THE SHIN­ING TIDES

AN EX­CERPT FROM A FIC­TIONAL STORY OF A RECORD STRIPED BASS AND THE CAPE COD COM­MU­NITY TURNED UP­SIDE DOWN BY ITS AP­PEAR­ANCE

Anglers Journal - - CONTENTS -

We learn as much about the nature of a record striper as we do about the fight to land her in this time­less New Eng­land story.

By WIN BROOKS

Saturn was the evening star. The moon had crossed the merid­ian with the sun and was in­vis­i­ble from earth; it was dark o’ the moon. When the blan­ket of stars lay close and heavy on the wa­ter, shim­mer­ing and opales­cent, Roc­cus broke through it with a roll and tail-slap and fell back on her side. The stars scat­tered, danced, re­formed in wa­ver­ing pat­tern. The bass slashed the sur­face, sin­u­at­ing on her right side, then on her left, leaped half clear. Three yel­low­ish-brown sea lice fell from her shoul­der and were promptly de­voured by a cun­ner, which an hour later was eaten by a crab, which, be­fore morn­ing, was swal­lowed by a master sculpin.

When the tide ebbed with the west-flow of colder wa­ter through the canal, Roc­cus in mid-chan­nel dropped back with it un­der the rail­road bridge, past State Pier, through the straits be­tween Hog Neck and Hog Is­land into the warmer wa­ters of Buz­zards Bay. She swam onto the shoal at Cedar Is­land Point and in three fath­oms there hunted food, find­ing lit­tle ex­cept a few of the first of the hump­backed scup. These, in the adult growth, had dor­sal fins too sharp to be rel­ished. Some of the smaller ones she swal­lowed. She pur­sued and lost a small school of sand launce. She rooted for them but could not find where they had buried them­selves.

With the wash of Tiderun­ner’s wake over the shoal, she swam into deeper wa­ter, not alarmed but wary, and within the cone of vi­sion of her right eye de­tected an ac­tive, elon­gated shadow, some­thing like a whit­ing, swim­ming in jerks as if wounded, and flut­ter­ing from one side to the other. She closed on its strangeness and fol­lowed leisurely un­til the ob­ject leaped away from her. She ac­cel­er­ated

and swam abreast of it, but it jerked away swiftly. She swam be­neath it and bunted it gen­tly with her head. In her years Roc­cus had en­coun­tered many kinds of ar­ti­fi­cial lures, and a few, when they had proved suf­fi­ciently tan­ta­liz­ing in ac­tion and the con­di­tions of light or ap­proach were such as to ob­scure leader and line, she had struck. De­ci­sion and ac­tion in this case were si­mul­ta­ne­ous. She swirled and took the hooper-dooper head-on just as it jerked again. Two of the gang of head hooks em­bed­ded them­selves in her up­per lip.

“Cal!”

Cal heeded. “You hung on bot­tom, Bobby?” “On fish!” Bobby grunted. The rod arced, and the line hissed against the light drag, and hissed cut­ting the sur­face.

“Good boy!” He revved the port mo­tor, turned right rud­der to keep the line from the hull. “Take him easy. Bass?”

“Yuh. Big one, Cal.”

“They all feel big first-out in the spring.” Bobby held the rod tip fairly high and kept the reel crank­ing, but the line still payed out. “You best tighten up a lit­tle on that drag.” “That’s what I was go­ing to tell you,” Bobby grunted. “I’m but­toned down tight al­ready.”

“Oh.” Could be a big fish at that, Cal thought, though it was aw­ful early. He gunned the mo­tors and be­gan to fol­low the fish across­chan­nel. Bobby picked up some line. The fish dogged deep, and the rod butt, jump­ing alive, bruised his groin. “Get me a belt, Cal.”

Cal reached into the cabin for a leather bib and buck­led it on the boy and helped set the butt in the pocket, feel­ing as he did so the springy surge of power away out at the end of the line. The fish was big. Twenty min­utes passed. The bat­tle had taken them across the chan­nel to the south end of Mash­nee, a boul­der-strewn bot­tom.

“That rod’ll stand all you can give it, and the line is new. Your fish is well hooked or you’d have lost him long ago. Bet­ter go to work, son.”

The young mate low­ered the rod tip, reel­ing; pumped, low­ered reel­ing; pumped again, re­peated.

“Gets in those boul­ders, he’ll cut off, Bobby.” “Know it. Moved him some. This can’t be no bass.”

“It’s bass,” Cal said. “Noth­ing else acts like that. Give it to him.”

Bobby gained fifty feet, lost it; gained sixty, lost fifty. Ten min­utes later, after a se­ries of short runs, the fish had only a hun­dred feet of line.

“Com­ing up!” Bobby yelled in tri­umph.

Off the stern Roc­cus sur­faced in a great

shower of foam, and Bobby called on the Mother of God to wit­ness the sight. Cal kicked into slow re­verse and said qui­etly, “Don’t give him slack. Ease off a lit­tle on your drag and watch out. He just came up to look around; he’s go­ing to move sud­den.”

Roc­cus sin­u­ated, swirled and sounded, and all the line so la­bo­ri­ously won was lost be­fore the boat could be brought on a fol­low­ing course.

“He ain’t even winded,” Cal said.

“Cal.”

“Yuh.”

“You take him.”

“If you don’t want him I’ll cut him off.”

“But you saw him.”

“Yuh, and how!”

“How big, Cal?”

“Oh, maybe thirty, forty pounds.” He knew it was wiser not to say how big.

The fish lunged, and the line sang.

“I saw him, too.”

“How big you think?”

“Big­ger than any bass I ever saw.”

“That so? Well, watch your rod tip.”

No kid­ding him, Cal thought. He saw as well as I. He knows he’s hung to a record.

The rod was a glass half-cir­cle.

“Not much line left.”

“We’ll run up on him again. Take in steadily, keep the pres­sure on him.”

They’d worked back to the chan­nel edge, and Cal no­ticed with ap­pre­hen­sion that the ma­hogany speed cruiser which had passed them out­bound was headed in again at high speed, bear­ing di­rectly across their course. He sounded a sharp warn­ing on his horn and saw the bow wave di­min­ish sharply. They hadn’t seen him be­fore. He gave his at­ten­tion to the fish.

With the help of the boat, Bobby had the fish within a hun­dred feet again, and sur­fac­ing. Cal kicked into neu­tral.

“You tired him some; don’t let him rest now.” He went be­low for the big gaff. When he came top­side with it, he saw with con­ster­na­tion that Tiderun­ner was lay­ing to, not a hun­dred feet be­yond the sur­faced, thrash­ing bass. He cupped his hands and shouted, “Ahoy, Tiderun­ner! Move off, please! This fish will run again!”

The man and the girl had taken seats on the cabin to watch the fight. The man gave no sign he heard; Cal saw the girl turn to speak to her com­pan­ion, prob­a­bly re­peat­ing the mes­sage. The man pointed at the fish and said some­thing. Cal shouted a warn­ing again, but it was ig­nored.

“He’s go­ing to move again, Cal, I can tell.

He’s get­ting ready! There he goes!”

The sur­face leaped and boiled. The bass took line once more, and the tip of Bobby’s rod was pointed di­rectly at the other boat.

“I can’t turn him, Cal,” he called.

“He’ll pass un­der that lard­head. I’ll swing in an arc around him. Don’t pres­sure him enough to keep him up.”

He gunned both mo­tors. He saw the man on Tiderun­ner leap for the wheel and shouted, “Don’t start up! Lay where you are!”

The girl waved, but Tiderun­ner’s mo­tors came alive with a roar, and the ma­hogany leaped, cross­ing Carey’s Chicken’s bow.

“He’s go­ing right over my line!” Bobby shouted.

Cal kicked into neu­tral, slammed into re­verse. Tiderun­ner jumped clear, the man at her wheel shak­ing a fist.

“He cut me off!” Bobby’s cry was an­guish. Life had gone from the rod; line drooped from its tip.

“Cal?”

“Yuh?”

“How big was that bass?”

“Re­ally want to know? Make you feel bad.” “I want to know.”

“Not less than one hun­dred pounds. Not less than five-and-a-half feet long. Now you can cry in your pil­low tonight.”

Roc­cus sank to the boul­dered deeps off Mash­nee. The hooks of the plug were merely an an­noy­ance, the weight of it a nui­sance which did not greatly alarm her. She had rid her­self of sim­i­lar lures be­fore. Be­hind her, as she swam, trailed one hun­dred and twenty feet of forty-five-pound-test ny­lon line and three feet of ny­lon leader. Be­fore dusk, all ex­cept a foot of the line had been cut off by the sharp edges of bar­na­cles, mus­sels and rocks. She ex­pelled with an ex­er­tion that tired her and some­how caused her to be tense. Awk­wardly, she fed through squid, though she was not hun­gry. She sought the re­as­sur­ance of nor­mal­ity.

The pre­ced­ing ex­cerpts were taken from the 1952 novel The Shin­ing Tides by Win Brooks.

Charles Church set the striped bass world record with a 73-pound fish taken in 1913 off Cut­ty­hunk, Mas­sachusetts, a mark that lasted un­til 1981.

The striped bass record be­longs to Greg My­er­son, who cap­tured this 82-pounder in Long Is­land Sound in 2011.

An old-school striper foray off Cut­ty­hunk is de­picted in this John Rice paint­ing.

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