A School of Pogies

The tide was dead low when we dropped off the mooring on Saturday afternoon, only a couple of feet of lens-clear water between us and the sand and weeds below.  A light southerly breeze riffled the water under gray skies that produced intermittent misty rainshowers.  I suggested to Matthew that he take the dinghy out to Halftide Rock, where the water stands about seven or eight feet even at low tide, and tie up to the flag pole stuck in the rock there so he could fish.  I sailed out in Finn toward the near buoy, letting the water chuckle past the hull as I gazed out across the gray-green water to Cleveland Ledge light draped in a shower. I dangled my hand in the water, letting it run silky and chilly through my fingers, and breathed in the cool marine air. The boat slipped along, heeling lightly, and for a few moments I was transported, a solo sailor with nothing in his head but the sounds and sights and smells of the watery world encircling him.  And a particular smell there was: the sweet sardine tang of a school of fish surfacing nearby.

Sure enough, when I came about, I passed a patch of fish breaking the surface, and I sailed over to the rock where Mattie was casting. “I smell fish,” he said as he tossed me the painter. “So do I,” I said. “They’re over there.”  We sailed back out to the slick, and cut back and forth through the school, coming about and jibing as necessary in the light breeze and occasional drizzle. Mattie caught two fish that turned out to be pogies, fish I used to snag for bait back in my Cape days. I didn’t think much about them then, but the fish Mattie caught were oblong and feisty with silvery sides decorated with gold and rose spots. Their backs were golden.  They were so delicately colored that at first I didn’t know what kind of fish they were. He unhooked them, admired them, and plopped them back into the water.

I took Matthew fishing in the same dinghy when he was a small lad. We would bumble around with the outboard, catching scup and seabass and small bluefish and once a schoolie striped bass. The years have rolled by with the inexorable rhythm of a train of waves.  Seeing him standing up in the same old dinghy (a feat in itself considering how tender a craft it is), now a strapping young man capable of casting a lure for distance and accuracy, and sensing his complete absorption in the excitement of fishing in a surface-feeding school, I was touched with pride and bittersweet gladness.  But it was also a kind of Seaborn moment: While I held the tiller and looked at my son casting ably from the dinghy, I could not penetrate his thoughts. Was he as absorbed in the fishing as I thought he was, or was he irritated with me for some reason I could not fathom?

Humor me: He was thrilled with the fishing and the novelty of being towed by a catboat under sail through a school of fish, and that was enough.

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