Monday, September 10, 2012

Captain of an empty ship

I put the 'gone fishin' sign up on Thursday afternoon and headed north with "the boys" to Lake Ontario. My goal, of course, was simple. To catch fish. Salmon, to be exact, and whatever else the lake would provide. Secondary to this main goal was to have fun, relax and enjoy guy time with the rest of the crew. From the get-go, everyone seemed at ease with the fact that a girl had infiltrated the ranks of the male bonding collaborative. After all, I have developed a reputation for being VERY serious about fishing (and able to hold my own, even against 25-pound stripers in the deep Atlantic) and for being low maintenance. I will eat with my fingers, wear the same jeans for weeks, pick my teeth with a matchbook and smile the whole time, especially if there is water and a boat involved. I have even been known to chew tobacco in desperate situations. And I use my mirrors to back up vehicles. The badge is pretty solid, at least in my mind.

So, we drive four hours (almost straight through) to the Lake, and arrive at the Captain's house, where we will crash at night for the two days of our fishing trip. The captain is an old fella', nearly 75, with 60 years of fishing under his belt. He is grisled, a little forgetful, but clearly patched over with wisdom. We are not in his house more than 7 minutes (I counted) when he tries to entertain the group with a racial joke.

"A black man walks into the welfare office..." he starts. I can feel myself shrivelling and don't stick around to hear the rest of the joke. I am outside, unpacking when one of our crew, let's call him Big J, steps outside to get his suitcase.

"Don't mind him, Nic, he doesn't even realize he's saying it."

Thanks for the advice. Just curious why I am the one that needed the talking to?

Anyway, I was a porcupine by the time we got on the boat the next morning. What I didn't realize was that the joke was not the end of the Captain's short rope. He went over the basics of the reels and the different weights and downriggers and pointed to a particularly sturdy rod with a disc or "dipsy" attached to it. He looked at me pointed.

"Now, that's a dipsy rod. You can't fish from that one because you're small. That's for the big men."

I honestly thought he was kidding. That was, until he started talking about this girl he'd met, some 30 years younger than him, who he was smitten with. Totally smitten, like a 17-year-old boy, not a seasoned ex-fighter pilot and ship captain.

"Tell you what, I'm gonna be with that girl. She's my idol, boys, she really is."

We all nodded, feeling a little awkward over his dewy, far-off face.

"Imagine if she were here now, just imagine. Pancakes and eggs for breakfast every morning, no joke. Wouldn't that be something? Wouldn't that be something, boys?"

That's when I knew that he wasn't kidding about the "dipsy" and that I was in for a fight. When my line was up with a nice-sized lake trout on it, I pulled and reeled and pulled and reeled like he instructed me. It was a steady pace, made tough by the wind, the heat, the fish and my burning bicep. But the fish was comin' in nice and when I had about 20 feet of line left, apparently I wasn't reeling it in fast enough for the Captain because he jumped down on deck, put one hand over mine that was on the reel and started pulling the line in. I became a marionette trapped between a madman and a pole. The moment he ripped the pole back, the trout spit the hook with a triumphant "pooffft" and my line was weightless, fishless. I was hopping mad.

"What the hell," I said, half-joking, "I was doing just fine."

"Did you see the size of that trout," he said. "You let out too much slack on the line. That's why you lost him."

What the ....?! I lost him?

"With all due respect, sir, this ain't my first rodeo with a fish."

I sat down and fumed. The next time I was up, another trout hooked the dipsy line and I was on it, reeling, my arm burning. And before Captain could "come to my aid" I growled.

"I got it. Step off," and pulled the beauty in. The gents I was with, the ones who know me, wouldn't have dared come near me, let alone touch me while I was pulling one in. I had the whole rest of the day on the boat (with my period, no less. Yes, that's right, I managed to bleed and fish and not whine) I thought about those pancakes and eggs.

"He's f***ing delusional," I whispered to myself.

Day 2 with the Captain came in windy and cool. There was a storm brewing on that Lake. Big J was up. The fish spit the hook. Captain said "Take another turn." The next hit, again a spit hook. "Try again" the Captain yelled. Three turns, Big J got three turns to snag a fish.

By this time the Lake was rocking and the rain was blowing sideways. My gentleman friend was up, and he snagged a good-sized salmon. My turn was next. I could feel my hands tingling in anticipation. They were jumping and I was ready, crossing my fingers that I'd get something.

I was ready.

While the Captain screamed in my gentleman friend's ear, a second line got hit. It was my turn! Woo-hoo! I jumped from my perch on the little chair and went for the line. Out of nowhere, the Captain screamed.

"No, no, somebody bigger get that one. Not her!"

Reluctantly, and I mean with fear and hesitation, one of our crew of 4 snagged the line and started reeling it in. Before you could blink, in under 7 minutes, we had two 25-lb salmon on deck. Big, fat beauties, slick and silver and noble. The Captain put his hand on my shoulder.

"Don't worry, Nicky, you'll get your turn."

F*** you, old man.

Needless to say, I didn't get my turn. The 60 mph wind did us in and we putted to shore practically sideways. My friend who was "forced" to take my turn spent a good part of that ride back telling the Captain that I caught the biggest striper, a good 25-lbs at least, on our last trip. And that yes, I had even reeled in two bluefish, that's right, two, on the same goddamn hook. All with giant ocean reels, all by myself, no man required.

It's been a long time since I've come up against this kind of ridiculous sexism. A looong time. And I am burning still. With rage, indignation, you name it, I got it. I don't need you to hold the goddamn door for me, although that's just a common courtesy. I don't need you to hold me or coax me while I'm reeling in a fish. I don't need you to chop wood, start the woodstove, earn a paycheck or paint the bathroom. What I do need, and this is something that I am clearly going to have to take on my own, by force, is for you to step the f*ck off my uterus and let me do my thing. There is no room for chivalry in fishing. Only equality.

But you need me to make your pancakes and eggs. Good luck with breakfast, Captain.


  1. It sounds like you had an adventure on your fishing trip. I would like to go fishing someday, but I have not put my mind to it.

    Hope all is well,

    Jon Swartz

  2. Why do I suspect "Pancakes and Eggs" spit the hook?