Time was, fishermen getting skunked said stuff like, "Yeah, they're coming in a little slow today but you shoulda been here last week." However, fishing, like almost everything else, isn't what it used to be, as I noticed when the skipper of our boat shouted for his mate to put the bait in the microwave oven.

On the other hand, the creatures fishermen are chasing are conservatives, mindful of traditional values and capable (had they thumbs and noses) of thumbing their noses at the hubris of human beings, as manifested in modern technology and trickery. So listen to today's lesson, which like most fish stories is about a fish -- actually, a shark -- that was not caught.

One fine day recently, with the sun beating down and the wind picking up, the Will men -- aged 44, 13, 12 -- went down to the sea to make life hazardous for sailfish and sharks. This the men failed to do. But they did the next best thing: they learned something. Their tutor was an eight-foot hammerhead shark.

The hammerhead has his detractors, who include swimmers who resent his attentions. But, in fairness, this must be said on his behalf: he is not just another pretty face. That, however, is as far as I will go. I leave to liberals the philosophy of social sentimentality, one form of which explains "shark chic."

In the movie "Jaws" (which was followed by "Jaws II" and "Son of Jaws" and "Jaws on the Road to Bali" and "Jaws and Gidget Go to the Beach" and . . . ) the shark was the heavy. This aroused liberals against a new and virulent bigotry: sharkism, that ethnocentric (or is it species-centric?) prejudice that portrays sharks as mindless, voracious and sort of mean.

Of course this bigotry flourishes only among white males, the sources of all social shortcomings. Women, blacks, Hispanics, native Americans and all other members of the Rainbow Coalition recognize sharks as brothers and sisters in victimhood, more sinned against than sinning, and, truth be told, creatures from whom squalid humanity can learn a thing or two about the healthy transcendence of inhibitions, natural self-expression of appetites and a Thoreau-like indifference to repressive social standards. The shark, said liberals, is a delightfully spontaneous and (you will recognize this as the all-purpose alibi for unpleasant creatures) an IPOTDBES -- an Integral Part Of The Delicately Balanced Eco-System.

Now, let me tell you about my shark.

Our boat was loaded with so much high-tech electronic gadgetry for piercing the ocean's depths that it could have quickly ended the hunt for Red October, or any other submarine. It is amazing the Navy does not sink fishing boats with such submarine- locating capabilities.

But could the gadgets find fish? Nope. We found action because the skipper said: Let's go over there where the blue water meets the green water. That, he explained, is where the Gulf Stream bumps less warm water and where hammerheads hang out.

He nuzzled the boat up to a buoy and, using light tackle, we caught a few small fish for shark bait. Then (nothing is simple anymore) we flew kites.

The skipper sent aloft two kites, with fishing lines clipped to the kite lines. The kites kept the live bait swimming at the surface, to which came our hammerhead, who then taught us a great truth: You can lead a shark to bait but you can't make him bite. In fact, you can, and we did, hit him on the forehead (a large target: a hammerhead has lots of forehead) with the bait without exciting him.

When the motion of the boat and kites tore all the live bait fish from our hooks, the captain remembered that he had a bonito in the freezer, and issued his deathless order to defrost the bait in the microwave. It was another high-tech futility. The shark kept circling the boat and the bait, but would not bite.

Open the stomach of a shark and you are apt to find, in addition to bits and pieces of fish, odds and ends like beer cans and license plates -- Nebraska license plates. You figure it out.

Oh, well. One of the pleasures of being a conservative is that you are always more or less pleased. Conservatives are pessimists, so when things go badly they have the pleasure of having their beliefs confirmed, and when things go well they enjoy the pleasant surprise. Conservatives like fishing because they either catch fish or confirm their conviction that all of Nature is in on the cosmic conspiracy against human happiness.

The skipper, who is neither ideologically nor technologically obsessed, simply says we shoulda been here last week.