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.
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.