Some fish­er­men can’t re­sist the call of the water, leav­ing ev­ery­thing be­hind for a chance at the next epic bite.

Soundings - - Contents - By Wil­liam Sis­son

I’d known Noah since we were kids, part of a gang of feral boys who spearfished in the light­house cove where Fred kept his lob­ster skiff on a ramp that sloped down to the sea. To launch the boat, Fred would wet the planks with a few buck­ets of water, and then we’d all ea­gerly em­brace the skiff’s rough skin with our arms and shoul­ders and backs and shove her down the ramp and into the drink.

Noah was like an older brother and men­tor to me. I lost track of him for a time, but he showed up on our doorstep one sum­mer need­ing a place to stay. He’d re­cently split with his wife.

“She says, ‘All you want to do is fish,’ ” he told me. She had him pegged pretty good, I thought.

He’d been sleep­ing on friends’ couches for a cou­ple of months, and his lit­tle skiff was molder­ing in his soon-to-be-ex’s drive­way, look­ing like a tern with a bro­ken wing. To add to his woes, a fam­ily of crows had camped in a tree out­side the win­dow at his last way sta­tion, and their cries woke him each day at dawn. The prodi­gal son was look­ing pretty frayed when he showed up at our abode and moved in for a few weeks.

By fall, Noah was him­self again. I was fish­ing a place known as the Bishop’s a lot in those days, and I saw his truck pull up late one af­ter­noon. He’d no sooner parked and got­ten his big Lami­glas surf rod out of the back than a school of bass started bust­ing water a cou­ple hun­dred yards down the beach to the east. He took off run­ning af­ter them the way we used to chase fish as kids — that’s when I fig­ured he was OK.

We fished to­gether from time to time, but more of­ten than not I’d run into him in the surf af­ter dark, mostly in the fall out on the mus­sel bars.

I liked talk­ing to him be­cause he told sto­ries about the old timers and the old days. Damned if he didn’t know some char­ac­ters. Guys with names such as Ich­a­bod and Pe­leg and Hezekiah. Don’t hear those names any­more.

He knew a bit about a rough char­ac­ter named Os­car, who used to fish the very point where we stood talk­ing. A former rail­road man, Os­car would come out for a cou­ple of days at a time with his tackle and a wa­ter­melon, a block of cheese and a shot­gun. This was prob­a­bly back in the 1920s or ’30s. If a boat strayed too close to shore — they were prob­a­bly com­mer­cial net­ters

in those days — he’d bran­dish the gun and chase them off. “Try do­ing that to­day,” Noah said.

He asked me once if I knew Latin. “My old man was the Latin scholar,” I told him. “I didn’t take it in school. Wish I had.”

He was search­ing for a phrase that an is­land fish­er­man used to mut­ter when­ever he picked up his wooden pri­est to de­liver the coup de grâce to the head of a fish. Noah was cer­tain the phrase was part of a lost prayer from child­hood, one he thought might be use­ful, but for what pur­pose I don’t be­lieve he had a clue.

Some­times I’d go by his home in the early evening af­ter he re­mar­ried. He’d be on the back porch, say­ing good­night to his fam­ily.

Not much had changed. We were still rush­ing off to a beach or a rock pile or a wait­ing boat. Some­place where there weren’t many peo­ple. “If we’re lucky,” he’d say, “we’ll have it all to our­selves tonight.”

I’d watch him as he kissed the kids on the tops of their heads.

“Daddy will catch you a big one,” he told them.

“Big as me?” asked the boy, who was prob­a­bly 6.

“Taller,” the man said, swing­ing him off his feet. “And big­ger.”

He pre­tended not to see the frown on his wife’s face, but I saw it. She tried to tell him some­thing, but he cut her off. “Run­ning late,” he’d say.

It was al­ways that way — rac­ing the light, the wind, a tide and some­thing else only he could see.

Noah meant well, worked hard, but there just wasn’t enough time for ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing and the fish, too. I think he felt the pull of the tides more than the rest of us. When he couldn’t re­sist their draw any longer, he’d har­den up and flat­ten any­one who stood be­tween him and the water.

Back then, he was con­stantly mov­ing from one life to an­other, as I re­mem­ber it. And he’d slip back be­fore dawn, like a crea­ture from a nether­world, one who didn’t want to be seen, who didn’t give a damn about com­pan­ion­ship when he was on the fish, save for that of his fish­ing part­ner. And some­times he didn’t give a damn about that, ei­ther. I know that first­hand.

Noah showed up on our doorstep one sum­mer need­ing a place to stay. “She says, ‘All you want to do is fish,’ ” he told me. She had him pegged pretty good, I thought.

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