AS IF I BELIEVED, I cast the line with three hooks offering at once: clam snout, apron of soft-shelled crab and a live slice of the minnow, all we caught this fall afternoon. Late in the season for fishing, or friendship.

You, crammed in the canvas canoe too small for your six-foot-four frame, watch me cast but don't believe. Nor do you fish, not liking to kill, but wanting to please me by coming along.

Even profitless, we float an pocket of water in the little hook of cove sheltered from the wind. The canoe is tied to the oysterboat half-sunken between the beach and reeds and overhanging trees. Like old bag ladies in the park, we should soak up heat and light to last us the winter, hoard it like acorns or honey.

Finally full of sun but unfulfilled by fish, we give up casting by the oysterboat. It is alreadly. Time to head home. We paddle off to the shadowed shore sharp with oystershells, abandoned anchors, rocks, fossils of ancient scallops, carapaces of summer's crabs, skeletons of fish. Here the cove is open to winds tunneling down the channel.

In passing, I cast my line toward old pilings covered with barnacles. Never tried here before.

Again I cast -- and instantly feel the strike.

Bright beige shapes shuttle to the selvage of the river.

"Three fish at once!" You almost capsize us. Your torn straw hat falls overboard, and I have to retrieve it with the crab net in my right hand, the left clutching the leaping rod. "One on each hook! And big!"

Like winning a whole row of apples or bananas in Vegas. As if we could also expect a jackpot outpouring of minnows.

Magnified by the water, yes, they are big: for perch. I wrest them from my hooks and drop them in the canoe. Greedy, I cast again, and again.

You paddle against the wind to kee the canoe just offshore, where we caught them, though no more fish seem to be in the water.

"Aren't three enough?" you insist. You try not to look at the fish in the bilge.

In the sudden chill we paddle home in silence, beach the canoe, and I carry the quivering catch to the kitchen. I want to spare you my scaling and gutting. "Too small a kitchen for both of us . . . ."

You insist on learning. Soon flown fish scales glisten like platinum in your silvering hair. When it comes time to gut the fish, I send you outside to chop the onions so I won't cry. You return as I stuff the cavities with garlic and ginger, and sprinkle olive oil and lemon juice.

Then an evening of gingery perch, cider and conversation till midnight and the moon.

Although my ease with fish guts horrifies you, you boasted for days of my skill. As if I'd had something to do with it all. As if it all had to last us through a season of ice.