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The key seems to be Marc's ability to continue throwing up.

He’s kneeling down by the gas cans again, beneath the short gaffs hanging from the cabin door, and when his crisis moment hits, he blows lunch and dinner, and whatever else he’s eaten, out over the rail again. Then he stands, staggers back to the chum table, and sets back to work.

It is pitch dark out, the outboard engine rumbling in neutral to keep the halogen deck lamps lit. We’ve been on the boat since dusk, just off Eastern Point, Gloucester, and the school, no, better word, the herd, of striped bass are continuing to yank, one after the other, the six rod tips down into the water from the gunwale of the boat we’re in. I met its captain last year as I paddled around in Gloucester Harbor looking for a boat crewed by an old high school friend, and he’s taken me and various other nspner’s out on commercial bass and cod trips since.

There are three of us: Marc, me, the captain. We already have nearly half a dozen striped bass on ice in the hold underfoot The remainder of the dozen are either flopping around on deck or crashing around inside the two industrial-sized coolers stored open-mouthed aft of the cabin. There are also a couple of bluefish banging around on the floorboards somewhere, and if I get a spare minute I’ll find them and kick them into the hold before one of us gets bit.

I hear Marc’s knife rasp against the cutting board. Sick as he is, he continues to drag that knife through head after tail after dorsal area of the tote-load of herring he’s been chopping up for chum since we anchored.

Meanwhile I continue to yank on the rod I have jammed in under my armpit. There’s a very large striped bass attached to the other end , and I am struggling to reel the fish to the surface. When the fish comes up, I yank, hear a loud whap on the water from a tail slap, and feel the hook rip from the fish’s lip. The line goes slack. Then ---- odd ---- it feels it like it’s under tension again. Must be stuck somewhere. I tug ---

The captain releases an ungodly howl in my direction. I am standing roughly two feet behind him.

Yes. He is very definitely bellowing in my direction.


My hook has made a bee-line into the nest of hair and skin beneath the captain’s armpit. He swats at his armpit with his free hand. This removes the hook as if a wasp were hanging there. Marc returns to his urp posture. Extending his upper body over the gunwale, he fires another load of liquid buckshot into the ocean.

As Allessandro lands the fish I distracted him from, goddammit, the reel at the stern zings as yet another enormous bass hits . I hand Allessandro the rod the second fish is on, unclip from his rod the hook attached to the fish he has just landed.

Unable to look me in the eye, meanwhile, and trying to steady his stomach by sheer will and by minimizing even the slightest visual perception of any wave or swell or boat motion, Marc mutely hands me both a fresh hook and a herring to re-rig the rod Allessandro has just finished with.

An hour and half or so later, engine off, Marc is no longer at it. He cuts chum but can no longer throw up. When he speaks, he mouths the words as slowly as he can. If he talks any faster,I assume his stomach will realize his mouth is open and coil around on itself and try to find something to fill it with.

Allessandro and I continue setting hooks at the fifteen, forty, and sixty feet depths the depth sounder indicates the fish are in.

And then it’s over.

We return to the state fish pier around 1:00 am with ten striped bass that average forty inches, or six inches longer than the state's commercial minimum, two bluefish no one had the nerve to remove the hooks from, and a very green-looking seakayaker quite relieved to be back on land. Around 11:00, Marc simply ran out of things in his stomach to spew into the ocean. His throwing up had been our rabbit’s foot, and when he stopped throwing up the fish stopped coming in.

The captain crawls forward into the cabin to suck on the end of a cigarette and to rest his head against something soft for the first time in nearly 36 hours. I break the gear down for our return trip. The commercial striper fishing week in Massachusetts runs Sunday through Wednesday each season, with the state’s commercial take limit just re-set, according to the latest fisheries’ announcements, at one million pounds instead of 800,000. Once the millionth pound of striper has been landed in Massachusetts, the local commercial striper fishery closes for the year.

Commercial anglers tend to striper-fish this short commercial season, and each truncated four-day week, as vigorously and aggressively as they can. The only sleep our captain has had since two days previous, for example, is the 15-minutes he took Sunday morning at the local E.R. getting his right forearm sewn back together. Sitting in the chair, he nodded off as a surgeon sewed up the ugly gash a sandshark had taken out of his arm on a trip the night before.

As we “debrief”, as nspner’s like to say, on the dock after the
trip, the gauze bandage wrapped around the captain’s 12-hour old stitches slips back, exposing both wound and stitches to the cold early-morning air. The sutures and plastic butterfly strips straining against the ragged rip in his skin are as garish and appalling-looking as you would expect.
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