Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today - The Fisherman

Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today

When my two sons were grown up enough to go saltwater fishing, my primary concern as their mentor was to make sure that they caught fish. I wanted their first fishing experiences to be ones that they would want to repeat. Kevin is three years older than his brother, Allen. Both sons got their first taste of saltwater fishing on Sandy Hook beaches trying for fluke and bluefish. Over time, they graduated to party boat fishing, first for fluke and eventually for bluefish. We all enjoyed our time on the water fishing but Kevin was simply incredible. He always caught more and bigger fish than I did, and not because I let him. He was good!

A very young Kevin Riley
A very young Kevin Riley with a Spanish mackerel caught during one of their father and son party boat bluefish trips.

As Kevin grew up and his skills developed, I decided to take him out for some afternoon bluefish jigging. In addition to being a good and smart angler, Kevin was also lucky. He once caught a 5-pound fluke on a diamond jig at the tip of Sandy Hook when we were working over a school of breaking bluefish. We caught lots of fish and won our fair share of pools but never had one of those exceptionally spectacular days when everyone on board was too fatigued to fight any more fish and the boat returned to port early.

One steamy August day, however, Kevin and I had the trip of a lifetime on Captain Jimmy Morenz’s Miss Take II out of the Highlands. Although the Miss Take II was an ancient boat, it and its crew had a sterling reputation. Its mate – Bill – was a real character: all business, grumpy, and outwardly miserable. Bill didn’t say much during any of the many trips we took on the Miss Take II. The only time he spoke directly to the fares was when they boarded the boat. His refrain was always the same: “You should have been here yesterday.” Although he never went into details, we never doubted what he said.

Accompanying Kevin and me on this memorable day out on the ocean was my lifelong friend, John Hudak. The bluefish jigging on our two previous voyages had been unremarkable so our expectations were not high as we left the dock at 8 a.m. and headed out to the vicinity of the old Ambrose Tower. The Miss Take II never got a citation for excessive speed. It was the slowest boat – party, charter, or private – that I have ever been on. As we made our way east in calm seas, a massive swarm of gulls could be seen working over bait on the horizon. It seemed to take forever before we reached the feeding bluefish and we were able to get our jigs in the water.

What happened next is something that I shall never forget. We caught fish on every cast!  Bluefish were hitting the jigs as soon as they hit the water. The ravenous choppers hit every lure tossed into the churning water around us. Try to imagine this spectacle: bluefish were hitting bait on the surface as far as you could see north, south, east, and west of our position. After what seemed like a long time, I told Kevin that from then on we were going to release any fish we caught so they would not be killed needlessly. We continued to catch fish on every cast!

Let me tell you that I was a lot younger than I am now, but I was getting tired, very tired. I could tell that Kevin and John were also fighting fatigue. Catching fish was so easy that we tried making casts and retrieves in such a way that we didn’t hook up, without much success. After what seemed like hours of nonstop catching, I decided that I was going to take a break and eat lunch. Imagine my amazement when I asked someone for the time and found out that it was only 10:15 am! Soon afterwards, I asked Bill the mate if the boat ever went in early. His curt reply was, “Nah!”

The three of us were not the only fares onboard that were just plain exhausted.  Most of our fellow anglers were drenched in sweat and suffering from fatigue. Only a few diehards were still fishing. Around 10:45 am, Captain Jimmy announced that unless any anglers had a problem with the decision, we were going to return to the dock early. No one challenged the pronouncement. Between deciding the pool winner from amongst all the fish kept and filleting bluefish on the way in, Bill was even more ill-tempered than he usually was.

We shall never forget that memorable morning on the Miss Take II. As my son and I got off the boat, I could not resist saying to Bill: “I wish I were here tomorrow so I could hear you tell people that they ‘should have been here yesterday.’ We were here today!”

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