The lady wears a size three dress, "a size one if it's cut full," so the macho fishermen, beers in hand, chuckled when the morning's first bluefish doubled her rod and sped south toward Miami Line screeched from her reel as this meanest of Bay creatures burrowed deep.
"Keep the rod tip up! Don't fall down! Don't scream!" In full voice, the rounders were, even after Capt. Charles Nicholson gaffed a nine-pounder and hauled it aboard his tidy charter boat. Small lady 1; bluefish 0.
Male egos atrophied quickly as the skipper gaffed the morning's second bluefish, third bluefish, fourth bluefish and fifth bluefish, all caught by Ruth Ann Alibrando, whose husband took to pouting. The others excused their failure by blaming green beer.
After the sixth bluefish was caught by a nurse, her sinews toughened by unruly patients, luck overtook the chief rounder of the Alibrando family or perhaps he found a chauvinist fish. "Al, keep your tip up," ordered the lady. "Bleep off," said the king, his rod butt buried in a socket of cellulite.
Bluefish of alewife that the electric chum grinder spewed forth with Cuisnart efficiency. Fat blue crabs, the beautiful swimmers, came up from their sandy lairs to play jackal to the bluefish. All around us the diving gulls shrieked insults at the rounders, the archetypical fishermen of female mythology.
The bottom line? When Capt. Nicholson backed his "Antonia" dockside, the first fish, the largest fish and the most fish had succumbed to Ruth Ann Alibrando. She won a watch. The nurse won a day's scullery service from her husband. Seven hours yielded almost 700 pounds of protein from the waters off Point Lookout. No fish wasted, a bonanza at supermarket rates. But Capt. Nicholson was the only one grinning for reasons he'd reveal later.
Some women associate fishing with a steaming paella, classical guitar in background, a bed of saffron rice, a peasant's stoneware platter. Or a sensuous bouillahaise served above the beach at Nice. But most associate it with slime, booze, mal de mer , sunstroke and rotund wastrets who arise during the late late show and return during the next late late show, their hands always smelly, their coolers empty and their wallets thinner.
As Plato admonished in his Book of Laws : "I pray that no yearning, no passionate love of sea-fishing, or of angling, may ever take possession of you, my young friends."
But among the wall-paintings of Pompeii are dozens of likenesses of the bare-breasted Venus tempting with a minnow the golden fish below.
Indeed, compared with other sports, fishing is almost free of sexual discrimination. Among records kept by the International Game Fishing Association, a cross-section of the all-tackle variety are held by women. They range upward from the largest white perch (5 1/2 pounds) through codfish (98 1/2 pounds), blue shark (410 pounds), jewfish (880 pounds) and hammerhead shark (703 pounds). And the list is by no means complete.
According to Pat Kovar of the new organization Outdoor Women, females are to fishing what male claim to be to haute cuisine cooking. Better.
"They're more willing to listen. They don't think they know it all, like some men do, and what results men usually call luck."
As Capt. Nicholson maneuvered toward the gas pump he was still grinning. He whispered to one of the rounders: "My God, next week they've booked me an all-girl party."