Photos by Zach Harvey.
Story by JP Lee
Point Judith, R.I. — Sometimes on windless nights in May, when everything in the harbor is still, when there’s no boat traffic, no ferries backing in or out, no welders or grinders, no fishermen pulling heavy sweeps and chains across bulkheads, the squid—the loligo—will come into the shallows and lay in the glow of the draggers’ lights.
You get to the dock. It’s close to 2:30. You quietly open and close your car door. There is no wind. The harbor’s like a single sheet of black ice. You thread the line through the eyes of your rod. The fog has changed everything. There are no horizons. You can’t see any of the lights across at Snug Harbor or Jerusalem. You can’t see any of the streetlights by the ferry dock.
You walk onto the dock and head toward the decklights. The dock smells of pressure-treated wood and tar, burnt steel, hydraulic oil. One of the boats has its net hanging from a boom. The net’s been drying in yesterday’s sun. The closer you walk to it, the stronger the smell—seaweed, sand and twine.
Beyond the perimeter of the draggers’ lights everything has been absorbed, as if nothing were there. Everything inside the lights has tightened into focus. You see beads of moisture dripping down the sides of the steel hulls, down the net drums, down the rails, off the codends.
You start looking for squid. You don’t see any in the green water. Some tiny baitfish, juvenile silversides, are feeding. You’re thinking the bait is a good thing. It’ll draw the squid. You stand there, rod in hand. And even though the squid should’ve been inshore by now—the dogwoods have long since bloomed–you’re prepared to wait them out tonight. You tell yourself that if they show at all, they should show in the hour before dawn.
The long brooding notes of a night heron call out by the charter boat docks. You listen. The whole harbor seems consumed by its sound, as if every particle of vapor, from the Town Dock to the tip of the Center Wall, has carried the bird’s message.
Your glasses are useless. Your hair is sodden. You have enough water on your face to bathe a baby. Then it begins. Out at the edge of the light—where the shadows begin– you see squid. Few animals hover and glide better, in a kind of motionless motion. But when they want speed, they’ll jet through the water like a torpedo. You notice the silversides have changed their behavior–going from a loose feeding configuration to a tight school. You watch the squid pulse, changing colors from pink to red to white. There’re big—inshore spring squid tend to be large, and are often called “tubes.” You hold the squid jig in your hand and pause. You start thinking: Give it time. Let ‘em gather, let ‘em get aggressive. Be patient. Then, in a long swing, not a cast but a flip, you send the jig out. You watch it settle in a slow sink. The squid move to it. When the jig falls out of sight, you see a white tube down with it. Then you feel weight. It’s not a hit, just weight. You reel up. The squid deep red and mad, jets ink everywhere. You flip out another, the jig arching out into the lights.