Five decades ago, Northport was a fishing village. It had many fishermen, almost all of whom possessed boats. The largest ones were the oyster boats, followed in size by lobster vessels and then, finally, the small flat-bottom clam boats. All would head out in the early morning and not return until late evening.
At age 5, my first fishing pole was literally a pole with a drop string. With parents who lived through the Depression, you learned to deal with what life gives you. The pole was made of bamboo, with its sections divided by "knuckles." And the fishing line was a mere string, not any type of fancy monofilament. The string had to be long enough to reach the water from the dock, usually around 20 feet. A hook would be carefully attached at the bottom of the string, and just a bit up from the hook was a separate weighted string.
I’d walk to the dock carrying my pole and bucket, passing the grocery store that usually had baby carriages lined up outside — it was a safer world back then — while the mothers shopped inside. I’d pass the five-and-dime and stationery stores with their penny candies, then head straight to the bait shack, where I could purchase a box of sandworms that would give some kids a creepy-crawly feeling because they were creeping and crawling.
Once at the dock, I’d take my place at the very end so I wouldn’t have to deal with boaters moving me out while tying up their skiffs. The dock had spigots that I used to fill up my bucket with water. My goal: Catch flounder and do it quickly. Nothing could be more embarrassing than seeing people walk past your bucket, stare in and see nothing.
One day, I caught nothing but an eel. I decided to bring the eel home and feed it to my cat. I went to change clothes and tidy up (Dad’s shaving cream was great at removing fish smell from my hands). When I came back, I saw — to my horror — that Mom had taken the eel and was already frying it in a pan. "I love fried eel!" she exclaimed, looking at my shocked face.
Eventually, I would get a used drag reel and pole. Casting with a drag reel would inevitably lead to what fishermen called a "bird’s nest" of tangled line on the reel. It would take time to untangle it and wasn’t worth the effort. Casting and tossing the pole behind you while trying not to hook a passerby or cast into a boat trolling out became a challenge. I later moved up to a spinner reel.
By day’s end, I would have to head home for dinner, and I would always stop by the side of the bait shack, where the five-cent Coke machine would spit out a small glass bottle of soda. It was my treat for another day at the dock.
Reader Matt Reuschle lives in Northport.