It was the last day of October and I was riding in a station
wagon loaded with fishing gear and three expert spin fishermen.
Their six fishing rods lay angled over the back seat, all rigged
for stripers. I was sitting right behind the driver. A long,
scaled, plastic lure dangled from the well-used rod leaning
closest to me. It had an ink black back and a creamy white
belly that sparkled as it swayed back and forth, caught by a
single hook drawn through one of the rod's tarnished guides.
Its large dark red eye was scarred from a previous battle, and
stared lifelessly. We went over a bump and the six rods bounced,
filling the wagon with the sound of rattling, razor-sharp, treble
It spooked me a little. I'm not used to all this hardware. I'm
used to the quiet swish of a fly rod and a single hook, hidden under
colorful feathers. I was spooked all right, but not as much as, we
all would be later.
We were headed for a salt pond on the coast. A call from the
driver's friend had told us that Salem Pond was full of hungry
stripers. I hadn't fished with these guys before, but they knew
me from work and had invited me to go. With names like Catfish,
Pennsylvania Slim and Fish Hound (AKA Chow Hound) there was no
doubt that these were dedicated fishermen. That's not all Sea
Dog was coming later. Sea Dog was a legend. It was said, if
you scratched him on the arm, fish scales would come off.
We were early, so we stopped at a well-known fast food restaurant,
ordered, and found some seats. Except for Chow Hound. He sat
alone. I asked, "What's up?
"You don't want to know," Catfish answered.
We never let him sit with us because of what he eats," Slim said.
"Why, what did he order?" I asked.
"A pumpkin milkshake and a fish sandwich," Catfish answered.
I just continued eating my burger and tried not to think about it.
Dinner was over and we all piled into the wagon. Another thirty
minutes and we would be at the pond. Since Chow Hound was in the
back seat with me, I was hoping that he wasn't prone to motion
Catfish's friend met us at the pond and gave us the layout. He
told us where the fish were likely to be and where we could wade
without getting into trouble. We were fishing an incoming tide.
The one place we were to avoid was a salt marsh. "It looks like
flats," he said, "but it's real muddy and more than one fisherman
has gotten stuck waist deep in the mud, and drowned when the tide
came in. Some have never been found. I have to go to work," he
said suddenly. "Good luck."
Three spin fishermen were in the water in no time. Since I was
a fly fisherman, I was slower getting ready. I had to get my rod
out of the case, attach the reel, string up the rod, etc. While I
was doing this a strange man appeared. He was a tall, slim man
wearing a long black tattered trench coat. Underneath the trench
coat, it looked like he was wearing old time long johns, the ones
with the trap door. He smiled a toothless smile. His face was
pale gray and leathery looking with deep dark circles under his eyes.
His long gray matted hair hung on his shoulders. He smelled like
wood smoke. "Mister?" he said, "Jack Lannturn here," in a deep
"Hi," I answered nervously."You wouldn't happen to have some matches?"
he asked. I rummaged around in my fishing bag and came up with a book
As I passed them to him, my hand brushed his. His hand was cold and
rough and gave me a chill. "Thanks mister," Jack said as he turned
and shuffled away.
"Jeez," I thought as I finished getting ready."Homeless people out here?"
Catfish and Chow Hound had moved far out into the pond. Slim was
a lot closer so I decided to wade out and fish with him. Slim and
I weren't catching anything, but we could see frightened baitfish
leaping out of the water trying to avoid being eaten by the ravenous
stripers. They were too far away for a cast and the pond was too
deep between them and us. It was a frustrating situation. I asked
Slim if he thought Catfish and Chow Hound were catching anything.
He said, "No." "You would be able to hear Chow Hound yelling, Fish on!"
It was only a half-hour before dark by the time Sea Dog arrived.
He carried a cooler, a backpack, and an assortment of spinning rods
to the edge of the pond. I was hoping there were some adult beverages
in his cooler. Sea Dog waded out to where Slim and I were fishing.
We asked where he had been.
"Everybody knows that striper fishing is night fishing," he said
authoritatively. Slim pointed out the stripers that were feeding,
but couldn't be reached.
"I'll take care of that, Sea Dog said. Let me warm up for a while."
We split up and fished for another hour or so. It was dark and the
feeding stripers had refused to move any closer. Finally Sea dog
marched to shore "I'll take care of that," he repeated.
While he was on land, I turned to look at the salt marsh. I had
no plans to go anywhere near it. I was just curious. I noticed
a soft red glow moving across the forbidden marsh. It pulsated
slowly, like a coal from a fireplace. I strained my eyes to get
a better look. I could see a silhouette of a man. A man wearing
a trench coat, seemingly floating slowly across the salt bog, above
the sucking mud, holding the glowing coal in front of him as he went.
I closed my eyes for a few seconds in disbelief. When I opened them,
he was gone.
Sea Dog was rushing through the water. He had a rod that looked
like it was fifteen feet long. I could hear a chain rattling
"What the heck is that," I asked.
"Chain mail," Sea Dog said, in a determined voice "I'm sending
those stripers chain mail." He stopped about twenty feet below me.
The wake his strong legs made lapped against my waders. He reared
back and shot a long cast toward the distant stripers. You could
hear the chain mails erie rattle as it arched thirty feet beyond
unsuspecting linesiders. The longest cast I had ever seen. Sea
Dog began reeling, "Got one," he shouted. After a couple of minutes,
he landed his fish.
"Striper?" I asked.
Sea Dog didn't answer. "Striper?" I called again.
"Half a striper," he answered, in a whisper.
"Half a striper?" I muttered to myself. Then I understood. Something
crashed into my leg. A chill shot up my spine. The hair on my neck
stood straight up. "No, No, No," I thought. I stood still, real still.
My widened eyes darted about looking for a telltale fin. I thought
about "Shark Week." I thought about my family. I thought about poor
Captain Quint sliding slowly down that Great White's throat. Something
bumped my leg again. Slowly, I moved my shaking hand into my vest pocket,
and clutched my small flashlight. I took a deep breath and turned the
light on. A horseshoe crab! "It was a horseshoe crab!" I shouted.
"What!" Sea dog said.
"Nothing," I answered, laughing with relief.
Catfish and Chow Hound were slowly moving toward us. Slim saw them
and was reeling up. I was happy to be getting out of there. We stood
in a circle, hip deep in the saltwater discussing our nights fishing.
I told them about the glow in marsh and the homeless guy. Sea Dog
told them about the half striper. Despite his eating habits, Chow
Hound is the smart one.
"What are we standing here for," he said, "Let's get the heck out
of this water."
"One more cast," Sea Dog begged.
"Hurry up!" we all yelled at the same time.
Sea Dog shot his chain mail high into the air.
"This is like being in a Stephen King movie," I thought.
"I got a sea gull or something," Sea Dog shouted suddenly.
We all looked at his fishing rod. Sure enough, his line was
straight up in the air and skyrocketing all over the place.
His reel sang as the apparent gull took out line.
"No way," Catfish said, "Not a sea gull, at night."
We strained to see what it was, but it was too dark. All of
a sudden, Sea Dog's chain mail dropped out of the blackness,
making a tremendous splash as it hit the surface of the pond.
He began reeling in. "Something is still on this line, and it's
heavy," he said. We waited anxiously. Sea Dog finished reeling
in what ever it was. Then dragged it through the water with his
rod until it floated in a heap in front of us. Slim reached down
and carefully picked it up.
"It's some kind of a large rag," he said. Four flashlights
illuminated the mystery cloth. Slim took the hooks out of it
and shook out the water. He held it up at arm length. "Looks
like a trench coat," he said.
~ Charlie Place