of diamond jigs & porgy rigs
Fishing with Bill & Charlie usually begins when one of them strolls up & announces, "We're going to go make a drift. Want to come along?" We head down the white gravel road to the inlet where their Steiger craft awaits, check the killie traps, & stow the unruly plastic bags of provisions (crackers, salted almonds, beer, rough-hewn sandwiches) in the cabin. One of the men lifts the engine cover to verify that no fuel leaked out overnight, but probably also admires the powerful inboard machine, which will soon plunge to life; the other sets up the rigs. As the boat navigates past the jetty of the marina, where cormorants stand on ragged pilings, wings held out to dry, someone cuts the bait, slicing off squid heads on newspaper, removing the "cellophane" inside the body, & knifing long strips that will dangle temptingly from cunning hooks. Or perhaps it’s a day for the diamond jigs, which will be dropped to the bottom of the bay & reeled up quickly & repeatedly until hungry predators strike them & turn prey.
Bill & Charlie are great advocates of fishing locally, which means in their front yard--on various spots on the bay with a view of home. Often the first stop is near the buoy that steadily blinks jade on clear evenings; there they’ll allow the tide to carry the boat on a gentle run in the waters where the bluefish, fluke, or striped bass are likely to be feeding. Or, "Let's try the green lawns," Charlie will suggest--across from a section of Shelter Island with mammoth houses set upon immense lush acreage. No one in the boat cares what rich person owns them; they're just a convenient, analogue global positioning system for those who are endlessly fascinated by the piscatory world offshore.
The banter starts as soon as the engine is cut: “I bet I’ll get icebreaker [the first catch] even though you guys already have your poles in the water,” Bill says, eyes crinkling handsomely at the corners. As the session continues, someone will feel a tug & boast that it’s going to be the biggest fish of the day, or when a particularly small species gets hooked, Charlie will tease, “Look, it’s cryin’ for its mama!” The men discuss aspects of the water—the changing or standing tide, a strong rip—or note with satisfaction that this is a nice drift, but often we are companionably quiet. They’ve marked the size limits (19.5 inches this year for fluke; 28 for bass) along the side of a spare plank that doubles as cutting board, & reminisce about the plentiful numbers of fish that used to be. They both admire a fish with spirit, & frequently will throw one back that’s a keeper—“That one gave a good fight,” they’ll say, watching the long, silver body fin its way back down into the depths.
And on days when nothing is biting, Charlie might comment that you’d think there were no fish at all in the bay. Yet somehow no one on the boat ever feels disgruntled. “That’s why they call it fishing and not catching,” Bill grins as he guides the boat homeward.