"As much as
you want to," I said. I wasn't going to tell him that too much bait was
fatal when you're bottom-fishing. He put on a clump about the size of an order
of Howard Johnson's fried clams and dropped his sinker over the side. He let
out about 20 feet of line and stopped. I smiled to myself. We were in 60 feet
of water and he wasn't going to do much, hanging there a third of the way
Then I got a
bite, a good one, set the hook and started him up hand over hand keeping the
line taut as hell. He was heavy and he didn't come fast and I knew he was big.
I was going to get the biggest and the first at the same time. Then I could see
a brown thing down there in the water and I had him up to the boat. It was a
medium-sized flounder and I had foul-hooked him in the tail. That was why he
came up heavy. I tried to be careful, but as I lifted him the hook slid out of
his tail and he flopped back into the water. I thought about going in after
him, but then he gave a twitch and was gone. "Jesus," I said.
"He was no
fisherman, either," Bert said. "It was his friend who was the
I didn't pay any
attention to Bert. I checked my bait and started to let my line out again, and
before it got to the bottom I heard Ralph say, "There's something pulling
on my line," and I thought to myself, not him, please, anybody but him; Mel
or Don or Bert but not some guy who thought salt water was for gargling. But he
had one on all right and he didn't even bother to pull the line in. He just let
the fish swim around down there and leaned over the side to look through 20
feet of water. Finally he did start to retrieve. There was a thrashing and
banging on the side of the boat and Ralph said, "My God, it's a
It wasn't really.
It was a three-foot dogfish and we all watched Ralph heave it in over the side.
It was a shame how little he knew about fishing. When he was bringing in the
line he kept bunching it up in his hand and throwing piles of it on the bottom
of the boat. It was a mess before he even got the fish in, and then he dropped
the dogfish on top of the line and it went crazy, jumping and twisting around
and around. When it finally got quiet, it looked like the fish had been caught
by a sewing machine. I looked to see where the hook was and sure enough the
dogfish had swallowed it right up to the swivel. With his line the way it was
and that hook in the dogfish's stomach, good old Ralph was through for the day.
He'd gotten the first and maybe the biggest, but I was sure going to get the
And I did. I
really went at it then, and I got two flounders, three cunners and a small cod
in the next half hour. Nobody else was even close. Mel had a couple of fish,
Bert had one and Don said he hadn't even had a bite. I asked Bert how much time
was left and he said another half hour, so I opened a beer and shifted the line
to my left hand. Mel got a good-sized cod but it wasn't as big as Ralph's
dogfish and I got one more flounder, left-handed, and then the time was up and
the Derby was over. We all pulled our lines in and wrapped them up, and when
Don hoisted his device over the side one of his hooks held the smallest cunner
I had ever seen. It was also the tiredest fish I had ever seen. It just lay in
the bottom of the boat gasping from trying to pull that one-pound sinker
We started back
in and I wasn't feeling too bad. I'd won a third of the money and it was just
beginner's luck that I hadn't got another third. Whoever catches the most fish
is the best fisherman anyway, I thought.
We came into the
dock and everybody ran down and stood around while we unloaded. I had my fish
all neat on a stringer I had made out of a piece of line and I held them up for
everybody to see and my wife and kids to cheer. The provider home from the sea,
I thought, and I had a quiet smile on my face.
Everybody was out
of the boat except Ralph. He was still sitting there looking down at his
dogfish. Then he said, "The miracle of birth." I wondered what he was
talking about and we all gathered around and looked into the boat. The bottom
of the boat was covered with fish, one big one and a pile of little ones about
five inches long. It didn't take much to figure out what had happened.
I was going to
argue. It wasn't as if he had really caught all those fish. It had just
happened and he didn't deserve it, but then I looked at Don and Bert and Mel
and they all had a hoist-with-his-own-petard look, and I gave it up.