Just Lucky To Be Out Here

A burly, weathered figure shuffled closer, clutching and balancing a load of rods, bait buckets, and oars with practiced ease. Viewing him, crimson-faced sightseers cracked condescending smirks. To their predictable query of "Goin fishin?" he offered a half- scowl and a slow, disbelieving shake of his head. (Did they ask Michelangelo if he was going "paintin'?). As he approached the landing, his scowl melted into an approving squint. Shifting a damp cigar stub with his teeth he nodded at the water, then at me, and commanded in a booming drawl, "Let's get out of here my little friend, it's a perfect night." Anticipating local color, tourists swarmed to the boardwalk rail and leaned avidly. But, expectant expressions transformed to troubled concern at the sight of our duct-tape-mended, dented little rowboat making its way into the twilight.

Darkness overwhelmed daylight, night thickened and an imposing August moon slid into place. The stench of low tide awoke the unflagging primal hope that this night would yield a monster striped bass. It was perfect. Not a hint of wind, water like glass, air thick and sultry. The intermittent flop of feeding schoolies was punctuated by skittering sand eels going airborne to elude their pursuers. "Tonight's the night," I assured Bob. "I can feel it." Responding as if to himself, he answered, "Can you imagine not being here? Just sitting in your living room right now staring at the tube, not knowing what goes on out here?" Then distractedly, with a grin he added, "Christo, we're just lucky to be out here."
"Here" is a meandering tidal river alternately drained and flooded by Cape Cod Bay. This is his home from May to October and he knows it like his kitchen - every hole, bar, and subtlety of current, every hot spot where big stripers are likely to sit. His internal radar has an uncanny sense of place in the cave-like channel. I've been with him in darkness so thick, you'd think you were dead, and hear him, with no discernible landmark in sight, mumbling to himself, "Let's see, here we are we, that's the spot ...perrrrfect."

Now, with steady strokes, he wound us through the labyrinth of nooks and crannies and navigated his well-rowed route to the mouth of the river. He instructed me to gently toss my eel off the back of the boat and let out line, "We'll troll through this hole, there's always fish here," he said. The bait slapped the water, and on cue, an indignant explosion wrenched the surface. A substantial, irate striper suspended itself in mid-air shaking the eel like a rag doll. Submerging like a block of granite it took my eel hostage and continued the skirmish. It careened away from, and then back under the boat as the sweet screech of drag cut the humidity. This fish was serious and I was definitely just along for the ride. Reel it in. Let it take drag. Arms aching. Another spectacular rise. Now what? Bob barked, "It's a monster Christo, keep your tip up, tire him out!" If this fish was tired, it was from toying with me, and now, recalling the memory of some similar dispute, it headed for a battle-tested escape route. With one last turbo-charged feint it bolted for the refuge of a channel marker buoy 50 yards to our stern. Our oars and rods strained to alter its path. But with the dexterity of a surgeon, the fish looped around the buoy's cable and neatly snipped my line. Twanging with a note of finality, the mono-filament went limp and I sagged in semi-shock. Bob, after observing a mandatory moment of silence, pronounced matter-of-factly through a dry chuckle, "That Christo, was a Kodak moment."

We wouldn't have another hit. Nothing. But with cheap cigar smoke and the summer music of a Red Sox broadcast wafting around us, the beauty of the night and the place consumed us and numbed my pain. Our jawing expired, and tittering drunks on the beach and maniacal birds bickering over their evening buffet only occasionally disrupted the stillness. Sedated by the late hour, the hypnotic flow of luminescent seaweed, and the interplay of moon and mist I was jolted back to reality by the abrupt grinding of gravel on aluminum as the boat came to rest.
In the parking lot he started his truck and leaned out the window, "It was a good night Christo." Then, sensing my lingering disappointment, he offered, "Too bad about your fish...” I jumped in to complete his sentence, "...but we were just lucky to be out there, right Bob?" Beaming at my newfound wisdom he answered, "Yes my little friend,” and drove into the darkness.

*This story originally appeared in "On The Water" magazine in September 2001.

This story was written by Chris Gregor, freelance copywriter. Take a look at my other work (the stuff I get paid for) and learn more about my copywriting capabilities and experience/backgroundContact me at Gregor & Co. 413 528-4763 or chris@gregorwriting.com

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