Secrets of a Life

March 5, 2008
By William Stewart, Edgartown, MA

Arriving home after a long day at work, he parks his truck in the driveway and heads for the garage. Quickly but carefully, he goes through his gear, checking his knots and deftly retying his line. After hours of checking charts and weather reports, Bud knew that it would be a perfect night for his preferred method of slinging. After zipping his surf bag he throws it in the bed of his truck. Then he loads his trusty custom rod onto the roof rack, noticing the many cuts on his hands from previous catches, as he cinches it tightly. The last thing he needed was his waders, which he eased off the hooks, that during fishing season, were used as his drying rack. Finally, Bud was ready to go and hopped in the truck. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he was momentarily shocked by the deep circles under his eyes and the healthy stubble that had crept up on his chin. The hat on Bud’s head was heavy with daily awards and for a minute he recalled the many times he had caught a big fish…. and the many more he had not. The drive would be long but a hot cup of coffee and a pack of crackers, in addition to his adrenaline was all he needed to sustain him for the night ahead. The late fall roads were empty of tourists and the clear autumn sky was filled shimmering stars and a crescent moon. As Bud rounded the corner to Squibnocket, his pulse quickened with the anticipation of catching the winning fish.

Stepping out of the truck, Bud was met by a chilly fall breeze. He proceeded to sling the surf bag over his shoulder and take his rod out of his homemade roof rack. Shuffling down the short set of steps, he turned his rod around so the butt faced forward in preparation for the walk out to the Bass Stand. This would make the grueling walk a little easier because carrying the rod wouldn’t be such an annoyance.

The Bass Stand was and still is a renowned spot among East Coast fisherman. Years ago a private fishing club operated there but today the only remnants are a few wooden pilings scattered on the point. Though there is no club or stand now, Squibnocket Point or the Bass Stand is still a highly sought after destination by serious fisherman.

Hopping from stone to stone, Bud let his mind wander as he had done many times on previous walks to the Bass Stand. This derby had been particularly tough on him. He was yet to weigh a fish in and had come home many nights with not even as much as a hit. Although this bothered him and tested his patience, it was also what fueled him to keep persevering. Bud knew that eventually that big fish would come, and when it finally did, he would surely be ready for it.

Suddenly he slipped, cursing under his breath at the treacherous rocks that turned away everyone but the diehard fisherman. From now on he would leave his head lamp on to guide the way. Judging by the lack of cars in the parking lot, Bud knew he would be alone, which was exactly the way he wanted it. Tonight was the last hoorah. With only hours left before the final weigh in of the derby, Bud knew it was now or never. As he approached the point he scanned the beach. As he had hoped, there was no one in sight. He unloaded his gear, hooked his squirmy eel and flipped off his light. Now his eyes were able to acclimate to the darkness.

The walk to the point was nerve wracking, but it was nothing compared to wading out among the slippery cobblestone-like rocks with the waves pushing against him with every step. His destination was a rock covered in wet slime that rose just above the water’s surface. With every wave, the danger of being swept off his feet became more real. Many experienced fishermen had been toppled by the angry waves and some had even drowned. Bud knew a few of them and feared that he could become one. Although a pit continued to grow in Bud’s stomach, he knew that this was one of the dangers that comes with the sport.

Not once, but twice Bud was almost knocked over on the way out to the rock. If it had not been for his height he also would have taken a wave over the top of his waders. Fortunately he had made it though, and with only a limited amount of time to fish, Bud began casting. Although he was worn out from fishing every night for the last month and a half, he felt an extra drive tonight. Things started very slowly which greatly frustrated Bud.

His eel had just about lost all of its life. All it could manage was a mere flick of the tail. This was to Bud’s advantage because when that hit came, and he knew it would, there would be no question of whether it was just the eel or if, in fact, it was really a fish. As he was reeling in his cast he thought he felt a little bump but when he dropped the tip and clicked his live liner that would let the fish fun freely if it decided to take off, nothing happened. He must have just snagged a rock. For that quick second his hopes had risen but they had diminished just as quickly upon realizing no fish was at the end of his line. Bud’s mind began to wander. He was thinking about… WHAM. He had taken three cranks as that thought popped into his head and this time there was no mistaking it. This was a fish. Never in his life had he felt a fish hit with such power.

With all of the excitement Bud almost lost the fish right off the bat. That first moment almost cost him the fish but luckily he regained his composure and set the hook. The fish was on! It immediately took off stripping line like it wasn’t even there. You couldn’t find a worse place to land a fish than Squibnocket. There are a countless number of rocks sticking out above the surface and even more below it. For a fish these are a perfect escape route if given the opportunity. More than a few people had lost fish in these very rocks. Bud, being the experienced fisherman he was, knew exactly what to do. All the knowledge in the world couldn’t have stopped this fish though and it just kept tearing line from the reel. As it neared the knot at the end of the spool, Bud feared the worst. It was likely that this fish would be the subject of another one of those fish stories no one believed. And then it stopped…

Bud was awestruck. He almost lost the fish for a second time in the moment of disbelief. The slack in the line had been a result of this temporary stun and, had he not remembered the situation, it could have been deadly. Every crank of the reel was tiring. Pulling back on the rod, Bud felt as if the fish might drag him in. The strength this fish possessed was unbelievable and nothing Bud did could tire it out. Each time it would get close the fish would proceed to turn around and take off on another long run. It was now a test of stamina between the fish and Bud. An hour had passed since he had first hooked the fish but yet it seemed like seconds. As the fish zinged out line for what seemed like the millionth time, Bud noticed something different in its tactics. Before it had headed straight out, but now it headed back and forth along the beach, through the rocks that were a fisherman’s nightmare. It reached one that was particularly large and wrapped around it. The older the wiser and this fish was a prime example.

Bud had one choice now and he knew that if he wanted to land this fish, he would have to take the risk. Jumping off the rock may have been life threatening but to be successful you must take risks. Although it was crazy, Bud readied for the leap. Second thoughts were pouring in like rain now. What about his family, his job? Was it worth it? And then the decision was made. A rouge wave swept him off the slippery rock and into the cold South Shore water.

Water rushed through his waders like river rapids. Keeping cool, although it was arduous, he slit the straps of them and let them float away, all the time keeping the rod in his grasps with the fish on the other end. His mind turned off and instinct took over. He wasn’t thinking on his own anymore, it was all reaction. His body kicked forward, out towards the rock where the fish had become entangled. Bud’s rod was now on its way to the bottom and he was racing the fish to the finish. He came up to the rock and got his first glimpse of the thing he had risked everything for. Never had he seen such beauty in a creature. It looked at him, seeming to beg for release. Deep inside, Bud felt a sorrow for this fish and although his mind wanted nothing more than to keep it, his heart wouldn’t let him. His knife protruded from the sheath and sliced the line without hesitation. For a minute the fish just stared at him, thanking him in some way only Bud and the monster Striped Bass would ever understand. And then it was off, out of sight in seconds. Bud returned to the surface and swam back to shore, which at any other time would have been no easy task but tonight he could have done it with his eyes closed. He and the fish had gone separate ways but somehow they were still connected and Bud could think of no better ending. It was worth his waders, his rod, and even his life to save that fish.

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