This Side Up

When on the bay, you never know what you'll catch


I’ve learned to expect the unexpected when you’re on the water.

Sunday offered its share of surprises. The tide was rising but hadn’t reached the seawall, meaning I would need to walk into the water to launch the single for a morning row. I slipped on booties designed for surfers and paddle boarders, perfect for this although they don’t provide much insulation from cold water.

The bay had a slight riffle from an easterly breeze. The horizon was aglow; the sun would be making its appearance shortly.

Carol had been up since four, awakened by what she first took to be a low flying jet. The noise persisted and she figured it to be a slow moving boat, yet not like any boat she’d heard. She investigated, walking down to the water. The roar ceased but its source was evident, a raft of geese – hundreds of birds – bobbed on the bay.

They were gone with the dawn, but I was greeted by stragglers swimming along the shoreline. They were Brants, smaller than Canada geese and a sure sign of the change in seasons. Brants winter here and then head to the Canadian Arctic to nest for the summer. They’re a friendly group and their chatter a welcoming chant to the colder weather. They kept paddling as I paddled, apparently unperturbed by my presence.

That wasn’t the case with my next fowl encounter.

As one faces backward while rowing, I had not spotted the feeding cormorants. On approaching them, they will dive or, with a frantic beating of wings and scrabbling of webbed feet, rise from the water. Unlike ducks that quickly gain altitude, cormorants are slow risers, often flapping three or four feet above the water’s surface before gaining the speed to climb higher.

I’ve startled three or four birds in the past coming upon them just as they launch themselves. It was a different story Sunday. An explosion of the birds, at least 200 I’d guess, took to the air when I reached the waters off Cole Farm. They thrashed the waters, their wings beating, thankfully staying clear of me as they skimmed the surface heading toward Conimicut Point. They will be gone in another couple of weeks, following the schools of bait fish south.

By the time I returned the waters lapped the first stair to the seawall. I rolled up my pant legs, stepped into the water and prepared to pull the boat unto the seawall when I felt something cutting into my leg. It wasn’t apparent at first. Reaching down I lifted a strand of heavy gauge monofilament fishing line. It was a taught as piano wire. I pulled on it, expecting it to snap. It didn’t. It lifted from the water, disappearing in the rocks of my neighbor’s waterfront. Surely, there was a lure snagged somewhere. I followed, pulling on the line as I went. It was tangled around seaweed, buried in the sand in some place and hung up on rocks, a certain hazard to the Brants if not to all those venturing in these shallows. I pursued the line, soon finding myself in deeper waters as I approached the docks to our south. Finally, I decided it was time to break it. I gave it a yank. It zinged, springing to life like a bungee. I pulled harder. This line could have landed a tuna. Finally, I fished a rock from around my feet and pounding the line against another rock to cut it.

By the time I got back to the house, I had a soccer ball sized wad of fishing line and the satisfaction that at least it wouldn’t be snagging any unsuspecting fowl… or for that matter me.


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Love your salt-water tales, John...

Saturday, October 26, 2019