By Dave Anderson
My wife and I often talk about the fact that we lead double lives, she is an elementary school teacher, and it’s kind of odd that I will never experience her classroom persona. In the same way, she will never experience my true fishing personality—sure, we’ve fished together, but my focus is on her, I am not concentrating on catching; my mind isn’t working as an angler, it’s working as a husband. And you can bet that she’s never going to swim to a rock on a new moon night!
Lila, my three year old daughter, on the other hand, sees another side of me that really no one else sees. She’s so innocent and up for anything that she sees the version of ‘me’ that is as close to the ‘alone’ me as anyone will ever get. I think (hope) that everyone has that person in their head that whispers things that could never be said out loud, sings silly—often crude—parody lyrics over familiar songs on the radio, has a certain pride for the smell and timbre of their own farts… that sort of thing. Her innocence and aptitude bring out the narrator in me and instead of just walking the beach, trudging through the woods, silently enjoying the site of a pair of sharp-shinned hawks or picking up an arrowhead, I find myself speaking almost everything I see for her benefit.
This has led to many silent victories of pride, “Daddy, shhh, hear that? That’s a blue jay!” “Look a deer scrape.” “I heard an owl!” “Is that a turkey vulture...?” Or the one that rocks me to the core, “Daddy, I think I got one!”
Its late-January so there haven’t been as many true excursions lately, but we still make regular drives to the ocean. Wintertime is THE time to scout private neighborhoods for fishing spots and places to park because most of the people are wintering in one of their other houses. However, I’ve learned the hard way that—even in the winter—you can’t stay too long, or else that one year-round resident will assume you’re casing the hood and the cops will pull you over. Been there.
If you’ve followed this blog or our social media for more than a few weeks you might remember the montage of ‘private property’ signs I posted, Lila was with me the day I shot most of those pics and was having a ball making all these frequent stops and looking at all of the colors and shapes of the signs. And because of that comfort level that she brings, I must have been speaking in very… let’s call it honest tones about my feelings regarding the people that believe they own the view, the water and the beaches. Along with the gasoline fueled anger they feel when someone dares to set foot inside their field of vision and the borderline orgasmic satisfaction they feel when they succeed in ousting a trespasser.
I walked into the house yesterday, I had been working outside for a few hours and I came into the living room to find the floor divided down the middle by a makeshift fence of laundry baskets, pillows, the coffee table, a couple small chairs, blankets and few large toys. Lila, who has been obsessed with walking around in just underwear and a t-shirt lately, declared loudly in her Moana undies and her ‘Star Gazer’ t-shirt, “This is private property!” She gestured in a wide circle giving notice that both sides of the fence were private.
I laughed and asked, “Who owns that side?” I pointed to the other side of the room.
“A farmer,” She barked, “and his dog has been pooping on my side so I had to put up a fence!”
My wife looked at me flatly as I smiled. In weird way, I felt proud of her for having such a solid grasp on how private property works. But in the same breath I felt a little embarrassed, with all of the crazy things going on in this world and all of the lessons I still have to teach her, my beef with the ornery owners of private land has been heard, processed and internalized… and she can’t even tie her shoes.
I don’t know if this calls my parenting skills into question, I don’t know if I really care. One thing I can hang my hat on for now is that I know she will not be leashed to a phone or video game, at least not for many years, because I won’t allow it. I believe that the people who have stayed connected to nature and the outdoors throughout their lives are among the most well-adjusted people on the planet. My connection is so strong that it almost feels like unconditional love. And you can bet that I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure she has every resource and opportunity to make and nurture her connections; in my mind there is virtually nothing more important.
By John P. Lee
I’ve had codfish on the brain lately—I hear the bite has gotten good around Block Island, maybe I’ll make a trip soon and put some fresh fish in the fridge. With my thoughts steady on cod (am I ready to go? Do I have my gear in order?) I re-read a post I wrote a number of years ago about a winter cod trip off Block Island. Even years later, I think it's still worthy of a read. I hope to see you out there. Enjoy.
I’ve had time to review the moment and I still don’t know what it is I’ve learned. Something lost.
A fishing rod, the best I’ve ever owned.
I broke it Christmas Eve morning, 2011. A day cold enough that without gloves on you would’ve lost your hands.
We were codfishing east of Block Island. I wish I could say it happened dramatically, the boat taking a heavy roll in a breaking sea, spilling bodies, water blowing through scuppers, and me—or someone—landing heavily across the spine of the rod, snapping it.
It broke almost by itself. The rod was leaning against the rail of the boat. The cod bite was on, a fish on every drop. Terry, the captain of the Tiger Jo, was steaming back to the north’ard so we could make the same drift again. When he throttled back down and the boat slowed, I reached for my rod, and the second my fingers touched it, it split in half—a clean break as if it were cut by a diamond saw.
I looked down at my busted rod. I was calm without trying to be. That was the odd part: calm without trying to be. There was no impulsive, staccato swearing, no grandiose announcement to those onboard that the day was now officially “completely shot, a total fucking waste of time.”
Pure temperance. Every parent knows the feeling. No school can teach it, no book. The important thing is that it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes we cave in and tip the scale wildly the other direction. Bless the moment when the scale hangs dead even. It’s rare.
It’s a rod, John, not a son.
Even so: I’ve seen grown men act badly when loved machines and fond objects go bust.
The rod was 20 years old. A West Coast salmon rod made by G.Loomis. I forget the model number—if I ever knew it. BBR, something like that. I bought it when I was a student at the University of Rhode Island, figuring it’d be good for striped bass. It had the right length, just over 8 feet, for both surf and boat fishing, and, more importantly, the power to handle the trophies I pictured myself catching.
I liked the cork handle, the trigger reel seat, the lightness of the blank, and how balanced it felt with a small conventional reel on it.
Then, three years after the purchase, the electric seatbelts in my 1988 Ford Escort lopped 8 inches off the tip. I was furious at the seatbelts, cursed the engineer who designed them—clearly not a fisherman, for a fisherman would never design a device so foolish. I sold the car shortly thereafter.
That break was the real birth of this rod, my ownership of it. I don’t think I could’ve planned exactly where the seatbelts broke the rod. The break was in the perfect spot and made it a supreme boat rod, perfect for drifting with heavy bank sinkers and large baits; perfect for deep water and strong tides.
Years went by. Seasons, fish migrations, salt spray, hard falls, sun, rain and snow, six roommates, six different rentals, a bought boat, a divorce, a sold boat, home ownership, the passing of my father in a car accident, and finally a lovely pregnant wife.
The rod surely didn’t give a shit about any of this, this history. The rod leaned, inert as a stone, in the garage awaiting spring, like Paddington Bear waiting for the little girl to come and buy him, and when she did the bear came to life and brought her joy.
It became my favorite rod, indispensable. I loved when people held it and said, “Nice stick.” I loved how faded and gouged the cork handle had become; loved all the scratches, the patches of rust around the guides.
The rod had become so far removed from the G.Loomis catalog, the high-gloss photography of beautiful rods and grinning faces, archetypal bends.
After I broke it I threw the two pieces overboard. If the birth was when the seatbelts shortened it, then the death was this, the slow-sink to the bottom off Clay Head, Block Island.
The codfish came to us as if summoned. Clam bellies on dropper-looped hooks, ten-ounce bank sinkers. My hands on the cork, pressing, waiting for the tap tap of a cod on the bait. Banter was high, a stolen day from chores at the house-- Christmas Eve, in fact--our wives at home wondering what the hell we were doing out there in the freezing cold and “Really—Christmas Eve?”
I didn’t sulk when the rod broke. I rigged up another man’s rod—the horror—and dropped a bait down. My concentration, though, was shot. I don’t think I put another fish in the boat. Every cod bite I missed.
When the rod hit the water, I watched its cork handle bob once on the surface, then sound. I’m not the most sentimental person. I threw it over, an act fueled partly by annoyance, partly by the need for a mystical sacrifice.
I could’ve sent the broken rod back to Loomis and they would’ve sent me a brand-new one. A friend—who knew the rod—told me this on the phone after the fact: “Loomis has a return policy like L.L. Bean’s.”
When the rod sank, I heard Jason, my friend and shipmate, say over and over, “That’s gotta hurt. That’s gotta hurt.”
As the rod kept sinking, now well out of sight, I mumbled words of remembrance and hope—a wish for a good future, for health. I gave thanks. I do things like this from time to time. It helps. Crazy as that seems.
By Dave Anderson
This little false hint of a January thaw has awakened that need to drive to the ocean and just… see it. Any spot will do, it’s that inherent energy that the ocean holds that makes these short trips therapeutic. Today, after I dropped my daughter at preschool, I found myself following a familiar road, heading out of my way to a place that holds many memories. Following the footprints of a much younger and greener me, into a place that would become a major part of my story.
I first walked these beaches in the winter of 2005 when I found my way into a very exclusive neighborhood; as I skipped out onto the exposed ledges, I found a spot that screamed big stripers. It had everything; deep water, drastic depth changes, changes in bottom composition… The first time I fished it that spring the fishing was amazing with fish from 28 to almost 40 pounds. The next night was even better.
Needless to say, I became a regular at this spot. But as spring gave way to summer, I learned very quickly that a security guard was stationed in the neighborhood so that the ‘summer people’ could enjoy their high-priced paradise without worrying about any of the ‘underprivileged’ population sneaking in to enjoy a quick peek of the breathtaking view or—worse—marring it by leaving footprints in the sand that weren’t left by a fellow millionaire. It’s funny how money cultivates feelings of entitlement, but I’m jumping the tracks here.
After a few years of being asked to leave in the summer, I finally found a way in that only required that I keep the use of my light to a minimum. I was parking in a hayfield about a mile from the gate and walking in. By that time I knew exactly where the guard parked his vehicle and that he spent almost the entire night sitting in there listening to the radio. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he had a job to do and he could not be persuaded to look the other way. The only tenuous part of walking in was that I had to pass within 200 feet of his vehicle, but if I ducked into a driveway and walked a short distance behind a stone wall and some shrubs, he could not see me unless he was really focusing on that one area—he never saw me, not even once.
There were a few times though that his intuition seemed like it told him that someone had avoided detection and was out there exploiting the land and water he was there to ‘protect’. His downfall was that he seemed to be afraid of the dark; he NEVER shut his ginormous flashlight off. The jittering beam would precede his arrival by as much as five minutes, like a freight train rounding a bend on a moonless night. It never occurred to him to look on any of the rocks out in the water, and I’m sure training his eyes on that glowing beam killed his night vision anyway, so he never made me—again, not even once.
One summer night I was in there, hitting all of my usual spots, slinging eels—near perfect conditions, I’d only have wished for more wave action. I was on a short boulder that jutted out from the gravel beach when I saw the beam, waving like a lightsaber, 20 feet over my head on the bluff. I wasn’t worried, but I moved to a lower spot to make the most of the height of the boulder behind me. He walked down from the bluff and looked around for 10 minutes, I kept casting while he stumbled and searched just 25 yards behind me. He climbed back up and disappeared. I moved down the beach, further from where his car was parked and resumed my nightly ritual.
The fishing was just not coming together, and Mr. Rent-A-Cop was really testing his training. He showed up again, right behind me… it was a dark—no moon—he didn’t see me. The lack of fish was bothering me, half of me wanted to leave but the other half wanted to take on the challenge of salvaging the night. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t risk walking back down the road because Chief Wiggam was on the prowl, so I decided to fish my way down the mile of shoreline that lead back to the field where I had parked.
It should come as no surprise that my decision yielded zero fish and zero hits. As I stood at the shore, making my final casts, I hoped that I had lined myself up in a way that would offer a direct route to the car. I climbed the steep embankment and saw that I was roughly in the right spot, but that a thick patch of bramble and briars separated the shoreline from the field. Looking left, I saw that there was a long section of mowed grass leading from the water to a large house up near the road.
I thought about the hour, it was very late. I thought about the walk back and having to ninja my way through the neighborhood to avoid the guard. I decided I would walk through the yard and hope for the best.
When I do something like this I often find myself locked into a cyclical inner monologue. I imagine what might happen if someone caught me and then I think about the best story I could tell that would diffuse the situation and disarm my accuser. I always settle on having lost my way and selling the desperation of being ‘lost’ and ‘in a panic’… worried wife… work the next day… you get the idea. The reason for repeating it over and over, I think, is to get the tone and inflection right, make myself believe it before I have to say it out loud.
So I was walking up this million dollar lawn, sometime after 1 a.m., muttering and refining my excuse as I went. The house was white, standing out stark against the shadowy darkness of the trees around it. As I approached, I noticed that the property line was pitching in, forcing me to walk closer and closer to this modest vacation home—it was summer with a light sea breeze, windows would most definitely be open. My stride modulated to half speed as I concentrated on placing each step. My main concern switched to being exposed by a motion-activated flood light, luckily they didn’t have one. As I tip-toed past the east wing of the sprawling estate, I was passing a set of tall windows when a light flicked on inside, my body went cold with dread as my eyes instinctively fixed on the figure inside. My synapses were firing at record speed, processing worry, readying an excuse, fighting the urge to run… but the rush of emotions fell dead in the height of the moment. My brain was short-circuited by the amount of flesh I was seeing. Here was a man, probably late-60’s. Bald on top with wild bed head gray hair wrapping the sides. His face wore the grimace of trying to stay mostly asleep—he was the opposite of alert. He was short and portly and moving slowly. He was also bare-ass! And I saw it all. Everything from his alarmingly dangly testicles to his scruffy—steel wool—chest hair. He turned and I instantly felt bad for his proctologist. “Should’a been a podiatrist..”
All of the drama leading up fell flat in a whispered, yet exasperated, muffled huff, “Jesus-fucking-Christ!” My new challenge was trying to get out of there before bursting out laughing. As I rounded the pillars at the top of the driveway, I knew I had made it. The cold chill of alertness was replaced by the seeping warmth of fatigue. I felt like I didn’t know what to do with that mental image; all I could do was laugh. I don’t remember what year that was, but we all have memories that never leave us; the birth of a child, big fish caught or lost, little league home runs, falling in love… and unfortunately, this man’s… everything, seems be stored on that same kind of encrypted memory. So thanks mystery millionaire, you don’t know it, but I own a part of you and I cannot—for the life of me—get rid of it.
By John P. Lee
Ice fishing is good for the soul. There is something about it. The starkness of winter, the long afternoon shadows, the sound of expanding ice cracking from cove to cove. I think it’s good for the mind to stand above the fish and drill holes and set tilts. It’s more trapping than fishing, more like setting lobster pots than casting plugs. This mindset is not for everyone, spreading out your tilts over a wide area, covering ground. But it is not passive, the drilling and moving, the thought about where the fish could be, takes energy. And then when the fish bites and the flag pops, there is that moment as you walk over to the hole and see the spool spinning and kneel before it, your fingers on the line, feeling, feeling, then setting with your wrists. The battle is fought with your hands. How old is that tradition? Then the fish’s head is at the hole and it comes through and flops onto the ice. The colors of the fish seem to bloom in defined contrast to the monochrome ice. The perch are vibrant, the bass, the trout. I also love how affordable it is, for all people, the opposite of trying to catch a grander marlin off the Great Barrier Reef or Kona. The fish are right there somewhere in the lake or pond, right there below our feet. Enjoy these photos. I took them early in the season this year, right when the black ice set up, ice so transparent you could see bottom. Clear and bitter cold, my blood felt both frozen and fully alive.