If you say "fishing" to a New Englander he thinks of one thing -- surfcasting off some lonely beach at a time of day when it is either not quite light or just about to be dark.
The lonelier the better. A New Englander believes that if there is a footprint in the sand the beach is too crowded. His is a special kind of reverie that broaches no intrusions.
As a former New Englander I have some of this mentality born and bred into me. So it was with great misgivings after three or four fruitless outings on lovely, rocky, quiet beaches that bore neither footprints when I arrived, nor fish prints when I left, that I went where the earthlings congregated.
Block Island, R.I., is a lovely place made lovelier by the fact that only about a fifth as many people live there today as lived there half a century ago. But in high summer things change. The waitress at one watering hole as a T-shirt that calls it right -- August Madness.
What the tourists like to do is gather, whether to drink, party, go boating or fish. Unfortunately, they are not dumb and when they go fishing one or another eventually finds the place where the fish are, and he tells somebody, who tells somebody else. And before long you have Easter at Fort Lauderdale.
The place where the fish almost always bite on Block Island is a long sandy split that reaches out into the ocean where Block Island Sound meets the Atlantic. Thereis a tremendous riptide there, which stirs up bait and attracts bluefish, weakfish and striped bass.
They, in turn, attract people.
"It's like Friday night at the supermarket checking out," said Clarence Corey, who has fished the island since he was a child. "But they're catching fish, right at sunset, just like you're supposed to."
Having done my reverie at Dorry's Cove and Southwest Point and Dickens Point, where fishing is the lonely thing it ought to be but not very fruitful, I decided it was time to see what it felt like to have a fish strike my lure.
So I gathered my gear and made the mile-long trek out to Sandy Point early one evening, to get there first, if not alone.
I rigged my gear, slide into chest-high waders, picked my spot, and began casting out into a rough surf. The fiery setting sun was beautiful.
For an hour I tossed plugs into the sunset without a strike, hardly noticing the gathering crowd that arrived. I took a short break and stared north and south down the bench. What I saw was not truly offensive. There were no empty spaces, but the fishermen had left room for each other to carry on unencumbered.
The only bad sign was a small band of loudmouthed New Yorkers who had taken up residence behind me on the beach. So far they had not wet a line. They were waiting for the action to start.
I fired my lure into the last of the failing sunlight and started chugging it back on the surface. Halfway back the sea erupted under the plug and I felt a jarring in the rod. It was a bluefish -- a 12-pounder, it turned out -- which made three startling leaps before I had it beached.
I dragged the fish onto the sand and carried it up to where my gear was. The New Yorkers were impressed.
"Geez," they said.
And while I was putting the fish to rest and freeing the lure, one of these Neanderthals thundered down to my spot and took it over.
"Hey, that's my spot," I said.
"Geez," he said.
I managed to move him over 10 feet, but when I resumed casting it still felt as if I was shooting foul shots with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in my face. It didn't last long. The New Yorker tossed his first cast out and instantly was fast to a fish that should have been mine.
He grunted and shrieked at his friends, who barrelled down to watch.
The saga lasted only seconds. The New Yorker, who had no idea what to do with the fish now that he had him, jerked and hauled and muscled the poor beast so much it finally simply let go.
"Geez," said the jerker.
That got rid of him for a few minutes, while he went to tell everyone within a mile about the giant, he'd just lost. But shortly he was back.
I kid you not. This guy threw out three casts and was fast to another one. He grunted and groaned and pulled the same miserable stunts, bulling his way over my turf and surrounding me with his eager buddies.
This time, by some miracle, the fish stayed on. The madman never touched the reel, just dragged the hapless beast onto the sand and proceeded to kick it up the beach.
"Hey," said one of his pals, "this fish is a striper."
Indeed it was. A 30-pound striped bass. No fish is more beautiful, highly prized, nor rare, these days.
"Geez," I said, and took my fish and went home.