"I've seen 'em come out of here 12, 13 pounds."
The fish, landed and displayed, pushed the boys back into action. I tried squid again, then real worms, then the minnow plug. Soon I heard shouts that indicated another weakie was on, but after they died down it was quiet for a long time. Around 10 o'clock the crowd began to thin. The V-8 engines spewed out clouds of exhaust, adding an overlay of petroleum distillates to the salty atmosphere. I stayed on until midnight. My arms ached from the casting, and my back was sore from standing. I hadn't gotten a bite, unless you counted the nibbling of crab pincers. But I was very happy and relaxed, baptized in a way, and looking forward to the evening when it would be my fish that started a murmuring among the boys. I dumped the leftover bait on a rock, where the gulls would make short work of it. Just as I was leaving an egret passed overhead, white wings flapping against the moon.
I returned to Long Beach the next night and the night after that, but I met with no success. I checked back in with O'Neill to be sure I was using my new tackle properly. He examined the rod again for bruises. "Stick's fine," he said. "Maybe you're getting over there too early."
"Maybe you're not staying late enough."
O'Neill scratched his ear. "Maybe the fish don't like you," he said.
I decided to experiment. It seemed logical to me that if weakfish weren't thick around Long Beach, they might be thick somewhere else, cruising the shoreline in search of choice spawning territory. They prefer shallow, sandy areas, so I tried other beaches near my house. I caught some wonderful stuff—clamshells, a bikini top, part of a plastic pail, an empty champagne bottle and a 45-rpm recording of Perry Como singing Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes. I gave the record to O'Neill as a souvenir of my despair.
"You was wasting your time on those beaches," he said sagely. "Nobody the hell's ever caught a weakie off that beach."