Whiskey. It’s one of his handles, no pun intended. His true name given to him at birth is Richard.
We became friends not long after I started my fly business and he started guiding on Boston Harbor. We met through our involvement in a now defunct conservation group; he at the state level and I from a local chapter. The first email I received from him began with “Dude, …” I knew we would get along just fine.
We were the youngsters in the group and structured meetings to include time for fried food, beer and long discussions of pointless matters deemed more relevant to mankind as the beer count increased. Things like fly color versus profile, the Kobayashi Maru test, dollar values of a hitter’s slugging percentage and of course the question of Ginger or Mary Ann.
And there was the time he and his brother and I sat behind Gov. Bill Richardson at Fenway. A side note for those playing at home, the governor pitched a season in the Cape League in the 60’s. We spent most of the game trying to talk him into going fishing with us. Relentlessly. It was before I Phones and a year before YouTube came on the scene which is unfortunate because it was one of our finer performances.
Richard is one of those guys I only see once in a while but know if I ever need something, he will have my back. Ours is a friendship born from fishing and forged on the search for another story. Because of schedules it’s been a couple of years since we’ve been on the water together but we stay up to date through electronic devices. I look forward to the next quest.
2006 was one of the years that blue fin tuna were everywhere and one of the last years that “footballs” and “schoolies” were mixed in thick. I had built some flies for these smaller fish based on the bait and conditions that Richard had been running into while chasing them. I kept waiting for the call that he or one of his clients had hooked up to one using my flies but getting a fly into the face of a fish moving so fast through acres of bait, well, it’s not as easy as one might think. He invited me to find out for myself on Labor Day that year.
We left the dock just before sunrise and made the run offshore in near perfect conditions. We got to the numbers Richard had been fishing the previous few days and powered down to look for birds. It didn’t take long. We found the fish and eased up to the edge of the school. I had never seen anything like it. Tuna were breaking the surface everywhere from thirty pounds to three hundred. I reached for the fly rod and watched these fish as I stripped line out. This is where, in fishing vernacular, I lost my shit. Very much like tarpon or albie fishing, I lost all motor skills and ability to process thoughts. I managed a feeble twenty foot cast and Richard suggested I use a spinning rod for the first one. I quickly secured the fly rod and grabbed a spinning rod. It was set up for a left hand retrieve. I retrieve with my right hand. In the chaos of the moment I didn’t see this as insurmountable. I was wrong.
I made my first cast and watched the SPRO popper snap off and disappear. Richard handed me another rod. Next cast same thing. Richard shut the power down and quietly went about setting up a rod for a right hand retrieve with a Deadly Dick attached to it. The mood was tense. He handed me the rod and in a mix of four letter words and something about twenty dollars told me not to lose anymore gear.
We caught up to the fish and Richard got the boat in close. I made several casts without losing metal and started to regain control of my body. A few more casts and I was on. It felt like I had hooked a car on the Red Line between North Quincy and JFK. The first run the fish made reminded me that I used to be an athlete and that I might want to get back on the fitness program. The whole time I was bringing the fish in we were surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands of blue fin porpoising and crashing bait. It was surreal. It took about twenty-five minutes to get the fish boat side. Richard tailed it, brought it in and guessed it to be about forty pounds. It had felt at least twice that size in the water. I’m a catch and release guy but when Richard asked me if I wanted to keep it I said I had to keep this fish.
With a fish in the box we caught up with the tuna again and fished the school for the next couple of hours. I knew there was no way I was going to be successful with the fly rod so I stayed on the spinning gear. At one point Richard made a few casts and we doubled up. The stress of losing the tackle and my mind earlier now diminished, we ran around the boat passing rods back and forth singing 80’s hair band songs and giggling like school girls. I don’t normally keep score but on that day I did. Five tuna hooked, three boated.
We ran back to Wollaston Beach to pick up Richard’s son, Justin, and spent a couple of hours trying to get him on some striped bass. I made a few casts but spent most of that time sipping a beer and replaying images of those tuna ripping through the water.
By three o’clock we were toast and pulled the boat and went back to Richard’s house. Our friend, Eric Kulin, arrived to cut up my fish while I washed down the boat. The work done, we all sat in the late afternoon sun eating sashimi and drinking beer as I told Eric about catching that first one. Later, a glass of whiskey in my hand, I sat there listening to Richard tell the story of the day and thought of those fish and of my friends. I realized that over time the memory of those fish will fade and perhaps be forgotten. These friendships will not.
It’s the people that make the memory.
For bass, blues, albies, tuna and recommendations for a proper whiskey, check out:
Capt. Richard Armstrong and Boston Fishstix
Capt. Eric Kulin and Snap Shot Charters
From the snowbank
16 Feb 2015