No matter how you slice it, the main point of fishing is to catch fish. It’s all well and good to be out on a boat, with family and friends, on a beautiful day, engaging in a wholesome activity, communing with nature, and all that. But the god’s honest truth is that, without fish, fishing can suck.
It doesn’t invariably suck. All those other nice touchy-feely things offer a kind of tepid consolation, and if it really is a beautiful day, and you really are out with family and friends, coming home with an empty cooler isn’t as bad as when it’s cold and rainy and there’s a jerk on the boat.
Today was a beautiful day. I was out with family (Kevin) and friend (Bob, whose wife Mad Dog unfortunately couldn’t join us). We went tubing.
If, like me, you lack fishing experience, you think ‘tubing’ is when you hang on to an inner tube attached by a rope to the boat, and go really fast. If, unlike me, you know something about fishing, I don’t need to tell you that ‘tubing’ is when you use a long rubber – yes – tube on the end of your line to simulate an eel. You then troll very slowly in an effort to catch striped bass.
I found out about tubing in a rather mortifying incident at our local bait and tackle store, Sports Port. We went in to buy some bait or tackle, I forget which, and The Kid was behind the counter. Those of you who follow this space may remember The Kid as being the guy who wouldn’t tell us his super-secret northside striper spot even after we’d told him our super-secret southside striper spot just the day before.
So, this time, we didn’t even bother asking The Kid where the stripers might be biting and instead, in an effort to be cagy, told him we’d been trying for them in the channel outside Barnstable Harbor, but hadn’t had any luck.
He nodded sympathetically (he’s actually a nice Kid, and we like him). “Were you tubing?” he asked.
I looked at him quizzically because this seemed like one hell of a non sequitur. “No,” I said, with something of the tone you’d employ to explain something simple to a child. “Our boat doesn’t go fast enough.”
So, when Bob, a vastly experienced striper fisherman, met us at the Blish Point ramp this morning, and told us he thought it would be a good day to try tubing, I nodded knowledgeably. “Good idea, Bob.”
I was relieved not just to avoid making an ass of myself, but also to find out that we wouldn’t be jigging, which requires you to yank on the fishing pole over and over for hours on end.
We went out through Barnstable Harbor to the north side of Sandy Neck, and put in our tubes. We trolled very slowly, watching for the telltale bending of a pole that meant we had a striper on the line. Over the course of the next seven – count ‘em, seven – hours, it happened exactly once, and we lost the fish immediately.
But the day was not without incident. We hooked three bluefish, and landed two of them. A bluefish bite has a completely different look and feel from a striper bite, so we were under no illusion that we were reeling in what we’d come out for, but catching a bluefish is way better than catching nothing at all.
At one point, headed toward home, it became clear that there was something on one of the lines. It was also clear that it wasn’t a fish – might be seaweed, might be a crab. Bob reeled it in, and discovered that the lure, which had been bouncing off the bottom, had snagged some rogue gear someone had lost. We disentangled our line from the rogue line and started bringing up the gear we’d caught.
It was a wire line, and there was a lot of it. Bob just kept hauling. When he had a huge, snarled ball of stainless steel wire, and was still pulling, he told us he thought there was something on the end of it.
He pulled some more, and we saw it coming up from the deep, a white lure with a very convincing fish-like motion. “It’s a bunker spoon!” He said. “I’ve got a friend who loves these things, but they’re thirty dollars a pop.”
A bunker spoon, as it turns out, is a foot-long piece of metal (this one was painted white) with a curve in it and a hook you could hang your coat on. It’s supposed to look like a really big menhaden (which are called bunker or pogies in these parts), a prime bait fish, and attract the really big stripers that eat really big menhaden.
If you can’t catch a fish, the next best thing is to catch a lure that will help you catch a fish the next time.
But the excitement wasn’t over. As we were trolling east toward the tip of Sandy Neck, Bob spotted a black fin sticking out of the water. Now, anyone who’s seen Jaws knows what to do when you see a fin sticking out of the water, but we opted against panicking.
It wasn’t a shark. It was an ocean sunfish, a giant (it can reach 3000 pounds), peaceable, warmth-loving fish. Its scientific name is Mola mola, but it’s called a sunfish because it likes to loll on the water’s surface, catching rays. Confusingly, in every other language, it’s called something that translates roughly to moonfish because those non-English speakers choose to focus on the fish’s shape, which is round and full, rather than on its habits.
Whatever you call it, we’d seen them once or twice before in these waters. This time, though, I happened to have a camera.
We all wanted to get a better look, and I wanted to get a picture, so Bob pulled the boat up close to the sunfish.
And now – here, today – I’m going on record as officially believing in the Loch Ness Monster. I was skeptical of the idea of a giant brontosaurus living in a Scottish lake, but it wasn’t mere skepticism that made me a bona fide non-believer. Up until today, I found the lack of photographic evidence to be the absolutely convincing factor.
But I’m here to tell you, you can’t photograph a sea monster. I don’t care if you’re Jacques Cousteau. If something big swims up next to your boat, you are not getting a picture of it. The boat’s moving, the monster’s moving, the auto-focus is looking at the water’s surface, the glare on the screen is rendering your image invisible.
Because my photographic evidence isn’t exactly convincing, I don’t expect you to believe me, but we saw not one, not two, but three ocean sunfish. It was apparently a nice afternoon for sunbathing. We also saw the splash of something very, very large (“It looked like someone dropped a Volkswagen in the water,” Bob said), but we did not see the large thing itself.
So, there was no striper, but there was more than tepid consolation. We had bluefish, we had an expensive lure dragged up from the depths, we had a posse of sea monsters. We had a beautiful day, and no jerks.
It didn’t suck at all.