The lilacs are about to bloom, the lily-of-the-valley is coming up behind the kitchen and my birthday is only days away which can only mean one thing:
The fish are back.
Or should be back. They weren’t here last weekend. I went out twice and was skunked both times, but that’s part of the fun of spring fishing. Fisher, Cousin Pete and I kept the local waters honest on Sunday with a brave slog out of the Wianno Cut to Lone Rock in the Good Ship Wet looking for squid. Pete saw the squid fleet arrive and depart a few days before, so either the squid run isn’t happening this year, or the squidders got out too early because the Cape is experiencing a delayed spring with lower than usual water temps brought on by a thoroughly shitty winter. Who knows. Maybe this weekend.
On Sunday we cast our squid jigs down to the bottom, bounced them up and down — little pink torpedos festooned with pins which supposedly tick off the squid who attack them in the belief they are fish after their eggs. These are good eating squid and the big fleet of commercial fishermen who line the horizon of Vineyard and Nantucket Sound the first week of most Mays are testament to their value. Pete, Fisher and I like to catch them for dinner and to put away some in the freeze for fluke and striper bait later in the season, but I hear these are really prized squid for the table and command a high price on the market. On a good day an angler with a single rod and a couple jigs can easily fill a 5 gallon bucket. I’ve learned that a half-dozen are all I need. They are a pain in the ass to clean and according to one local expert, rinsing them in fresh water ruins them — apparently only saltwater should be used. I can’t cook them. Squid confound me. Always come out tougher than inner tubes. Like fish flavored rubber bands. Some say to either cook them for ten seconds or ten hours. And as for calimari? That was a disaster. My attempt to clone the awesome grilled squid from Inaho in Yarmouthport? A cat wouldn’t consider it. (digressionary recommendation: Jiro Dreams of Sushi, fantastic documentary on the sushi master of Tokyo, the first to get three Michelin stars).
Squid are very fun to catch — they change colors like a hippie lightshow at the Fillmore, blast jets of black ink in protest, and, if handled correctly while being de-pinned from the jigs, can be aimed at one’s fellow squidders to coat them in the stinky stuff. The boat is always a disaster afterwards. My old friend Bob used to go out with a bunch of beer, dressed in a white painter’s pants and a white wife beater just to really get down and dirty in the ink.
Anyway, we rolled and staggered with our yet-to-be-learned sea legs, beam-to in a big Nantucket Sound swell coming out of the southeast (“Wind east, fish bite least”) and even though it was very nearly shorts and t-shirt weather back at the house, the ocean still feels downright March-like. I need to check the water temperatures, but we were bundled up in fleece and windbreakers and may stay that way until Memorial Day.
Ten minutes squidding and there was nary a sign of them at the rock, so we ran in with the seas to the Cotuit channel, switched the squid rigs for day-glo orange surface plugs — Rangers and Ballistic Missiles — and made a half dozen big casts to see if we could induce an early bluefish scout to attack. Nothing happening. So we ran all the way up inside of the bay, beached the skiff at the west end of the Narrows, and threw little Rat-L-Traps and Sluggos into the channel looking for a spring schoolie striper. Nothing there either, so we cracked a beer, shrugged and decided we were a week early.
I’ve caught bluefish in late April. There were squid around, so that may explain the missing link. I used to catch tons of striped bass this time of year, tagging them for the American Littoral Society — but I’m not so into catch-and-release anym0re, not wanting to mess up a fish just for the sport of playing it on light tackle. The Cape Cod Times is reporting a keeper-sized bass taken in Cotuit (I need to check what the rules are now, in my mind a “keeper” will always be 36″), as well as a bluefish off of Popponesset, so I know where I will be tomorrow afternoon when I return to the Cape from NYC.
And, to kick off the piscine season, I even remembered that the Commonwealth now requires a saltwater fishing license, and like a good citizen I paid the state my $11 bucks for the slip of paper. The regulars at Reel-Time used to get all heated on the topic of licenses. Libertarian anglers are pretty common. Me, I favor licenses if the funds are earmarked for fishery protection and yes, I believe striped bass should be declared a gamefish and put off limits to the commercial guys.
My son wants to learn the maddening art of fly fishing this year, so I cleaned up an old Scott 1o-weight and will get him going on the lawn this weekend, elbow tucked into his side like he was holding a bottle of gin, casting with his forearm only, stiff wrist, making a long oval in the sky with the rod tip, double-hauling, feeding out more and more line until he turns into a regular Lefty Kreh.
As for the tackle shop that lives in my garage…. well, it’s also where I store the galvanized garbage cans full of bird seed — so the rodents have infested the drawers and cabinets with their balls of fuzz and sunflower husks, peeing all over everything and probably exposing me to some ugly hantavirus. I found one fly rod case with the end chewed off and a family of field mice inside. Little $%^%^&&%$#’s …..I’m buying a lot of moth balls and will see if I can resort to chemical warfare to keep them away.
There are few OCD pleasures in the world that compare with fiddling around with fishing tackle. I’m an obsessive when it comes to the old saying that most fish are caught the night before. Bimini twists, wire leaders, split rings, new 4/0 trebles on the bluefish plugs, splicing 30 lb leaders onto the striper rods with Albright knows and a bead of Pliobond rubber cement to ease the knot through the rod tip; cleaning the fly lines, cataloguing the flies and putting together a box for early season bass, poppers for bluefish, a hookless plug so I can use a spinning rod to tease the blues up to the fly fisherman; leaky waders, wader belt, line basket……the list is staggering, but given the evil price of tackle these days, it pays to scrounge the high water wrack line on Dead Neck every fall for the plugs and lures that wash up there. For the price of a new hook and a little TLC I can resurrect a $10 lure and absorb some of my own losses due to bad knots, boneheaded casts, or overpowering fishies.