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First Saltwater Fish of 2010!

May 9, 2010

The weather was mild, so we took the two-year-old fishing. We packed up the rods and headed to a spot a couple of towns over where saltwater winds its way through an estuary, passing moored fishing boats and little private docks as it flows over a tidal marsh and clamming grounds before running through a culvert under a road. This is a traditional, if seldom used, fishing area that reliably produces a solid bite.

Fishing with an active toddler is like doing a charter fishing trip with ten amateurs. Action is fast and wild, whether the bite is on or not. The little guy has been training all winter and has been begging to get a line wet, so this was not one of those mom-or-dad-wants-to-hook-up forced fishing field trips for kids. I would post a video of his indoor fishing adventures, but he prefers to train in minimal clothing, so unless I decide to try for the big bucks on America’s Funniest Home Videos, I think I will spare him the exposure. His regimen consists of mostly shark and piranha sport fishing. He works the bail and casts a hook-less line over the gunwhale of the ‘boat’, or couch, and after we tie on a stuffed fish he woofs it in, cranking like hell until he can land it in the boat. He always throws them back.

Striper fishing is hot all over the Cape, but we went for white perch, a member of the sea bass family and a species that can reproduce at an astonish rate. Schools of perch migrate into tributary streams and females release thousands of eggs that stick to anything and everything around. Males simultaneously release millions of sperm cells, and fertilization takes place with fry hatching within a few days, as opposed to the fifty-odd days it might take to hatch a trout fry. To add to their strategy for producing schools with huge numbers, white perch, like many fish, love to eat the eggs of other species, sometimes to the exclusion of other food sources. It has been said that the reproduction strategies employed by white perch make it a species whose numbers cannot be affected by angling. I tend to believe that any fish species can get into trouble if it is subjected to enough negative environmental impacts, at which point angling can tip the balance, but it seems as though perch are still thriving.

Perch fishing is notoriously great on those dreary days that seem to beg you for an afternoon nap or a good book by the fire. Those days that snowbirds and other fair-weather fishermen grumble about – overcast, drizzly, cloudy, cool, rainy, depressing days – become born again for the perch fisher as enlivening opportunities for a good bite and some unbelievably fast action. Every cast doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s more like every cast, seconds after the bait or spoon hits the water, with two or three rods bending and fish wildly trying to yank them into the water. An amateur fisherman really needs to work one rod and stay as far away from their partner as possible, and he or she may find themselves in need of an experienced partner to help with untangling and snapped-off hooks. Even the most experienced angler will have a hard time staying on top of two poles. Three is just asking for trouble.

We started our foray on a ‘promising’ day, the overcast skies and mist asked us to pull on our waders and some kind of hood and head out. After getting our gear together, in this case snacks and drinks in addition to the usual fishing stuff, and after pulling minnow traps to harvest fat, lively chubs, the day had taken a turn for the worse. The sun broke through the clouds while we were en route and it burned off all the mist. By the time we got to the spot it was a blue-bird, bluefish day – all clear sky and bright sun. No matter, we still had a moon tide on our side, and we baited little #10 freshwater hooks with the biggest chubs we could grab and tossed them into water.

The little guy had a hard time letting us do the casting, but with brush and trees behind us and bobbers on the line, there was no way he could cast. As soon as the bobbers came to rest on the surface of the water, they began the dance of little nibbles, until, only seconds later, they disappeared completely. Papa set the hook and handed it off and I reminded the little guy of where his grip should be on the rod and he started reeling like an old pro. When he could see the fish he hauled back on the rod, trying to hoist it out of the water and swing it onto the shore, but he was a little early and I had to remind him to keep cranking the reel until the fish was closer. A few more turns and another big yank and the fish was soaring over Papa’s head.

He kept at it this way, with one or the other of his guides doing the baiting and casting and setting the hooks. He was the muscle, bringing in the fish and getting it to land. He seemed to grow more proud with every catch and I think he even grew an inch or two during his fishing trip. He didn’t lose a fish out of the seven he had the honor of fighting, and Papa and I reeled in a few ourselves. When the warm sun began tempting our small charge to disrobe and go for a swim, we called it a day and went home with a bucket of fish, a very happy boy and sweet memories we will cherish forever.

The little one’s first saltwater catch was quickly turned into a steamed dinner dish with ginger and garlic chives, and the stories flew as fast as the fishing as he impressed his big sister with his day’s achievement. Our first saltwater fish of the season was an unforgettable first fish and pretty high on the list of firsts for the littlest angler in the family. I know his grandfathers would be very pleased.

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