Monday, February 28, 2005

A Jones for the Ocean

Were were just down on the Island in early January and already we miss the ocean and the surf. Not that we want to mix it up with the Spring Breakers, but we do miss it. Plus, all kinds of things like mold, elm, and ash are starting to bloom, giving us sneezing fits of allergies. Oh, and I suppose cleaning and repainting the house could have something to do with it - we didn't have dust bunnies under the bed, we had dust Lions & Tigers & Bears (oh my!). So we're almost ready for the realtor, with our nice beige colors and petunias.

Out thoughts privately turn to the restless sea, churning on South Padre.

At one time I wanted to be a commercial fisherman. I used to run lobster pots when I was a kid, up in Connecticut. They had a deal where if you were under 18 you could have up to 15 pots and not pay a permit. That doesn't sound like much - modern lobstermen run over 150 - but I made a small fortune off those 15 pots and we all got red from eating all that lobster (something to do with iodine?). I seined for bait, used the bait to catch larger fish, ate the flounder, and used the rest, fish heads and all, for lobster bait. My best haul was eight big lobsters in one pot, with the biggest being three and a half pounds. That's rare in Maine and unheard of in Connecticut, now.

Then after college my dad had invested in a grouper boat down in Florida. A grouper boat used long-lines or electric reels called "bandits." Some nasty folks had leased the Miss Texas from dad (a common arrangement) and had trashed it pretty bad, even throwing bably diapers in the bilge, so I showed up to help fix the boat up. I told my dad that I would be interested in running the boat on a percentage deal ... and he gave me one of those cold, eagle-eye, Yankee looks like I was completely out of my mind. Heck, I was safe, lucky, hard working, and a good waterman.

"Sam, great idea, but there aren't any more grouper or snapper," he said. "I only made money two out of the last six years. I'm selling the boat to some damn fool down in Honduras who uses handlines."

Pop went the dream. This conversation was about 1987. The days of big catches were simply over. The few success stories with recovering fish stocks, such as redfish (red drum) in Texas, were completely due to cutting off the commercial market and making it a recreational sport with slot limits. I guess my dad did the right thing. He pushed me to get a master's degree and even loaned me some money to do it.

So if you see me down at the Port Isabelle docks looking forlornly at a crappy, smelly old fishing boat, you'll know were I'm at. Those days, when fishing was an honorable and lucrative profession, are gone forever.

But hey, I can build a little "mullet boat" skiff and play all I want, which is exactly what I intend to do. I even have a big garage to cut up the plywoods and lay down the fiberglass. Like all good watermen, you don't use store-bought plans and you know exactly what you're doing. Design books? We don't need no stinkin' books for that. Lori says it's OK. Mandatory, even, maybe.

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