The Old Men and the Sea. That’s what I’m calling it. The Old Men and the Sea. Not so much a story as a lesson in seafaring.
I had the opportunity to go deep sea fishing in the Florida keys. Four friends invited me to tag along. Good friends. The kind who knew I would be a nuisance because of a complete lack of knowledge in this endeavor. They’re all experienced fishermen. Billy, the captain of this 22 foot center console, (I figured out by myself that this is what it’s called because the console is in the center.) belongs to a fishing club down there and last year he was their “fisherman of the year”. Mike is a professional charter boat captain back in New Jersey. O.B. owns his own boat and even is experienced in sailing. He’s a man of the sea. Russell can and does fish anywhere: on the beach; off a bridge, in a kayak, a boat, a jet ski or a raft. He catches lots of fish. I don’t doubt he could find a fluke in a puddle.
And then there’s me. My experience with saltwater fish is limited to two pieces of salmon at ShopRite. So I boarded as a tabula rosa, a blank slate eager to learn the ways of the sea. My first lesson was “don’t sit in the front of the boat”. Well, actually the first lesson was not to call it the front. It’s the bow. You’re not allowed to use landlubber terms. In earlier days, they cut out your tongue for such indiscretion. After being informed of where I was, it became apparent why I was the only one up there and the rest of the crew was in the stern.
The wind was picking up, white caps were emerging,and Billy felt comfortable motoring along at Mach I speed that bounced me around like a frightened flounder. I clinched on to anything I could while trying to root myself into the deck. The salty spray after a turbulent airborne touchdown over a wave added to my sense that I would soon be buddying up to the stone crabs.
After what seemed like an eternity, we finally got to “the spot”. Here we were in the middle of the Atlantic. Cuba was off to our starboard (I think). Yet somehow Billy knew we were at “the spot”. We dropped anchor. It didn’t hold. More line was let out. Still not holding. More line. Nothing doing. Mike said the sea was too rough. The anchor was slipping and we were “sliding”. I would have thought we were “drifting”, but who am I to argue with terminology? We were sliding and clearly fish don’t like that. They’ll bite, but only if you stay put.
We couldn’t stop sliding and so they all agreed we should head to calmer water.I also agreed but this time from the stern. I held on tight while Billy tried to break the sound barrier to another “spot”. We settled in and Mike inquired “where’s the chum net?” O.B. said he didn’t know. Russell said he didn’t know. I said “What’s a chum net?”
Fish are to chum like men are to strippers. If given the opportunity, they can’t resist. Our chum had been left on the dock. It could have been anybody’s fault – except mine. (So I was totally good with that). Much to everyone’s displeasure, back to the dock we went. We had skipped breafast to get out there early . Lunch, now, was out of the question.
Back out at the “spot”, we droped the chum net. Chum, apparently , is essential for catching fish. Even better if you like catching seagulls. My first thoughts were of a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. The boys cast their lines out. O.B. was toying with a Sabiki rig. That’s a leader with six tiny hooks on it. It’s great for catching small bait fish that can be used to catch bigger fish that can be used to catch even bigger fish. It’s important to catch real real big fish because Florida rules seem to limit you to one barracuda a month (except months with the letter R or on alternate Tuesdays).
So the Sabiki rig was indespensible and O.B. was pulling them up two and three at time. This is not for everyone. While one fish is being dislodged, the others flail about trying to sever your wrist with their tail. Meanwhile, the job of the other hooks is to snag your shirt, pants, or skin until you cut your clothes off or bleed out.
Fish started to swirl around our chum slick. I look in the water and see shadows. Real fisherman look down and see what species they are. “See those pinfish”, Mike asked. Of course, I had no idea which were the pinfish. “Yes”, I answered.
New Jersey has like three different kinds of fish. Florida has a gazillion. We caught cero mackeral, grouper, parrot fish, yellow tail, ballyhoo, blue runners, and grunts. The boys landed enough for several nights of fish frys. Even I caught one. I hadn’t seen so many people so happy for me since my bar mitzvah. That’s how friends do. I can’t wait to get back out there and annoy them again.