Fishing lessons

I like the steep part of the learning curve. In a way, that’s a good thing, since I’m spending most of my time there these days. In a way, though, it’s bad because it means I’ll never get really good at anything.

The best part of learning something new is the first five minutes because that’s when you go from nothing to something. From that point on, you’re just going from something to something more. At first, that, too, is significant. In the second five minutes, you double your knowledge! But then the increments start getting smaller and smaller.

The best part of learning something new is the first five minutes

Take cooking. If you’ve never so much as boiled water, you pick up a book like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and you follow the straightforward instructions. Voila! Your first beef stew. It’s a pretty good beef stew, and it is literally infinitely better than any beef stew you’ve made before because it’s your first.

Then you graduate, maybe to the more complicated Boeuf Bourguignon of Julia Child. And your stew gets better. A lot better. But start moving on to the recipes of some of today’s restaurant chefs and it’s not nearly as satisfying. The instructions get more complicated, the incremental improvement gets smaller, and before you know it you’re throwing The French Laundry Cookbook across the room because Thomas Keller’s beef stew requires carrots from a region of Alsace-Lorraine you’ve never even heard of.

Let me be clear: I am very glad there are people like Thomas Keller in the world, getting their carrots from Alsace-Lorraine and making the very best beef stew that it is possible to make. I have eaten in one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants, and I hope to do it again some time. But I tend to lose interest in small increments. I want the big jumps.

This may be why I like fishing. Before I came here, I had never caught a fish bigger than my hand. I’d gotten a few snapper bluefish with Kevin a few years back, and I think I got a perch or two in my childhood, but I had never reeled in a substantial fish.

In the past year, I have gone from nothing to something on the fishing learning curve. I’ve caught bluefish, striped bass, scup, and fluke. I’ve learned a little bit about how to find the fish, and what to use to catch them. I have a couple of favorite spots for the different kinds of fish, and I know how those different kinds feel on the line. Even so, I’m still on the steep part of the curve, and expect to be for quite some time.

On our last trip, a couple weeks back, I learned not to bait my hook while staring at the horizon, and not to wear shorts that become transparent when wet. Yesterday’s trip, combined with an aborted attempt the day before, had different lessons.

LESSON ONE: Hydrodynamics.

We decided to try for bluefish at Horseshoe Shoal, a big, shallow area about six miles due south of Osterville. Friday morning we checked the weather, and it looked pretty good. The wind was out of the north and wasn’t supposed to be more than about 10 knots.

Going south out of Osterville, you’re in about twenty feet of water for a couple of miles, and then you hit the shipping channel, which is upwards of eighty feet deep. Get through that, and you’re at Horseshoe Shoal, where the depth varies from about twenty feet to mere inches in low tide in some spots.

When small waves in eighty feet of water hit a spot that’s only twenty feet deep, they become big waves.

On Friday, those waves weren’t absolutely unmanageable, but they were big enough to be uncomfortable. We gave it a shot, but when the bluefish didn’t seem to be in evidence, we turned around and headed in.

The next day (yesterday), the wind was a little calmer, and out of the south-east. We came to the spot where the depth went from eighty to twenty feet, and what did I see? It was calmer. Huh?

Of course! Because the wind was coming from the other side of the shoal, the small waves that turned into big waves were on that side. On our side (the north side), the water had had the entire breadth of the shoal to calm down, and had become friendly little swells.

LESSON TWO: Bluefish teeth.

Amy, who owns Sports Port, our favorite bait and tackle shop, had warned Kevin about using rubber lures for bluefish. We lost one whole one and the tails of two others before we switched to metal.

That’s about when I realized that Kevin’s warning about flip-flops ought to be heeded. As I value my toes, I switched to neoprene booties.

I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea that there’s a bluefish out there, as we speak, trying to digest the missing half of my pink Sluggo, but given the bluefish’s voracious appetitive, I’m figuring they have a pretty robust digestive system. They wouldn’t have evolved to eat just about anything unless their systems could handle just about anything. Of course, pink Sluggos, being a recent innovation, weren’t among the forces that shaped bluefish evolution, so that may be wishful reasoning.


You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too much ice.


A couple months ago, Kevin bought two fishing chairs at a yard sale. When he saw them, he got very excited. “Look honey,” he told me, pointing. “Those are the chairs we need. They fold up for storage, and they each have a gimble.”

A gimble? What the hell’s a gimble? That’s not even a word, except in The Jabberwocky. Were we planning to gyre in the wabe with the slithy toves?

Turns out it’s not a gimble. It’s a gimbal, which is not just a word, but is also a gizmo. It’s a gizmo in the center of a fishing chair, between your legs, in which to put your fishing rod. When you have a fish on the line, you put the butt of your rod in it. It moves in every direction so you can follow the fish with your tip, but it frees you from having to hold the rod up.

“You’ll be glad to have that when you’re bringing in a big fish,” Kevin told me.

I nodded and smiled, confident that I had the strength and stamina to bring in any fish without the assistance of a rod-holding gizmo. Gimbals, I figured, were for sissies.

Gimbals, I’m here to tell you, aren’t for sissies. I didn’t actually need it to reel any of the four-pound bluefish I caught, but those fish gave enough fight to understand why gimbals aren’t for sissies.

LESSON FIVE: Quality time.

For several months now, I’ve been a bad wife. Between my freelance work, this blog, and a book due at my publisher September first (don’t ask), I’ve been about as overwhelmed with work as I have ever been since I started writing for a living over a decade ago. It’s been hard to find time to actually do the things I write about, and when I’m not actually sitting at the computer, typing, I’m writing things in my head.

Kevin has found it increasingly difficult to break through.

I knew I was distracted, but it wasn’t until we were having a conversation with some friends about birthday presents that I understood the magnitude of the problem. Kevin and I usually have a hard time thinking of gifts, either for ourselves or each other, because we’re lucky enough to not want much that we don’t already have. This time, though, he had an answer ready when someone asked him what the perfect birthday gift would be.

“My wife’s undivided attention.”

Surely, if you can give your spouse nothing else, you can give that.

He smiled a little ruefully when he said it. It wasn’t mean-spirited. Kevin knows I’m doing this because I’m trying both to hold up my end in the income department and to revive a moribund career too long neglected. His patience with my distraction is almost infinite.

That’s not a limit I want to test.

Yesterday, we spent six hours together on a nineteen-foot boat. There was no Internet, no phone, no interruption, no distraction. It was a beautiful day. We caught ten feisty bluefish, and lost as many, sometimes just as we got them up to the boat. We talked to no one but each other.

It was the best day I’ve had in a very long time.

7 people are having a conversation about “Fishing lessons

  1. That is always a good feeling and a fantastic way to decompress! I’m in school full time, we have a 2 1/2 year old, and he is starting a career as a Firefighter. We have no time. But when we do, it’s like a deep breath. Hope you enjoyed it! Keep up the good work, you’re a fantastic writer, have great wit, and make me want to garden more. I admire you both.

  2. If I had spare time I would build my husband and me a loveseat with matching gimbals. Then we could put some fish in the freezer AND work on the quality time thing. I guess you just have to make the time to gyre and gimble together.

    Did you ever notice there are no cell phones in poetry? Because there’s nothing romatic about being contactable 24/7. Letters – now THAT’s romance.

  3. What a lovely post! Yes, the learning curve in fishing is endless. I’ve been fishing 35 years and still learn new things every time I go out.

    Um, but Tamar… Gimbals ARE for sissies! Unless of course you are fishing for bluefin, or a 50-pound striper. Simply move you hand on the rod from where I think you’re holding it to about 6 inches in front of the reel and you get far more leverage that way. I’ve landed a 443-pound bluefin this way, although it took 90 minutes. With a gimbal, I could have landed it in less than an hour I suspect.

    Good luck on the book – we can share stories. Mine’s in the hands of my editor as I write this…



  4. I think you missed ‘gin’ out of lesson 3 – at least in my mind!

    I don’t think any gizmo that can save you some effort (my husband tells me I’m intrinsically lazy – he’s probably right, but I’ll not admit that to him) and is to be found cheap at a yard sale is to be sneezed at – the gimbal sounds like a great idea; I’m all for lesson 4 except for when the gizmo is my problem below in lesson 5!

    Lesson 5 – priceless! Now I’d love to have my husband’s undivided attention – I’d be shouting Callooh! Callay!. I think an accident may have to befall his Blackberry sometime soon – were I not sure that his company would put another into his hand within about 30 minutes.

    Oh well – it was a nice thought!

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