The keepah

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Last night I caught my first striped bass. We went out with our friends Bob and Mad Dog at about 5:00 yesterday afternoon, just as the tide was coming back into the bays on the south side. Mad Dog, whose real name is Suzie and who earned her nickname by being a mad-dog fisherman, had heard that the stripers were biting in a cove in North Bay, so that’s where we headed.

As good as it gets

We were all using different lures with different actions, and I had a large, bright green Storm shad runner. We started far inside the cove and gradually drifted out, each of us casting in a different direction. I was the first to get a hit. At first, I thought it was a fish. Then I thought it was the mooring buoy (it’s an easy mistake). Then I thought it was a fish again.

It was a fish, and I watched it detach itself from the lure and swim away just as I pulled it up to the boat. That’s a terrible sight.

We went back to the inside of the cove and drifted again. I got a couple more hits, but didn’t hook anything. Nobody else got any action at all. And then I got one on the line.

When you’re fighting a fish, it’s hard to tell how big it is. Even the little ones can be surprisingly strong, and it always feels to me like I’ve got a whale on the line. I reeled like my life depended on it, and the fish pulled like his did. Since his actually did, I guess I can understand.

This one, I managed to get all the way to the boat, and Bob reached over and brought him onboard. Then came the moment of truth. The legal minimum for a striped bass is 28 inches, and this one looked like it was right on the cusp.

Our cooler has inches marked off on the top, but it only goes up to 24. Luckily, the gizmo that opens the gas tank is exactly four inches. Kevin held the gizmo next to the cooler, and I laid the fish on the cooler lid.

It was tight, and Bob had to point the tail to get the last quarter-inch, but it just made it. “It’s a keepah!” he declared.

It was only then that I realized my heart was beating fast and the adrenaline was flowing. Catching a fish is absurdly exciting. “Is it just that our excitement threshold goes way down as we get older?” I asked Suzie.

“Nah,” she said. “This is as good as it gets!” Suzie loves to fish, and I think she was as excited for me as I was for myself. It was my first striper, it was a keeper, and Suzie and I were both grinning ear-to-ear.

I hadn’t brought the camera, but Suzie whipped out her cell phone and took a picture of me and my fish. It’s a testament to how happy I was to catch a striper that I’m willing to post, for all the world to see, a picture of me looking like a total dork. As long as I’m a total dork holding a keeper, I’m OK with that.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in our lives right now. Kevin and I both have careers that have been affected by the economy, and we’ve both taken financial and professional hits. There are no regular paychecks in our lives, and we don’t know what’s coming around the bend. We chose this kind of life, and we wouldn’t trade it, but it has not been without its stresses.

As we motored out through Prince Cove, headed for the North Bay fishing spot, on a calm, cool, May day, Suzie and I talked about how lucky we were to live here, to have the kinds of lives that give us the freedom to go fishing in the afternoon. “It’s as good as it gets,” she said. And that was before we caught the fish.

I took my striper home, and Kevin helped me scale it down by the pond. I spread newspapers out on our kitchen table, and got out our sharpest filet knife. I did a respectable, although not an expert job at removing the filets, and we froze the rack to use as lobster bait.

Kevin took down the scale, and put the filets on it. Three pounds of striper, enough to share with friends. He put it in a bag in the coldest part of the fridge.

“Honey,” he said to me, “Who’s got it better than us?”

Nobody. Nobody’s got it better than us.

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Comments

  1. Brooke S says:

    It is so much fun to catch a nice striped bass. I have been fishing since I was a little girl, and the memories I have of fishing for them, in particular, are among my favorite. I love that despite what hardships you may have right now, that you and Kevin are happy with your lives. After two years we are just getting back on our feet (also due to the economy). I’m excited, and so is my husband. It’s good to dream the dreams that you actually wake up to find right in front of you.

  2. Wow! Congratulations! Lovely fish, and I am envious of how delicious it will taste. I, too, admire your choice of a way of living that values self-reliance and quality over security and predictability. Enjoy your fishing moment, and may you enjoy many others on Cape waters.

  3. Hey good for you! I’m jealous of anybody who gets to fish….

  4. Brooke — I think one of the reasons I find catching a fish so exciting is that I never did it as a kid, so I’m glad to hear that someone who did do it as a child still finds it fun. I’m also glad to hear your optimism.

    Mimi — Thanks for good fishing wishes! And I’ll confirm that it was, indeed, delicious.

    Paula — Yeah, it doesn’t suck.

  5. I love your starving challenge. I tend to aim high, but just trying for one item a day hunted, gathered or grown? I think that already happens in our house! Tonight it was eggs and dandelion greens (which I even got my kids to eat all swirled in with rice and cheese).
    And congrats on that big fish!
    ps: chezsven sent me here!

  6. That fish looks delicious! Impressive catch. Mike was very envious that you have “stripahs” on your doorstep.

    We know all about that uncertainty in life, especially in this economic climate, and the problems of trying to dovetail two vastly different lives together. On my ‘up’ days I feel like we have the best of both worlds; on my ‘down’ days, the worst of both.

    But even on the worst of the worst days, we say much the same as you: we’ve got it good and we wouldn’t change it for the world. As you point out, there’s a lot to be said for a lifestyle that allows you to go fishing in the middle of the day. Or build your own stone pizza oven. . .

  7. 6512 — At the beginning of the challenge, it was challenging indeed. We started in the dead of winter, and it was all shellfish, all the time. Last March was our March of clams. Now that we have so much going, it’s much easier. As it does for you, it tends to happen of its own accord. I keep it going though, because I find it makes me push my boundaries a little. Thanks for stopping by, and say hi to Chezsven for me!

    Jen — That about sums it up, I think. Sometimes having visitors come to our house is a reminder of how good we have it. We tend to take for granted that we have a great deal of freedom, a beautiful place to live, and a virtually unlimited supply of eggs, but seeing someone else appreciate it all makes me appreciate it too. Tell Mike that, if we lived a little closer, we’d trade some striper for some pheasant, any day!