Tim Kelly
Tim Kelly

For one of our long-weekend annual anniversary trips, the Mrs. and me ventured up to Watch Hill, Rhode Island, a lovely, and oh-so-affluent, little seaside town.

Being tourists, we checked out the touristy shops, and in one I found, and absolutely had to have, a white Hawaiian-style shirt with a blue marlin motif. Bought it, and wore it till it wore out.

But for reasons still unknown, another shirt that caught my eye was left on the rack when we left the store.

Another fish shirt, sort of, basic black with the white outline of a non-skinny, non-young guy in a T, shorts and boat shoes, rod and reel in hand, proudly standing next to what I reckoned to be a thousand-pound marlin hanging by the tail.

Three words accompanied the image; “Old Guys Rule.”

In the years since, I’ve come across many “Old Guys Rule” shirts, some emblazoned with motorcycles, barbecue grills, golfers and even John Wayne. But I’ve never come across another shirt like that one, dammit.

Old guys do rule, well, except when their careers are abruptly destroyed, but that’s a story for another day.

No, I’ve never caught a thousand-pound marlin, but in my Hemingway-esque “Old Man and the Sea” fantasies, I am the guy on the T-shirt. And after my record-setting catch is verified, I’m buying rounds in Sloppy Joe’s before heading to the post office to collect royalty checks from my publisher. That’s followed by an afternoon of bullfighting and an evening with somebody else’s wife.

Hey, I didn’t say it was a realistic fantasy, or one easily skipped over during confession.

Some may find it boring (like golf), but in my case, fishing brings the cherished gift of peace and respite, in both body and mind, from worldly woes and worries.

Hell, since I can’t eat seafood without “upchucking” as me dear ole’ Ma called it, catching anything with gills and fins hardly matters. I could sit all day with a brick tied to the end of the line and be perfectly content.

Well, except afterward when someone would invariably ask, “Did you really sit there all day, with a brick tied to your line? Did that brick fall on your head before you left the dock?”

Yes, and, well, maybe. And unless you wanna get up-close and personal with said brick, better get outta my face.

Another favored fantasy, without involving somebody else’s wife, necessarily, transports me to the shallows along the banks of a stream or river in the west of Ireland. Everybody else has gone to a pub or to tour a castle, leaving me alone with the music of wind rustling through trees and water gurgling over rocks, casting and reeling, casting and reeling, casting and reeling.

T’is grand altogether.

Yeah, OK, I know.

“Say, didja hear about the daft Yank who stood all day in waders castin’ and reelin’ with noothin’ boot a lead sanker on his loin? The eejit musta takin’ a brick to the noggin, so he did.”

Say whatcha want, boyo, long as ya keep buyin.

To quote Henry David Thoreau – no, he’s not a French soccer, sorry, footballer. The writer?

Never mind. Anyway, he wrote; “Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they’re after.”

What? In my case it was a sinker. Real funny.

Most of my life has been lived on, or within a few miles, of salt water, offering fishing opportunities aplenty. Fished for snappers with a bamboo pole along the creek that flowed past my childhood home, in the bay for flounder and fluke and in the ocean for cod and shark.

Never did catch a cod, since the party boat I took out of Montauk and anchored within sight of Block Island was pitching and rolling in seas so wildly heavy that one of the crew occupied a below-decks bunk near me, the two of us, um, upchucking all day long.

After docking and once more secure on the firmament, another crewman handed out one-third off tickets for a future trip. Hey, know what you can do with your coupon, pal?

It was not quite in the way I’d hoped, but even that trip got my mind off common cares and concerns. Not too tough to accomplish, though, when but two thoughts flow through your cranium.

1.Jumping overboard or,

2.Hijacking the radio to broadcast a mayday call for a Coast Guard chopper, on the double!

And before you fillet and grill me for chasing sharks, in my defense this was during the “Jaws” frenzy. I only kept one, my first, plopped it in my rusty clunker’s trunk, occasionally popped it open to amaze family and friends with what I was certain yielded toothy evidence of my seagoing bravery and sportsman’s skill.

Didn’t really think that one through, though. A very dead blue shark in the trunk of a car at the height of summer undergoes, ah, certain inevitable physiological changes. Any residual value left in that rolling wreck oozed out onto the driveway.

The grand, briny Atlantic presents wondrous sights, such as a ginormous basking shark surfacing not 30 feet away from a fishing boat’s gunwales.

Having hooked nothing close to the largest fish reported during a shark tourney, we headed in. Sunburned and drowsy, I retired below for a nap, but snapped awake at the high-pitched whine of an engine abruptly shoved into neutral. Crap! We must have hit a log or something and are taking on water!

Back up on deck, I spotted a huuuuuuuge dorsal fin not 30 feet to starboard. By huge I mean the size of the great white in ah, you know, a certain movie. Some key dialogue immediately came to mind.

That’s a 20-footer!

25. And three tons of ‘em.

But it wasn’t Carcharodon carcharias. Just an easy-going, if colossal, specimen of Cetorhinus maximus, a basking shark, second only to the whale shark in size. And like its big cousin, a plankton eater, with naught a tooth in its gaping maw.

One of the guys tried bouncing a hooked mackerel off its head in the hope of snagging, if not hooking, what he figured was a sure winner of the $3,000 first prize. The shark just snapped its snout to the side and glided away and down.

It’s equally unnerving to have a Minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) surface only 15 feet or so from the 20-foot center console boat it equaled in length. That’ll also take your mind off student loans and next month’s rent.

I heard one the guys scream, “What the hell is that?”, his hand on the ignition key, when the whale, toothless as the basking shark, showed its great black back, topped with a small, low dorsal, then slipped back under.

Can’t say for certain, but I bet anyone who said, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” might have been added to the chum.

More recently, I’ve plied the waters of the Long Island Sound, out of Mattituck Inlet aboard my friend Captain Audrey Watson Wigley’s “Go Fish” party boat. When the Sound is calm and all you hear is the wind or a passing yacht or a gull or two, it might not be Donegal, but t’is still wondrous altogether.

Time aboard “Go Fish” is soul-soothing and balm for a battered psyche. Especially when I pulled in my biggest fluke ever. Audrey didn’t seem pleased when I bested her that day, but hey, you take your victories where you find ‘em.

But then just a few weeks ago she posted a shot of her hefting the biggest dang fluke I’d ever seen. A doormat? Shoot, this was more like a car mat, well, maybe for a really tiny import.

Ok, she set the bar high. Fine. Good.

Mortgage payments? Credit card statements? Car insurance? Who cares?

It’s on, girlfriend.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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