Gone Fishin'


Someone knew somebody with a boat, and fishing gear wasn’t a problem: In every home on the Vineyard, there’s a closet by the stairs that smells of wet dog and holds tackle, boots, and old copies of The New Yorker. We laid out what we needed and went to bed early.

We were in the boat by 5:30 the next morning, all cold and wet, wondering what the hell we were doing. Mark was the de facto leader – we were staying at his folks’ place in Menemsha – though he kept deferring to his brother, David, and David’s girlfriend, Jones. David and Jones were living on the Vineyard full time. It was 1975. Mark and I were in college, and when a weekend on the Vineyard looked possible, Mark cheerfully scrawled GONE FISHIN’ on the door to his room in bright yellow chalk.

David guided us out, away from the shore. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the chill was starting to ease, and we could see each other’s shadows. Jones was in the prow, baseball cap pulled way down, catcher’s mitt on her left hand. David had brought a thermos of coffee and a large bottle of whiskey that he’d wedged below a seat. I wasn’t used to drinking either. Before long, I was intimately familiar with both.

“Just over there,” David pointed. There was nothing to look at, and we were far from shore. We looked at a large stretch of nothing and nodded. “There, that’s where the blue were biting last week. If you put out your hand, they swim over, you can pet them.”

My knowledge of bluefish was confined to pilgrimages to Poole’s Fish Market for smoked blue. I’d sit on the pier eating and waving seagulls away, thinking about time, humming Otis Redding songs. The idea had never occurred to me that if you went out in a boat you could catch bluefish. I looked at David with a new respect.

We dropped anchor. The water looked still, but the boat was rocking back and forth, and I looked over at Jones. She was no longer the color of Jones, and I couldn’t see her eyes beneath the baseball cap. Mark and David and I cast our lines into the water and waited. The sun was everywhere, and my feet were cold, but the back of my neck was warm. Jones had taken off one of her wading boots and was silently puking into it. No one paid her any mind.

We waited. Mark caught a blue. Then another. David caught a striped bass, looked at it unhappily and threw it back. Then he caught a couple of blues and cheered up. I caught a striped bass, but Mark allowed that it might just be a blue that had had a bad childhood, and we kept it. Jones was leaning over the side, washing out her boot, and gave David a look. “In a bit,” he growled, but he was already putting his gear away, and soon we were back at the house.

Mark laid out newspapers and started cleaning the fish. There were seven of them, and they shone like easy money. Jones had brushed her teeth and looked like Jones again, and she brought us beer.

“Your Aunt Shane had a recipe for curried bluefish,” she told David, and she rummaged through some of the drawers in the kitchen. There it was, written in pencil, all in caps:


“Was Tiny her dog?” I asked.

“Yes,” said David. “Tiny was also the name of her rabbit. And the name of her parrot.”

“She was not a very sentimental woman,” said Jones.

We followed her instructions and had the best bluefish curry we’d ever eaten. The day, the night, the moon, the whiskey – that all helped. But still, it was the best bluefish curry we’d ever had. Jones kissed everyone and forgave us all for taking her fishing, then she fell asleep in the chair, catcher’s mitt in her lap.

Some years ago Jones and David moved to Oregon, and Mark went to San Francisco. I sent him an e-mail once and asked about that weekend long ago. About the boat and those fish and Jones throwing up in her boot. I didn’t get an answer right away, but sometime later I got a reply:

Come on. You ought to know. The Vineyard is like The War. Those who talk about it weren’t there. Those who were there don’t talk about it.