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
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 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.
“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.
“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.