Back in the 90s I had a trip planned with my brother-in-law to rent a skiff out of Port Jefferson for a day of bluefishing on the Long Island Sound. The night before our trip my brother-in-law informs me that he can’t go; not the first time this happened, but that’s a story for another day. My father-in-law (poppy) then jumps in with his broken English and says “I a go with you.”
A little history about Poppy; he came over from Italy in the 40s on an ocean liner. If the trip was seven days long, he was sea sick all seven days, 24/7, and hadn’t been on a vessel of any kind since. I informed him that he would be on the Long Island Sound in a 17-foot rowboat, but ever the trooper he repeated “I a go with you.”
It was still a little dark that next morning when we arrived a Craftis bait and boat rentals near Port Jefferson Harbor. In the process of loading our craft my sunglasses slipped off my head and fell into the dark water. I probably mumbled an expletive, then stuck my arm into the water up to my shoulder and a second later pulled out my sunglasses. I turned to Poppy and said “It is going to be a great day!”
We headed out the harbor as fast as our 8-horsepower engine would allow, and upon passing the jetty entrance, I stopped the engine to show Poppy how to cast. On his first attempt he bounced the 007 off the engine. On his second cast he hooked the oar lock behind him with the diamond jig. On his third or fourth attempt he blooped one out a few feet from the boat, but at least in the right direction. “Just let it go,” I told him, and he managed to get one out 30 or 40 feet from the boat. Thinking the practice was over, I turned to restart the engine when Poppy shouted, “I think I got one!” Thinking he was simply snagged, I turned in shock to see Poppy’s rod bent over with the familiar thumping of a fish at the other end of the line. He wrestled the fish boatside when it came off. “Don’t worry, there are plenty more of them,” I told him. All he could say was “That fish was a really powerful.”
With that 8-horsepower humming again, we arrived at Buoy 10 to find the birds were already working. “Just cast into the middle of them you can’t miss,” I advised my father-in-law. I had a hook up immediately and landed our first fish, but Poppy was still having troubles. Another cast another fish for me, until the birds moved and so did we, following along with the wild mayhem. Poppy hooked up again, but lost the fish halfway to the boat. I caught a few more while my father-in-law was hooking up but not landing any.
He was getting frustrated but stuck with it, eventually bringing a nice bluefish – his first ever – to the net, repeating what he had said earlier, “these bluefish are a very powerful.” I laid my two-piece fishing rod against the side of the boat with the diamond jig dragging about a foot or so in the water while I helped Poppy with his fish. A split second later I saw my rod tip go over the side. I just had enough time to grab the end of the rod, but the top half came off and sunk to the bottom. “If the jig gets bitten off, I will be fishing with a 3-foot stub the rest of the day,” I said to Poppy, both of us now rolling with laughter as I worked to bring the top of the rod, the diamond jig, and bluefish to the boat.
As we continued our fishing a big beautiful fishing boat appeared on the horizon and Poppy commented, “That is the most beautiful fishing boat I have ever seen. It looks a like the Queen Mary.” It was actually the Klondike out of New Rochelle, captained I believe by Pete Peterson who I could hear imploring his passengers over the loud speaker, “They’re down there 40 feet, just drop and reel!” The boat was stacked elbow to elbow and they were hoisting blues over the rail at a crazy pace. All my father-in-law could say was,” That’s a beautiful” and it was.
As bluefishing slowed, we headed west to Old Field where we anchored up and dropped the chum pot down for some porgies before finally calling it a day. Taking the rental skiff back into Port Jeff Harbor in the afternoon we hit quite the chop, but Poppy never said a word. My father-in-law loved to eat fish and he was happy with a cooler full, all the blues and porgies you could want (I cleaned them all). I used to kid him that being an old Italian, he would eat anything, and he would say “You’re a crazy.”
Unfortunately, Angelo passed away a few years ago. I loved my own dad very much, but Poppy was a father and best friend all wrapped up in one. He was the nicest person I ever met, and I will never forget fishing on the Long Island Sound with “Poppy.”