“Plip, plip, plip.”
It’s the sound of hundreds of minnows leaping out of the tide and throwing themselves like silver pebbles to skim the waves. They smack the water as they free-fall out of their aerial acrobatics back into their liquid world. There is no choreography to their dance, each fish is performing its own solo. And yet, there is an odd staccato rhythm, set to the pulse of a saline beat.
The dance starts, as most dances do, when the sun hovers over the horizon. The light changes on the ocean, going from shiny gold to burnished copper, antique rose and tarnished silver. As the sky blushes a furious crimson, the “boiling” of the sea begins in earnest.
Suddenly, a much larger splash is heard, like timpani drums over the trilling piscine piccolo. The bigger fish have come out to feed, and in their hunt for dinner, leap out of the water to chase their fleeing prey.
We hurry down to the beach, navigating our way carefully on the stony shingles that cover the shore. We cast our lures out into the water and reel them in. Over and over we do this, mimicking the minnows’ mad dash to straddle air and water.
We are fishing for striped bass.
This is a very different kind of fishing for me. Growing up, we used bamboo poles and frozen squid. Simple and elementary, not a reel in sight. We didn’t cast our lines repeatedly. We made our way to the edge of a deep tide pool at sunrise or sunset, searched out a promising hidey-hole and plopped our bait in front of it. And then we waited.
Sometimes it was a few minutes, sometimes longer. Most often we hooked opapalu, but on the odd memorable occasion, a sea cucumber would fall for our charms.
The fishing was good. In an hour or two, we could catch more than enough for dinner. It was easy and peaceful.
Not so with the hunt for striped bass. Cast, cast and cast again is how you do it. And after three nights of faithful casting, we came up empty-handed.
But before you think it was a miserable time, let me put you to rights.
It was calm and soothing, barring the neighbor’s wild Saturday night party way down the point, complete with band doing covers of Uptown Funk. Sure, a few illicit fireworks from around the bay to celebrate the end of summer may have been a bit jarring, but also magically beautiful to see reflected in the mirrored water.
The ocean itself was inviting, and oddly enough, got warmer as I waded knee-deep in to free my lure and hook from the protruding rock that was determined to become my next pet. The minnows darted around my legs, oblivious to my teetering on uneven purchase as I tried not to fall in and become the Summer Story of 2017, the one that family would rehash at every holiday.
My fishing companions were within talking distance, and yet, we kept to comfortable silence, taking shelter in the dark night and under the red sliver of the setting moon. The air was silken, salty and delicious against my skin and my nerves.
We lost ourselves in time, thinking only a few minutes had passed by. But in truth, we returned to a dark house every night.
A good pour of bourbon soothed the regret of the “one that got away”, as we toasted the stripers for evading us for another day. We watched the lighthouse guard the fish as it winked at us every six seconds. We sipped in the good spirits.
One last pass over the water with the flashlight revealed the minnows still jumping and leaping, their silvery scales reflecting the yellow beam like tiny frenetic disco balls. A few crickets practiced the cello in the background. A family of raccoons stared back at us with laser eyes.
We said goodnight to the wildlife around us waiting patiently for us to leave them to their nocturnal recital. The fish swam off, laughing, as the lighthouse cheerfully blinked goodbye to us.