Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How I Spent my Weekend

This past weekend, I participated in a traditional male bonding ritual -- I went fishing. On the ocean. In a boat. With "the guys." The guys, in this case, are from Jess's family, and people Jess's dad or brother go to church with. In other words, not people I necessarily have a lot in common with. Except, you know, total masculinity.

Now, my expectations were low to begin with. Consider the following facts:
  1. I get seasick easily.
  2. I am not a recreational fisherman.
  3. I am not a member of their faith.
But, the trip was in honor of Jess's dad's birthday, not mine. My goal was to be there and make sure he had fun.

It started out fine, overnighting at Jess's parents. I entertained folks by basically watching wacky movies on youtube and google video, and we all drank coffee and made smalltalk. By 11 or so, we were in bed, and having trouble sleeping in the noisy bright city environment. Country living has spoiled me, I tell you. Street lights and traffic? What's this?

We were up and about by 5 AM, and on the road shortly thereafter, six guys sitting in a Ford Excursion, not very awake. My brother-in-law asks, "Hey, does this ting have a radio?" The silence is replaced by whatever the radio had been on previosly -- a Christian station. As if the music wasn't bad enough, it changed into a scriptural reading. Picture a guy just droning on, no commentary, reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. Fortunately, we were able to change it after a few painful minutes, over to a "mix" station. Bland inoffensive music, but at least it wasn't biblical.

The second amusement of the trip was in how badly we got lost. The blind were leading the blind in the front seat. I had made the mistake of getting two sets of directions -- one (very detailed) from Google Maps, and one (short and sweet) from the Marina's website.

Unable to reconcile differences between the two directions, our front seat tandem drove us all over Connecticut. Miraculously, we had left early enough to overcome this obstacle, and arrived only a few minutes late after stopping for directions at two different gas stations.

What we saw first was one of the cooler things I was to see that day -- the boat warehouse (picture is not mine, comes from the Marina's site).

Imagine a giant parking garage for boats, where each boat fits into a cubbyhole and is retrieved from it by a huge forklift/crane thingy. Easily a hundred boats in this building. Very nifty.

This led to a surprise, however -- how small the boat was. I mean, it wasn't tiny, but it was smaller than I expected. Given my sensitivity to motion sickness (fascinating, by the way, Wikipedia claims this is an evolved response to hallucinations caused by toxin ingestion), this was notgood news. I downed a couple of Dramamine and helped load things up.

The trip started out wonderfully. The weather was perfect and the seas calm. We left the shoreline and found an area where some birds were congregating, and tried our luck with some light tackle. This is "normal" fishing, basically. Rod, reel, lure, cast and reel in. Nothing fancy, very relaxing. But we caught zero fish and decided to move on.

Here's where my experience totally shifted from my expectations. I pictured us on a boat, with lots of water on all sides. This is true ... but what I hadn't planned for in my mental image was the number of other boats sharing the same spot. This wasn't a matter of "look way over there, someone else is fishing," it's more, "Well, there are 25 boats within sight, obviously this is a good place to fish."

The next type of fishing we did was much less fun, for me. The rods were replaced with much heavier ones, and each of us put a heavy weight at the end of our lines. You then stop the boat and set it adrift, and then hang your line off the edge of the boat. Release the line, wait for the weight to hit the bottom, and then reel it in a foot or two. Then, periodically bounce your rod up and down so the weight hovers above the ground. The result is that your lure is a couple feet off the ground, trailing behind your weight. What sucks about this?
  • The rod is heavy and tiring on the arm
  • The heavy weight dulls your ability to sense anything
  • As the ocean changes in depth, your weight will snag on the floor and fool you into thinking you've caught the world's largest fish
The fascinating thing about that last bit is that it reveals just how quickly your boat is drifting relative to the ocean floor. You go from leisurely holding your rod to feeling like a submarine has
snagged your line and is making for Mother Russia.

Anyway. This method of fishing (jigging) bored me to tears, and did very little to address my growing seasickness. I took more Dramamine, which made me more tired and less eager to fish. But I did my best.

After a while, we moved on to Round Three. Here, we trolled. You take two big rods, put them in holders at the back of the boat, and tow a couple hundred feet of line behind you with big lures at the end. When you land something, you strap yourself in and reel in the fish.

I must say, this was pretty cool.

You take turns letting the line out and catching whatever you hook. We caught enough fish doing this that everyone had a chance, or several chances really. My chance came fairly early on, and I dragged in the biggest catch of the day, a 36" Striped Bass (Striper). This fish was a good 6
inches longer than anything anybody else caught, and it went a long way towards keeping me credible even as I spent more and more time sitting on a cooler and wishing my seasickness would go away.

Reeling in the fish was more fun than you'd think. It's a continuous strain on your muscles, six guys are cheering you on, and it's hard. At the end, you pull your fish aboard, and everyone oohs and aahs over what you've done. And then they measure it and keep it if it's legal, and you're back at square one.

As a plus, the boat is moving the whole time, which really helps with my motion sickness. But eventually the seas got too rough and we went back to Jigging. I didn't even bother to fish this time, instead quietly cheering on everyone else who was reeling them in. After six hours at sea, we headed back in, exhausted, dirty, but satisfied. To be honest, I was ready to quit after 3 hours, but hey, we got our money's worth.

In the end, my brother-in-law caught the most fish (8) and I caught the biggest. Not bad. Our captain came ashore with us and fileted the fish in front of us so we could split up the meat easily. As someone who doesn't really enjoy eating fish, I donated my monster filets to Jess's dad and brother. I hope they enjoy them. Here's our cooler at the end (mine is the one on top).

The ride home was long and fraught with peril. We got stuck in a 45 minute traffic jam due to what had to be a fatal accident; that car was crushed. We also had a tire spring a leak, which the manly men of course had to repair immediately (surely a good idea, but at this point I was hungry and exhausted). We got back to Springfield around 6, were back on the road home by 7, and I was showered and back in bed before 9.

Was it worth it? Definitely. Jess's dad had a great time, and I even had some fun. Would I do it again?

Nah. Not really :).