Keep the Tip Up, Skyward


Sure, they loved him. He was their father, a brother, an uncle, a husband. They loved him, but they didn’t know, or appreciate, his inner fisherman. The extended family was spread out on the downtown Montauk beach on vacation a week ago.

“They didn’t pay attention to me all day,” he said, sweating, the tip of his surf­casting rod nodding in obeisance to a big fish. After he quietly fought — probably, it just had to be — a big striped bass for at least 15 minutes, the younger members of his family began to gather around. Triumph, the revelation of his hitherto unknown prowess was at hand, but. . . .

Do you know the word hamartia? It’s from ancient Greek and means a flaw, a characteristic, habit, or quirk that might go unrecognized for years until circumstances bring it to the fore with tragic results.

After paying little attention to the careful packing of his rod and gear for the trip, their smirking tolerance of his clam baits, they began to realize that he had actually tied into a big one. Now, even the older members of the clan gathered, rapt as he took a turn or two on the reel handle, standing stalwart as the fish took back the line he’d won.

He was being patient, not trying to horse the fish, but wait, what was that? Every few minutes, he would walk quickly toward the water, point the tip of the rod down in the direction of his hidden triumph-to-be so that the rod was no longer bent, and then start reeling. Hamartia!

He was breaking the cardinal rule of fish fighting: Keep the tip up. “To be, or not to be.” The angler had unknowingly joined the pantheon of tragic heroes. His fall was only a matter of time, but what a time it was.

He was finally joined by the woman who must have been his wife. She stood by his side, her estimation of him growing in his mind’s eye. “Go John, go,” she and members of his extended family shouted. Their exhortations encouraged him to quicken the pace of his exertions, to add the tragic, three-steps-forward, point-the-tip-down flourish more often.

The fish was close, perhaps only 20 feet from shore, but it was a moose, still taking line. Then, like a crazed shorebird, a suicidal matador, the angler charged, tip down and reeling.

Oh, the impotence of a slacked line. The silence, the rote philosophical commiserations, his wan smile and feigned stoicism, his family walking away, the kids laughing, happy as kids can be at the beach on a beautiful summer day — his utter defeat. Tragic.

The point is, fishing rods are made to bend. The bending, and the loosened drag setting on a reel, allows a fish to pull and jerk, to take line without stiff resistance, the kind that will unfailingly shock a hook from their mouths. Keeping tips up also prevents slack in the line that gives fish the opportunity to shake the hook free.

I wanted to say, “Like reeds, rods bend only when their tips remain pointed toward the sky, Grasshopper,” but it looked like he was in no mood for parables. I might have offered advice during the battle, but I didn’t want to interfere with the natural order of things.

There are fish that can be caught with an unbending rod, snapper blues, baby bluefish under a pound, long before they grow big and ferocious. There’s a bumper crop of them in Three Mile and Accabonac Harbors this summer, according to Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett.

He, and others, mentioned the relatively high number of dolphins seen feeding in Gardiner’s Bay and Block Island Sound this summer. “I saw six at Cartwright Shoals on Thursday and some off Ditch Plains. They eat a lot of fish.”

Bennett reported “porgies big as trucks everywhere, even on the ocean beaches.” Striped bass are on the ocean at White Sands on Napeague and Georgica in East Hampton. Daybreak is best. Bennett said the crabbing in Georgica Pond had been good, but the town trustees who oversee the pond advised fishermen last Thursday not to fish or crab there because of elevated levels of blue-green algae and potential health risks.

Shark fishing definitely requires that rod tips be kept pointing skyward. The 22nd annual mako and thresher shark tournament will be held from the Star Island Yacht Club on Friday and Saturday, with a captains’ meeting at the Yacht Club this evening.