Do you like to fish?
I ask people that all the time, and it’s not surprising to me that lots of people do like to fish. Not surprising, because I like to fish, and it’s never surprising when people like what you like.
The flip side, of course, is that it’s always at least a little surprising when people don’t like what you like. It’s beyond me how anyone could not like anchovies, or Trollope, or Scottish deerhounds. Or fishing. So, when people tell me they don’t like fishing, I always ask a few more questions. And it turns out that the reason most people give for not liking to fish is usually a variation on one of three:
1. I find killing fish distasteful
2. I get seasick.
3. I’ve never actually caught a fish.
Reason Number One is probably a deal-breaker. I’m not crazy about killing fish either, and I understand disliking it so much that fishing simply cannot be fun. I’m willing to kill fish because they are sustenance (I don’t catch and release), but I get it if you’re not.
I also understand Reason Number Two. I spent a whole seasick day tuna fishing, and I’d prefer not to do that again. I’ve found, though, that scopolamine works wonders. I put half a patch behind one ear the night before, and I can weather some pretty rough seas. Better fishing through chemistry!
It was Reason Number Three that I would have given, had you asked me about fishing a few years ago. And there’s no denying that fishing without catching is not a compelling leisure-time activity. Catching makes all the difference.
This past week, the striped bass arrived in Barnstable Harbor. We’d been reading reports of the migration as the fish made their way north, and Kevin prepared the boat so we’d be ready when they got here. Then we got the high sign from Bob, who’s always the first to know, and we put the boat in.
The spring striper run in the harbor is a very specific kind of fishing – you first catch mackerel, and then live-line them for the striped bass – and it’s a kind we’ve gotten reasonably proficient at. Not expert, by any means. We’re still learning which sabiki rigs work best for mackerel, and where in the channel the fish tend to be, and just how long to let the bass run before we try to set the hook. We’re also learning, the hard way, just how difficult it is to tie fluorocarbon to braided line. But, on a day like last Friday, we can put the boat in knowing that, if there are fish out there to be caught, we stand a good chance of catching them.
And catch them we did. The mackerel were hard to come by, and we got only about a dozen. On that dozen, Kevin, our friend Dave, and I landed one keeper each. We caught a couple of shorts (minimum keeper size is 28 inches), and you should have seen the one that got away.
We went again on Saturday, and had a harder time. It was a beautiful day, and a weekend, and there were so many boats that it looked like there was a regatta in the channel. Mackerel were even harder to find, and it took us several hours to get just eight or nine. Again, we caught a few undersized stripers, and I was the only one to land a keeper – a beautiful 32-inch fish.
We are so spoiled by the world-class fishing that happens in our backyard every spring that we count those as mediocre fishing days. But a mediocre day is a reminder of just how important catching is to our enjoyment of fishing.
We have plenty of mediocre days, and our fair share of lousy ones. We get skunked often enough. But, overall, our fishing-to-catching ratio keeps us going back. Last year, we landed some 800 pounds of fish – mostly striped bass and bluefish, and some fluke, black sea bass, and scup. We eat it all year, fresh when we catch it and frozen when we don’t.
Over and over, I’ve said that I love fishing, but it’s not strictly true. It’s catching I love.