This might’ve been a bad idea. That’s all I could think waiting to shove off at the seemingly un-godly hour of 8:00 a.m.
I’m not a fisher. I’ve never fished a day in my life. The closest I’ve even come to fishing is repeated viewings of “A Perfect Storm.” Which, needless to say, isn’t exactly a promotional add for fishing.
But there I was, leaning against a balcony on “Starfish,” listening to the engine rumble to life. At five past eight, the boat starts to reverse. Too late to abandon ship now.
After crawling along the pier and underneath the Hampton bridge, the sway becomes a rock as the ship hits open water. After ten minutes, the engine hits another gear and the little wakes in front of the boat flirt with banister territory.
This is fun. The boat rocks like a ride, the wind tussles with my already wayward bangs, salt water peppers my cheeks. I wonder why I’m the only one along the outside enjoying this adventure. Then a wake splashes onto my head, soaking my face and dripping into my sweatshirt. Oh. Now I know.
At 8:30, the shoreline is a distant memory and my glasses are in dire need of a dry cloth. Or a mop. But it’s too fun to retreat inside the cabin. I’m grateful for the noise, my excited cackles could clear out the harbor alone.
Quarter till nine, the ship starts to slow. We’re no longer headed straight but begin a slow turn, kind of like a dog does before settling down.
I mop off my glasses as a crew member walks by. “A little wet, huh?” he said. Yeah, I’d say so. But so worth the frizz later.
By nine o’clock I am outfitted with a rod, complete with weight and two baited hooks, dropped all 185 feet. No problems so far. When I look up, my helpful crew guy is gone and suddenly I’m alone on the deck. (The rod is called Shakespeare. Somewhere, a literature professor laughs.) No sweat. I’ll be pulling up dinner in now time.
Ten minutes go by and I can head the excited yells from fellow fishers. They’re pulling up cod on the other side. The only tug I get is from the boat rock.
A crew guy walks by and tells me I should rebait the line after ten minutes. The bait – chopped up bits of fish – lose their smell after ten minutes. (Note: hands used to bait take a little longer to lose their smell. two thorough washings seem to work though.)
The trickiest part of rebaiting the line doesn’t even involve bait. It’s reeling in the line. Apparently pulling in 185 feet of line takes some time.
I can do bait this myself. I’m an adult, an independent adult. And the crew guy said he’d only bait it the first time. So I dig into a bucket of bait and feel around for something to lodge onto the hooks. I can’t express my gratitude I’m not dealing with worms. At least this bait stays still.
Two shrimps on the line, I get ready to cast away. Looking out at the wide open water, I can just imagine the multitudes of fish I’m going to bring back.
Plop, plop. Both globs of bait fall to the deck. Crap.
A squishy half minute later, the rod is back down, this time at 200 feet. At about nine miles out to sea, the only sound is the occasional seagull and other fishers. The boat rocks gently back and forth, soothingly. Suddenly I’m not even worried about pulling in fish.
Just before ten, the crew flicks on a radio. Cher starts to belt it out for the lonely, but no bites. Maybe the cod are more rock fans?
At 10:30, I decided to take a break and wander the deck. The Monahan crew from Illinois and Colorado are ready and rarin’ to catch anything. Even a teeny, tiny bout with sea sickness isn’t enough to keep this quartet down. further along, a Wolfboro native anxiously awaits for her dinner to come biting. “I’m doing this for survival,” she said. “This is better than grocery shopping!”
I cave and take a seat at a booth inside. The rocking starts and stops, and my stomach begins to mimic it. Iwillnotgetsick. Iwillnotgetsick.
At 10:45, I’m in the right spot to see someone pull in a dog fish. I’m excited, first time I’ve ever seen a shark (albeit, a small, mostly harmless shark) up close and personal. The hook went through his eye so untangling proves a little difficult. But eventually he’s freed and tossed back at sea. I find out later catching one is a jinx for fishing boats. It was still pretty cool though.
At eleven, we pull out the rods and head toward the coast. We’re going fishing for mackerel! Turns out the Starfish is the boat to be on when fishing for these little buggers. Crew member Chris Graham defended Starfish’s trophy when he won an overtime, sudden death final for the bragging rights.
Fishing for mackerel is different than the wait and see game of deep sea fishing. You don’t need bait for mackerel, which I found out after I baited. Charming. And instead of holding the rod steady, you jerk the rod back and forth. Mackerel are drawn to the shiny, moving hook. Sounds like some people I know.
With little more than the necessary goading, Chris grabs a rod and preps for a repeat performance. But its Tom that hauls in the most. He’s pulling up so many, he dumps one on the deck before putting it in another fisherman’s cooler. Someone will be stocked up on mackerel for a while. The mackerel on deck around for a while and that just can’t be good. I go to grab him then chick out. That’s right, I chicked out. Squealed like a teenager at a Jo-Bro poster and recoiled. So not cool. Tom laughed and heaved the oily little bugger into the cooler. Show off.
The Wolfboro crew were content to catch and release. With Chris nearby, the release part was easy. Grab the hook attached to oily bugger, flick said hook, and goodbye bugger. Easy, peasy, right? No,
One of the Wolfboro crew was game to let me release a mackerel. Grabbed hook (only one squeal), flicked, and . . . he’s still there. A few more muscled flicks later, he was free. Unfortunately so was the hook. Whoops.
A few more minutes of fun with mackerel, captain calls it a day. The anchor gets pulled up one more time and we head in. I am fishless. At least the physical one. I’m pretty sure I reek of the stuff.
We start a decidedly smoother ride back to the bridge and pier. The boat sloshes against the wakes, smaller this time. Leaning against the banister, I watch the coast creep into view.
I’m not a descendant of fishermen, at least not in the immediate. My dad gets painfully seasick to the point he pops Dramamine at the mention of boats and mom doesn’t like the dead, ready to eat fish variety, let alone the live, flopping kind. I haven’t fallen too far from the tree. The sea wind shellacked my hair into a mess, water from the deck soaked my pants to the knee, and leftover mackerel love peppered my hands. I don’t think I’m cut out for the fisherman’s life.
But there was something indescribably peaceful about standing on the boat, listening to the waves smack the side, and feeling the salty ocean air whip around that could easily entice me to give fishing another go.