My Deep Sea Fishing Adventures - or How Not to Hurl
The Typical Party Boat
Take Only As Directed
The First Trip
One of the things I enjoyed most and considered an added benefit to living in New Hampshire was deep sea fishing.
My first trip was with my Dad. I wasn't his intended fishing partner. That person had called the night before citing a family situation that prevented him from joining my father the next morning. With two spots already reserved on a party boat, my father hated the idea of having it go to waste...but he hated the idea of going alone even more. Before he could cancel the reservations though, I volunteered to accompany him.
He had his doubts about it. For one thing, the number of fish I'd ever caught could be counted on one hand and these were all small sunfish and perch caught off the dock at my grandparent's house on Northwood Lake. And except for a ferry excursion to the Statue of Liberty, I'd had no experience with being out on the wide open waters of the ocean. Still, my Dad really wanted to go fishing...enough to give me the benefit of the doubt and agree to take me with him.
"Dress warmly and in layers...and be ready by 3 a.m., we leave early" was his answer to my request.
To be honest, I really wasn't that interested in fishing. I thought it might be interesting to try...just to say that I had done it. No...in my sixteen year old mind I was imagining stripping down to my swimsuit and catching some wonderful sunshine out on the beautiful Atlantic Ocean while reading a good book. So of course, while dressing, numero uno layer was my swimsuit...followed by a really cute pair of shorts and a tank top...and then a t-shirt...sweat pants...flannel shirt...then sweat shirt and a waterproof windbreaker. Sure, I was still a girl somewhere in that pile of clothing...but I was also a New Englander. I knew what dressing in layers meant.
I was wide awake at 3 a.m. with a giant thermos of coffee ready to go when my father walked into the kitchen. He was pleased. I could tell I'd scored some serious brownie points by being on time and being properly dressed...but the coffee to go was the clincher.
"Did you take a dramamine?" he asked. I told him I had...but I hadn't. The stuff made me sleepy and I hated it. But just in case, I had a pill in my pocket if I changed my mind.
Our first stop was a restaurant alongside the highway...and by highway, I mean one of those country ones that winds in and out of the woods and is really only two lanes wide. The restaurant was one of those greasy spoon diners with the flashy red neon sign populated at this hour by road-weary truck drivers. Already I was having a great time, so I was wearing a cheerful smile as we strolled into the restaurant.
"Avoid anything too heavy or greasy," my father advised as we perused the plastic laminated menu. "If the water is rough...it'll cause you to chum."
Having seen "Jaws," I knew what chum was and thinking about raw fish guts and bits before breakfast kind of put me off...so I settled for some scrambled eggs and toast. I was determined NOT to puke on my first deep sea fishing trip. My goals were pretty simple, I would not puke, I would not do anything to embarrass my Dad and maybe if I liked it, he'd ask me to go again.
There's something about the ocean at daybreak that enthralls me...a sense of newness to the world that seeps into my bones and makes me feel glad to be alive. I love to watch the fishermen prepare their boats for the day, while snowy white and black tipped seagulls contribute to the scene with their cacophony of cries...and underneath it all the heartbeat of the ocean flowing in and out of the harbor. Never mind the fishing part...I could just sit on shore all day long and enjoy this.
I soon discovered the reason for the layers once we were on board and under way. August in New England might be a comfortable eighty degrees on shore, but on the water with a stiff breeze blowing the most I stripped down to was my flannel shirt and sweat pants. Ah well, with all the men on board, it was probably just as well that I ditched the sunbathing idea anyway.
Evidently I did pretty well that day. I didn't hurl, I caught a few fish and I didn't pass out when some fisherman caught a fish hook through his thumb that exited through his thumb nail. As we got back in the car to go home, my father turned to me and said, "So...you did okay. Think you might want to go again sometime?"
The Second Trip
Of course I did and within a month my father planned another excursion out of Rye Harbor. I thought it was only going to be the two of us...but my Dad figured he'd kill a couple of birds with one stone and invited our neighbor, Mike, along for the trip. "I hope you don't mind," was all he said, turning away before I could see the guilty look on his face.
I glared at his back, boring holes into in with just how much I minded. Mike lived across the street, a senior in high school...my high school...and the son of a retired colonel in the Air Force. I smelled matchmaker all over this since my father was always quick to point out Mike's wonderful qualities...especially in front of my dates. Mike was dull. If there were a blander flavor than vanilla...he'd be that flavor. There was no way I would ever date Mike...even if he was the son of a five star general. My father had been retired from the military for nearly five years now, but he still had his aspirations.
I remembered once when I was about twelve years old, this boy had a crush on me and while I didn't reciprocate his feelings, I did enjoy hanging out with him. My father put his foot down as he always did when it came to the opposite sex and refused to give me permission to spend an afternoon at this boy's house watching television. That is until he found out the kid was the son of a colonel. Then he actually drove me there, dropped me off and told me to call him when I was ready to come home.
With that memory in mind, I knew my father was up to no good bringing Mike along for this particular trip. All during breakfast, my Dad regaled Mike with tales of my fishing skills and how proud he was of me. Over my eggs I caught Mike eyeing me speculatively and decided there and then I would do everything within my power to discourage any interest. Besides...in my evil little mind, I thought I could do just that AND have some fun with it. Suddenly the day didn't seem like such an ordeal.
The day was raw and foggy with a cold mist drenching us at irregular intervals. Deep inside my many layers I shivered thinking about how much worse it would be out on the open water. Perhaps nobody would blame me if I just huddled in the cabin with a cup of hot chocolate. Boarding the boat with these thoughts, I happened to catch sight of the boat crew. Quickly, I ditched the cabin-cocoa idea, enjoying the eye-candy. This definitely had some true potential for mayhem and fun now...
Also boarding the boat was a middle-aged man and his two young sons. They were still at that age where they could be considered adorable...about eight or ten years old...and they were definitely very excited to be spending the day fishing with their dad. The boat was not filled to capacity due to the weather, but between the crew and passengers there were maybe about a dozen people on board.
Water doesn't bother me and I'm not such a wussy that I mind getting wet. To my father's amusement, as soon as the boat was underway, I was at the bow enjoying the sea spray, staring into the heavy fog for any sign of where we would be heading. About five minutes into the trip the boat came to a sudden halt and one of the crew members came to the front with a frown on his face. He squinted into the fog, taking in the panoramic view of solid, unrelenting gray murk before turning to me and asking, "So...how are you at buoy spotting?"
As it turned out, they were having problems with the radar and we were out on the water completely blind. "I'm pretty sure I can help if you take it slow," I said. By this time both my father and Mike had joined us along with several other fishermen. "Are you sure honey?" my father asked. I gave him my most serious, responsible face and told him that I could handle this. I'd been on the water in fog before and while it had only been a lake, I was pretty sure I could help navigate. With a smile, my father turned to Mike and squared his shoulders. "That's my girl!" he said with a chortling laugh.
It was so much fun! I stood at the bow in my most sea captain like pose, riding the swells and keeping a sharp eye out for buoys and boats, my ear tuned to the sound and direction of the closest lighthouse, calling out to the crew whenever I spotted something and signaling by hand whether it was to port, bow or starboard. By the time we arrived at our first fishing spot, I was thoroughly drenched and completely exhilarated.
While this bit of adventure certainly livened up the trip, the fishing was absolutely dismal. After the third stop, I couldn't believe the grumbling from the men on the boat...something about having a female on board and how it was unlucky. I hadn't caught any fish either...but unlike the rest of the passengers, I wasn't minding it so much. To Mike's chagrin and my father's amusement, once the crew had set the anchor, they were all too eager to become my personal slaves. Scarlett O'Hara would have been proud of my technique as I played the helpless female, smiling and laughing at their colorful stories, encouraging them to unload entire buckets of chum right by my line with a "you are my hero" look of adoration in my big brown eyes. My father was not fooled in the least, which is probably why instead of being angry he was actually enjoying the rather disgruntled look on Mike's face.
Patience paid off at the forth stop and while the rest of the boat continued to have very little success, I was hauling fish on board at a rate of biblical proportion. I knew it had nothing to do with skill. It became a source of amusement among the crew, my father and a few other fishermen who had gathered around to bet on how I would hook the next fish. Sometimes, very rarely, the hook would actually be in the fish's mouth...but more often it was the head, the gills, an eyeball and even once by the tail. My father had told me to wait until I felt a twitch on the line, but because one of the crew was chumming right beside my line, there were a lot of fish there and my line twitched constantly. Before I knew it, my barrel was brimming with about forty or so pollock and a couple of cod. I could have kept going except one of the little boys on board began crying and said in a rather petulant tone, "I don't like fishing...I want to go home...SHE is stealing all the fish!" I struggled to resist the childish urge to stick out my tongue and make a neener neener gesture as retaliation for the bad luck comment made earlier.
Poor Mike. The entire trip home must have been horrible for him. My father kept up a non-stop dialog rehashing the day's events, tossing in a proud "that's my girl" every few sentences or so. He never threw Mike at me again. Although he would never admit it, I think that he made up his mind that I was just too good for a colonel's son and Mike was never invited on future fishing trips.
Rye Harbor in the Fog
Proving Myself Worthy
Although I loved these fishing trips with my dad and never missed one, I found that I enjoyed it so much that whenever the opportunity arose to go out with other friends, I eagerly volunteered to go with them. Again though, I found myself having to prove that I could handle it before I was accepted into this all male club.
Wayne volunteered to be the babysitter for that particular trip. Patiently I listened to the whole spiel about taking dramamine, being properly dressed in layers, being ready at an ungodly early hour and not eating anything overly-greasy for breakfast. I figured that somewhere there was a manual that all men are given and that they feel it's their duty to impart such wisdom at every opportunity. When Wayne arrived to pick me up, I was waiting on the door step with a picnic basket in hand. There were sandwiches, fresh fruit and chocolate chip cookies inside alongside a thermos of icy cold milk. Who says bringing a woman doesn't have its perks?
It was October and a bit late in the season for deep sea fishing. There had been a storm offshore the night before, but currently the weather was sunny, the temperature onshore hovering in the mid-sixties. What a perfect day for fishing. Unfortunately, upon arrival we were informed that the boat we were going out on was still stuck out at sea due to the storm. This meant either we would have to cancel, or join another party on their boat. We were also warned that the water might be a bit rough.
With a smirk, Wayne turned to me and asked me if I wanted to cancel. My eyes narrowed at him as I pictured him giving the news to rest of the boys club and decided that no stinking waves were going to keep me from fishing. Furthermore, until Wayne threw up...I would not either. "Let's go," I said with a challenging note to my voice.
Now the ride out was absolutely fun. While most of the passengers huddled in the cabin to keep warm, I was at the bow riding the boat like a giant skateboard. The swells were about ten to fifteen feet and I was madly laughing in delight as the boat lifted up into the air and slammed down between them. I'm sure I appeared somewhat insane, but I was having a great time....until...the boat...stopped.
Until this particular moment, I had never even remotely been seasick. Now, as I sat on the bench preparing my fishing pole, I found my eyes straying to the railing...gauging the distance between the metal bars and making a mental note of how I could fit my head between them before I hurled uncontrollably. Deep breaths, deeeeep breaths...I told myself.
"You are looking a bit pale there, Laurie," Wayne commented smugly.
Glaring at him, I couldn't help but notice with satisfaction that he was looking rather green.
"I dunno Wayne," I said nonchalantly, "you look as if you could blow chunks any second yourself."
The two of us compressed our lips, concentrating on what we came out to do rather than dwell on these thoughts. While some people find it helpful to look at the shore in rough waters, I couldn't. I stood at the railing and kept my eyes fixated on the point where my line met the water. Except for the occasional jibe, Wayne and I spent a tortuous morning in hellish silence fighting our urge to chum.
About lunchtime, we both thought briefly about the basket of food that I'd brought and just as quickly dismissed it. Darn shame, we agreed...but couldn't even imagine enjoying under the circumstances. Others on the boat didn't feel the same way though...or were rather unwise in choosing to scarf and barf whatever they had brought. Lunchtime was rather noisy...and smelly.
The exception to this was a rather seasoned old salt sitting beside me. For most of the morning, he remained unperturbed by the rough waters, as he leaned back on the bench, half asleep and looking very comfortable in his jeans, flannel shirt and suspenders. I thought he resembled Santa Claus. However, at lunch my opinion of him changed drastically. He wasn't Santa...he was Satan.
Wayne was far enough away from him not to be bothered. I was not so lucky. To my horror, at noon he pulled out a small cooler and proceeded to unwrap a rather thick liverwurst and onion sandwich. I had no problem identifying it because I was downwind of his seat. The smell was enough to start my stomach churning...but as nasty as that was...it was about to get worse.
Accompanying the smell of the sandwich was the unpleasant smacking sound this man's lips made as he ate. With one hand wrapped around the sandwich, he continued to fish. Before too long, he caught one...an evil looking sand shark about three feet in length. Unperturbed, he brought in on board, took a bite of his sandwich as he grabbed the fish by the tail in his other, lifted it and slammed it into the deck of the boat with a wet thwacking sound, breaking its nose before dropping it back into the hungry waves. This scenario was repeated several times over the course of an hour or so. I kept my hand clamped tightly over my mouth, trying not to look, smell or hear as I measured my head once again for that space between the rails.
I hung on to the contents of my stomach...but just barely.
Never before was I so grateful to see a fishing trip end. As the boat entered the calmer waters of the harbor, Wayne and I both dove into the picnic basket and voraciously attacked the food there. Chocolate chip cookies never tasted so good.
With a laugh of incredulousness, Wayne commended me on my stoicism. "Laurie...I have to hand it to you. I really thought I was going to be the one chumming today. The only reason I didn't was because I couldn't let a girl beat me...and oh, how I was praying that you would puke so I finally could." I had to smile because the competition had been pretty much the same for me...only of course, I wasn't about to be beaten by a man. Somewhere in the recesses of my memory I heard my father's voice saying, "That's my girl!"