“Manic Depressive” wasn’t in anyone’s vocabulary back then, I think. I was a troubled kid with no relief at hand. Before starting school, I had had an almost perfect childhood. A mystery. There was no obvious reason for my discomfort or behavior. My mother sought out help for me as best she could. What helped the most came about, ironically, through my father- fishing in the Delaware Bay.
He bought a 24 foot charter boat, Miss Teddy, when I was about ten, right after WW II. It was docked at the Mispillion Lighthouse cater-corner SW across the Delaware Bay from Cape May, New Jersey. He had a grocery store and we were limited at first to going out on Sundays, but later as the demands for fishing charters grew he did shares with other men acting as captain. Since I was in school my schedule was a little more flexible and I was usually able to be aboard Saturdays and holidays as well, and of course the summers when I wasn’t helping him in the store. Looking back it seems I was out there baiting hooks and taking fish off the lines and of course catching fish myself whenever I was free to do so. Memory says it was thousands of times but that could not be so. It ended sometime before I went off to college.
Also looking back, what we did then was wasteful, catching fish literally in the hundreds: trout, flounder, hardhead, porgy, puffers or blowfish, bluefish, skates, rays, sharks and an occasional Rockfish. I don’t remember anyone actually throwing back anything, but a trash fish such as an Oyster Cracker. We always caught too many to keep and when I tried to give them away many were refused unless they were cleaned. I remember poking holes beside corn and tomato plants in my mother’s garden and “planting” trout headfirst as fertilizer.
About the time we got our boat, many of the local farmers and townsfolk got them too, of one sort or another. The war recently over, the fishing flotilla on the Coral Beds looked like a D-Day armada with Navy surplus craft on sale to the public for nickels and dimes. It wasn’t uncommon to be anchored next to a PT boat (a few were actually built at a Milford shipyard), or an LST landing craft or other retired war machines. The owners soon learned they couldn’t afford the gas, even at 25 cents per gallon, or repairs so the craft gradually became abandoned on beaches and salt marshes.
Years later the Bay was almost killed by chemicals from upstream- DuPont was generally blamed- and the trawlers from Lewes, Delaware plowing up the bottom. As I said we fishermen, in our ever increasing numbers, were also part of the reason for the Bay becoming unbountiful. I haven’t fished there in many, many years, but I understand that it seems to have rebounded a little due to preservation efforts and more realistic pollution laws and enforcement, but nothing will bring back the bad ‘ol, good ‘ol days when fishing mean catching fish and not just going out on the water with bait and tackle. We had a fisherman’s paradise. We lost it.
More to come. This is just background. The real subject is the mystery of fishing, and of water.
®Copyright 2014 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.