunday morning is no different. It's my fault;
I didn't launch until 7, which is usually when I'm leaving.
The hours between 7 and 9 are the worst in late August-it
seems to be the time that your desperate end-of-the-year
fishermen consider 'early' and are out in great numbers.
And so it is today. I haven't paddled the kayak a few
hundred yards when I encounter an armada of $30,000 boats
anchored and fishing 15 feet off shore. Some days this
is amusing, watching fishermen in their expensive Gradys
catching the same fish that I am in my $400 kayak, but not
this day. I have a lot on my mind and seek only solitude,
which is not something I am likely to get on a Sunday
morning on Plum Island Sound in late August.
I paddle past one boat and hear a fisherman yell, "FISH ON!"
Within seconds a younger man on the same boat yells "DOUBLE
HOOK UP," announcing to the entire world that they have
hooked two schoolies. The younger of the two yells,
"This is a BIG fish!" and they continue to yell and
cheer each other on until the fish are in the boat.
One fish is in the high teens, the other about 24
inches. You would have thought that they had each
hooked a tarpon.
As I am cursing them under my breath I notice that
they are likely father and son and this changes everything.
I discreetly paddle off to their port side and just observe.
Today I need this more than fish.
Growing up, about the only thing my dad and I did
together was fish. He worked as a plumber by day,
for the New York Central railroad at night, so we
didn't get to see each other very often. But during
the summer he would launch his boat on the weekends
and we would fish for perch and coho salmon in Lake
Michigan, when we lived in Chicago, and, later, for
weakfish and blues off of the Jersey coast. He should
have charged me guide fees, because he would spend all
of his time putting me onto fish while he, with the
maneuvering of the boat and the tinkering with tackle
and the fiddling with engines, had very little fishing
time for himself. From him I learned a love of fishing,
the ocean, the outdoors.
With four children he had to forgo certain luxuries in
his life, but once we were all married and out of the
house he was able to buy his dream boat, a 21 foot
Grady White with a cuddy cabin that he christened the
Hooligan. He retired to Florida with his two dream
boats, my mom and the Hooligan, so that he could fish
But then he got old. You try not to notice when your
parents get old because you don't want to; then
something happens and you just can't deny it any
longer. One day I called and he casually mentioned
that he had sold the Hooligan. I would have been
less surprised if he had divorced my mom. He hadn't
been using the boat, and a shrewd neighbor, seeing
the boat unmoved in the driveway, made him an offer.
He sold it way below market value because we tend to
sell our old dreams cheaply.
The last time we fished together was five years ago.
He was up for a visit and I took him to Pavilion beach
to fish for striped bass. While the fishing spirit was
willing, the fishing flesh was weak, but he stayed and
watched me fish because that is what fathers do. The
drama of the day was tangible, and the bass, major actors
in this play, showed up on cue and I did quite well.
He shouted encouragement from his shady spot on shore,
and I was that kid playing high-school basketball again
with his dad cheering from the stands, though, in those
days, he just didn't have time to attend many of my games.
Last night I got a call from my mother to tell me that
the cancer he had beaten seven years ago, the cancer
that we thought was now just a bad memory, had returned,
infecting both lungs. The prognosis wasn't good. So
now I'm doing the only thing I know to do to put this
in perspective, and the gods have been so kind as to
let me stumble on this father and son.
"I'm on!" the father shouts, and begins furiously reeling
in a fish. The bass is splashing on the surface. "Look
at him, John!" he yells to his son, "Just look at him!"
I paddle closer for a better view. The son, seeing me,
holds up his hands about two feet apart to show me the
size of the fish. The grin on his face is bigger than
Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing
that it is not fish they are after, observed Thoreau,
but not these two, not fathers and sons. I give them
the thumbs up and head for home, having taken my limit
without throwing a cast.
Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an
avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor.
He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet
newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats)
and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.