First Mate, the Mad Fish and a New Season
It started little by little. Each time Sonny came with me we went a little further out on the shelf. Actually it started well back when the first boat arrived.
The first boat, the Mad Fish aptly named for the bottle wine to celebrate its maiden voyage, was smuggled down to Wilmington from the north in pieces. It traveled some 600 miles from a lake in Pennsylvania to taste salt water in the Intracoastal Waterway. Finally getting the trailer, boat, motor, registration, titles and all conceivable “to-do’s” out of the way the small 9 foot pop-rivet Sears v hull row-boat made its maiden voyage.
I took my wife Amy, my parents and our dog Sonny from the Wrightsville Beach boat ramp to Masonboro as a pleasure cruise. The Mad Fish was under gunned with the old 9.9hp Evinrude pushing that much weight (4 people, 1 dog, 2 coolers, and three chairs). The next day she was christened after the trip was declared a success. All clothes were dry.
In fact, our intrepid little crew made it back with only one incident. Sonny abandoned ship at the first sign of rocking from a large Hatteras that cruised by. After the flailing, thrashing and awkward heave back in the boat, he has never bailed on me again. Although, when in a tight spot – there have been a few – he does give me a look as if to say, “alright, but if it does go down, I’m out of here man.” He rides in the wind at the bow but ever on the lookout, wary of my seamanship. When he gets back behind the console, that’s when I know that “things have begun to go badly” as they say.
Several boats later and adventures big and small, expected and not, we made our first trip to big water. The Sonny Days we named after our long-suffering and loyal first mate and since the days aboard her are the dog days we live for. For the first time in open water I chose a good offshore breeze and calm seas. The boat ramp was clear. Only a few worn crab boats and the men working. Heading out the channel, the sun was far below the ocean line and its light just began to touch the sky above. The surface was a slick dark glass that changed from the swallowing of color to morning blue, teal and then blue and crisp. Out that far you feel very small and tend to talk to yourself as if others can hear. Sometimes you just think you have been talking. That first morning, and others since, I startled my first mate and myself when I actually did speak aloud. You’re used to having others there to hear. Now just silence and the dog listen. That is if anything you thought you said was actually out loud. Cut the engine and feel the silence settle in as the hum of the engine dies away. It’s big, quiet, piercing and blue. With any luck, the next sound is the singing of line and reel as you hook that first catch.
April has been warming up the water and with it the fishing. One or two little evening attempts had netted only a small flounder and one bluefish. This weekend would be the last chance. There has been no surf to speak of and we’ve all had our heads down, grinding away at work. Saturday morning looked favorable, but as it is when you work like that, you’re bound to blow off steam. With both brothers in town, we met at the bar for a drink and to make plans for fishing the next morning. They continued on with their planning at a few more pubs while “the notes” called it an evening.
In the dark hour that is neither morning nor night, Sonny and I loaded the boat and headed out the Cape Fear River to catch bait before gathering my brothers at the dock and heading out to the ocean. The 3/4 moon shown a full silver light on the water. The spoil area and sandbars that plague the Cape Fear stayed in the shadows however, so when my brother called to say they had planned too hard and too long and would not be fishing, “the notes” was wading around working The Sonny Days off a shoal and putting off thoughts of alligators. Sonny was behind the console waiting for the situation to improve.
We managed to work free and fished for trout along the islands in the river till the sun made the horizon, joining the moon in a mix of silver and orange. A light zephyr kept the surface smooth and I turned the boat for open water. We fished a reef or two with little result. Just as the tide neared full we found schools of menhaden beset by frenzied bluefish on some shoals. With 10 oz. line on a light graphite rod armed with a casting jig, Sonny and I fought and landed several good bluefish.
The Sonny Days made one last waypoint before the wind came up and the chop increased. A glance from Sonny and a full ice box, we called it a day. Back at home the catch was cleaned and rested brothers were called over for a family fish fry. Fresh made salsa, chips, beans and flour tortilla shells and more fish than we could comfortably eat. Here is to a season of the same. Fair winds, calm seas-wishes seconded by the first mate-and tight lines.
–Chris, glad you’re here…