We Americans have what we see as a long set of traditions — cultural, ecological and, of course, economic — with codfish. It was the codfish, after all, that drew European colonists to North America, and codfish that bankrolled the first waves of New World settlers, from Massachusetts to Newfoundland. A codfish, then, is seldom just a codfish.
Among the many reasons I take up the rod and reel, foremost could be the satisfaction of feeding myself, my family and friends the world-class protein I’ve harvested from the wild with my own hands. From my earliest fishing experiences, my dad always stressed the gratification — maybe it was something nearer to a spiritual rite — of eating what we’d caught.
I liked the idea, but I didn’t always relish the experience of trying to pry bits of the baked tautog or flounder off the comb bones with the tines of my fork.
I have hooked, fought, boated, beached, gaffed, unhooked, revived, released, bled, filleted, skinned, gutted, scaled, weighed, photographed, iced, toted, sorted, netted, stacked or otherwise handled a staggering number of bluefish. I’ve caught them one at a time and 100 at a time, from 4 inches to an honest 23 pounds, on most gear types — rod and reel, hand line, gillnet, otter trawl. Of all the species I’ve targeted, bluefish have passed through my hands most often.If I retched at the sight of one now, few would blame me. It’s a strange thing: I still love the fish and respect their incredible power and adaptability. I’ve had my moments with them, to be sure. I’ve been bitten. I filleted 400 or 500 or so blues a night for years and have tried to pry bass out of rips absolutely polluted with yellow-eyes — 25 guys dragging 25 eels at a time.
As I brace my knees against the transom and adjust the “drop” between my rod tip and the little whip eel, I scrutinize the plot of water where it appears that a body of substantial bass or gorilla-sized blues has been erupting in the dim 3 a.m. calm.
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Tim Coleman died May 3, in Weekapaug, R.I., doing what he loved to do best at that time of year: scouting the salt ponds and outer beaches for spring striped bass. He was an exceptional saltwater angler and a prolific writer. Thousands of readers lost an advocate and authentic storyteller for fishing in the Northeast, and anyone fortunate to have known Tim lost a good friend.