With luck like this, I really gotta play Powerball.
Every time we put our lines in the churning waters off Fisher Island on the eastern end of Long Island Sound, a short ride out of Gray’s Boatyard in Westerly, we hit. And I mean every single time, snagging stripers and the occasional blue fish, all under the watchful eye of Watch Hill Charters‘ Capt. Ben DeMario.
“Yeah, that’s pretty unusual,” DeMario laughs about our party of three, who’d gotten up at 4 a.m. to meet him an hour later as the horizon bled red with the promise of a July scorcher.
DeMario is a young man, a Westerly native “born and raised and who’ll probably die here,” he says, as easy with a smile as he is with a hand to haul in our catch – at least seven or eight each fish for our party of three – setting most of them free. There is a legal limit, but mostly he’s keen on seeing the fish stock continue to grow, leaving more for everyone.
This is a guy who, in addition to raising a family with his wife, runs the charter, mows lawns on the side, and teaches physical education and health at S.B. Butler Elementary School in Mystic. And he’s a hunter, bagging deer for meat throughout the winter. If you were alone in the wilderness trying to survive, DeMario is the guy you’d want to keep you alive.
We chug out of the boatyard and amble up stream a bit so he can use cast nets to catch bait, the super-squirmy bunker fish, a.k.a. menhaden or pogy, that will lure in the stripers and blues. Then it’s off to the aptly named Fishers Island, where calm waters meet with deeper ocean currents, creating massive ripples near a noisy, bobbing buoy.
“Hey, Ben, this is my first time,” I confess as he readies our St. Croix rods with Avet spinning reels aboard his 23-foot Pathfinder ,fully loaded with things like fish sonar that he clearly doesn’t need because the guy reads the waters like you read the morning paper.
He casts me a snarky smile, and looks at the seasoned fisherman friend of ours who chartered the trip, and growls, “Fred, why’d you bring me one of these?”
Then he whips the line laden with bait into the water, telling me how to use the rod and reel, keeping my thumb on the spool and letting the fish run on the hook. And not for nothin’, but mere minutes later, I hit.
“Ok nice and easy, nice and easy,” DeMario coaches, telling me how to dip the rod down, bring it up to reel it in, then down again, over and over, the striper flapping madly in and out of the water. “Not too hard, you don’t wanna rip his face off!”
He pulls the line in, boards the writhing beast, bleeds it out, and dumps it into the hold.
“Nice job,” he smiles.
“Beginner’s luck,” I smile back, trying to ignore my pounding pulse.
And on and on it goes, Fred, Cam and me bagging fish left and right, mostly stripers and the occasional blue. We hit our legal allotment – which will keep us all in fish for months to come – and head back in as most people are just starting their day. On the dock, DeMario seamlessly filets the catch, bagging it and sending us away happy.
“Well, that was somethin’,” I say, shaking his calloused hand.
“Wasn’t it?” he laughs.
I play Powerball the next day. Don’t even come close. Better stick with fishing. But only with Capt. Ben. He’s as close to a sure thing as I’ll ever find.
To check out a video of Capt. Ben filleting a fish, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2y0Dt_HGWE&feature=youtu.be