Bluefish's throes spark plea from beach passerby
The beach path led to the top of a dune. I trudged through the soft sand in my waders to the crest where I had a good view of Philbin Beach.
In each direction I saw large areas where the texture of the water changed from smooth to a nervous chop, evidence of schools of bait and feeding fish. Striped bass were everywhere.
Large schools of fish were several hundred yards off the beach. Closer to the shore I could also see fish. It was still a few hours to sunset and fish were plainly visible in the wash of the waves.
Past experience tempered my excitement. Seeing striped bass feeding on krill is not the same as catching striped bass feeding on krill I reminded Remick, a summer visitor I have watched grow from a nice young kid to a nice young man over many summers past.
Remick was here for one short week from Washington, D.C. He is an avid fisherman, which has something to do with how we met.
Alice Robinson, wife of my frequent fishing pal Tom, called to ask a favor. There was a nine-year-old boy who was here for one week and loved to fish but his family members knew nothing about fishing. Would I take him fishing?
Nine years later Remick is taller than me. And his passion for all types of fishing has only grown.
It was our second trip to Philbin in the past week. Late Saturday afternoon when we arrived at Philbin the bass were there. However, weed clouded the water and made it virtually impossible to present any type of lure.
I have been on Philbin when the water is clear and stripers backlit by the dropping sun are plainly visible hanging in the wall of each wave. I hoped Remick would get a chance to see that.
The wind shifted to the east on Monday, giving me some hope that the weed might be gone. I told Remick it might be a wasted trip, but it was worth the drive.
Other than a small group of surfers and one fellow perched on a rock fly casting down the beach there were few other people. Waves rolled in, crested in a white froth, and broke. Striped bass shot through the waves. I watched one fish rise up and tumble head over tail.
One of the hallmarks of being an adult is the perceived need to point out to teenagers their need to appreciate what adults think is a unique moment in life. I told Remick the obvious. "This doesn't happen every day," I said.
The waves were coming in from the east. That combined with a strong lateral current ripping along the beach made standing in the wash difficult, if not hazardous. Several times I braced myself to avoid being knocked off my feet.
I cast where I saw a distinct rip line. A bass about 23 inches took my white squid fly.
It is exciting to fight a fish on a fly rod in the surf. The bass ran with the current down the beach to the west. I followed the fish and applied just enough pressure to keep it moving towards the beach.
Remick soon hooked up. Our initial success was short-lived. Bass on krill are notoriously finicky.
I changed flies. A few fish followed but the combination of waves and current made it difficult to control the floating line I was using.
Remick hooked a small bluefish. He said he wanted to keep it for his dinner. He unhooked the bluefish and put it above the tide line on the beach.
He pierced the gills with a knife. This is a good practice that is both practical and humane. The fish continued to flop.
Remick went back to fishing while I tied on a new fly. A woman and a man with a small dog that had walked by earlier returned up the beach.
The man nodded and said hello. The woman said nothing. They walked on up the beach.
Ever watch one of those horror movies where a guy's dog perks up its ears before someone gets an axe in the forehead? I tell you I could feel it coming when she walked by.
I was trying to tie a knot without putting on my glasses when the woman walked back. "That fish is suffering," she said.
My initial thought was to give her the option to rush the bluefish to a veterinarian. Or tell her that the fish probably was not suffering as much as her companion. But I bit my lip and resisted the urge to respond with a wise guy crack.
"Look," I told her, "I've been doing this awhile and I know what I am doing." I told her the fish was cut.
My manner made it clear that I did not appreciate her unsolicited advice. She admitted that she would probably react angrily if someone came up and told her what to do. Of course, that did not stop her.
I do not recall if I actually told her to mind her own business or only thought of saying it. I thought of how I might have responded but decided that restraint was the wisest choice.
(However, I am interested in hearing what other readers might have said. Do you have a response? E-mail me at email@example.com.)
Several years ago I read a story in the New York Times about a study by a group of scientists at the Roslin Institute and the University of Edinburgh that established for the first time the existence of nervous system receptors in the head of fish that respond to "damaging stimuli."
According to a report on the research published in "The Royal Society," a scientific journal, bee venom or acetic acid was injected into the lips of some trout. The trout that got the bee venom "demonstrated rocking motion," while the trout with acid in their lips "were also observed to rub their lips onto the gravel in the tank and on the tank walls."
Dr. Lynne Sneddon, who led the research team, said that the behavioral and physiological evidence establishes for the first time that trout feel pain. Of course, the study and its conclusions were welcome news for groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which has erected billboards showing a dog hooked on the end of a line with the question: "If you wouldn't do this to a dog, why do it to a fish?"
Clearly PETA had not spoken to Michael Vick.
I decided to write about the study and asked some of my fishing pals for their reaction to a study that demonstrates that fish feel pain. The general consensus ranged from "so what" to "tough."
My friends are not a sensitive bunch. But they are all good men. In my view, the woman who felt she needed to speak to me and I are separated by a philosophical gulf.
A bluefish flopping on the beach destined for the dinner table is not the same as a dog left in a parked car with the windows up. Her intervention was based on her notion of cruelty and her presumptions.
I have come to the conclusion that Martha's Vineyard has more than its share of presumptuous people. Many move here and then join local boards so that they can presume to tell others how to live their lives.
The US Census Bureau will conduct a national census in 2010. I have a suggestion for the Census Bureau folks. After the section on sex and race I think the bureau should ask the following: Are you a know it all?
There could be two boxes. Check yes, I presume to tell other people how to live, or no, I leave other people alone.
My presumption is that on a per capita basis Martha's Vineyard has more than its share.