2008-03-07 / Sports

Rockaway Outdoors/Tales From The Wheelhouse

By Captain Vinnie Calabro

A bucolic fishing day in May of 2007 in Jamaica Bay. A bucolic fishing day in May of 2007 in Jamaica Bay. The local fishing scene is virtually non-existent, so took a ride along the piers Canarsie and Magnolia in the hope of finding a few herring sightings, but no such luck. It looks like the only action for fishing is for those who travel. Montauk seems to be having a fair run of codfish, so if I can gather up a carpool/crew I may take the trek out east.

Conversations with Tony down in Florida have been few and far between this week, which leads me to the conclusion that he must be catching a few.

Anyway, we did have some milder days this week and hopefully that trend will continue as flounder season approaches. Last year it seemed like the flounder fishing rebounded a bit in Jamaica Bay, so I'll cross my fingers and hope that it repeats itself.

I never had an Ipod, Nintendo or Playstation. They didn't exist in my younger days. Instead my prize possession was a Garcia 302 reel and Sears Roebuck - Ted Williams surf rod. Actually it wasn't a bona fide surf rod, it was more of a rod that did everything.

It was equally at home on the Cross Bay Bridge, Canarsie Pier, Manhattan Beach and the various party boats from Sheepshead Bay to Captree.

Unlike the youths of today, who have "play dates" and exotic forms of entertainment, my friends and I had to find amusement in other ways. Between catching frogs on my lawn and paddleball, we also fished.

Developing a passion for fishing at an early age meant my circle of friends was limited to similar outdoorsmen, although the phrase wasn't in vogue at that time.

When our allowances had enough residual to buy a Long Island Fishermen for thirty five cents, we would read and look at pictures that further fueled our enthusiasm.

Then, if we hit the jackpot, either by mowing a neighbor's lawn, or washing someone's car, we had a real payday, sometimes as much as five dollars.

Paydays generally associated with A+ test scores and honor role report cards were hard to come by. Especially for a fisherman like myself. Nah, my classroom days were spent thinking about fish. Obsessed, would be a better way of putting it.

But, if by some stroke of fate we did come into "money," it was short- lived. Like Lewis and Clark, we set a path to Herman's on Sunrise Highway, in Valley Stream. They had a great fishing tackle department, a department to die for. The walk, maybe four miles or so, was easy. Keds were light on the feet, fairly sturdy at that, often lasting the entire summer. The journey wasn't without snares along the way.

Bakeries and candy stores all lay in our path, and when it comes down to it, what beats a cherry lime ricky on a sweltering June day. Steadfast, I stayed the course and even at this young age was able to navigate my crew out of harm's way.

My crew consisted of me and Eugene. On occasion Moose, a German Shepard. We'd tie Moose to a bike rack and go in.

Entering Herman's was well, like Nirvana. There to the left, isle after isle of lures, rods, tackle boxes, reels encased in glass display cases, let me take a moment I'm getting lightheaded. If I was of age, this would be Miller time.

Decisions, decisions, Kastmaster or Hopkins. Do I do a creek chub popper or go for the $1.49 Atom swimmer? Without a calculator I was in a budget crisis.

What a dilemma. Do I risk my poor math skills and bring the items to the cash register, flaunting the shame that may await if I'm short, or downsize my order?

Well, downsizing hadn't been invented yet, but that is the price of progress. Downsize employees, reduce fish quotas, givebacks, buybacks, run lean blah, blah, blah. For lack of courage, I take the Kastmaster and the Atom.

The five dollar bill secreted deep in my pocket was offered to the cashier lady. Gingerly she unfolded it and with great skill, was able to iron out the wrinkles and put it in with the other money.

The better part of a dollar in change was returned to me. I nonchalantly acknowledged the transaction, nodded and put the money in my pocket. If I had an IQ above my age, I would have been able to compute the sum of the purchase in my head and would have opted for the more lavish Creek Chub popper. My math skills would plague me for my entire life.

The walk home was euphoric. Armed with new lures, I couldn't wait to do battle with the creatures of the deep. Moose senses our enthusiasm, and keeps up the pace. I often think about those shopping trips, even till this day when buying on the internet.

That night at dinner, my friend Eugene and I unraveled our plan. Actually, the plan was hashed out earlier and now we had to do some lobbying, Hillary listen up. Eugene would eat over on occasion, that occasion being every night. My mom didn't mind, he was polite, and often complimented her cooking.

I firmly believe it was my dinner table that enabled Eugene to develop his people skills, and would someday make him a successful CEO. You see, Gene's mother was always in and out of the hospital.

So for most of our childhood, my mother doubled up on just about everything.

Lunch at school baloney and cheese two times, mayo during the cooler months, mustard when the temperatures rose, usually after Easter, Wonder being the bread of the day. Anyway, on this night we clean our plates, do the dishes and take out the garbage. My mother's antennae are up sensing an incoming tidal wave.

Over a slice of A&P apple pie and scoop of ice cream, we spill the beans. Eugene could sleep over which was no problemo. Biking to the beach before sunrise was no good. Ok, I can live with that.

Gene sleeps over and before dawn we're pedaling our way towards the beach. The Atom landing on the surface is met with the thunderous crash of a striper.

During the course of the battle, I tell God I will do anything if he lets me land this fish. My heart is pounding. To use Hemingway's words "if I only had the boy."

Well I didn't have the boy or a net, or gaff for that matter, I had Eugene. Eugene climbs down the rocks and grabs my bass. It was beautiful, big and beautiful, at least four maybe five pounds. It could have been three or four but I'm going with five. Gene looks at me and for the moment I'm the man. It was a joint effort and it's our fish. The striper, dangling from the rope on my bikes handle bars looks huge. It hangs there suspended like a monument. At one light a guy in a car spouts out, "Hey, nice fish," I look back, grin and don't say a word.

Eugene compliments my mother, saying he never had barbequed striper before. It was a satisfying feast. Two perfect fillets, each in its own foil wrapper. The moment was a passage into someplace. A destination only a fourteen year old can go......

Flounders next up, till next week tight lines.

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