Fishing with Kate and Charlie
30 knots from the Southeast and I’m holding on.
I'm peering around the house of a 33 year old Cape Islander
at an orange, white and blue blob.
“Flakes of ham, minced onions,” comes Kate’s voice through the spray.
She’s snapping rubber bands on the claws of the little monsters in her fish tub.
“FUCK” hollars Charlie from the helm after we pound into another swell and his sounder blinks off.
Later, he’ll make an awkward compliment to one of us so we know he’s just pissed off at the weather and the boat.
Charlie had appeared in my yard two weeks earlier, looked around at the mess of half completed and half abandoned projects and said, “I know you’re a family man and you’re looking for work.”
He then offered me the wages of an experienced crewman despite my miserable little reporter hands.
So now I’m listening to Kate’s dip recipes as their little blue boat heaves and smashes about in the wide, shallow fishbowl of George’s Bay.
I hook the buoy with the gaff and stumble back to the hauler.
“A bit of Tobasco sauce, just enough,” says Kate pensively.
The rope winds up from the deep and coils like a snake at my feet.
Kick it away.
That’s the first rule out here.
Rope is alive and it’s not your friend.
Its business is hauling the unwilling between the world above the water and the one below.
That one down there would be curious to see if invited as a guest instead of drug down with a broken leg. I picture it as a sleepy small town where everyone’s got their own rock to hide under.
Charlie’s beside me.
I've broken the second rule of miserable weather: no daydreaming.
That’s a hard one for some of us, no matter the environment.
He bends over the gunnel and heaves up a 70 pound trap in one smooth motion.
A move he’ll repeat 250 times before lunch, six days a week for the next two months.
“And mayonnaise. Don’t waste your time on Miracle Whip – it’s got to be Helmann’s.”
While I tumble about like a freshman outside Piper’s Pub on Homecoming weekend, Kate appears to be bolted to the boat’s deck. She fished with Charlie until she was 35 weeks pregnant with one of their three boys.
Then came a little girl and Charlie didn’t want to go to Alberta anymore.
So he swings a chainsaw the rest of the year and they get by.
They’ve got the oldest boat in the harbour and these are their two big months.
And I get to be part of the Kate and Charlie team.
It’s the best team.
I kind of feel like one of the Mighty Ducks.
On a more pleasant day - which pretty well all of them are - Charlie and I agree that Led Zeppelin is probably the best band ever.
For these two months we see more of each other than we do our own families.
Slide the first trap down the gunnel .
Pop the hatch.
Jam two herring on the spike.
Grab the pissed off little monster that attempts rather impressive acrobatics as I toss it in Kate’s tub.
This is the George’s Bay Waltz.
There’s at least 120 crews performing the exact same dance between Mabou and Ballantynes Cove.
Except today, it’s more of a reel.
Fast as you can go.
No wasted motions.
The sooner we get these traps hauled, baited and dumped, the sooner we can get the fuck back behind the wharf.
Seven traps fished and baited on the gunnel.
Charlie goes back to the wheel.
“What types of dip does Suzy like to make?”
I lean across the traps and spread my arms to hold as many as possible and feel the boat turn side on to the swell.
The boat heaves and I’m staring down at the wave’s trough, holding the traps from going overboard.
Prepared to let them go if they prove more determined that I am.
“BEAN DIP MOSTLY,” I yell back.
Then I’m staring at the sky as the boat climbs sideways up the wave’s peak.
I’m suddenly aware how sad bean dip sounds compared to the dips Kate has been describing to me.
I want her to know that Suzy and I gorge ourselves on it with joy as we sit in the mismatched Lazyboy rocking chairs we got off the Buy and Sell and have by our woodstove.
The boat’s come about and now we’re running with the swell.
I grab the buoy line, trail it out and wait for Charlie to make his call.
“OKAY” he yells.
I let go the buoy line and push the first trap over.
The line snakes out fast over the deck.
I check that it hasn’t got around my feet.
When it’s about to come taut I shove the next trap over.
Repeat and repeat until the seventh is gone.
I throw the last buoy over, grab the gaff and return to my perch behind Charlie’s open cabin door.
And I think to myself that Kate’s right – it’s got to be Helmann’s.
Life’s too short to waste on Miracle Whip.