A kayak drifts in the quiet waters
Of a grass-lined, winding creek –
In the spring, at the west end of Third Street
Before the outgoing tide slackens
And the sun reaches sky back behind you
You may see one or few aging fishermen
Scurry like sand crabs
Round the rocks
And under the docks
At water’s edge along the slim beach.
Some will zigzag north toward Fifth
And others south toward the marshland
Each according to starting point or inclination
And each directed by a guarded mental map
Drawn from distinct experiences
Including such notations as
When to pause
And where to cast
And how many times
Into the shallow waters before dashing on.
They hunt, of course, the flounder that
Lie in wait for prey of their own.
Nearest to God is he
Casting in Sunday’s waters –
Sunrise is an hour away, though the sun won’t be seen by anyone in or around St. Augustine Harbor this morning: the incoming fog will see to that. The crews of the moored boats will slumber below decks longer than usual while the watery air muffles the usual a.m. sounds.
The Nasty Habit’s engine revs, then idles, then coughs and revs again, her captain endeavoring to keep her from drifting back into the inlet as he waits for the Bridge of Lion’s master to raise the bridge’s central section. The boat’s belly is fat with shrimp, both more so and sooner than most days, so she is heading home early, sated. The crew, to a man, is sharp awake and diligent in their duties, though each steals a look toward the buildings along the quay to the far side of the bridge, and each constructs his own day’s promise.
Searching for redfish
In clear, shallow back waters –
Outside time being
So listen to this. I’m fishing on the beach yesterday, early morning in front of that house with the collapsed stairs – you know the one I mean, right? – and I’m trying to cast out past the sand bar instead of aiming for the slough because the water’s been warming – close to 70, I read – and I’m trying to reach cooler water. So anyway, I wade in up to the bottom of my trunks and cast – I’m using shrimp – and I walk the line back to the sand spike and slide the rod in. Then I do the same thing with the other rod – I only took two rods yesterday. So I’m waiting – maybe 20 minutes, long time, almost ready to quit – and I get a hard hit. I give it a few seconds for the hook to set and then lift up the rod and start reeling. From the fight, I’m thinking it’s a blue fish – you getting a lot of them lately? Some guys actually eat them. – but it’s not. It’s a pompano. A pompano! They’re supposed to be gone by now, right? Up to the Carolinas, right? Anyway, so I drag him onto the beach, and get the hook out, and hurry back to my mat and backpack cooler where I keep my tape measure.
Well, there’s an egret standing by the mat, and he doesn’t move even when I get right next to him. I’m going fast in case I need to run back to the surf to release the fish, otherwise I’d stop to take this all in. Anyway, I get twelve inches and a little more. I’m good, I figure, but I reach into a backpack pocket for the size limit chart anyway because it’s been over a year since I hooked a pompano, and it says fourteen inches. That can’t be, I think, so I check again. Pal, I’m keeping my finger on the page so I’m sure I have the right minimum lined up with the right fish: fourteen inches. This is crazy, I’m thinking! This is a good-size fish, maybe two pounds. So, now I’m thinking maybe I’ll keep it anyway. I look up and down the beach: no one. I’m actually reaching for the cooler zipper when the egret catches my eye. He’s looking right at me, like right into me with those eerie yellow markings around the eyes, and it comes over me that I’ve got to release the fish. So, I run back down to the water and I do it. Actually, I feel better for it, good even.
That’s when the second rod bends down and starts jerking. So I race over and grab it and reel. It’s a pompano! No kidding! And it’s got to be the same size as the first one, twelve, thirteen inches. Don’t ask me why. but I look toward the mat, and there’s the egret, halfway between me and the mat and he’s looking right at me with that yellow around his eyes. It’s like there’s an invisible beam cutting into me. And he’s still, totally still, like a lawn ornament. So, I bend down into the frothy water and let the fish go.
But wait, I’m not done. So I fish some more without a hard hit until, with the last of my bait, I catch a third pompano, a really big one; fourteen inches at least, I figure. And what’s the first thing I do? I look for the egret! Crazy, right? But he’s not there! I look up and down the beach. He’s gone! So I go to the mat and stick the fish in the backpack ice. And, here’s the reason I’m telling you this: I’m collecting my things to go home, right? And, when I pick up the size limit chart to pack it away – don’t ask me why I do this – I look up pompano again – I can tell from your face you already get it – and it says eleven inches. Eleven! You can check it yourself!
And that’s the story. Crazy, right?
Beer? Oh, let me show you this welk shell I found in the sand yesterday. It’s perfect! It’s over here in the kitchen. Here, look!
*Fiske med Loki
I haven’t had a bite for maybe ten minutes now, and I am visited by an annoying grass-is-greener feeling as I gaze across the marsh at that house there on Robinson’s Creek. You can generally find some black drum under that dock behind the sailboat, and there is a steep drop-off in front of that boat where you might just luck upon a slot red.
The house looks minutes away from where I sit, but, in fact, I cannot set a direct course there because the marsh between us is too shallow, even for my pram’s light draft. I’d have to row back out to the Tolomato, then up north to Robinson’s mouth before heading back into that creek’s interior, and all this against an outgoing tide. It would take maybe forty-five minutes, believe it or not, and I’d drop anchor at the dock at about slack tide, at which point I might as well head back home across the river because the fishing would be over for the day. No, I’d best seek my peace and good fortune right here, right now.