The tide was coming in to meet me as I walked down the edge of the creek toward bigger water. The sun was still low with not a stir in the air giving good visibility into the water. A grass shrimp hatch was going off and periodically I could see schoolies rush the bank and pick off shrimp as the water flooded the grass roots. Watching this I clipped off the streamer on the seven-weight and tied on a Crazy Charlie.
My destination was a spit of mud that stuck out into the main body of the creek. From there I would be able to cover a great deal of grass line where three finger creeks entered the creek proper. Applying the adage, “Don’t drive past feeding fish”, I made a few casts along the bank in front of me as I walked and picked up a couple micro stripes. They were not big fish, the largest about fourteen inches, but these smaller fish tend to be violent and pissed off when they take a fly and fun to mess with.
I stood in my spot for a while mostly blind casting along the bank but managing to “sight-cast” to a handful of fish as they cruised along the edge. I saw a big push of fish go around the corner of the creek in front of me toward an area I knew held a deep hole. I had fished back in there in my boat on a flood tide once but had never been able to get to it on foot. I decided an expedition was in order and set off to find new water.
I back-tracked, hop-scotched mosquito ditches, made some not so graceful long-jumps in full waders and back-tracked some more. After a little more than an hour I found the hole I was looking for. I set up where I could make a long cast over the hole and retrieve back across it and over its edge into the ditch in front of me. I made a cast and stared out at the marsh in front of me and slowly stripped the fly.
My morning was disturbed as I saw a blue and white Atom Popper go sailing down the ditch landing right where I had just cast. I followed the line with my eyes back into the grass and saw a Texas Rangers ball cap about twenty feet to my right. I walked up to the hat and found a young boy underneath it sitting on the edge of the creek ripping that popper across the water like he was on Saturday morning television.
He looked up at me like I was the teacher who had just caught him smoking a Marlboro in the bathroom.
“I didn’t see you over here”, I said as a form of introduction.
He shrugged and told me he had watched me jumping around through the marsh and followed me because he figured I knew a good spot.
He stood up and said, “You know, it’s a lot easier getting out here if you just follow the line of trees back there and then walk out here in a straight line from that big rock, there’s only three ditches to jump over and one has a plank across it.”
“Thanks.” I replied. “I’ll have to keep that in mind on the way back.”
The kid made another cast and I looked at the tackle box next to him. “What else have you got in the box?” I asked. “That popper may be a little big for the stripes that are in that hole.”
“I haven’t fished for stripers much. I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
“They’re keyed up on all these little shrimp, you need something smaller.”
He opened the box and showed me a collection of top-waters, a bag of plastics and a few metal spoons. I picked out the smallest Kastmaster and said, “I’ve got an idea, if you’re cool with trying it I’ll bet we can get you hooked up.”
I set about removing the treble hook from the Kastmaster and asked the kid questions about himself while I worked. The short story was he loved the Rangers, had just turned thirteen, lived in Fort Worth, and his father had sent him here to stay for the summer with his grandparents because his mother had left and the details of the divorce and selling the house were being worked out.
I asked him about the Red Sox t-shirt he was wearing with the Rangers hat. He said that he had been to two Sox games with his grandfather since getting here and they bought the shirt at Fenway.
I asked him who his grandparents were, thinking I might know them. I didn’t. He told me his grandfather liked to fish the creek and marsh back by the parking area and had shown him the way so he could ride his bike there when he wanted to. I asked if he liked fishing and he said that he and his friends back home fished almost every day in a local pond after playing baseball.
“The hard part is not being with my friends for the summer and being stuck here. I don’t really know my grandparents and they don’t know me. I’ve only seen them a few times. Grampa is retiring at the end of the year and they may move back to Texas to help my dad.”
I tied a short piece of mono to the spoon and rummaged through my gear for a small Clouser. Without looking up from my project I asked, “So, did you bring your bike with you from Texas?”
“No. Grampa took me to buy it the day I got here.”
“What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” I asked.
“Chocolate but I like Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food too, why?”
“What kind of ice cream does your grandmother have in the freezer?”
“Um, chocolate…and Phish Food.”
I tied the Kastmaster/Clouser combo on to his spinning rod and asked one more question.
“Who did the Sox play when you went to Fenway?”
“The Yankees and the Rangers.”
I trimmed the Clouser to match the length of the grass shrimp, handed him his rod and said, “So your grandfather showed you his favorite fishing spot, got you a bike so you can ride here, they have your favorite ice cream in the fridge and they took to you to see your favorite baseball team play the Red Sox. I think they might know you a little better than you think they do.”
“I never thought of it that way. I guess you’re right.”
I told him where to cast, how to retrieve the rig and let him have at it.
“Are you going to fish?”
“No way,” I said, “I’ve never seen someone from Texas catch a striper on a spoon and fly rig before so I’m going to watch.”
About ten minutes of baseball talk later the rig worked and my new friend brought in his first striped bass. He handed me his phone and I took a photo of him with it before we released it. He immediately sent it to his dad.
He made another cast and looked at me and said, “It’s going to be hard when I go back. Mom’s living with this other guy in another town and I’m staying with my dad in an apartment so I don’t have to change schools. Everything is different. It’s so hard. It really sucks.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond or even if I should. Thankfully the awkward moment was broken up with another stripe on the line. I reached down to lip it and while removing the hook said, “You’re right, it does suck, everything is upside down and all you can think about is how hard it is. I can tell you having gone through divorces as a father and as a son, you’ll adjust, you’ll learn how to deal with all the changes. You won’t believe this right now but this is not the hardest thing you’re going to have face in life. Take it all head-on, don’t run from it. You’ll get through it.”
I let the little stripe go and said, “Next one is all you cowboy, catch it, release it…all you.”
A few casts later he went tight to another fish, a little bigger than before. I snapped a few more photos of him with his phone while he removed the hook and let it go.
“Nice fish, dude.” I said as I gave him a high five.
He looked at the photos on the phone and said, “They’re not very big. I thought they’d be bigger.”
“Well, bigger fish are gonna be out in cooler water. These little guys live inside along the river during the summer while they grow. This is fishing, dude. Worrying about how big or how small your catch is…that ain’t fishing. That’s something else.”
“What do you mean, what’s the something else?”
I handed him his rod and said, “You don’t need to worry about that right now. You’ll find out soon enough. Right now you’re a kid. Be a kid. Have fun.”
We walked out of the marsh together so he could “show me the way.” I gave him my cell number and told him to call me if he had fishing questions or needed to talk. I told him to keep the rig we had built and gave him a couple of Clousers to put in his box. He said thank you, jumped on his bike and rode away.
One evening about a week later I was out in the marsh and saw the kid with his grandfather fishing near where I met him. From behind them I watched as he lipped and released a small striper that his grandfather had just caught. The kid gave him a high five and said, “Nice stripe, dude!”
I heard his grandfather laugh and say, “I thought it would be bigger.”
The kid shrugged, made a cast like a pro and said, “This is fishing, Grampa…worrying about how big the fish is or isn’t…that ain’t fishing…”
From the journal
North River, MA