But he did. "Miles and miles of rips off this island," he shouted suddenly over the engine roar, "and only about one in 10 of them holds the bass. Don't know why. They all look the same, a lot of them have the right depth, between eight feet and 12 feet, but they never have a fish on 'em. Maybe it's the way the sand eels bunch. Maybe they can't hear the motor so good in some places."
We hung on in a sea that was still wild, heading toward yet another confused area of white water. "Don't cast yet," Francis called as we came in close. We patrolled it slowly, bunched in the shelter of the wheelhouse as the McKenzie rolled and bucked eccentrically. "Can you see them?" Francis shouted.
In a moment we saw them. The rip was not a regular pattern of breaking waves. Close up, it had almost as much variation in it as a salmon river: an area of boiling water that heaved and eddied, but where there was no break, perhaps because the tide had scoured a deeper hole there. It was like a salmon pool between shallow, stony runs. Only this was a striper pool and the fish were as thick in it as salmon in the Junction Pool at Kelso on the Scottish Tweed at the height of the spring run. They were there like chunks of brown driftwood, more than we could count, breaking the surface sometimes, head-and-tailing like salmon.
Brennan was very moved. "Janey Mac!" he roared, lapsing into Dublinese. "Didja ever see the like of them fellas!" Francis got the anchor down and killed the motor. Fleetingly I hoped it would hold in the sea that was running, but there was no time to worry long about that. Brennan's plug flew out, he took half a turn of the reel and he was into a fish. Seconds later so was I and so was Francis. We stumbled to keep balance as we fought the fish, ducking under arms, passing rods around bodies, in a kind of wild, intoxicated square dance. "Keep your rod tips low!" Francis took time to scream. His own was high in the air. Then, somehow, he gaffed his fish and swung it aboard. The maniacal scene in the cockpit was resolved somewhat, with just two stripers left to land. They fought hard and doggedly, but we were down-tide from them and we had all the advantage. It was still 10 minutes, though, before Brennan had his at the side of the boat.
Once it was aboard, he knelt beside it. "Meet Nemesis," I said as I still struggled with my own, but Brennan was rapt. "Striper, eh?" he was murmuring. "So that's a striper...." Soon, I was looking at mine, also. So similar to our own bass, the same outline, the same look of brutal power and greed. But so much bigger. Twenty, 25 pounds, Francis guessed, average for him, one supposed, but to us magnificent. "Wait, now, till I get a picture," said Brennan.
Francis was shocked. "Pictures on the way home," he yelled. "Get out at those fish again!" Dutifully we obliged. Coming out, we had been heavily wrapped in sweaters, parkas and slickers. Now, as the fish kept coming and we fought them, we peeled off our outer skins one by one, ignoring the spray. For two hours, barely a cast went to waste. At no time were all three rods unemployed. The two fish boxes we had brought filled fast; soon stripers were being stacked in a hastily contrived corral of fuel tanks and buckets. The average size of the fish was 20 pounds; the best, caught by Brennan, weighed 37 pounds, we found later. Total catch, more than 400 pounds.
And then, as suddenly as it began, the action stopped. "Tide has eased," Francis said. "Fish moved off." We hauled anchor and turned for home.
That evening we celebrated by looking at the Muppets on TV. So far as we were concerned, we could have been in Paris on Bastille night instead of Nantucket and it would have made no difference. We weren't going out. The hard-fighting fish, the beating we'd taken at sea had put us into that cozy, unquestioning lotus-eater's mood in which you sit, with the ice slowly melting in your drink, and watch midevening TV, about your intellectual limit. There was also the warm feeling that the 1977 Annual Outing was already a success. Certainly we had caught more and bigger fish than on any previous one. If we had any doubts at all, they were overlaid very effectively that evening. We retired early; another predawn call lay ahead.
The wind had shifted; that was the first discovery we made next morning. It had gone around to the south, and the significance of that, as we found when we went to sea, was that instead of being able to anchor downtide of that fertile rip we would have to look for holding ground uptide—otherwise, with the wind hard against us, we would have to move so close to put the fish within casting range that we would probably spook them. The stripers proved to be still there in strength. They hit plugs with as much avidity as they had done the previous day. The difference now was that we had to bring them in against the tide.
Landing every striper was a war of attrition as the fish hung in the strong current and the line sang dangerously. Well, fishing can be like that at times. But this was the Annual Outing. Brennan and I had not fished together for 20 years without learning that there are times when, if you feel like it, you pause for a while. So, after an hour, we paused.