Up on the flying bridge, Mr. Cunningham hit the button, and the starter motors tried to turn, slowed for a second and then the big diesels caught, in their characteristically fretful way, and when they had started to run smoothly, he throttled them down to the steady bass, that idle that always sounds as if it could go on forever. He backed the Sarah into the channel, put her into forward gear and-pushed the throttles up a touch. The engines picked up as if they were perhaps a little interested in where we were going, like a couple of fat, old bird dogs lying on the rug watching somebody take a gun down from the rack.
We burbled along past the other boats and the town landing, and there on the left was the big, old fish house where Herbie Lovell moored his lobster boat, the Mayflower. It was gone. Herbie must already be out in the bay somewhere, pulling his traps and talking to the charter boats on the radio. Later in the morning, about the time most vacationers would be getting up, he would be back home for a shot of Imperial in a jelly glass with one ice cube, and ready to tell me how all the hippies in Falmouth were on welfare.
As we went along the main channel I thought about the striped bass I had taken out of that harbor and off the Yarmouth Port Flats and how many millions more must still be there, chasing sand eels through the shallow water. I knew that the world record for striped bass was something over 70 pounds taken on 50-pound-test line, and I wondered what kind of line you would use on a fish that "commonly weighed" seven times more than the biggest striper ever caught?
Mr. Cunningham pushed the throttles up. The Sarah's stern started down with the push of the engines and kept sinking until she had settled, as though she had just sunk into a comfortable chair. There was a big wave of water on either side of her bow, but no feeling of strain the way there is in some big boats when they try to move fast. But the Sarah rode comfortably. She went along at cruising speed as though she was out for a walk, so I sat back in an aluminum deck chair and in solitude watched the world go by me backward.
After a while, Paul came aft and went into the cabin. He came out carrying a big spool of line and sat down in another aluminum chair. "Is that the line you use?" I said. "This is it," he said. " Cape Cod Suprema 130-pound-test Dacron."
Around the Cape there are enough striped-bass fishermen to populate Bulgaria, and of those, there is maybe a village-worth who use 12-pound-test line all the time. I'm one of them. The majority of the population undoubtedly thinks there's something wrong with that village, but for us it's the sport that counts. We're not interested in hauling or hoisting, meat-fishing with 20-or 30-pound-test. I have this vision of myself: I'm Izaak Packard, The Compleat Angler. There is nothing wrong with me, because I'm after the world record for striped bass on 12-pound-test and nobody knows it. The record is 61 pounds 10 ounces, length four feet five inches, girth 30 inches and one of these days I'll get it.
"What's the record for bluefin on 12-pound?" I asked Paul.
"Thirty-three pounds, 15 ounces," he said. He was stripping line off the spool and piling it up between his feet.
That was half the size of the striped bass I was after and less than three times the test of the line. I've always held to the theory that with saltwater game fish, five or six times the test of the line is about the limit for the fish you could take. I was thinking about that as I watched Paul with the spool between his legs and his fingers moving along the line, repeatedly measuring off a length.
"What's the record for a game fish on that kind of line?" I said.