by Bob Banfelder
A decade ago, on a beautiful summer morning, Donna and I took a fishing trip along the Peconic River to a spot just southeast of the 105 Bridge in Riverhead. I paddled our sixteen-foot canoe along the bank before putting a 9' #8-weight Scott rod coupled to a Super 8 Abel reel spooled with 100' of Teeny TS 350 Speed Sink/Floating Line (for rod sizes #8–10) into the anxious angler's hands. Anxious because she could cast well enough to send line and lure out to distances of forty to fifty feet, thanks to Dan Eng's tutelage. Dan was and still is the venerable fly-casting instructor at Eastern Flyrodders of Long Island. Dan had worked with Donna and me during pre-meeting sessions. Later, we continued with private lessons, having improved our casting techniques. Such clubs are fortunate to have talented folks like Dan as members.
I had tried several fly lines and am sold on Teeny Line, especially for beginners. The magic is in the marriage of a floating line matched to a sinking head. All one piece. No knots. No splicing. No hinging. Two colors determine its balancing point, so there is no guesswork as when to draw and shoot the line. When both colors extend approximately a foot past the rod tip, it's magic time. And talk about cutting through the wind; it's simply a breeze. I could easily sail an imitation out to eighty feet. But at that point in time, Donna was holding the goods. I had the paddle.
After a dozen casts toward and perpendicular to the shoreline, my better half spotted a swirl several yards out toward the center of the river, excitedly instructing me to "swing this banana about!" so that she didn't have to contort her body into position. Quite candidly, it's a tippy canoe, designed for cruising, not serving very well as a solid fishing platform—not by any stretch of those sixteen rockable feet. Not about to argue, I executed a powerful draw stroke, pivoting the craft parallel to a promising seam and another swirl.
Two false casts and Donna sent the six-inch bunker imitation several feet past yet another swirl. The first 30-foot section of 7-ips (sink rate) green-tipped sinking line hit the water and immediately disappeared. Thirty feet had been a lot for her to keep airborne, but she managed. Seconds later, on a moderate retrieve, five yards or so of red floating line suddenly tore across the bow of the banana as Donna set the hook. The canoe was headed toward a piling. The drag on an Abel is about as able as you're going to get. Smooth as silk and satin. The 8-weight Scott rod performed flawlessly.
"Rod up! Let him run," I hollered.
"It's making a beeline for the piling," she protested.
"Good. Maybe it'll knock itself out," I half-kidded. "He's turning."
"So's the boat," she brayed.
I knew Donna had hooked into a good size fish, maybe more than she could handle on a fly rod. "Stay with him," I commanded, like she really had a choice. Donna fought the denizen for a good two minutes.
"I can't hold him much longer."
"Oh, but you can and you will, or there won't be any supper for you."
"Then we'll go to Danowski's or Gallo's fish market," she threatened.
"That's not exactly what I meant."
"Oh, my God!"
The big fish jumped and splashed. Bigger than the cocktail blues she'd been getting on spin-casting lures. Bigger than schoolie bass, too. It wasn't a monster, but I knew it would break five pounds; that is, if it didn't first break the leader. The fish jumped again. A good-size blue I believed, although I wasn't really sure at that point—maybe a bass. Forty-five of seventy feet of red running/low profile floating line was now stripped from the spool, I guesstimated, totaling seventy-five feet in all. Slowly, Donna was gaining on him.
"He's getting tired," I offered encouragingly.
"Then he's winning the battle because I'm getting exhausted. Correction. I am exhausted!"
"Look! He's on his side," I offered encouragingly.
"Look! I'm practically on my knees."
I had net in hand. "Maneuver him toward the center—I can't reach him from here."
"I hate you!"
"Take it out on the fish when you bring him alongside. Do it!"[Note:
We have this conversation every time Donna catches a decent size fish, except on charter boats where there are witnesses around. Fighting thirty to thirty-five pound stripers with conventional tackle, Donna simply hollers, "Whoa!" at the top of her lungs. Of course, she'll get a little help from a mate who'll repeatedly tell her, "You call out 'Fish on!' not 'Whoa!' You're fishing, lady, not horseback riding."]
The fish splashed and thrashed then dove for a final time before Donna had him alongside the canoe and I was able to scoop him neatly into the net. It flapped and pounded the floor of the canoe to the powerful pounding of Donna's heart, I'm sure. A beautiful twenty-four inch, five and three-quarter pound blue.
"Do we return him to the water or keep him?" I asked.
"My first real
fish on a fly rod? Are you crazy? I caught him. I'll cook him. And we'll eat him tonight."
"Would you like to fillet him, too?"
"No, that's your department."
"I'm hooked. When can we do this again?"
"How about right now?"
"I need a breather. Besides, we've got to get this fish home now because you forgot to bring ice. How about tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow it is."
"I love you."
"A moment ago you hated me, you said."
"I did not."
"You did, and I'm going to record it in an article."
"I'll deny it! Folks won't believe you!" she declared.
"Sure they will. For all fishwives are liars, everybody knows."
"We'll go tomorrow, but we're not fishing from this tippy canoe. Alright? We'll take the pilothouse. Okay?"
"Okay. But you'll use a different line and lure; the fly I'm working on."
"You mean your mantis shrimp imitation."
"Are you going to make my favorite bluefish recipe tonight?"
"Done," she swore.
And she did. Here it is—the great irony being that Donna had at one time truly hated bluefish and anchovies before landing this marvelous recipe. It was given to us by Bev and Bob Johnsen of Southold; a dynamite recipe for any oily fish. I pass this on to you in memory of those two folks with whom we boated for many years. Bluefish BakeIngredients
2 bluefish fillets (cocktail blues or larger are fine; amounts below are for the larger fillets—adjust accordingly)
1½ cups of Hellman's Real Mayonnaise
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place fillets in a baking dish. Drizzle olive oil on both sides of the fillets.2.
Bake fish for about 15 minutes or until flaky.3.
While fish is baking, mash the anchovies with a mortar and pestle and add the mayonnaise, mixing the ingredients well.4.
Remove dish from oven. Switch oven to Hi broil.5.
Smear the mayo/anchovy mixture over the top of the fillets. Place under broiler. The mayo/anchovy mixture will begin to bubble. Remove the fillets when the mixture is golden brown. Bon appétit
As a postscript, Donna did not take another nice fish on a fly rod the following day. However, with a bit of persistence, she did manage to nail an even bigger blue sometime later with my mantis shrimp design, but with a different fly rod and line set-up: a 9' #10-weight Temple Fork Outfitters, Lefty Kreh Signature Series 1, coupled to the same Super 8 Able reel, spooled with 100' of Teeny's 8 ips (sink rate) T-400 (Yellow/Brown) Speed Sink/Floating Line (for rod sizes 8–12). The T series 24-foot sinking section was a lot easier for Donna to handle than the TS 30-foot section, especially when casting a heavier 7-inch imitation.
Of course, I had to deal with Donna's continued abuse aboard Write On
, having to constantly remind her that I am in command as the captain of our pilothouse vessel, which certainly carried a lot more authority than trying to convince anyone that I was the captain of the aforementioned canoe.
You can locate my mantis fly recipe in January's 2013 online magazine issue of Nor'east Saltwater
. The article is titled Mantis Shrimp Recipe for 7-inch Fly (Squilla empusa) New & Improved