MAGIC SOMETIMES HAPPENS WHEN AN UNEXPECTED FISH SWIMS ONTO THE STAGE
The bruised sky over Mishaum is drained of color, storm clouds roiled white over black like an old-style photo negative — Hurricane Hermine’s slap on New England’s ass as she hurries past Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
East wind means no stripers, but no matter. It’s false albacore time. On cue, blood-warm September water erupts — a wolf pack of albies strafe the outer bar, pulverizing peanut bunker into protein. And like that, they’re gone, the cove now showing no sign of having ever harbored a fish. Had I been looking down to change flies, I’d have missed the whole thing.
A quarter-mile of casts later, my arm starts to complain. I reel in and wonder where the 20-year-old me is hiding — the one who would have cast to the end of the bar without a break, then turned around and worked all the way back. I’m beginning to worry that my plan to live forever may be flawed.
Then it happens: Three saucer-sized objects swim by, each the color of boiled lobster shell, bobbing like orange balloons with their strings tangled. This jumble is a foot long and a foot wide until an outline forms and the pieces come together. It’s a sea robin.
I’ve caught sea robins in our lobster pots, and occasionally bottom fishing. If there is a place for strange creatures in beauty contests, sea robins win hands down. Their non-athletic form features a bulbous pear-shaped head, enormous scallop-like pectoral fins and a tail the size of your thumb. They are as slow as albies are fast. Out of water they’re the color of manure and emit strange grunting noises. Whoever named them had a warped sense of humor.
The fish swims up to the Surf Candy dangling from my rod tip. I sweep it right, and the sea robin follows a few inches behind, not yet sold. The bit of eelgrass trailing from the hook is off-putting, but clearly the fish thinks this thing is edible. It opens its mouth, fleshy white lips curling back against orange skin in black water — another photo negative, this time in color.
I slowly pirouette (in waders), drawing figure eights with the fly like yarn in front of a kitten. It lights up, hotter, pectorals flaring and tripling in size. From above it takes on the appearance of a brightly painted geisha with parasols over each shoulder. She (I’ve decided it’s a girl) flutters and dips, steps delicately ahead, stops and spins, then floats up on her fins to follow the fly. We twirl together in perfect unison. She’s 1/100th my size and only feet away, clearly aware of my presence and unafraid. She is one of the most mesmerizing and beautiful living creatures I have ever seen — and I’m dancing with her.
I pause to strip the eelgrass off the fly, flick it back in, and it’s almost game on — time to eat. But I can’t do that to her. I flip the fly over my shoulder and watch as she wanders off, her luminescent glow fading into the background russets as she shuffles into darker water.
Fishermen go down to the sea in the belief that each day is new and that anything is possible. Sometimes magic happens. Today I waltzed with a sea robin.
When the albies went missing, a sea robin turned up and stole the show.