December 11, 2012 in Observations with 0 Comments
(In memory of Mike Butterfield. First published June 3, 1995 in The Post and Courier)
As Mike Butterfield pushed the Sea Ox out of the marina and into the rolling chop of the Intracoastal Waterway, anticipation hung like storm clouds on the distant horizon. Fortunately, fishermen are an optimistic lot. They always believe they will catch fish because they’ve spent a lifetime devoted to the study of fish habitat, feeding patterns, and water temperature.
They have honey holes and secret spots and spend their time on land thinking like fish so they’ll know exactly where and when and what the fish will be biting. Nobody, of course, told the fish about any of this.
So as we motored through the creeks past Dewees, Capers and Bull’s islands, fishing poles whipping in the air like artillery poised for war, there was little doubt in our windswept minds that the fish were in serious danger.
A PERFECT SETTING
The tide, after all, was perfect — falling from its late-morning high – which meant the red fish would soon be moving out of the marsh grasses into the creeks, starving, no doubt, for the vast array of star-spangled possibilities in our tackle box.
Butterfield, an Ernest Hemingway look-alike, carefully explained the patters of our prey as he cut the engine in a quiet inlet. If this had been one those TV fishing shows, the setting couldn’t have been more serene.
The silence of our surroundings was disturbed only by a southerly breeze and the occasional splash of an osprey diving for its dinner nearby.
Off in the distance, a pair of porpoises broke the surface as they skimmed lunch from the dark waters of the world’s eternal estuary. As Butterfield’s first offering of live shrimp was cast to the edge of an oyster bed, our fulfillment was surely just moments away.
ONE’S LIFE STORY
As it turned out, the red fish didn’t care much for shrimp. Nor were they tempted by something called a broke-back rebel or any of several hand-tied flies served up time and time again.
But sitting there in the motionless beauty of a tidal creek can in no way be described as time wasted. While I’d known my fishing partner casually for a year or so, one’s life story tends to take on a new form when there is nothing else to distract people from the task at hand.
I learned, for instance, that the man I knew only as an industrial psychologist was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and had served two tours in Vietnam. That he’d been raised all over the country because his father was an itinerant jazz trumpet player who toured with some of the biggest of the big bands back in the ‘40s.
In the wake of all this silence, we talked about marriages good and bad, mistakes made and forgotten, children grown and growing, dreams, disasters, and life, how it came and went to soon.
You don’t learn stuff like that about people sitting around barbecuing in the backyard. You do, however, if the fish aren’t biting.
I also learned a lot about flyrods and nine-weight, weight-forward, saltwater fishing line. Not to mention golf and copper-colored flash-a-boos.
But the best part about not catching fish is the time it gives you to enjoy the subtle sounds of water lapping softly against the side of the boat, the whistle of fishing line being whipped undisturbed through air heavy with salt, and the scent of the sea marsh as the tide pulls away its protective cover.
Fortunately, the fish we sought hardly knew we’d been there at all. And I concluded there’s a reason they call it fishing and not catching.
"Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art." - Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat
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