A Reel Hairy Tale

Sunday, I crossed off a bucket list event: deep-sea fishing. My good friend Kim and I went out on a charter with Yankee Fleet in Gloucester; the boat set sail at 3:30 p.m. and returned at 8 p.m. Kim had gone on a couple trips 20 years ago, but I had never been.

We Malcolms had a relaxing Sunday at home, so around 2 p.m. I thought I should get showered and dressed. I skipped washing my hair, thinking it would just get blown to shreds on the boat. I skipped most of my make-up too. I found a cap and tossed it into my backpack; I found an extra one and tossed it in for Kim, along with an extra long-sleeved thermal shirt for her.

When I picked Kim up, I was shocked at her appearance. She had done her hair, put on make-up -- and she even smelled good! I said something like, "We're going fishing -- you know that, right?"

The boat was bigger than I expected: at least 50 ft. We staked out two PVC pipes at the very front of the bow to hold our fishing poles. Out of around 35 people, Kim, me, and six Japanese tourists were the only ones who stayed out on deck at the bow as we left the harbor. Most were huddled quietly in the cabin, looking like they were going into a coal mine: no laughter, no chatting.

We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day: sunny and only 2-foot waves. The boat glided out of the harbor toward the open Atlantic. At the mouth of the harbor, another fishing charter that was coming in tooted and waved. We waved back and seconds later we plowed into that boat's wake. And our bow created a spectacular 10-foot spray that showered us and our Japanese counterparts.

Kim's curls were washed away. I turned to look at the crow's nest, and as I suspected, this was a highlight of the Captain's day. Through my sea-water drenched hair, I saw the Captain chortling behind the window of his control tower. I told Kim I had an extra cap and shirt, but she opted for the extra layer of warmth over the cap.

An hour out and in 200 ft. of water, the Captain dropped anchor. We watched one of the ship's mates as he showed a woman across the bow from us how to get set up. Our bait was sea clams that we weaved onto the hooks with three pokes. The reels were open-fly (that's what I call them): with a flick of a lever the line comes whizzing out as the 1-gram weight pulls the baited hook to the bottom of the ocean. Back on our side of the bow, I watched Kim go through the steps of dropping the line; then I followed suit.

The Captain descended from his splash tower. "That made your day didn't it?" we ribbed him. "You bet it did!" he replied. We bantered with the Captain, the two mates, and the loveliest fisherman named Paddy, who shared the bow with us. Paddy, probably in his 70's, had his own gear, bait, and a big confident cooler to store his catch. A bit shy at first, Paddy was one of those guys who would be a great neighbor. Kind, polite, and good-hearted. Paddy gave us a couple pointers along the way, but he had the corner on big fish at the end of the day with a 2-foot codfish.

Kim and I waited for a nibble. I told the Captain that without a bobber I wasn't sure what to watch for. He reached out to the end of my pole and gave the line a couple little tugs to show we what it felt like when something went after the bait. With the line locked in placed on the reel, I held the line above the reel with my fingers so I could feel the line move as well as the pole when something bit.

Three feet apart on the bow, Kim and I chatted and laughed. Me with my cap and she with her now non-curled hair blowing in the wind. All rods were quiet, not much happening. We saw a small codfish come in -- only 15 inches and they need to be 19 inches to keep. Then, tug, tug. OK! Fish on my line! I started to reel it in as the Captain came in our direction.

"Where's your camera?" shouted Kim as she reached for my coat pocket. I was so focused on pull, reel, pull, reel that I could hardly talk. "Pocket!" I replied. "Which one?" Kim asked as she reached across me to the far coat pocket. You know, in my frenzy to get dinner onboard, I could not say "jean pocket." And I couldn't let go of my pole to get the camera out.

"Don't worry about the camera, Linda, just keep reeling and get that fish onboard!" directed the Captain. Then, came Kim's direction: "NO! NO! DON'T REEL! MY HAIR IS CAUGHT IN YOUR REEL!!"

Thankfully, Kim wasn't it pain. Because I would have felt horrible busting a gut if she was suffering. I was losing strength from laughter that made my whole body shake. My cheeks were so scrunched up in the fit that I didn't see how the Captain released Kim's hair. I only heard his voice saying, "OK, Linda, reel it in!" Still in a fit of laughter, I reeled and reeled and reeled and finally Kim yelled, "It's a shark!"

Yes, I had nabbed myself a dogfish. An inedible, 2 ft-long slender, shark-like fish. After a brief photo, the ship's mate, who had taken it off my line, released it. No good to eat. Paddy told us they release urine throughout their body if they aren't cleaned right, so the meat tastes like ammonia. But, he said, in England they were used in fish and chips. Unsure if there is any truth to that. Unsure of many fish stories we heard that day. But absolutely sure of the hair-in-reel one.

After the hair-in-reel & dogfish episode settled, the Captain declared, "I've been doing this for 30 years and have never seen that before." Pretty sure he was referring to the hair-in-reel part.

Paddy summed it up best, "You two girls are having the most fun out of everyone on this boat!"

Yes. We didn't catch dinner, and we came home smelling like we had been clamming not fishing. But we had a wicked good time. Three days later, we're still stretching the laugh muscles and wondering how the Captain and his mates are telling the story!

(Another adventure, this time snow-shoeing down a mountain, in the dark... Fierce Mountain Gnomes.)