Fishing the Mitchell River

I fished a bit of the North Carolina-Virginia border last week.  The Mitchell River near Dobson, North Carolina, is a short drive from Winston-Salem.  A visit to my granddaughter Lilly, who is a freshman in college, provided me cover to take a day off to wet my toes and fingers in a cold, 40-degree trout stream.  My trip started with a short plane ride to Charlotte and then a drive to Winston-Salem where I spent an afternoon at Wake Forest with Lilly.  Lilly, our first grandchild, is a modern-day woman brimming with confidence and exuberance.  Our time together reassured me that my concern for her happiness, which incented me to visit, was misplaced.  Lilly has acclimated well to college life and is a mature young adult.  I was comfortable taking a day away to fish the morning not so lonely with my guide Dave Bergman, a transplanted New Jerseyan who, like all fishing guides, dreams of having his own fly shop someday.  We set out early morning with temps in the 40s.  I was geared up with my Icelandic kit – long johns, flannel pants, thick waders and layers of outer wear.  I was ready.  We fished a 4-weight rod nymphing our way along the riffles.  We scouted in vain for Browns and Brook but the Rainbow trout- 9” to 13” were plentiful that morning. The sky was bright.  The farmland surrounding the river was cut bare.  All the fishing paths to the water were devoid of fellow fishers.  The air was clear and smelled of recently plowed-over fields of soy.  I could have been in Maine, Pennsylvania or out west.  I felt complete.  My vocabulary was enriched by some new terms Dave taught me:  “chowder” (rough water); “boogie water” (shallow, rocky water moving at a swift pace). There is something unexplainable for me about fishing the mornings.  My mind is clear out on the water—a reminder of the times past before cell phones.  In fact, there was no cell service where we were.  Another reason to go back.  My only thoughts are to my back cast—to not entangle my line– and to keep my frozen feet moving.  Otherwise, I am happy and secure.

“Billy – yu wanna go fishin’?”

…I texted my grandson.  I am always asking him, but never get the response I want.   I would like Billy to come down to Florida by himself, for some freshwater fishing on a river I discovered off Jupiter inlet.  During the summers, I have coaxed him to fish with me in Maine at our camp, but only if his father or mother were in the canoe with him.   I can understand that at age 12 he may be too young to travel by himself from New York to Florida or Maine, but I keep asking and hoping for at least a “maybe.”   Instead, I get a definitive “no.”  I know Billy enjoys our Maine excursions with Andy our fishing guide.  Andy always puts Billy into small mouth bass (that’s fisherman talk) and in fact, Billy boasts to friends and family about how much he catches.  Last summer with his mom, he caught more fish than I did.  But my dream of having my grandson fish and hike in the woods with me, just the two of us, won’t be a reality until Billy is a little older. 

In the past, my girls would not want to go on my fishing trips, whether in the U.S. or abroad. Even the promise of international travel was not enough to tempt them.  They were teenagers, more comfortable at home with their mother and their peers, none of whom were of learning how to flyfish.  I always imagined that someday I would have a grandson to accompany me, and that’s why I am a little impatient waiting for Billy to grow up enough to wave goodbye to his parents and go along with Grandpa’s plans.  I know he will eventually – Billy is a terrific, adventuresome kid.  Of late, I suspect there may be another factor making him hesitant about leaving home, even for a short time:  his sister is away at her first year of college.   Billy may be enjoying all the undivided attention from his mom and dad, and at the same time, may not want them to feel lonely without any of their children around.  I am no substitute for his parents, whom he adores. 

As a child I had no qualms about taking adventurous trips without my parents.  I joined my friends and their parents on trips to the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River and I attended Camp Seneca, which was sleepaway, every summer growing up.  I went to basketball games with my Uncle Sam, getting home long after dark, and went on weekend excursions to the farm of one of our neighbors.  I was always up for getting out of the house and being somewhat on my own at Billy’s age.  When I received an Indian Racer bicycle I was off every day after school, exploring. During the summers I was out on my bike from after breakfast until sundown.  Back then, being at home just wasn’t as entertaining as it is for kids these days with television and computers and video chatting with friends.  I didn’t even have books at home –I had to go to the library for those and read them there, my bike parked outside.    When Billy hits his teen years, I won’t take “no” for an answer.  And my wifi is working just fine for video games, computer, all of it–AFTER we get back from a day on the lake. 

The State of Lobstering

While staying in Kennebunk, Maine this summer, I spent most mornings at Cape Porpoise, sitting at my favorite bench at the docks, sipping a store-bought paper-cup coffee as I watched the fishermen go about their business.   There was one lobsterman in particular that I often saw tending to his small craft, while the majority of his fellow seamen were out since dawn setting or emptying their traps. Eventually I established a friendly rapport with him – his name was Pete.  Pete told me a little about his life – 32 years old, married with three boys age between two and 12, and a daughter aged nine.  Pete’s wife runs a local children’s day care center. She is the sole proprietor, and her income is important to the family’s financial well-being, which was severely impacted by Covid when the day care was shut down.  Their children have been home schooled since quarantine but will return to their public-school classrooms in the fall.  Pete has been lobstering since graduating from high school; he received his training as a first mate on a 42-foot Down East-style lobster boat. 

                His days now start well before his family is awake.   Though he only takes the boat out twice a week, the earnings are enough to support his growing family when combined with his wife’s income.  But lobster, like other commodities, fluctuates in price.  The “dock” prices have dropped dramatically in recent months, with retailers selling the prized crustaceans for a few dollars less.  The reduction in price is happening at the same time as an increase in fuel and bait costs, as well as costly conversions intended to protect rare whales.  “There is something different about the price drop this time,” Pete said.  “This month I saw truckloads of lobster taken to the dump.  Folks can’t afford both lobster and gas these days.” 

Lobster was once so plentiful earlier Americans used it as fertilizer and prison food. Perhaps it hasn’t reached rock bottom yet.  I asked Pete what he would do in that case.  He gazed out at the choppy waves before answering. “I really don’t know,” he said, adding, “now I hear the government is going to reduce the number of traps we can set because lobster may declared an endangered species.”  Pete seemed saddened by our conversation.  He looked around at his mates, who motioned to him to scale the ladder down to his boat aptly– and ideally–named “Rebound.”

First Cast

          I headed to camp solo this past week. I wasn’t alone intentionally, but my invited guests declined for various reasons.  Anyway, I wouldn’t really be alone once I got there.  I envisioned days of backwater fishing with my camp caretaker, Greg, using my new 4 weight rod—a birthday present from an old colleague—and I would spend at least a day on the water with Andy, my long-time fishing guide at Wheaton Lodge. 

My first morning back I awoke easily at 5:45am, the sun dousing me with warmth through the bedroom window.   Quick to caffeinate and with metal coffee cup in hand, I sprinted down to the dock for a few casts off toward the rocks, past where the local ducks were sunning themselves.  The bass were disturbed by my casts and fled, so I sat for a bit at the edge of the dock, scanning the lake and the few boats trolling for landlocked salmon and lake trout. East Grand Lake never ceases to amaze me.  What was my hurry this morning? The water lapping at my feet at end of the dock and the quiet sound of nothingness was like a soothing balm.

After a time I was ready for fishing – perhaps the gods would provide for a bit of catching. I headed to Wheaton’s and Andy greeted me with a grin. Knowing I would not arrive at daybreak he had already trailered over to Spudnick Lake and dropped his East Grand canoe into the water.  Wheaton’s had prepared us a cold lunch, which would give us more time fishing – no lakeside picnic over an open fire–as there was a thunderstorm forecast late afternoon.  We set off into a breezy but beautiful, partly cloudy morning on the lake. Sitting with the wind at my back I closed my eyes and savored the moment, the sun on my unshaven face, with only the sound of the small motor pushing us along to break the silence.  Andy steered us over to a small cove sheltered from the gusty winds.  We dropped anchor and using one of Andy’s hand-tied yellow poppers I cast into the still water among the rocks and downed branches.  Andy advised me to think like a bass: first scan the fly, then swim around it a couple of times then, if the fly moves, lunge for it.  So using my bass mind, I retrieved the line a few times and…whack a hit!  I set the fly and stripped in the line with my left hand.  I brought a lovely small mouth bass to the canoe.  Andy excitedly scooped the fish into the boat and grabbed his cell for a photo. He was as excited as I was to have caught a fish first cast out.

First cast first catch.  In a larger sense, it is almost a metaphor– for those times in life when taking a new chance on something yields results.  There have been times, when faced with a challenge, I went for something new—a first attempt at a solution—that led to a success. For instance, in my early years practicing law I decided to review the dissent in a case as the starting point for an argument to overturn precedent in a forthcoming case. This was an unconventional, fresh approach into unfamiliar waters that in the end resulted in a win. I used that strategy a number of times after that.  My first big case in the Hamptons that received some press came about when I argued against the Town preventing a portion of beachfront from development without any legal basis to support the ruling. My challenge came from the dissent in another case which argued that “policy does not make law only a properly enacted legislative act of the municipality.” In that case I cast into an area where the courts wouldn’t usually venture in overturning an action of the Town. The day fishing with Andy was a delight as always. Things don’t change much in northern Maine.  Andy’s Maine style reflects the nature of the water. He is even yet spirited. A great fellow to fish with.
Back at camp Greg and Darcy prepared for the next day at the backwaters off River Road.  I had in past years tried fishing from the top of the water, but now with nymphs I would try my hand below the surface. My old Grumman canoe was propped against a fallen tree when we arrived at the edge of the pond. The paddles were in tattered shape having been ravaged by a bear per Greg. As usual Greg used a tree branch as a paddle to get us into the middle of the pond.  I cast out, using my new rod and waited.  A very slight, almost imperceptible movement of the bopper sitting on the water surface was the signal that a fish was on. Greg yelled at me to set the hook. Like I wasn’t moving as quickly as I could once my brain registered that yes Lenny a fish was on one of the nymphs below the surface. We did not have a net so Greg brought the fish to the canoe by hand over hand stripping in the line.  A beauty–the colors of a Monet thrashing around in the bottom of the canoe while I took a few photos. Once again it was the first cast into fresh water.  I wish every cast could be a first cast.

Managing Expectations: More on my Travel Out West

June 2022

On my trip out to California, my flight arrived in Reno late in the day. Notwithstanding the time distance in my favor, the experience at the airport was a bit unsettling. First of all, from the minute I exited the plane I was never more than a few feet from a slot machine. I can understand gambling at casinos but at the airline arrival gates? It was Reno but slots on the way to the men’s room?

The ride to Downieville was easy. The traffic out of Reno during rush hour was not the Long Island Expressway, that is it didn’t seem like much traffic at all. The exit into the valley was like an off ramp to the wilderness. I opened the windows in my rental car to take in the fresh mountain air. With Frank Sinatra on the Sirius radio I was in heaven. Cruising along with one eye on the GPS the time seemed to pass quickly as I headed to my accommodations at The Lure.

The Lure is not a hotel but a scenic arrangement of cabins along the Yuba River. I found my cabin attractive and well-furnished and looked forward to falling into bed. My first surprise was when I read in the list of Lure details and learned there was no wifi or cell service at the site. I sat myself down on the sofa and took a deep breath. Was this good or bad I thought to myself. Good—no one to bother me. Bad– withdrawal from life as I know it? I would deal with the issue in the morning. I live by an Apple watch and I phone. I went ahead and plugged all my gadgets into power, ready for whatever was to come in the morning. I was scheduled to meet Bill Copren for breakfast at Bassetts, a diner-service station about 45 minutes north on Route 49, followed by a day of fishing. Without cell service I had no GPS. Oh well, I would find the place as Ali had given me brief directions.

Of course, I set my travel alarm for 7:00 am forgetting that it was 2 hours earlier. In fact I arose without an alarm, at 5:30 a.m. Eastern time. The cabin came with a coffee maker but no groceries. Despite Ali’s admonishment that she outfit the cabin in advance of my arrival with basics, I, the big shot, told her I would handle groceries when I arrived. Of course, I didn’t realize the grocery store was in the opposite direction of Bassetts. I arrived at Bassetts before it opened at 8:00am and waited for someone to open the door. As soon as the “closed” sign was turned to “open” I stumbled in, in search of my first coffee of the day. Whoa am I addicted! Bill soon showed up and we sat together chatting about fishing and catching. I repeatedly told him I came to fish and catching was extra. I don’t think he bought my line. We left together in his truck to Gold Lake, off Route 49 in the mountains. Bill explained that Gold Lake got its name from the rumors that spread during the gold rush years, that there were massive deposits of the yellow ore beneath the lake floor. It drew hundreds of hopefuls but the rumors proved to be just that.

We approached the lake through a magnificent row of fir trees pruned by nature to form a canopy over our path. As we parked and pulled on our waders, we noticed an elderly couple – as a cohort I know how to define elderly—carefully rowing off into the middle of the lake. The sun beamed overhead between the high clouds, the sky pierced with contrails of passing jets. The woods teemed with life, including some busy blue jays hunting for breakfast. It was a peaceful, idyllic scene.

Bill and I waded chest deep into the water. The cold penetrated my feet and the shock was refreshing. The air temperature was in the 50’s and the water no more than 45 degrees per Bill’s reading. We were the only fishermen for some reason. After a while with no takes, Bill decided we should go to Mallard Cove at Davis Lake. Still no takes, but our time together was grand – a fishing and history lesson. Bill was a meticulous fly tier and we used the flies he had personally tied. The next day we traveled a distance to the Little Truckee River, where I went in barefoot in my wading boots. The water was icy cold and I cast with a 5-weight rod that allowed for a terrific drift. There was no action, but the stream was a delightful soft run of casual water that I am certain on the right day held lots of brook trout.

My time with Bill was a wonderful opportunity to not only hear but experience the history of the High Sierras. Bassett Station, where we met for breakfast, was a way station, since the 1850s, where horses were changed when pulling wagons over and through the Yuba Pass. Bill explained how a gold miner from Connecticut named AP Chapman discovered the valley in the 1800s and after a successful run of mining brought his family west to settle there permanently. He was the largest landowner in the area and is considered the founder of the Valley. In 1859 the Comstock Lode was discovered in Virginia City, Nevada and the miners abandoned the Downieville area.

There are still a few local gold mines, but not like they were in the heyday of the ‘49ers. The old mining towns exist today as Downieville, Sierra City, and many others. The rich history of the area is preserved by people like Carl and Bill, who keep it alive through word of mouth and through The Mountain Messenger – a nostalgic tribute to a wonderful pocket of American history.

Restigouche Day Two

June 2022

After an “uncatching” afternoon my first full day on the water, I joined the rest of the Sports for dinner– a humbling experience.  The biggest news was that one of the guys caught a bright salmon – a big and sparkling specimen who swam upriver from the Atlantic Ocean to spawn. It was a happy report for all of us. There were several smaller kelts caught among the group, but the news of the bright ocean salmon was the highlight of the evening supper.  That night, I went to sleep dreaming of a knock from a salmon on the drift of my cast.  

There is a bit of backstory to my fishing the Restigouche River.  In 2017, I was invited by my friends Lori and Ted to a beautiful private fishing lodge in New Brunswick, Canada.  The seaplane fly-up included a stop at their camp on East Grand Lake, next door to a property that was my camp to be.  That trip was the impetus to buy my camp on the lake. The side story is that at Restigouche, Ted and Lori caught their limit of salmon and I caught nothing.  I was looking forward to a hook-up or two this time.  

The morning of my second day it was rainy and overcast with temps in the low 50s.  Jere awaited me at riverside, eager to get going.  Dressed in waders and rain gear I slid into the canoe.  Jere, bundled for the weather, carefully sat himself down in the middle seat. The object when fishing these waters is to have a guide who knows, based on experience, where to locate the fish, then cast away and hope for the best.  Our guide motored out into the middle of the river directly in front of the lodge.  Setting the anchor, we were positioned away from the others who were off to their guides’ secret sites.  I asked Jere to cast first so I could watch his technique.  Jere cast like a maestro while remaining in his seat.  With both hands on his 19-foot rod he drew the rod back from the right side of the canoe and with the thrust of his right hand directed his cast to the left side careening some 20 plus feet.  Smooth and effortless, it was a quick and quiet motion but for the swoosh of the line.  I watched the line drift to the right on the water surface, waiting for the slightest knock from a salmon.  The line was nearly straightened as Jere and I talked fisherman small talk about nothing much when a sudden grab on the line startled all of us including the guide.  The first cast of the day and a take! OMG! Jere responded with “Oh s—t.”  His face broke into a smile that could have brightened the entire river.  The guide gave Jere directions to set the hook and hold on as he pulled the engine to start for the shore to land the fish.  We traveled carefully with the salmon on the line, careful not to lose it with a slack line.  On shore the guide netted the large, beautiful kelp specimen.  Jere was thrilled.   We high-fived each other and of course the pressure was now on me to catch one.  We still had some three hours before lunch and I cast until my shoulder ached.  I was mindful of the need to relax my grip in the unlikely event a fish knocked into my fly.  These fish I am told, set the hook by attacking the fly and by turning set the hook.  Not the customary cast, drift, strip and set upon the take.  Standing in the canoe and extending my cast almost as far as Jere had from a seated position, I had a few knocks but no takes. It was not meant to be.  I did not look forward to facing all the Sports at lunch with a no-hit record on the boards.  

Restigouche River Lodge Day One

May 2022

The trip north from camp to the Canadian border at Houlton was a pleasant hour drive in my new Bronco.  Through the car’s Bluetooth, I picked up WQXR radio out of New York which was reporting 90-degree weather in New York—quite aa contrast to the brisk 40 degrees outside my window.  The Bronco was a bit noisy on the highway, but the fresh new car smell and the knowledge that my fishing bag and rods were tucked in the trunk gave me a sense of freedom and real excitement for my first post-Covid adventure fishing trip in North Country.  The Restigouche River Lodge had been closed since 2020 due to Covid.  The guides, all from the Quebec side of the river, had been quarantined and virtually blocked from crossing the bridge between Quebec and New Brunswick.  When I reached the border, the female officer seemed a bit bored and robotic in her inquiries of me –where and why the trip?  Never a look at my face, only a look-see at the computer and a continuing conversation with of the other officers at the window.  It was a routine, though heavily armed and tattooed welcome to Canada.  

The GPS reported some 170 miles to my destination.  The rain started out lightly as I-95 merged onto the Canadian highway system.  For the next 80 miles there were some trucks and a few cars but I mostly had the road to myself.  Surprised by the signs that read 90 speed limit I pushed the Bronco to 80mph. Of course, at that hour I was not sufficiently caffeinated to realize that the Canadian signs are not in miles per hour but kilometers.  Luckily, I was not pulled over, since my French is non-existent beyond parlay vu fransay.  It was too early for office calls. I did all I could to stay focused on the route and my GPS.  

The countryside was magnificent.  Open space for miles and gracious, unobstructed vistas of mountains and fields.  It reminded me very much of Wales, which I have visited several times on fishing trips.  As I drove further north off the highway onto local roads I passed through small towns only recognizable by the fact that there were gas stations and scattered motels.  The northern Canadian landscape is primarily a forestry-driven economy.  I passed trucks laden with lumber traveling both north and south.  Lumber mills occupied the center of the various small towns I passed through.  The music of WQXR kept me alert behind the wheel -a lively Bach concert was the ideal morning program.    The only thing missing was a third cup of coffee and the New York Times.  Oh my addiction to that paper—an addiction I can’t seem to satisfy with the online version.  I have to hold the newsprint in my hands. I wouldn’t be doing that for the next few days.   

At the turn off from Route 17 onto Flathead Road which runs parallel to the river, I rolled down the window to take in the fresh smell of burning wood from the fireplaces in nearby houses and the sound of rushing water which was music to my ears.   I would be home in the woods for the next few days.

Restigouche River Lodge is a beautifully built camp along a broad expanse of the Restigouche River.  Chris, the manager, greeted me warmly and gave me a welcome gift of assorted hand-tied flies which, earlier in the week had caught several kelt salmon. Perhaps a good luck charm.   Kelt are defined as salmon that have spent the winter up the river under the ice and are now on their way back to the ocean to feed.  The salmon swimming back upstream are called ocean bright salmon—they are fully fed, big, and now ready to spawn.  I think I got that right… Anyway, the flies were a beautiful and touching arrival gift.  

It was late afternoon and after the long drive I was excited to fish.  I was paired up with Jere, who would be my canoe mate, and who was anxious to get on the water as soon as I could wader up.  I emptied my fly-fishing bag onto the bed in my cabin and layered up with fleece, a beanie cap, rain jacket and wading boots.  I had not donned my cold-water fishing clothes in two years They felt a bit stiff and uncomfortable but they would be worn in again soon enough.  

Our guide was from a small town across the river in Quebec and spoke perfect English mixed in with a few French words here and there – Franglais.  Jere had been out fishing with him for several days now and caught three kelt so far.  No pressure mind you.  The grand canoe was similar in design to my camp canoe.  Jere cast seated.  I needed to stand to get the distance and we alternated casting.  He would cast out a comfortable length of line and then I would go, though it was not really casting on my part.  I had a 12.6-foot two-handed Spey rod which I had last used in Iceland in 2017.  At least that was my excuse for hooking the guide on my initial attempt.  Jere wisely kept his head down when I stood up to cast.  I spent most of the first afternoon relearning how to cast, and thanks to my companions I had some damn good instructors.  By the end of the trip I was in fact getting the line out.  More on that next week, folks.  Just for the record I did not hook a fish my first day out.  And wait til you hear what happens that night, when the rest of the Sports at camp reported on their day on the water.  Boy was I humbled.

Fresh Air

May 2022

It was a breath of fresh air coming off the Delta connection in Bangor.  Greg was waiting for me by the luggage carousel, where I joined him to watch for my fishing bag to emerge.  Baggage claim was busy.  I was surrounded by excited, happy faces, and there was an air of anticipation.   I noticed a few fishermen like me in the group among the locals returning home.  Bangor is the drop off for northern country commuters. It is the last stop before Canada and the wilderness of Aroostoock County.  

As we drove north on I-95 the air was cool and full of pine scented excitement.  The roadside trees had thickened with spring growth.  Greg filled me in on camp life since we last spoke in person in October at my 82nd surprise birthday party.  That night was a once in a lifetime experience, especially seeing Katie and Greg dressed in evening clothes –out of their usual Maine camp wear.  Now back on their home turf we caught up on post -covid life.   Katie was suffering from a continuous loss of taste and dealing with a lost appetite.  Greg still doesn’t have a cell phone.  He got along without one for 60 plus years so why get one now he says.  Per Greg, the fishing this spring is as exciting as ever.  Lake salmon and brook trout are as large as can be with trolling streamers.  The turnoff at Lincoln was a welcome sign that we were closing in on Danforth and my camp on the lake.

All very exciting and intriguing to me, as if from another universe. Returning north from Florida where only last week I fished the Loxahatchee River with Captain Charlie for snook in a flat boat to here on Maine’s third largest lake.  Now on to Restigouche in Canada for a few days of salmon fishing.  It is like a trip to the moon for me.  From one universe to another to another.  In the fishing brotherhood the people are all the same—honest and trustworthy.  Brothers of nature we are. 

Fishing the Broad River off Parris Island

March 2022

Up before dawn dressed in clothes I wore the night before, I was ready to go when my nephew Richie showed up at my door for the ride to meet Tuck, our fishing guide. Richie brought me black coffee to light up my brain despite the dark. Moments later we were off, on the hour’s long drive from his home on Bray’s Island in Sheldon, South Carolina, to the Broad River in Beaufort. Fishing in the dark was new to me. As Richie described it, the routine was to get onto the river as the tide comes in and chase the fish to shore as they follow the bait. I was game to try something new, but this was to be an unusual fishing trip in more ways than one.

Driving in the dark through the small towns out of Bray’s was eerie. The roadside trailers that lined the two-lane highways had large spotlights I assume to ward off trespassers in this very rural part of South Carolina. The scenery felt strangely foreign, as if I were dreaming it, half-awake in the dark without a clue to the where and the when. The road traffic was mostly massive tractor trailers delivering to large chain and big box stores throughout the South. We finally arrived at our destination and it was still dark. We met Tuck at the concrete pad where he had moored his Maverick flat fishing boat. He and Rich had a typical fishermen exchange. Rich: “Hey, man. Where you been fishing?” Tuck: “It’s been great. Just returned from Cuba and we hit a grand slam. Tarpin, Bonefish and Permit..” Rich was drooling for an adventure like that, being the outdoorsman he is. Rich builds senior homes for a living, and golfs and shoots for recreation. But he is a fisherman first–he has those Ackerman genes.

Once Tuck had readied the boat the sun was just beginning to brighten the eastern sky. There wasn’t a single other flat boat around as we flew across the water. The air was cool and invigorating. Tuck and Rich sat together behind the console chatting away about fishing trips past and planned. I turned my Tulane Law School cap backwards and let the wind brush my unshaven face. We were running from the dark as it got brighter. Soon we slowed to approach shore where the water depth was waist high. Tuck lifted himself up to the poling platform at the stern so he could spot the fish. The sun was now rising. I had never fished for Redfish or even seen one. As I was watching Tuck watch the water, suddenly things took a very strange turn. I started to hear in the distance what sounded like gunfire. As I focused on the pounding sounds I realized that in fact it was gun fire. Hunters? But they sounded like automatic weapons. Then, without warning, a military gunboat came out of nowhere with sirens blasting and someone over a speaker system telling us to leave the area. We had stumbled, or flat-boated ourselves into the middle of a full-blown military maneuver, organized by the U.S. Marines. Seems our pre-dawn hunt for Redfish was right off of the Marine base at Parris Island in Beaufort. Tuck jumped down from the tower and over to the boat controls to motor us off. As the boat turned around, a fighter plane came out of the sky with a screeching sound unlike anything from a commercial aircraft. It swooped over our heads as if to strafe the beach. We had not yet even brought out our fishing rods. It was now 7:30am and the Marines were on the assault. We were in the range of gunfire. It was surreal.

Tuck had miscalculated. His special fishing spot was under attack. We kept cool heads as we moved away from the action. Eventually we found another spot close to shore to fish successfully. Rich showed me my first Redfish. I soon set the hook on one but lost it when I pulled it up out of the water. then hooked one by accident with my fly in the water before I even cast. A lucky set but I brought it to the boat and the guys, smiling, took my picture.

Fishing for Redfish on the tide is a short duration trip. By sunup the tide was in and the fish had a II they could eat. Rich smoked his first cigar of the morning and had a full day of work, golf and shooting ahead of him. I caught my first Redfish, albeit by chance. It was a very lucky day indeed.

Fishing with Jay

January 2022

After our inaugural fishing expedition to Beaver Kill in 1990, Jay and I embarked on a fishing romance spanning 24 years until our trip to Iceland in 2014.  I returned to Iceland again in 2017 but that time as a loner.  Jay was not fit to travel after a bout of illness and I, suffering from a back injury, plowed through the trip with a distressing inflamed something or other.  Leading up to that last trip alone, was a wonderful series of travels with Jay and a few other friends, some now gone.  Our first real expedition together was deep sea fishing in Gardiner’s Bay off of East Hampton, with Captain Paul Dixon, on the hunt for bluefish and stripers.  Eventually, Jay surpassed me in his collecting of flies and gear as he had a number of friends and work colleagues in the dental profession who regularly went to the Catskills to fish on the Delaware.  Jay, being a surgeon, was into the technical intricacies of fishing.  I was more interested in finding sources for English country fishing attire, and of course I was into the travel. 

Our next outing together was trout fishing on the Connetquot River on Long Island.  More like fishing in a bathtub, with assigned beats where fish waited for meals.  The fish dined on a schedule, and as long as you were on their timetable you caught plenty.  Like shooting in a barrel.  After that, we were ready to explore beyond the shores of Long Island.  Thus began our European adventures and over the years we went to Scotland and Ireland, and to Iceland twice.  We often took local trips in between–during economic recessions and off times in the real estate practice, Jay and I would do the three-hour drive to Al Caucci’s fishing establishment called Riverfront Lodge, on the West Branch of the Delaware River in the Catskills, near Hancock, New York.  Caucci was an interesting fellow– a fishing guide, entrepreneur and hotelier, who wrote the basic treatise on fishing entomology or, for us simpletons, the guide to flies that attract fish.  Interestingly, with Al it was technical fishing but rarely catching. It seems there just weren’t many fish.  It was with Al that I first heard all the immortal fishing guide sayings that begin with “should have.”  “Should have been here last week.”  “Should’ve been drier—the water’s too high.”  “Should’ve rained—the water is too low.” Once there was a dam release issue on that branch of the Delaware.  Al must have been a bit amused watching us beginners wade in so far over our heads we had to swim back to shore.  

The best part of a trip to Al’s–aside from the exceptional motel décor–was the dining.   Always outdoors, weather permitting, the meals were first rate.   Al would bring in talented up-and-coming chefs on the weekends, one of whom was Tom Colicchio.  Later on, we would see Colicchio’s name in print in restaurant reviews, as he gained fame from his many restaurants in New York and beyond.  Al knew beginner fishermen faced a lot of frustration on the water, and casting all day was tiring, so in the evening a special dinner put everything right again.  There were always stories from the day’s events to tell over a meal, and it was always a happy exhaustion, from casting away for those supposed fish in the dark waters of the Delaware.