All fishing, all the time

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There are a lot of things that need doing around here. A garden to be prepared, seeds to be planted, bees to be fed, oyster cages to be set up, a turkey pen to be repaired. There are greens to be blanched and frozen, boats to be cleaned and put up for sale, a house to be cleaned.

Yesterday afternoon, we ditched them all to go fishing. Again. We’d had such a good trip on Saturday, and the weather was so glorious, that we couldn’t resist. Not only did we walk away from all our responsibilities, we convinced Gus to walk away from his, too.

Gus is our friend and our mechanic. Fish swim in his veins, perhaps because he is Greek. (His real name is Konstantin, but when he came here from Greece as a young man and applied for a Sears credit card, his full name was too long for the form. “You can be Charlie,” they told him, “or you can be Gus.”) He speaks with the kind of mellifluous Mediterranean accent that makes you think everything’s going to be ok. Which is an excellent bonus in the person who fixes your car.

Last fall, when Kevin and I drove down to North Carolina for our friend Allison Fishman’s wedding, I took our Saab to Gus before we left, since the suspension was making a rather ominous creaking sound. Gus drove the car and heard the creaking, but he wasn’t going to be able to open up the suspension in time to find what it was, fix it, and get it back to us.

“Can I take it North Carolina?” I asked, worried.

“I had a guy once who had a camper,” Gus said, with his mellifluous Mediterranean accent, “and he wanted to take it to California. ‘Gus,’ he asked me, ‘can I take it to California?’”

“’Look,’ I told him, ‘if you have a donkey, you can get to California. You stop, you give it hay, you give it water, you keep going. Take the camper to California. If it breaks down, you stop and you call. They come, they tow, they fix, you keep going.”

“Tamara,” he said to me, “take the car to North Carolina.”

I laughed. “But you’ll fix it when I get back?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“No?”

“No,” he said, and pointed to the offending suspension. “You have to wait for it to get worse.”

When I bring a car to him, we talk about cars for a minute or two, and then we talk about food We first met Gus when he was roasting a lamb on a rotisserie he built out of a washing machine motor, and we knew he was our kind of person. He keeps a smoker in his garage, and smokes a mean bluefish. And, if you ever meet him, ask him to tell you the story about going through customs at JFK with a frozen suckling pig. (“What is that?” the officer asked him. “What do you mean, ‘What is that,’” Gus said. “It’s a pig.”)

Gus

When I called him yesterday morning to ask if he wanted to go for stripers, I could hear the conflict in his voice. He said he had a lot of work, but I could tell he really, really, wanted to go fishing. He said he would try and get everything done, and call me at noon. At noon, he was in.

He met us at the dock at 2:30, and out we went. The plan was the same as Saturday’s: jig up a couple dozen mackerel, and liveline them for stripers. We went out to our usual mackerel spot, though, and found no fish. A few (apparently) on the fishfinder, but none on the sabiki rigs.

I was a little concerned. This was the first time we’d taken Gus out with us, and I didn’t want him to think we were the kind of loser fishermen who fish at random, having no real idea what they’re doing. But the mackerel aren’t always easy to find, and we had time. We saw a few boats farther out in the Bay, and we figured they might be into them, so we headed in that direction.

Sure enough, we hit them. Since I was jigging off one side of the boat and Gus was on the other, I didn’t see him pull in his first fish, but Kevin told me that he lit up. You know how much someone likes to fish by his expression when he gets a bite, and Gus really likes to fish.

It didn’t take us long to fill Kevin’s livewell, and then we headed back to the mouth of Barnstable Harbor to try our luck for stripers.

The theory behind this kind of fishing is that the striped bass go into the harbor to feed when the tide comes in, and then are just about forced out when the tide ebbs. The channel out of the harbor is narrow, and it funnels all the fish into one little spot. Go there on the outgoing tide, at the right time of year, with the right kind of bait, and your chances are good.

We went to the harbor end of the channel and Kevin cut the motor. Gus reached into the livewell, put a mackerel on his hook, and tossed it over the side. Before I had a chance to bait my own hook, Gus had a striper on the line. Literally. It took about seven seconds.

And that’s how the day went. We had striper action for a good two hours. Some of the fish were schoolies, and we watched as the bass chased the mackerel around the surface of the water even though they were too small to eat them. We use a kind of hook, a circle hook, that’s designed to minimize the chance that the fish gets gut-hooked, but is also relatively easy for the fish to shake, so we lost a couple big fish we’d had on the line.

But we caught plenty. Gus got his two (the limit) before either Kevin or I had landed one, but I also ended up limiting out, and Kevin got one. One of mine was just shy of three feet long, and may be the biggest fish I’ve caught to date.

Today, all the things we didn’t get done yesterday are still there, and we have that much less time in which to do them. But they will get done – or maybe they won’t, I don’t know. But I do know that we had a great day on the water. We also came home with about 15 pounds of striped bass filets, and Gus had almost as much, plus the leftover mackerel.

We happen to live in a place with world-class fishing, and Kevin and I have decided to make taking advantage of it a priority. On the days when the fishing looks promising and the weather is good, we’re willing to let other things slide to go out and try our luck. It is a luxury to be able to do that. An indulgent, time-consuming, expensive luxury, and one I feel lucky to have. Because I really love to fish.

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Comments

  1. Accidental Mick says:

    Hi Tamar,

    I would quarrel with you over the word “indulgent” in the last paragraph.

    You and Kevin were both working towards your stated ambition of being as close to self sufficient as possible. The fishing enterprise had some start-up costs and you are now in the process of getting some return. Fun is not the opposite of work. Fun is a bonus to some kinds of work.

    Go for it!

    • Ah, Mick, if only it were so.

      We’re not aiming for self-sufficient. In fact, we’re pretty committed to the idea that we like living in a world that’s interdependent, and we have no ideological stake in getting our food. We just think it’s interesting, and constructive, and keeps us active and learning.

      (There’s a more detailed version of our goal here:
      http://starvingofftheland.com/2011/12/my-year-in-calories-the-2012-challenge/ )

      Being able to take time off from work, and being able to keep a boat and a truck to pull it, are not things I take for granted. I feel damn lucky to live the life I do, ideology or no ideology.

  2. I can’t believe the size of that striper! That there is some good eating…If there is one of those (of any size) when I come in June, I would be honored to cook it for you. (I wonder if we can fish, or if there is decent fishing, where Zak has his salt barges…)
    I do want to know, though: did you feel like you love to fish when you weren’t catching?

    • Marge, if we’ve still got stripers when you’re here, I am SO taking you up on that! I don’t know what the fishing is like out by Zak, but I’m figuring he’ll find out in short order.

      As to loving fishing when I’m not catching, it is the critical question. And the answer is no. I’m Ok with it, most of the time, but I only love to fish when I’m catching — and only when I’m catching fish I can eat. I don’t go out when all the fish are too small to keep, and I don’t fish for fish that aren’t really edible (like false albacore). I’m in pursuit of dinner. Definitely.

  3. brother martym says:

    Well looks like that Dork thing is a thing of the past;yea got mad skills now pictures dont lie only reveal the truth good job all around im jelous

    • Maybe that other one was just first-fish jitters! But I think we left a few fish for you.