A simple tug on the end of a fishing line about 40 years ago changed my life forever. My family was out on our 31-foot, wooden Downeaster, drifting in the ocean off Jones Beach, New York. Our round-bottom boat bobbed like a cork. It was early summer and prime time to catch our go-to groundfish: the fluke. Also known as summer flounder, these aggressive and tasty critters sit stealthily in the sandy bottom, waiting to strike unsuspecting prey with extreme prejudice. Their aggressive bite is what makes them so much fun to catch. Add some bread crumbs and a little lemon, and they fill out a dinner plate nicely.
On this day, the fishing was slow. Even slower than our slack-tide drift. I was a rambunctious kid, but when it came to fishing, I always tried to keep my head in the game and stay on point. I’d stare with laser focus at the rod tip until my eyes crossed, waiting for a nibble. I wouldn’t even speak, likely a welcome relief for my family. Bringing the fish to the net was great, but that bite. That’s a real rush for angling aficionados. And it’s always worth the wait.
Just when our day on the salt had reached the mountaintop of mundane, it happened. The bite. The strike was vicious. I dropped the rod tip and ripped it back toward me. The hook had found its mark. A tug of war ensued. I leaned into the fight with all 50 pounds of me committed to victory and piscatorial greatness. For several minutes, it was a seesaw battle, my dad hurrying down from the flybridge to ensure I stayed in the boat. Soon, the formidable flatfish rose to the surface.
Realizing this was the biggest fluke of my short angling career, my dad quickly netted the brown beast. The fish weighed in at just under 6 pounds, the largest fluke I’d seen in my six years of life. Not quite a leviathan, but very respectable by fluke standards. My dad still has the picture of me and my brother, Chip, who also caught a sizable fish that day. Dad took the photo in our backyard. Chip and I have Cheshire cat grins, holding up our prizes before sacrificing them to the frying pan.
On that summer day, I became a lifetime angler. I may have set the hook into that fluke, but as it turns out, the hook sets two ways.