Surf's down: the story of a failed fishing trip
Shore Speak
By SARITA COOKE


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Bill Sterling vividly described his wonderful and memorable surf fishing "experience," in the Oct. 9 issue of "Currents." I wasn't quite sure whether to share it with my husband or hide it, so I left it to fate and it joined the newspaper pile on the kitchen table. But with the title "Surf's up" in huge bold black letters it was hard to miss. He spied it immediately and I watched a nasty greenish flush climb up his face, then he dropped it like a poisonous snake. I think it was the photograph of smiling fishermen displaying a 35-inch red drum that really put him off, because in his summer memory box the "Surf" was very "down."

It was really my fault that he spent the last three days of his wet vacation, groaning in bed, nursing a battered body, and sipping gruel. In an otherwise blistering hot and dry summer, he unfortunately took his vacation during the one cold wet week of the season, so I had encouraged him to join two friends surf fishing, thinking that a day out "with the boys" would be a change of scenery. The "boys" were on the loose because their wives had vanished to some spa in Arizona to have their bodies bashed about with bits of seaweed, and the "off island" friend had driven over 300 miles just to try his hand at surf fishing. My husband spent the day before this great nautical adventure, throwing lines to imaginary fish swimming around our house -- I think his last great fight with a real one, had been as a little boy, but like a good Scout he was determined to "be prepared."

I was so anxious for him to go that I withheld crucial information about the captain and his ship, the Suzyqueen. I didn't want to "put him off," at a time when surf fishing in the rain had little appeal.

The captain and his wife are my closest friends; however. their nautical adventures have entered the annals of legends over the years. A typical adventure happened when their son's in-laws came all the way from Arizona to enjoy the Oyster Festival. During an off shore tour of the island they suddenly found themselves knee deep in mud, dragging the boat for about an hour, recreating the "African Queen," minus the leeches. They spent the rest of their visit "recovering." So with over 30 years of similar experiences under my belt nothing would induce me to set foot in their boat.

Anyway, the following day the "boys" arrived, bright and early, to collect my husband, and filled with Gung Ho and manly swagger they vanished into the drizzle, kicking up oyster shells with their spinning wheels. Apparently, these wheels first carried them all the way to Saxis to get "peelers." Questioning the reason for driving across the peninsula for bait, when living on an island famous for its fishing, was not a wise move, silly me, I did -- my life was threatened.

The wheels then carried them back to Chincoteague, where they stopped at a local spot for breakfast. There they devoured the "Sportsman's Special" which seemed to include every egg ever hatched on the Eastern Shore, all the slaughtered hogs in the form of bacon and sausages, hotcakes, hash browns, toast, coffee, orange juice and tall tales -- mainly about the fish they were going to catch.

Filled to the gills they then hit Meatland, where they bought gallons of Pepsi and Coke, giant pretzels and Amos's Chocolate Chip cookies. The clock was ticking, but they still needed to get my husband a rod; however, when he found out that he also needed a fishing license, he decided to "pass" and said he'd be their "cheerleader" instead.

Then it was back to home base to winch the boat into the water. After they stocked the icebox with their Saxis "peelers," and Meatland goodies, they heaved it aboard, along with the rods and tackle box, and other essentials for survival on a barren barrier island. They finally sped off for an hour's journey to Assawoman at about two in the afternoon, still full of swagger, and dreams of a Biblical catch and a fine fish dinner.

Once there, they leapt overboard, hauled the boat up on the sand, secured her and then proceeded to lug their gear and clobber across the soft sand to the surfside, no mean feat I was told. There was, however, a problem; the tide was about to turn. Their fortune, however, turned out to be in the form of two other fishermen, who were also braving the rain, and they informed the "three old men of the sea" of the outgoing tide.

The "boys" managed to get in about 20 minutes of fishless fishing before they had to dash back to save the boat and themselves from being stranded until late at night. So they repacked all their stuff, and lugged it back across the soft sand, leaving most of their swagger behind.

By now, the other fishermen had moved out into deeper marshy waters and were hauling in 2 and 3 lb. croakers by the dozen, so all was not lost for the "three 'ol men," -- their mouths watered and a croaker dinner still shimmered before their eyes. But to add insult to injury the croakers didn't want the other bait they had brought - I didn't dare ask if it also came from Saxis, but of course the "three ol men" claimed the other men had fished the place dry.

Meanwhile, the other men, their boat loaded down with fish, waved cheerio to the "boys" and disappeared into the dusk -- leaving the 'three 'ol men" staring at their wake, filled with the sort of envy and dislike one feels for those who are flush with success.

As darkness fell, anxiety forced the Captain of this naval excursion to call it a day and gunning his ocean going liner, off they tore, cursing at all the elements that nature had ever created. By now the water was quite choppy, and up went the bow, where my husband was sitting, and down it went in the chop, feeling as if it were hitting concrete each time. The icebox, filled with sodden bits of uneaten pretzels and chocolate chip cookies, slid back and forth across his feet, the spray soaked his clothes and slapped at his face like an angry stingray, and the cold rain slithered down his back, soaking everything en route.

It was old Assawoman that got him that day -- the island might have a nice soft comfy ass but God made my husband straight as an arrow, all the way down, so with each heave and ho of the boat, his spinal cord received a shattering and brutal bruising. After about an hour and a half they reached their home dock: fishless, egoless and bereft of humor.

Once again they had to lug all their clobber off the boat, winch her back up, sluice her down, unpack all their stuff, smooth their ruffled feathers, rearrange their swagger and come to terms with the humility of having to eat restaurant fish for dinner. However, my crippled husband declined to join them, a wise move, and came home about 9:30 p.m..

I was very surprised to see him, feeling fairly confident that one way or the other they would miss the outgoing tide and be spending the better part of their night on Assawoman, and another legend would be added to the family history for laughs. But looking green around the gills, his hair plastered into a sort of foamy muck on his head, his clothes sodden and salty, he crept slowly upstairs to bed, saying he was "a bit tired."

He spent the next two days groaning under a mountain of blankets. By now the wives had returned feeling full of vim and vigor. The suggestion was made that we could collect seaweed from the island's bayside and slap it on my husband's battered body --"work's miracles" he was assured, "you'll feel like a new man."

He was not amused, and perched on three soft cushions he wended his way slowly and painfully back to New Jersey, which is why he did not want to know anything about Bill's enthusiastic "experience" titled "Surf's up."

Well maybe next year.

Originally published Wednesday, October 30, 2002

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"Those who seek to predict the future... might first look to the past. The past is a mirror -- and those who ignore its sometimes dark reflection, are doomed to repeat it... Will it be those seeking redemption who shall decide the future... or will those driven only by greed and envy shape our destiny? Even a hundred years later, the outcome is still very much in doubt. .." Outer Limits(Heart's Desire)