No day is long enough for a fisherman, not even these endless days of early summer, the longest days of the year. Twice last week sunset closed the door just as the action seemed sure to warm.
Dusk came too soon on the bay, with scores of bluefish rolling and lolling on glassy smooth waters. We were drifting silently, fishing live ells on deep lines and casting little spoons on spinning rods.
It was a stirring scene, just right for a remarkable fish conquest. The sun was fire orange over the flat shore at Deale; pelicans soared to their northernmost summer nesting grounds on Poplar Island, and circling all around our little skiff were big, shiny blues, six pounds and up, thrashing and churning in the calm sea.
But the fish wouldn't bite (no one knew why; no one ever does), and darkness fell directly Engines were fired, lights cut on, the silence was shattered and we sped to harbor, laughing and cursing our fortunes.
Dusk fell too soon again in Tidewater, Virginia, where the Pamunkey and Mattaponi rivers join to form the mighty York.
Tom Ebel was there for the afternoon, sharing the 40-acre mill pond he's fished all his life with a stranger and an old friend.
For Ebel it was a labor of love. The little pond outside West Point, Va., holds enough memories to keep him busy recollecting, even if he never lands a brass, crappie or bluegill.
And it almost came to that, as a late start put us near the fish but never in the thick of them before the sun sank below the tops of tall oak and pine.
Ebel, 23, lives in Richmond these days. He shares the house he grew up in with a roommate; his parents have died, his father when Ebel was 17, his mother when he was 19.
That left Ebel alone at a tender age, but he's managed handily, largely holding on dearly to the things he shared with his folks.
One of those things is the little mill pond, discovered 30-odd years back by Ted Flippen, who runs a sporting goods store in Richmond.
Flippen knew what he liked and liked what he saw, so he talked the owner into a leasing agreement. He gathered a group of friends and fellow anglers, 17 in all, and they made it their fishing hole.
Ebel's father was a partner, paying his $25 annual dues and sharing the workload of painting the rowboats, building "hurdles" - piles of sticks - to attract fish, thinning out the panfish and weeds and fishing.
When he died the membership fell to his son. "I'm everybody else's junior by 30 or 40 years," young Ebel said. "I've got to admit I don't go to the annual meetings. Me being so young, they're always going to find work for me to do."
But he pays his dues and sticks to the rules and does what he can to keep the little pond going. It gives him something to cling to in a world where little stays the same.
Last week Ebel carried with hime the eight-foot split-cane fly rod his father had used. He unlocked the door to the rotting old boathouse, letting out the same musty cool smell of wood and paint his father had known.
He read aloud from the log, carefully kept by club members. "Two bass, one (of them) two pounds, on Thursday."
We picked out a pair of the old hand-crafted rowboats, freshly painted this spring, as they are every year.
And we went to work with the singular determination that marks fishing freaks. We worked the channel, we worked the hurdles, we paddled along the shoreline looking for dropoffs and lily pad fields. Ebel cast different flies, I switched from spinning lures to poppers to Rapala shiners.
We enver found the big fish, though we landed enough bluegill and crappie and ring perch for a couple of handsome breakfasts.
"The rule is never to throw bach any pan fish, no matter how small," said Ebel. "That way we keep from overpopulating. Even if you have to throw them up on the bank, if they're too small even to cat, we never put them back."
The croaks of the frog multitudes reached fever pitch as the sun sank lower, but we did not stop. Even as darkness began to enfold the quiet pond we worked the inlets and cover, feverishly hunting that last strike.
And then it was over, no time and no light left for another cast. We hastened to the boathouse and by flashlight Ebel recored our catch, just as his father had done hundreds of times before.
The days are never long enough.