The winter of a fisherman is long and full of surreal, haunting dreams. They are dreams of mighty fish and hearty fights under the sun. Some of them we win, some we lose.
We always we dream of the fight. You do not “play” fishing. They will bite you.
Fishermen always think of next year. We phone each other on long, cold nights and discuss techniques and plan trips.
We are tortured by rumors of herring at the Canarsie or Magnolia Piers on the coldest days of January. Men I know talk of overnight cod trips to the canyon in the dead of winter. Heated rails. This is not my type of fishing.
Fishermen follow a pattern that is similar to baseball players. We awake and begin our season in the spring with hopes of a long, great season. The chatter of the hot stove league keeps us company on these long winter days.
We experience the beauty of summer as we toil under the sun. We go as deep into the autumn as Mother Nature and our abilities will carry us. We fill our winter with thoughts of missed opportunities and glorious victories. Some seasons end with legendary success, some end in a tangled mess. You must learn to roll with both if you are to be successful over time.
There is meaning in the rituals that surround us. Preparing our equipment, studying our opponents, rising to the early sun and talking about it with our friends. All of this provides a soft poetry to a sometimes-brutal sporting activity.
But winter is tough.
We do not sleep well this time of year.
When you are hooked, you are hooked. Fishing is a sport that can drive you mad. But when the sun is shining and the water is good, you really want to be just one place. The ocean.
Each Spring the shores in and around New York City come to life with generations of fishermen, old and new. Skinny flounder move into bays and inlets that warm quickly and famished schoolie striped bass begin their annual migration down the Hudson River to the ocean in late March and early April. The first real reports of fish come right around opening day of baseball.
You can see people fishing almost anywhere there is access to the water. I’ve seen guys fishing the docks next to the Intrepid next to Hell’s Kitchen. The East River has become a hot spot.
It would take me years to understand the sea, even if only a bit. In fishing there is sometimes a lot of staring vainly into the ocean, so pretty and dangerous. Ah, the sea is a fickle mistress, indeed.
It has been a brutal, long winter and we are not even half way yet. I’ve almost forgotten the feeling of a warm day, but soon the weather will make a turn for the better, I just know it. My fish dreams are improving each night.
But I hear them as they swim by in the nearby East River, mocking me.
Is today the day I take down my rod and reel and began getting it ready for the coming season?
J.K.S. Manhattan, January 2018