I am not a fisherman, but I have experienced what I imagine to be the perfect moment in fishing. Imagine casting your line, and having a strike each and every time. And I don’t mean a nibble or a bite. I mean a strike—a brace-your-feet, bend-your-back strike, 14, 15, 16 pounds of bluefish hitting your lure at full speed, firing into the air, and twisting and turning at the end of your line.
And then it’s back in the water, fighting me and me fighting it. I am up to my thighs in the ocean. It’s high tide on Buzzard’s Bay, a perfect June evening, the waves are big, and the water is abnormally warm. As I fight the bluefish back to shore, the waves are crashing around me. One moment a wave is slamming me at the waist and the next the wave is retreating, water and sand and rocks sucking at my ankles, my heels digging deeper in the sand.
I really don’t know enough about fishing to compare a bluefish to anything else, but I know it to be a sporting fish. I also know my oldest brother is an experienced fisherman, and he regards bluefish warily. As I pull fish after fish back onto shore, he is ready with a gaffe, a short club with a heavy metal end. He gaffes each blue at least once before extracting the lure from its mouth, and then he tosses it onto the cooler full of ice. In minutes, the cooler is full. “Keep casting,” he says. “We’ll throw the rest back in.”
What he doesn’t say is, keep casting, because it will never be this good again. He doesn’t say it, but his smile does. A smile from my oldest brother is a rare thing. This is a serious man. A big-time litigator for a 900-lawyer firm, he has been working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week since he was in diapers. His avocations are few—golf and fishing—and he normally golfs and fishes with the same gritty joylessness with which he prepares for his next trial.
But this one evening in June is a rare moment. He has invited me along to fish. I am using his rods, his reel, his tackle and bait. And now, in this moment of fishing nirvana, he is doing all the scut work, leaving me in the warm water to my waist, casting like I have never cast before, watching bluefish after bluefish strike my line, hurtle through the air, and flash and wriggle at the peak of its jump to signal that the battle was on.
I was thrilled of course, but I was also keenly aware oh how unusual this was. I could count on one hand the things my brother and I had done one on one. We were far enough apart in age to almost represent different generations, and we were far enough apart in temperament to almost represent different species. He was Ivy League, Republican, and wingtips to my state school, liberal Democrat, and Clark Wallabies. But I was at a low—my marriage had fallen apart in the past few months—and he had reached out. “Come fishing,” he said in his usual, clipped way in a surprise call a few days before. “Just bring clothes. I’ve got all the gear.”
And have the gear he did. He was next to me now, a few yards down the shore. He was a masterful caster, perfect form again and again. But I am taller and more athletic. Most of my casts were erratic and off my mark, but the few I did well were spectacular—long, arcing casts that landed 40 yards and more from shore, the lure perching on the crest of a wave for a split second before a bluefish slashed thought it, jerking it and the line 10 feet in the air.
“Unfuckingbelievable!” I exclaimed again and again. In truth, my heart was bursting with emotion and the word was all wrong. But this was my big brother, and I had to play it cool. “Unfuckingbelievable” was, to my thinking, how I should thank him for this joyous moment.
And so what if it was the wrong word, I thought to myself, the water whirling around my legs. I was Ernest Hemingway on Cuba. I was a young man fighting the elements, willing fish after fish onto shore. For one moment, my legs in the warm water felt better than any baseball I had ever hit, any goal that I had scored in hockey, any race that I had ever run well. I cast again—a long perfect cast. I watched it arc high over the incoming waves. I dug my heels deeper in the sand, leaned back, and waited for the next fish to strike.