I was walking east in one of Montauk’s moorland coves the other day and saw a lone surfcaster heading toward me. It was Eric Ernst, wetsuited, with casting rod on his shoulder. He had been testing the waters. We fell into conversation as the cove’s spring green waves thumped and whispered.
He confirmed what I’d heard earlier in the day. Small striped bass were being caught from the beach in recent days at Ditch Plain Beach and just east in front of the Montauk Shores Condominiums.
“I’ve had keeper bass [over 28 inches long] this time of year. Thought I’d give it a try,” he said, while allowing that the ocean was colder than normal for this time of year given winter’s reluctance to leave.
Ernst, who does tree work, usually alone, is an intense sort with an active mind. I don’t remember how it came about, but he told me that while standing on his favorite glacial erratics whipping cast after cast after bass, he enjoyed putting together phrases — Zen-like poems by the sound of it — using double entendres and homonyms as fodder.
To non-fishermen, and non-lone-tree-climbers for that matter, this might sound strange, but I’ve found that the sea tends to draw our less conscious selves forward like dreams remembered. I’m sure trees do the same when you’re alone in their branches with a bird’s-eye view. Most fishermen cast their minds into the sea along with their lures, unless they’re fishing up in front of the Montauk Lighthouse beside Gary (Toad) Stephens, in which case they listen to him casting his mind into the sea.
I invent one-sentence stories when fishing. A while ago, I entered a contest, run by Bonnie Grice of WPPB, for the best one-sentence story. As it happens, my entry was written while surfcasting. Not only did it use double entendres and homonyms, the sentence also included the title of the story. Here it is: “Behind the nun’s habit, a tale.”
There was a strong wind the day it was written — tough casting. I had given a lot of thought about using, “beneath” a nun’s habit instead of “behind,” but decided that when talking about causes, we speak of them as being “behind” rather than “beneath” whatever it is they’ve caused.
I think “beneath” would have made a funnier story, but I didn’t want to lose the reader. I also wondered if it was unsatisfying to leave the reader hanging (other than her clothing, what could the nun’s habit possibly be?) but decided that many a good yarn leaves us wondering.
I hate sour grapes, but my story should have won Bonnie’s contest. It didn’t, nor did I catch a fish that day.
On Sunday, the Lester clan of Amagansett gathered at Barnes Landing to launch the Miss Mary, Paul and Dan Lester’s new dory. Dwayne Denton, chief of the Amagansett Fire Department, built the boat. It was launched from a trailer backed into the water at high speed in the same way our baymen launched the dories that set ocean seines. That was before the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation banned the use of haul-seine nets for catching striped bass.
The Miss Mary was christened with a bottle of Budweiser by Susan Denton, wife of Dwayne Denton. The christening, which took place as a light rain fell, was at once a happy and solemn occasion.
Dwayne Denton’s grandfather Ted Lester was the brother of Paul and Danny Lester’s grandfather Capt. Bill Lester. The “Mary” in Miss Mary was the grandmother of both the boatbuilder and the baymen brothers. A small compartment built into one of the dory’s knees contains the ashes of Calvin Lester, Paul and Danny’s fisherman father.
The Miss Mary will be used to set gillnets and tend pound traps, among other things. If the pound traps in Fort Pond Bay, Montauk, were up and working, they would be catching porgies galore, according to a number of reports.
Other reports have the first of the skinny “runner” bluefish arriving off Accabonac Harbor.