Sharks are a mainline to kids’ imaginations.
It happened to me young. I may have been around seven. I can’t remember. But being at sea, offshore, fascinated me. It had something that I both wanted to know and understand and something that I knew I never would. I still don’t. I’m 50 now. I think making offshore trips is good for our health. If I were a shrink, I would try and prescribe it. Being offshore helps shake the cobwebs out of one’s brain, helps with major or minor gripes of the soul. For me, when every intersection in town clogged with summer traffic starts to aggravate me, I know it’s time to head to the 21-fathom curve. The sea birds, the smells. The sight of highflyers. There are no traffic lights, strip malls. I love it.
I am not an offshore fisherman. I own very little offshore gear, and what I do have is ancient, stuff from my dad in 1982. Offshore fishing is pricey. It’s rife with gear and fancy lights and visors and golden reels. It makes me uneasy. I go offshore on a budget. I have no spreader bars, no outriggers. But I’ve spent a lot of time offshore, enough time that its moods and vistas have imprinted on me.
I want my kids to see this, want them to see the ocean, the habitats off the coast. So I bring them out with me. It’s not a forced thing: they don’t need to grow up fishermen, but I want to give them enough opportunity to have them decide. I do this with sharks. Generally, a day of sharking has some action, a taste. Plus, sharks are cool, no other way to describe them. True, many of us deride sharks when we are looking for tuna. In that sense, sharks are like bluefish—great when you want to catch them, not so much when you don’t.
To go sharking is to be offshore. Sharking gives us a reason to go, to be out there. And it has all the intrigue, the mystery. For one, the fish get big. My biggest mako was 900 pounds. Granted that was on a commercial longline boat on a two-week trip out in 1000 fathoms. But still. A large animal. I’ve seen huge hammerheads and duskies and tigers. Blue sharks off the Nantucket Lightship that seemed to be 12 feet long. Kids lap the shark stories up. It’s a mainline to their imaginations.
Another good thing about sharking is that it’s boring as hell. I think kids these days need to be bored. With sharking, we wait. We watch the slick. We look for fins, for life. My boys scan the ocean. They wait. They get antsy. They ask when the trip will end. They start to argue. Then a reel goes off, and in that instant, all the boredom is gone, vanished. Last year we had a good year. One big tiger shark, one big thresher, two makos, some blues, and a hammerhead. When I was a kid, I had to go a long time before I amassed a list like this.
My youngest is only 9. He made all four shark trips with me last year. He went enough times to develop a sense that there is more to sharking than the fish themselves. That there is a world out there. And that world begins around 21 fathoms. We cross that line and I tell him: start looking. Keep your eyes looking. Look for birds and slicks and molas and whales and dolphins, look for lobster gear and weed lines. And he does. He rides in the bow like a figurehead on a clipper ship and searches. This is how I was. But he’s almost more into the finding than I was into the fishing itself.
A shark on the line is often somewhat lackluster. The animals are, I think, better watched when they are free-swimming in the slick, coming by the transom. It never gets old, especially if there are kids aboard. Sure, a mako on the line, jumping, coming clear of the ocean, is incredible, as is the head of a hammerhead at boatside. That tiger shark we had last fall within sight of Block Island, the fish easily pushing 600 pounds, was also incredible. Sharking really is a gateway drug to offshore fishing and I am sure many offshore anglers cut their teeth on them.
For me, I love its simplicity. I love how accessible it is. This isn’t a trip to Hydrographers Canyon, the Northern Edge of Georges. The shark grounds we head to are close. You look down into the slick, looking for something, then lift your head up and see land. It’s wild. And for the kids, it ignites curiosity, inviting them to go further.