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boats

I

have always relied on the best kind of boat, OPBs. They’re no-maintenance boats that are invariably right for the situation at hand no matter where you go, and are economical to operate because the only costs are a tankful of gas, water, and lunch. With OPBs, you don’t have to worry about moorings or winter storage or losing a lower unit on a rock that somehow appeared in the middle of the bay on a spring tide. At this point it’s likely you have figured out that OPBs stand for Other Peoples’ Boats.

As a result, I’m not much of a boat person. I’ve never owned a watercraft bigger than a kayak, even though I would rather fish in salt water or hunt ducks more than

almost anything in the world. I can tell a Hell’s Bay from a Maverick, but as far as the finer points go I glaze over when people talk about their prized possession. As long as it gets us where we’re going safely and there isn’t much sticking up to catch on a fly line I’m happy. I can understand why guides and other people take such pride in their boats; it’s a huge investment and they’re sexy and fun to drive. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time in boats of all shapes and sizes, from chasing tuna with big inboard twin diesels to the old wooden boat poled from a sitting position by a huge Bahamian guide so big he couldn’t stand up for fear of capsizing. I’ve learned to respect boats, always wiping my feet and removing my shoes before getting on board, instantly cleaning up blood or slime that falls on the deck, and when I bring in a piece of weed I make sure it goes overboard instead of landing on the deck. But I don’t remember many details about all the boats I’ve been in because, frankly, they’ve performed wonderfully and I’ve had no reason to remember them. You can tell a lot about a fishing boat just by meeting its captain. When you meet an captain on the dock with a clean, pressed fishing shirt and Topsiders with the latest headset hooked around his ear you can bet he’ll lead you over to a 23-foot Jones Brothers with a 250 Yamaha four-stroke that gleams so white you’ll have to look at glare on the water to give your eyes some relief. He’ll place a towel on the deck for you to step onto when you first get into the boat, and he’ll be very particular about where you sit when he’s running so that the boat is perfectly trimmed. He will have plenty of drinks on ice, he will have checked on your dietary preferences the night before. My friend Captain Jon Brett of Tampa is a different kind of captain and I knew what his boat would look like the first time I meant him when he picked me up an hour before dawn in front of my brother-in-law’s house. He had a bag of doughnuts and two cups of coffee ready, indie rock playing in his old Jeep, dressed in a t-shirt

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“You get one shot at these fish. You better have a fly that stays together. Use mine,” he said.

will tell you they agree. But what they don’t talk about is how hard it is, both mentally and physically. I

The best saltwater client and guide relationships don’t click after a single trip; they evolve over

would watch Tony roll out of his car at the end of the day, barely able to walk because of the pounding

many years. Most guides I know consider their regular clients to be friends and look forward to fishing

his back took standing at the helm, coming across the nasty rollers between Chatham and Monomoy

with them more than they do sitting down with relatives for Thanksgiving dinner. And clients feel the

while his clients sat on cushioned seats.

same way. They exchange Christmas cards, follow each other’s kids’ sporting events and birthdays, and their wives and girlfriends become as close as sisters.

And if you think the life of a guide is the penultimate freedom, you might be shocked to learn that a guide’s life, during the season, is one of the most regimented lifestyles you’ll find. Tony would

But no matter how close you become, you never get to see behind the curtain in a guide’s

get back from a guide trip faced with a dozen e-mail messages and phone calls from clients. Some might

life until you see what goes on over a week of fishing at the height of the season, 24 hours a day. My

want information on an upcoming trip, one or two might cancel, and someone might call looking for a

friend Tony Biski is a charter boat captain on Cape Cod, but when I first met him he was painting

trip during a week when Tony was fully booked. Next would be a call to one of the other charter boat

houses on the Cape, trying to stay as far as possible from his early life in New York, where if he had

captains he trusted to see if they could take the client instead. Other calls would have to be made to

continued doing odd jobs for cousin Vinny and uncle Sammy he might have risked a time as a guest

the few trusted charter boat captains in his area to see what conditions they found and on what tide

of the government. He has always loved fishing and for years spent many chemically assisted nights

the fish were feeding. None of these calls or e-mails could wait until the following day or be delegated

on the outer beach, fishing commercially for striped bass with live eels. But he also loved daytime fly

to an assistant. After a quick dinner, he’d fall into bed exhausted in order to be rested enough to do it

fishing, and with a couple other friends discovered big stripers on the shallow, clear, white sand flats off

again the next day, beginning long before dawn.

Monomoy Island. When a mutual friend introduced us and after we spent an amazing and magical day

In the morning, he’d flip on the Weather Channel, tune into the NOAA marine forecast on

in the fog off Monomoy surrounded by acres of stripers, I told him he should try guiding because he was

his scanner, pull up the wind forecast on one website and the satellite view on another. Somehow

warm, funny, and a great storyteller, plus his large and rugged frame instilled a sense of confidence—all

he’d sort through the dissonance and come up with a game plan for the day, factoring in his results

great qualities for a charter boat captain.

from yesterday and the reports from other captains. If the weather was snotty or reports of fish had

He got his captain’s license, cleaned up his lifestyle, and became one of the most popular and

been sparse, he’d agonize all through his two cappuccinos, on the drive to the harbor, and while

respected guides on the Cape. We became very close and when I was single I was able to spend weeks

getting his boat ready for the day. But by the time the clients pulled up to the dock, he’d be all smiles

at a time at his house: fishing on days when he didn’t have clients, tagging along on days when he did,

and relaxed, ready to tell stories and crack jokes to make up for the lack of fish, so that even clients

or, if the weather was really nasty, taking his clients on wade trips because Tony doesn’t like to walk

whose expectations for fishing weren’t met left the dock thinking they’d just spent the day with the

very far. Those of us who aren’t guides think that guiding is the best job in the world and most guides

greatest guy on the water.

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FIsh

A

fter you’ve fly fished in salt water for a while you often develop an obsession with a fish. You have recurring dreams about a particular flat or beach where you saw them offshore, out of range but close enough to tantalize. You begin to decorate your den or office with photographs, paintings, and mementos of this fish. The fly that hooked your first permit is encased in a crystal globe. You spent far too much money on a framed print of a sailfish. You have a tarpon coffee mug and matching coasters. Then you begin to take risks—marital, financial, and mildly life threatening trips in snotty weather—to get

another crack at this species. With a great number of serious fly fishers it’s permit. Permit are really deep water members of the jack family that occasionally make strafing raids in shallow water to pick off crabs, shrimp, and urchins. They grow up to 50 pounds (but a 20-pounder on a fly rod is a really nice one), they make blistering runs when hooked, but the toughest part is getting a hook into one. Permit are notorious for rushing a fly, wheeling around it like a dervish, driving the angler into apoplexy, then rushing off without eating the fly. No one knows why—permit can’t even see that well. But people have fished for years just to catch one, and a couple permit and a few thousand dollars in lodging and guide fees for a week is considered a very successful trip. For others it is tarpon. This one is not as hard to understand because they will take a tiny fly and live in shallow water yet they grow up to 200 pounds. They make repeated leaps so high and so hot that it’s impossible to describe in print—Google tarpon jumps, watch some videos, and then come back. They make long runs that will test the drag of any fly reel to its burning point, they break rods, and they wear out anglers in the tropical heat. Sometimes they jump into the boat and become a dangerous animal in such a confined space. It’s also not hard to understand why some anglers devote their lives to catching marlin on a fly rod. In 1967, Lee Wulff, under pressure while camera crews circled his 15-foot wooden boat off the coast of Ecuador, hooked and landed a 148-pound world record striped marlin with a $12 fiberglass rod and a $30 single-action fly reel with just a click drag. If that wasn’t enough, the fish was not trolled to or chummed up, but stalked while it was cruising just under the surface. Wulff was 62 years old and the air temperature was over 90 degrees.

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Salt: Coastal and Flats Fishing  

The new book from Rizzoli New York. Learn more: http://www.rizzoliusa.com/book.php?isbn=9780789327062

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