Catching a big fish doesn’t always make perfect sense. With fluke I had convinced myself that the biggest fish, the true slabs, the fish destined for the sushi market, were to be found on the hard bottoms–the cobble, the reefs and rock–and more so if a strong current was ripping overhead. I wasn’t a huge believer in the slack water theory. This theory says that big fish are lazy and don’t like dealing with tide; they lie and wait for things to settle down. Then they eat.
Alex Friedman of Edgartown, Massachusetts and I were drifting just off Gay Head, in deep, rocky water. We hadn’t been doing much and we were working hard for our non-catching: Rigging squid baits, changing baits, fishing through some dogfish, snagging bottom. Our arms and hands hurt and we hadn’t many fish to show for it.
We moved into Vineyard Sound to fish a small rock pile that on the chart looked too good to pass up. But it was small. We made a bunch of short drifts, working around lobster gear–buoys getting pulled under by the tide.
Around lunchtime we said, “Fuck this. Let’s take a break.”
Alex’s boat, the Sharon Ann, drifted off the spot. We set our rods in the holders. I had on a big 8-ounce fluke jig with a piece of squid the size of my forearm on it. I let the rig go to the bottom. When it hit bottom I reeled up three cranks so it wouldn’t hit a snag.
Alex said, “Smooth bottom here. Dead bottom–nothing but mud.”
I put some mayo on the bread we’d brought. I placed the lunch meat across the bread. We were up in the bow, looking aft. Flat calm day. The tide had slacked off. What little wind there was pushed us toward West Chop. Then boom my rod went off, a deep bend like I’d hooked bottom. I grabbed the rod and felt a fish. Alex and I looked at each other, went silent.
I’ve been fishing with Alex for 30 years. We have an odd habit of not talking when one of us has a good fish on. It may have to do with the jinx, some unsaid rule that says if you say something about the fish you’re fighting–before you’ve even laid eyes on it–then you will almost certainly drop the fish, lose it. And there is no feeling in the world worse than dropping a heavy fish without having seen it.
Alex and I didn’t speak one word. We were fishing in a hundred feet of water. It took about five minutes to get the fluke to the net. Once it was in the net, we shouted like crazy men.
Cooper Gilkes of Coop’s Bait and Tackle weighed the fish. He and Alex are friends. Cooper put the fish on the scale. Then, once the needle of the scale stopped at 13.5 pounds, Cooper said, in that classic underhand tone of the old guard: “Nice fish.”