I write this post with a belly full of white wine and striped bass, so beware any overt romanticization and verbal hyperbole that may ensue.  (Though, in the interest of full disclosure, I will probably hold off until tomorrow to post, after I've edited out the most embarrassing stuff.)

I love striped bass, with a deep, abiding, respectful love borne of decades of mythologization and years of pursuit.  Growing up in Kansas, I read In-Fisherman magazine and watched Bill Dance obsessively, and no fish - not a 70-pound catfish, not the delicately-hued California golden trout - looked more regal to me than a striper that spanned two outstretched arms. I'm not a particularly good striper fisherman - left to my own devices, I haven't yet caught one over 18 inches from the surf, and I don't own a boat-ready rod and reel so I have to use the stock tackle provided by the charter and party boats where I hitch a ride a handful of times during the spring striper run.

And to tell the truth, I hadn't had much luck fishing so far this year. I got skunked on the Marilyn Jean IV, my favorite party boat out of Sheepshead Bay, a couple of weeks ago, and I was pretty sure my luck was on a continued downturn this morning when our local ferile cat jumped out in front of my path at 3:30am when I was walking out of our gate.

And then, when I met my party at our charter boat, the Karen Ann, off Cross Bay Boulevard in Jamaica Bay, we had to wait an hour on the dock as they (pretty amazingly, I must say) strung a series of extension cords from a nearby building to charge the boat's battery, which had been drained when someone nefariously left the lights in the boat on all night. As they were working the first mate called out, "Anybody got any water?" I handed over my pint bottle of Poland Spring, and he downed the whole thing in about three seconds. I guess I wasn't that thirsty.

Speaking of my party...one reason I felt pretty good going into this trip was that it was kind of like a bank heist, with a crew assembled by Paul Greenberg, author of the bestselling Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food , that included oceanographer Philip Orton, documentary filmmaker Sam Green, and me. Also in on the caper, er, fishing trip were Captain Frankie, a chef at Blue Water on Union Square, a post-Sandy relief researcher (Frankie has some great stories of riding the storm out with his boat to keep it tied to the shore), the mate, a local, and a photojournalist who documented everything.

I'm tempted to spend the whole night here recounting the narrative of our adventure, but I'll instead say it in photos (all of which were taken by someone who wasn't the photojournalist - his are undoubtedly much better):

The scene at dawn. Guys in kayaks, teams in skiffs, masses in party boats, all after the same boiling mess of fish under the water.

The scene at dawn. Guys in kayaks, teams in skiffs, masses in party boats, all after the same boiling mess of fish under the water.

Bringing in the bait - menhaden to ecologists, bunker to fishermen.

Bringing in the bait - menhaden to ecologists, bunker to fishermen.

Got the bait. Lock and load, boys.

Got the bait. Lock and load, boys.

This is what happens when a bluefish gets to your bait before a striped bass. It's a dangerous business.

This is what happens when a bluefish gets to your bait before a striped bass. It's a dangerous business.

After a long morning of fishing, the getaway - with a suitable metaphor soaring into the clear blue sky over JFK. 

After a long morning of fishing, the getaway - with a suitable metaphor soaring into the clear blue sky over JFK. 

Paul, dividing the loot. 

Paul, dividing the loot. 

The crew, with the haul.

The crew, with the haul.

And me, with my prize. 

And me, with my prize. 

As you can see, catching a big striped bass makes me very happy. Part of me feels like Bill Dance or any of the Lindner brothers from the In-Fisherman; part of me looks forward to coming home and showing the big fish to my four-year-old daughter; part of me can't wait to throw it on the grill. As you might not be able to see, being out on the water with friends, old and new, and forging shared experiences and memories with them also makes me very happy. 

I went on my first fishing boat for stripers in the weeks before my oldest daughter was born; she turns four years old tomorrow (or today, as I'm now posting this). In the past four years I've shared boats with my best friend Andrew, my best German friend Chris, a bunch of dad friends, some great crews, and a bunch of strangers whose only shared inclination with me is wanting to catch these beautiful, ravenous, tasty fish.

Some might judge me, like my friend Michelle, a vegetarian and animal lover (I am the latter as well), who in her own good-natured way berates me on Facebook when she sees my fishing and crabbing photos, or like the guy who wrote the less-good-natured recent blog post in The L, "Pescetarians Are the Fucking Worst," but I would venture to guess that guy 1) smokes, 2) has listened to or played music at a level that has annoyed his neighbors, and/or 3) wears at least one article of clothing from the Eighties ironically, all of which are imminently judgeworthy depending upon the audience. Paul Greenberg, our group's leader, makes his life out of maintaining sustainable, healthy fish populations for future generations. Frank, the boat's captain, comes from a fishing family that has sustained itself for generations on the bounty of Jamaica Bay. And it's not like we robbed a bank or something.

Posted
AuthorJohn Proctor