SI Vault
Michael Baughman
August 06, 1984
My introduction to bonito—a medium-sized fish of the mackerel family—came at a Coney Island pier about 25 years ago. Unable to decide on a major, I had dropped out of college—on this occasion, the University of Colorado in Boulder—for the second time in three years. I called my parents to tell them what I'd done, but I was determined to make it on my own, at least for a few months, so I didn't ask them for a ticket home to San Francisco or for money. Instead, I hitchhiked from Colorado to New York City and arrived three days later with a small duffel bag full of clothes and barely enough cash to cover a week's rent for a tiny room in a dingy hotel just off Manhattan's Columbus Circle. The next morning I applied for work at Macy's and was hired for what must have been one of the most tedious jobs in town.
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August 06, 1984

Given A Choice, Angling For Bonito Beats Fishing For Footwear Any Day

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I stood in my spot for at least three hours, and though I heard some conversation during that time, little of it concerned fishing. It occurred to me that, given the lack of action, we all might just as well have been standing in Central Park with our lines in a fountain.

But then I hooked the bonito. It was a scene worthy of Laurel and Hardy or the Three Stooges. I was reeling my shrimp up off the bottom, ready to catch a subway back to Columbus Circle and my nightly plate of spaghetti. Just as the bait neared the surface, something silver streaked across the water and hit the shrimp hard. I had no idea what it was, but with an instinct born of years of fishing, I immediately judged its weight to be 10 pounds or more.

"Bonito!" someone near me screamed.

What ensued was one of the most monumental messes in the history of angling. It wasn't really my fault—at least not all my fault. I had a little rod without any backbone, a reel with virtually no drag, and heavy line, probably 20-pound test, possibly even stronger.

That rod was nearly yanked out of my hands at the strike, and as the bonito ran out line the reel made a noise something like a sewing machine with a handful of sand in the motor. Within seconds a crowd had gathered around me, as all the fishermen in the area squeezed in and peered over the railing to get a look.

Meanwhile, the bonito went crazy. Before I had even begun to collect my wits, the line running off the reel had back-lashed into a gigantic snarl of monofilament, and the line in the water had tangled with those of at least 20 other fishermen on both sides of me.

Understandably, that brought on a chorus of suggestions, complaints, accusations and curses from the crowd that had been so docile for hours:

"What the hell is this?"

"Hey, dammit!"

"Who hooked the goddam fish?"

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