The sounds of silence


The shelter closed on Saturday. Throughout the final week, many people said, “I bet you’re glad the season’s ending and your nights will be free again.” 

It’s hard to look at friends and say, “Not really. All the guests who can’t find a place to stay will be in the woods or on the street. It just feels lousy.” I don’t want anyone to feel awkward because I know they spoke with a good heart, and maybe a desire to catch a movie or dine together, or go listen to some great music. 

Pat Toomey, who also serves at the shelter, knew exactly what to say and why. “Let’s go fishing Saturday night.” Simple words. Drenched with healing. 

We drove to the South Shore, chatting about our guests, and walked to a promising location for holdover bass. Wading into the water, I couldn’t help but think about the people I’d said goodbye to earlier. The sun was setting, all the shelter guests would be preparing for the night — somewhere. It was cool, not frigid, and the fog was rolling gently over the water. 

I cast into the fog, casting my cares as much as casting for fish. As the water swirled around me on the incoming tide, I felt my concerns easing. Every cast gave me an opportunity to think about a shelter guest and offer up a prayer of protection and blessing.

I cast a lot. Pat cast a lot. We had a couple of hits, but no takers. Finally, after about two hours, my rod bent, slightly. My heart beat a little faster. Every fish on is a shot of adrenaline, no matter how slight the tug. 

I had on a bass lure, but the fight, or lack thereof, told me I had hooked a super-small bass or a perch. Sure enough, a very ambitious perch had taken a bite of my lure. While it was edible, I kissed the perch, offered thanks, and released him. I left the water with only one fish landed, but a much lighter, more hopeful heart.

I returned on Sunday to the same location. It was frigid, windy, and not a temperature I enjoy, but I needed to fish. When I arrived, two guys were already there. They’d landed one bass, but hadn’t had a hit in half an hour. No worries, the sun was descending, and the fish should start biting on the incoming tide. 

I say “should” because I stood in the water watching not one, not two, but eight ospreys circling and diving. I cast wherever I saw an osprey circling and I could get close. No matter how many times I cast, no matter where I cast, my lures returned without so much as a bump.

After an hour and a half, my fingers frozen, I called it a night. The ospreys had departed, and I’d only seen two successful dives. Since the ospreys weren’t catching, and they are the greatest “fishermen” on the planet, I doubted spending another hour in the cold would yield fish. 

I hiked back to my truck, smiling that a “bad” day fishing is better than a good day not fishing.

On Monday, I found out that the Chilmark town meeting had been moved to the following day. I was thrilled. Three nights in a row spent fishing. Pure joy. And I was believing the third time would be the charm.

I debated switching locations, but headed back to the south shore. When I arrived at my spot, which is really Pat’s spot, I was alone. Not a person in sight or sound. I waded into the water and began casting, and casting, and casting. 

My reel was far too quiet. I’d been convinced I would see and catch fish. I walked up and down the beach, and saw a couple of fishermen. No fish. I walked back to my original spot and waded into the water. Cast, cast, and cast, again and again. Nothing. My reel was quiet, not a peel to be heard. 

Just as I was starting to feel sorry for myself, a pair of swans came flying toward me. Swans are majestic. I love swans, and they make a cool whistling sound when they fly. I don’t know how the dynamics work, but the whistling sound comes from their wings. I watched and listened as they flew out of sight. I smiled at the gift of their company.

Then I heard some geese, honking a little too loudly at something out of sight. I chuckled. Geese are too noisy too often. I cast, and heard the blop of my lure into the water. I listened as the line came back on the retrieve, a barely noticeable hum of line respooling. 

With delight, I heard the cry of an osprey. The eight I’d seen the night before hadn’t been “fishing” near me up to that point. I looked to the sky and spotted two over my left shoulder. They flew in front of me, and I instantly felt as if a friend had shown up. If I could be anything other than human, I would be an osprey. I listened to them, 

Then the intrusion of an airplane flying low and overhead disturbed the peaceful sounds of reel silence I’d been enjoying. As the plane banked left and faded away, I heard the quacking of five or six ducks as they nestled into an inlet. 

The full moon was rising, and the sky was bright. I dug my phone out of my waders and took a couple of pictures. Click, click, click. 

Before I got the phone safely into my waders, I heard it. The splash. Not of my phone dropping into water, but of a fish feeding. I turned to my right and saw the swirls. Finally.

As if Keith Lockhart had lifted his baton before the Boston Pops, the moon seemed to wake the fish. Excitement raced through my veins. I was alone, with bass breaking all around me. Until, as if they’d bought a ticket to my private concert, I heard the fishermen who’d walked away over an hour ago getting louder as they talked and walked back toward me.

I cast, and forced myself to reel slowly, super-slow. When fish start jumping, it’s hard to stay calm. Bass like a slow retrieve, slower than whatever slow you’re thinking is slow. I had a hit and waited, listening as the two guys drew closer. 

The next sound I heard was the peel of a line. Not mine. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been patiently casting for about two hours. Who was that guy, and how dare he steal my fish? LOL. I watched as he reeled in a nice bass. It didn’t look like a keeper, and he released it. 

I tuned my ears to the water, listening for movement, casting toward any ripples. The three of us cast in the same general location. I let my Slug-go sink just a bit, then began the painstakingly slow retrieve. 


The line starts peeling. Best sound ever!

I set the hook, let him run for a bit, then began to reel him in. 

Even before I saw the bass, I was smiling so wide my cheek muscles ached. 

I got him to the beach. Twenty-nine inches. A keeper.

My first holdover keeper. 

He was beautiful.

I snapped a quick picture, kissed him, thanked him, and released him into the night. 

I took a few more casts, had a few more hits, listened for a few nearby fish, but didn’t hook up. No worries. The night had been perfect. 

I waded to shore, grabbed my gear, and started the walk to my truck. 

I heard the telltale splashes as I walked the shoreline, relished the promise of another day, and thanked God for sounds in the reel silence. 

Aside from being the MV Times fishing columnist, Lisa Belcastro is also the director of Harbor Homes, the Island’s sole winter homeless shelter.