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Rated: 13+ · Book · Community · #1031057
My thoughts on everything from albacore tuna to zebras
#490830 added February 26, 2007 at 7:52pm
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Joe, theres water in the bottom of the boat,
“But that’s what men do to each other; they screw- each other to the wall!”
- Dr. Frasier Crane, (Cheers TV Show)

          In eastern PA, every spring, there begins an annual migration. From Philadelphia in the south, to Equinunk in the north, fishermen eagerly wait in anticipation of the first sign of the American Shad run in the Delaware River. There’s a Shad Hotline. There’s a shad festival. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of shad anglers poised to migrate to the river the moment the word is given.

          Why, you might ask?

          To catch shad is the short answer. But, at least in my case, it was a bit more complicated than that.

          The shad is a member of the herring family It’s one of those ana…ana, anhydrous ammonia fishes, which is to say it spawns in fresh water but lives it’s life in the ocean, just like salmon. In the historical context, it is said that an early shad run saved Washington and his troops at Valley Forge. Recent archeological information disputes that claim, but there is no doubt that our colonists utilized shad. The key word is “utilized”. I’m not so sure that they ate them. Accounts of colonists using pitchforks to heave them on the shore are too numerous to be urban legends. Personally I have seen schools of hundreds late in the spawning season in less than a foot of water so I believe they were a factor in early colonists survival.

          Remember I said that the shad is a member of the herring family? And how do you eat herring? You pickle it. Do you know why you pickle it? Because a herring has too many frickin bones to eat like a normal fish so you pickle it to dissolve the bones. I once read an article on filleting a shad. It required 56 different cuts to get a boneless filet! The most famous way of preparing shad is to nail it to a hickory board and slow roast it next to an open fire. After several hours it is recommended you throw the shad away and eat the board. So I don’t believe the colonists used shad for food unless they were desperate. I believe those pitchforked fish became fertilizer in the cornfields as per your local neighborhood Native American instructions. But I digress.

          Shad are not good to eat. They are, however, pound for pound, one of the best fighting fish you are likely to ever encounter in freshwater. And this was why we fished for them. The limit was 15 a day, but we didn’t care, we never kept any anyway.

          Shad fishing, because food procurement wasn’t part of the deal, was strictly for fun. I would like to recount one of those fun filled trips for you.

          It started early one May morning, just at dawn, with the launching of my boat somewhere north of Port Jervis NJ and south of Lackawaxan, PA There were three of us, close friends, and prone to playing a practical joke or two on each other. The first of the day occurred as we motored out to anchor in the channel.

          “Joe, there’s water in the bottom of the boat,” said Steve.

          “Don’t worry, it rained last night. Just a little rain water.” I replied while I studied the shoreline looking for the marker to help us position the boat and drop anchor.

          “Joe, there’s a hell of a lot of water in the boat,” said Steve as he lifted his feet up on the seat.

          That’s when I looked down and realized the stern of the boat was only inches from being underwater. I plunged my hand into the water to discover that the drain plug, the Achilles tendon of a boat, wasn’t in place. I KNOW I put that plug in. John, in the front of the boat, said nothing. Luckily, I had been schooled in the fine art of maritime safety by none other than Admiral Myron Fogbottom, who assured me that if I was ever in this situation, all I needed to do was gun the engine and get the boat on plane. The water would flow through the open drain hole back into the river. I gunned the engine and pointed the boat upstream. With the three of us, our gear and some fifty-five odd gallons of water, the boat was having a tough time getting on plane. I studied the approaching rapids with doubt and misgiving. In a normal day, and this wasn’t starting out to be a normal day, we would have to pick our way between the boulders and even then we might not make it through without running aground. One hundred yards to the rapids, seventy yards to the rapids, fifty yards to the rapids and now drain-plug pulling John was looking nervous. Twenty-five yards to the rapids and I throttled back, spun the boat downstream and gunned the motor once more. There were a number of confused fishermen standing on shore. The next rapids downstream was rapidly approaching with much the same scenario as had just developed upstream. We were, at least for the moment, at somewhat of an equilibrium. No water was leaving the boat, but none was coming in either. Finally at the last moment I cut the engine spun the boat toward shore and ran it full throttle up on to a sand bar. There we emptied the boat, drained the water and put the plug back in. It was time to resume fishing.

          We had long since perfected the art of shad fishing. It was nothing for us to catch fifty or sixty of these fish in a day. The sides of their mouths were paper-thin. If you hooked them there, odds were, no matter how long and carefully you played them, you weren’t going to boat them. In the roof of the mouth or the bottom was another story. There you stood a chance. Shad also were great at tangling lines so when one of us hooked a fish the other two would dutifully reel in our lines to prevent the inevitable tangled birds nest. In order for all of us to get as much fishing time in as possible it was customary to tighten the drag and put as much pressure on the shad as possible. If he was hooked well you’d get him to the boat quickly. If he wasn’t, he’d throw the hook and everyone could get back to fishing.

          There are canoe liveries on the Delaware River and long about noon or so it wasn’t unusual to see flotillas of these canoes floating by. Many of them carried scantily clad women folk and since we were red-blooded American males we weren’t above trying to impress them with our fishing prowess. You know, the old “look at me, I can provide food for the table” gimmick that Oog pulled so many years ago to get his cave woman. There we were, a bright sunny bikini filled day and Steve, he’s in the middle seat, hooks a shad. He stands up putting on his best Al Linder impersonation and battles the mighty shad. The fish even cooperates by leaping out of the water in close proximity to the canoes. There are ooh’s. There are ahhh’s. John and I were getting tired of the show. So we pantsed him. There he was, in all his anatomical glory, fighting a shad and there was nothing he could do about the cool breeze he was feeling down under. It was about that time that he shouted, “Get the net! He’s coming in.”

          Without missing a beat, John responded, “A net? What do you want a net for that little bitty thing for?” The native bikini clad women, pointed and snickered and floated out of sight. An hour or so later came the opportunity for Steve’s revenge. John had a particularly large shad on (they can go 10 lbs.) and was fighting him much the way Steve had, but he was being careful to guard his drawers. We were becoming impatient. You could hear John’s line sing with the vibration and tension of the fish and the current. Every time John would turn him toward the boat he’d make another run for Singapore. Steve said nothing. He calmly pulled out a cigarette lit it and took two puffs. After the third puff, as the fish made a run across current bringing the line in close to the boat, he reached up and touched the lit end of the cigarette to John’s line. Grinning, he said, “Looks like you lost him. Now let’s get back to fishing.” With that he picked up his rod and made a cast.

         That, my friends, is how men are. They screw each other to the wall!!

         Note to readers of my Little Jim stories. It was on just such a fishing trip as this that Little Jim, Goose and Joe got their first taste of Yoo Hoo. A canoe tipped in the rapids above and a six pack floated down past. They netted it and as they say, the rest is history.

© Copyright 2007 Rasputin (UN: joeumholtz at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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