Spring Tides

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Photo of William Sisson

William Sisson

The handwriting is familiar, but I have a harder time picturing the boy who wrote the words. The spelling was bad even then. Fish swam in “scholls,” and on a spring evening 50 years ago, a man in a canoe “caucht” a 12-pound striper.

But the enthusiasm I sense thumbing through my boyhood fishing logs feels as familiar as the rough scrawl. “What a morning!” begins the entry for May 5, 1968, when the boy and two older friends took 17 stripers.

I still fish the cemetery marsh once or twice each spring, and the stripers are still there. It’s clockwork — the arrival of fish; the smell of the waking marsh, river and sea; the clamorous song of terns, gulls and marsh birds.

As a kid, I never gave much thought to the location. I entered it in my log as the “grave yard.” My focus was stripers, and when you’re 14, you feel as if you’ll live forever. Spring moved like a slow, lazy tide. I remember the afternoon when a freshening sou’wester caused the little flags marking the graves of war veterans to flap noisily. At the sound, I turned from the water and gazed back on the headstones and the fluttering colors pinned to the warm earth on spindly masts.

Capt.Al Anderson

Capt.Al Anderson

Today, I know far more permanent residents here than I did when I started jotting down notes on wind, tide and lure color. Many of the fishermen who stride purposefully across the pages of my journals are now buried beside the river. I am a grandfather, and whatever apprehension about mortality I tamped down as a kid stirs more easily these days. I cast until dusk and visit my parents’ graves.

A few years after I made those spring entries, I sat in a sophomore high school biology class in Westerly, Rhode Island, run by a no-nonsense teacher named Al Anderson. It was fall, and I didn’t yet realize that when school let out for the afternoon and weekends, Mr. Anderson morphed into Capt. Anderson, the pioneering charter captain who was catching big striped bass on live eels off Block Island, Rhode Island, from his 19-foot Aquasport.

Capt. Anderson started a fishing club in high school, and my friends and I were charter members. There is a photo in my office of eight classmates and me holding codfish after a spring headboat trip with the club.

The teacher and I remained friends for almost 50 years. An independent thinker and innovator in inshore and bluewater tactics, Capt.

Anderson died earlier this year at age 79.

I fished with him dozens of times on several of the charter boats he owned during his 47 years as a working captain, all named Prowler. We had numerous conversations about everything from bass and tuna to the ancient Laurentide Ice Sheet that sculpted the rough topography we called home.

An inductee into the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame, Capt. Anderson was not only a talented fisherman, but also a writer, conservationist and prolific fish tagger, a practice he started as a graduate student at Adelphi University, where he got a master’s degree in (fish) parasitology. In all, he tagged more than 60,000 fish, including more Atlantic bluefin tuna and striped bass than anyone.

A New Jersey native, Capt. Anderson was tough, smart, outspoken, competitive — you either loved him or you didn’t. He didn’t suffer fools, and if he showed you how to do something once, he expected that you’d do it the right way (his way) the next time, or you might be hearing about it in right salty language.

Al_Anderson_Prowler

The last time I visited the skipper was two years ago, when we were preparing a profile on him for the Winter 2016 issue of Anglers Journal.

Looking through old notes recently, I found an interview with Capt. Anderson from April 16, 2000. The previous day, he’d tagged and released 52 stripers from a tidal river in southern New England. He bragged that he’d hammered the fish and that “everybody else sucked wind.” That was the blustery skipper talking. He paused, reflected, and my old teacher spoke as an old friend.

“I felt rejuvenated after yesterday’s trip,” he told me. “Like all was well with the world. It’s amazing what a few floppy fish will do for your spirit. It’s the same feeling I used to get when I’d catch flounder in the salt ponds many years ago. Everything was right with the world.”

Abridged from Anglers Journal anglersjournal.com

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue.