Relay: A Fish Tale

Out in these parts almost everyone has a fish tale. I have just one, but it’s a whopper. And to this day I hold the record for catching the biggest flounder ever on the Lazy Bones fishing boat in Montauk. It’s a feat I’m not quite sure I’m proud of.
    The boat’s owners, Kathy and Captain Mike, are very good friends of mine. They invited me out on the boat for a lazy day of fishing some years back. It was a lovely autumn afternoon and I couldn’t resist the thought of being on the water on such a beautiful day. But as the large boat sliced through the calm waters of Fort Pond Bay to the fishing grounds near the hanger dock, I sat back and wondered what the hell I was doing there.
    Although I truly believe our creator expected us to eat fish, it’s very hard for me to actually kill any other breathing creature. I accepted the invitation, never imagining that by the time I returned to shore I would resemble Attila the Hun, complete with salt-stained raggedy hair, a sweaty brow, and grimy fingers dripping with stinky clam juice. In one afternoon, I had conquered the sea and proudly gazed at my flounder that lay upon the deck, gills gasping for air. I cringe when I think of it.
    At four pounds, the fish was so big that I became the poster girl in the Lazy Bones advertisements. Before I knew it my picture was posted all over Montauk. And Montauk being what it is I soon had blackened teeth, a mustache, and strange black tentacles sprouting from my head. There I was, this passive lover of creatures great and small, holding up a dead fish that only minutes before the picture was taken had been grazing the bottom of the sea when he came upon my hook. Who was this woman who had gained possession of my body? And why did she all of a sudden sport tentacles?
    My family came down to meet the boat at the end of the day. My husband was so proud, he of the 774-pound giant tuna that drew a late-night crowd of gawkers years ago to the dock at Salivar’s. My children didn’t know what to make of this new woman who was supposedly their mother, the same Mommy who catches and releases bugs in the house, feeds feral cats, and stops to talk to every dog she meets.
    Thank goodness my son was too young to remember this little incident. But the posters are still in circulation. Yes, that’s me during flounder season, hanging in the deli, the beer distributor, the hardware store, and other places around the hamlet. One day after fishing with his friends at Stanley’s pond for carp, my son told me I ruined him for fishing. He, too, can’t stand killing them, and as much as he likes to fish, he always hates when he actually catches one, he said. And of course like everything else, that’s my fault.
    I don’t regret the fishing trip and this is not meant to make anyone feel bad about catching fish. They are a source of food. My family ate my catch that night for dinner (I don’t eat fish, but put a lobster or some shrimp before me and a hungry Attila returns). It was a good experience because I felt for the first time the thrill of the catch that many out here live for. It turns out I also found something I was really good at — fishing.
    It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever do again.

    Janis Hewitt is a senior writer at The Star.