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Tales From the Edge: A Day Offshore,

A Memory for Life



Sachs Leadin

    It’s 1 o’clock Friday morning and that darn alarm clock is ringing. You are exhausted and ennervated at the same time, but Fridays in summer are for fishing and so you haul yourself out of bed a bit groggy from the Bonine, a necessary evil. On the way to the bathroom you stop to look out the window. Thank goodness there is no baffling fog. Mercifully the howling winds that woke you at midnight are gone and the lake, Lake Montauk that is, is flat calm. You feel your pulse quicken. All systems are go and today you are going fishing, not just fishing but on a full-fledged blue-water adventure, and you cannot wait to shove off.
    A week of planning has gone into this outing. Numerous phone calls to put together a reliable crew has consumed more time that it should have from your “I can get my work done in four days” week. Who can get off? More importantly, who is really motivated to head 70 miles offshore for the day? It’s clear that those who are ready to sign up over a winter coffee either get cold feet or simply do not wish to lug themselves to Montauk at this g-d forsaken hour to chase tuna. To you and a few of the merry band – Dr. Tuna, Pat, John the dentist, Sweet Lou and his son Sal and his son Brian — this is a labor of love and the hunt in every primal way. A trip like this takes preparation, fuel for the boat and crew, fine-tuned equipment, and a ship-shape, safe vessel secured. A desperate and frantic quest for the Loran numbers precedes each trip and is invariably down to the wire. You want to go where the fish are and they are not in about 90 percent of the ocean. All else can be perfect but location-location-location is the rule of the day and the dreaded word skunking always looms as a distinct possibility. As in all life tasks, P-P-P: prior planning pays. Attention to detail has its rewards for the fisherman as well.
    You’re dressed and out of the house in short order, taking care not to wake the wife even though you always do. “Good luck … be careful,” she mutters as you head down the steps and out the door. A quick look at the treetops confirms that the wind is calm. You go through a mental checklist as you head over to the boat an hour before the anticipated arrival of your crew. It’s still dark as you walk briskly along the dock to the slip. There is a night chill and you are still warm from sleeping just a few minutes ago. Then you see her and your heart skips a beat. Can that beauty really be mine? If only Dad could see her. She greets you rocking gently in harmony with the wind and sea. You jump aboard, find your way to the instrument panel and flip on the lights. Slowly and deliberately you begin the task of putting the boat in readiness. First to the galley to start the coffee and check the bilges. On the way below you turn on the weather channel and wait for the drone of the computer voice … “and now the offshore report from 25 nautical miles out to 1000 fathoms.” Wind direction, sea height, and weather prediction are all ok. You breathe a sigh of relief.
    The crew arrives and the pace quickens. Rods are taken out of storage and rigged with the perfect bimini twist. Experience has taught that attention to detail dockside is well worth the extra time. Lures — check. Gaffs — check. Clippers — check. But where is the fighting belt? .... Ah that does not come out until the first fish is on. Fisherpeople are very superstitious. Lunch, snacks, sodas, water and a few cold ones for the ride home. The equipment is checked, and the diesels roar to life. Now things are happening rapidly. The guys are all over the boat, releasing lines and shore power. In seconds you ease out of the marina and way before first light you’re underway…pshew.
    The ride across the lake and past the yacht club is sweet. Coffee, a bagel and quiet conversation fill the deck as the group relaxes and anticipates the day’s prospects. Gone are the everyday worries … we are seeking the Thunnus tribe: it could be the white whale.
    As the boat makes way toward the inlet, the Coast Guard station at the lake’s bifurcation bids us safe voyage. You call Rich and Bill at Star Island Yacht Club for last-minute information and encouragement as the Open Bight glides through the jetties into Block Island Sound. You turn east past Shagwon Reef, The Lighthouse and the Great Eastern Rock pile, perhaps the sites of the best striped bass fishing in America. But today you turn south-southwest heading to the flats just shy of The Fishtails, a stone's throw from The Edge ... of the continental shelf that is.
    With the autopilot functioning and a helmsman to watch for lobster pots, the crew catches up on sleep. The three-hour ride will allow time for rest. The hard-core crew is busy sharpening hooks, positioning the gold Internationals and debating the best strategy for lure selection and location. As you look back into the wake, the green cold water urges you to move on to the warm eddy currents that have spun off the Gulf Stream, bringing weed, small fry and the predators you seek.
    Even though a destination is entered into the computer, a constant vigil for the natural indicators of fish must be maintained. Weed lines, oil slicks, breaking water and birds, birds, birds are the focus as you scan the horizon. A school of dolphin and a pod of whales are present at a given location for only one reason: food. Their presence is a strong indicator of tuna feeding below.
    As you cruise south this day, the sea is calm, with 2-footers pushed by a northwesterly breeze following you. Hopefully the wind will drop out when it’s time to head home. As you move away from civilization, the water turns a deep cobalt blue. The turbulence in the wake is as turquoise as any Caribbean sea. As you near the destination the excitement builds. Lures are selected, perfectly rigged ballyhoo for the far riggers, smokers for the flat lines, a zucchini on the near rigger and your favorite Stalker spreader bar down the middle. All are set, ready to be unleashed at the right moment.
    As you approach “The Spot” the electronics are working full tilt. The sonar seeks bait, thermoclines and fish. The radar searches the horizon for the presence of other vessels in the fleet or to the skilled eye, birds circling. On some days it forewarns you of approaching storms, but not today; the sun has risen and the day is clear and cloudless. The sky is in perfect harmony with the sea. This day is a 10. Of course, the radio is tuned to monitor the banter of other fishermen. Some freely share information while others use secret codes and channels, missing the fun and satisfaction of making another angler’s day. The temperature monitor shows a sudden rise of 1.5 degrees. Suddenly little petrels appear from nowhere. It’s time to slow it down.

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