Go fish!

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.

Dave, with the first keeper striped bass of his entire life!

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.

12 people are having a conversation about “Go fish!

  1. The stripers have been running up the Hudson River (all the way to Albany/Troy) for a couple of weeks now. We don’t own a boat so I love to watch the boats working around all the creek outlets and, of course, all the people fishing off the banks. It’s deep sea fishing waaaay upstream.

  2. There’s two kinds of fishing for me, one where I want to eat fish, and the other where I just want some time for myself and catching or not catching doesn’t matter that much – it is more of an excuse to go out by myself. Of course, catching is always better than not catching.

    Beautiful fish. I bet they tasted wonderful.

  3. I love to fish. When I have enough points built up, one of the things I like to do is book a spot on one of the better party boats and just go fish.
    My husband dislikes fishing very much. He cannot stand waiting for the fish to bite. He would prefer to fish with grenades if it were legal to do so. Big explosion, then go pick up dead fish. What’s not to like?


  4. It’s that last sentence that I love most.

    I think I like to fish. I want to learn how to fish (but streams and rivers, please- deep water scares me) and maybe someday I will, but being married to a self-professed indoor cat makes my opportunities pretty darn scarce.

    So I fish vicariously through you.

    I like it when you catch, too.

  5. Katie — We used to watch people catch striped bass off the pier when we lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which is the very beginning of the trek the fish make up the Hudson. It is odd that they bring you saltwater fishing — but fish are weird.

    Virginia — We gave the pigs skin and scraps, but not the frames or guts. Every year, we have to figure out what to do with them — we’re running out of places to bury them!

    Laura — I can see that. I can definitely see that.

    Jean — I like your husband. He gets the job done!

    Paula — You learn, some day, I predict. (And deep water scares me, too, but I’m getting more used to it.)

  6. LOVE fishing! For the first time ever I actually fished at the seafood store. They had whole headed/gutted halibut for $9.99/lb and they filleted and skinned it for free. It’s gotten so expensive to actually go. I spent $350 on halibut.

    It would cost me $300 in gas to drive to Homer from Anchorage. Another $180 a night for a place to stay, at least 2 nights. Another $275 plus a ‘fuel surcharge’ for a charter with a limit of 2 halibut per person IF you catch any. Chartered for years and the biggest halibut I ever caught was like 60 lbs before processing.

    Made me sad to have to fish at the fish store. Sigh.

    • Marcy — Ouch! I feel your pain. I recognize that Kevin and I are very lucky to live in a place where fishing doesn’t require that kind of outlay. The boat and the gas certainly aren’t cheap, and there’s no way that even the amount of fish we land — which is significant — pays for it all, but at least it’s within reach. If I were up where you are, I’d be fishing the market right there with you.

  7. Had to go back and read your older post about catch and release and, thank you! I’d like to fish, in order to catch and eat some fish. But the whole catch and release strictly for entertainment’s sake? I just don’t get it.

    • PQ — I think I do get it. Fishing is fun, and there are lots of times that you can get the fish off the hook easily, and it just swims away. But I just can’t justify it.

  8. Fishing is ok, so as long as it involves catching.

    We spent a week fly-fishing over xmas … it was, without a doubt, one of the most boring weeks of my life.
    The excitement of fish-futures waned after the first couple of days, with no sighting, no rises, no strikes, no catching.

    One thing I don’t understand is Catch and Release fishing – How can it be OK to maim an animal for your pleasure.
    I have no problem with killing & eating – that’s what animals do to each other (and we’re all animals).

    Fishing is just the hunting of marine animals, but you never hear of catch-and-release hunting…

    “Oh yeah, we snared some rabbits last night, but let them go again … just for the sport of it”.
    “We want to leave some rabbits for the next guy…”

    It’s funny how we attribute some higher moral duty to animals with fur & feathers.

    • Sorry to hear about your fly-fishing adventure, Kingsley. That could put me off fishing for life!

      Now, as to that moral duty question. I think our obligations to our fellow creatures are in proportion to their faculties. So we owe more to a pig than a chicken, more to a chicken than an oyster. This is a tough calculation, of course, because we don’t completely understand their faculties, and there’s no moral graph where we find the animal on the x-axis, and our obligations on the y. We just do the best we can.

      There’s not universal agreement on a fish’s faculties. I treat fish in ways I would never treat chickens — you won’t catch me leashing a chicken and sending it out in the woods as bait for, say, a bear (do bears eat chickens?). Yet I do send a mackerel — with a hook through its head, no less — out as bait for a striper. I don’t know exactly how much these fish suffer, but I am convinced there is suffering involved. I do it because this is how I feed myself, and I would not do it for fun — although it is fun.

      What our moral duty is, and to which animals, is a hard question. Although I don’t catch-and-release, I do understand why other people do.

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