A Perfect Striper Day - The Fisherman

A Perfect Striper Day

I have been on earth for more than a few years and have done more than a few things.  But there are two significant experiences that stand out ahead of the rest.  The first occurred on April 27, 1969, when I earned a Purple Heart in Vietnam. The second was over 44 years later and much closer to home in southeastern Massachusetts. This one happened on September 15, 2009 somewhere off the coast of Cape Cod.

Actually, the second experience began on Monday the 14.  At that time, I was doing loss investigations for insurance companies.  I had two investigations that day, the second was in Sandwich, just over the Cape Cod Canal. On the way, I realized that I would have some time to kill.  I decided to look for a spot to have lunch.  Just past Manomet, there was a nice little area on the left side overlooking Cape Cod Bay.  The sign at the entrance read Ellisville Harbor State Park.  After I finished lunch, I walked around a bit. There was a stream emptying into the bay on the south side of the park.  As I looked closer, I was pretty sure I could see fish in the stream, with larger shadows farther out.  I made up my mind to come back to fish after my appointment.

The day was sunny and a little warm for mid-September, I arrived back at the water’s edge by 3:30. I entered the water where the stream met the bay. It was cold and I was glad I was wearing my waders.  Luckily, the stripers were cooperating.  My third cast with a chrome Red Fin hooked a 27-inch striper, not bad.  And that was just the beginning, every few casts I’d hook up. One fish was almost 30 inches, very nice.  After about 20 minutes, I heard a commotion upstream.

While maneuvering down the hillside I had noticed a young family (father, mother and little daughter) on the opposite side of the stream near a small cottage. The noise was coming from where I had seen them. As I looked up, I saw the little girl seated on some kind of small raft in the middle of the stream.  The current was carrying her toward me.  Her father was running along the bank beside the stream, frantically trying to catch her.

stiper-day

The stream was only 2 or 3 feet deep, he could easily wade out and grab her.  But he didn’t seem to realize this. I waded over to where the current was taking her, stopped the raft and pushed it over to her father standing on the shore.  The raft had a strange feel to it, it was firm, but soft to the touch. It was definitely not rubber, but didn’t quite feel like plastic either.  As soon as we reached the shore, her father grabbed her and hugged her. He was shaking and talking so fast I couldn’t understand him.  Her mother arrived and hugged them both.  She was also speaking so fast I couldn’t understand a word.  Then the light dawned on Marblehead; they were not speaking English.

While they were jabbering, I observed them more carefully.  The little girl looked to be about 4 or 5 years old.  She had short, very blonde hair, a big smile, and the most beautiful deep blue eyes I had ever seen.  Her bathing suit was white with red flowers, very cute. It was difficult to judge the parents’ ages, probably around 30. They both had the exact same blonde hair as the little girl, his cut short, hers just above her shoulders.  No smiles here, but the deep blue eyes again.  Their bathing suits were not quite like any I had ever seen before. The material the suits were made of didn’t seem quite right.  It fit them perfectly, not the least bit tight or saggy.  The little girl’s suit was another perfect fit.  I wondered where they were from, not around here for sure.

As I turned to go back to fishing, the father seemed to realize I was there.  He turned to me and thanked me. He spoke in perfect English and began explaining that he had only looked away for a minute and when he looked back, she was floating downstream.  When he saw her being swept away, he panicked and felt certain she would be carried out to sea.

Momma then came over holding the little girl and started thanking me.  The little girl was still smiling. That’s when the man said “I’m Jordan, this is Evelyn and our daughter is Helen. We want to thank you for saving her.”  I told him my name and that I only did what anyone would have done.

Jordan then looked at me standing in the water in my waders and asked what I was dressed for.  I told him I was fishing for stripers. He said he thought fishing was only done from boats.  I explained this was just another way to catch fish. He said he had a boat docked at the Sandwich Marina on the Canal and he would like to take me fishing the next day to thank me.  I was hesitant, but he insisted and I had the next day off, so we agreed to meet at 9:30 the next morning.  He said he had everything we would need; it sounded like a pretty good deal to me.

The forecast for Tuesday showed scattered thundershowers.  But when I arrived at the marina, the day was clear and calm.  Jordan said, “Let’s go fishing” and we walked down to his boat. I was in the Infantry, and I don’t know very much about boats, but this one was very nice, about 24 feet, I’d guess.  It looked brand new, very shiny and not a mark on it.  It was all white with two big engines on the back.  There were four fishing rods in rod holders attached to the T-top.  Jordan said he had pogies in the livewell. He handed me a bottle of water and a small whitish pill, saying it might get a little rough, but the pill would help.  As soon as I swallowed the pill, we shoved off into the Canal and headed toward Cape Cod Bay. Once we cleared the jetties, Jordan opened up the throttle saying he knew a great spot a little east of Chatham.

We were moving along pretty fast. But the ride was super smooth, the boat just cut through the waves with no spray.  And my stomach was just fine, unlike when I had been on other boats.  I guess the new boat and the little pill made the difference. Jordan said Evelyn and Helen were down below with coffee and homemade donuts if I was interested, and I was.

I was surprised at how big it was down below deck.  There was a table with four chairs, three bunks and a small sink.  It was like a kitchen and bedroom all in one.  Evelyn and Helen were sitting at the table with a basket of donuts, a coffee carafe and three mugs.  Helen was eating a donut and sipping a glass of milk.  Evelyn said she and Helen had made the donuts earlier that morning and she hoped I liked lemon crullers because that was the only kind they knew how to make. She also said the coffee was de-caf because regular coffee didn’t agree with her and Jordan when they went boating. Lemon crullers were my favorite and I only drank de-caf so I sat down and Evelyn went up to bring Jordan his coffee.

The coffee was really good, it reminded me of the original Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that I used to say was so good there must be something illegal in it.  And the donut was the best lemon cruller I’d ever eaten. I asked Helen if her family was on vacation.  She replied with that big smile of hers that this was the first time she had been here and really liked it a lot. She said it was much better than any other places the family had been. She liked it when the sun shined on the water when it came up in the morning and then moved across the sky during the day.  But the best part was when the stars twinkled at night and the moon watched over everything. All this was in perfect English and seemed rather mature for such a little girl.

Just as I was considering a second cup of coffee, Evelyn came down and said Jordan wanted me to get the gear ready. I went up after thanking the girls for the best coffee and donuts ever.

When I got on deck, Jordan said he had a special rule regarding the fish I would catch.  When on his boat, ALL fish had to be released!  No exceptions. He emphasized the word ALL. That was fine with me, I am pretty much a C-P-R fisherman anyway. I like to think there will be stripers for my grandkids to catch. He said he’d have Evelyn or Helen take any pictures I wanted.

We were going to start by slow-trolling a couple pogies.  He asked me to set up two rods whichever I preferred, either spinning or casting. He was going to run the boat, I’d be fishing.  He told me to put the pogies on the downriggers, one out about 150 feet and down 20 and the other out 125 and down 25.  I chose the two baitcasters, as I took them down, I noticed they were absolutely top quality.  I couldn’t read the manufacturer’s name or specs on either one, it was some kind of foreign writing.  But these setups hardly weighed anything, incredibly light.  I opened my mouth to ask how much they cost, but quickly shut it when I realized how inappropriate that would be.  I baited the two hooks and sent them down, now we just had to wait and see how good Jordan’s spot was.

The wait was not long, five minutes later the port rod went down. As Jordan took the engines out of gear, he said “You take the one with the fish, I’ll bring in the other rod”. A few minutes later there was a nice 32-inch striper on board.  I released her, re-baited and re-set the two lines while Jordan operated the boat and turned it around. Every five minutes or so, we’d hook up and I’d land a striper between 30 and 42 inches.  We caught so many stripers I lost count.  I was totally impressed with Jordan’s spot.  I had to find out where we were.  But all I could see in every direction was water.

Just then, Jordan said, “One more fish and we have to go”.  He said he had an appointment that he couldn’t re-schedule.  Then I remembered that Evelyn or Helen was supposed to take pictures for me.  Good thing we were going to catch one more.  I mentioned this to Jordan and he called down to the girls to get the camera ready. A minute later Helen came up with her big smile and the fanciest camera I had ever seen.  Now we just had to wait.  Based on all the fish we had caught, I was sure it wouldn’t be long.

But after about 15 minutes and no fish, Jordan started looking around and acting nervous.  “Oh, oh, we might have to leave without one more. No photos,” he warned.  Then it happened.  The starboard rod went down so hard I thought it would break.  I’ll never understand why the line didn’t break. I grabbed the rod but couldn’t get it out of the holder; Jordan had to back the boat up before I could lift the rod out.  Then I had to hold on as tight as I could and brace myself against the transom to keep from being pulled overboard.  The drag was screaming and the line was flying off the reel.  This couldn’t be a striper, it must be a big shark! The fish had to have taken close to 200 yards of line when the fish finally stopped. I started regaining line.  A few minutes later I had regained more than three quarters of the line.  That reel was fantastic.  Jordan had stopped the boat, and I could see a surface disturbance about 50 yards out.  It was now up to me to land this fish.

The next thing I knew the fish was right behind the engines. It was a huge striper! Over 5 feet long. Luckily, it was exhausted, just lying on the surface trying to regain its strength. I started to wonder how we would get it into the boat, but then I remembered my promise to Jordan—it would have to be released. I suddenly realized that I really wanted to release this fish safely so it could keep spawning! But I needed to know how big it was and I wanted a picture.  I turned to Helen and asked her to get some pictures of the fish in the water beside the boat.  She did that while Jordan got a tape measure for me.  I was surprised to see that the tape was calibrated in inches, not centimeters.  Jordan held one end at the fish’s mouth while I measured to the fork of the tail…65 inches.  Wow!!!   I don’t remember how, but eventually, and with great difficulty I somehow managed to get a decent measure of the fish’s girth…36 inches.  Wow again. The fish was big, maybe a world record?  But I was going to release it.

The hook came out easily, and then holding it by the lower lip, I told Jordan to go forward, slowly.  At first, nothing. But then after maybe 30 seconds, her fins started to stand up.  Then I could feel her mouth tighten on my thumb.  Finally, her massive tail tried to push her forward. When I couldn’t hold her any longer, I let go.  She immediately headed for the bottom and was gone.  The whole incident only took about 15 minutes and the fish was never out of the water. I was elated and relieved, mostly elated.

Jordan broke into my elation.  “Put the gear away, we have to get going, or I’ll be late,” he said.  When I finished stowing the gear I looked around, we were totally fogged in.  I couldn’t see anything.  But Jordan was really cruising. And still a totally smooth ride. What a boat! It stayed foggy all the way back to the dock.  It was so foggy I couldn’t even see the shores of the Canal.

Jordan was running late.  He said he’d send me the pictures Helen had taken in a day or two and the family rushed off.  It was starting to rain, so I ran to my car and hopped in.  Totally exhausted now, I just sat there for five minutes. Then I realized it was raining harder, and gusting to 40 or 50 mph. I may as well head home.  Wow what a day! And the weather had stayed nice while we were out on the water. I was almost home when a thought hit me, how was Jordan going to get the photos to me?  I decided I’d have to drop by again to give him my e-mail.

The first thing I did when I got home was calculate the weight.

W = girth x girth x length / 800 = 36 x 36 x 65 / 800 = 105 pounds

That was one BIG fish.  I sure hope she survived.

It was Friday before I could get back to Ellisville.  There was no paved road leading to the cottage, so I drove to the State Park.  When I got there, I was shocked.  The stream was there with fish in it. And a few larger shadows out in the deeper water, just like on Monday.  But the family was nowhere to be seen, and the nice little cottage that was there on Monday was nothing but a broken-down old shed.  It looked like no one had been there for years.

What was going on?

Back home, I checked the mileage on my car.  It coincided with the distance of a trip to the Canal and back along with the work miles I did on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday’s trip.  Then I checked the weather for the Cape on Tuesday.  It was worse than what was forecast. It had rained hard all day with wind gusts up to 45 mph.  That certainly was not the Tuesday I remembered.  And thinking back, I never saw one other boat the whole time out on the water.

I do not use illegal drugs.  I do not drink alcohol excessively.  I have never had any problems with my investigation of the causes of the insurance losses I have conducted.

There is more thing I need to mention.

When I washed the shirt I was wearing that Tuesday, I found a fish scale stuck in one of the partly rolled-up sleeves. It must have gotten lodged there when I was trying to measure the girth of that big fish.  The scale was about 1-1/8 inches in diameter, a little larger than one of those gold $1 coins. After looking at photos of striper scales online, it was definitely from a striped bass, but there was no info or record of scales of that size.

I’m not sure what to think.  What do you think?

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