bait fish

The Simpson brothers: salt pond pirates and dynamite fishermen

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All part of the deal, the blindfold is on

The blindfold was tight but part of the deal. That old green bandanna smelled of unpleasant sweat and salt but sacrifices are necessary when you want an inside line from the best fishermen.

Bouncing through some southerly chop, the Simpson brothers were entrusting me to visit their very secret summer striper spot, although  apparently only while blindfolded. Fortunately, their pirate ship’s narrow beam and full crew did not allow for spinning their visitor three times around to ensure complete disorientation.

Travelling at three knots in Speedy McSkiff, the family’s 13’ Boston Whaler, we steamed to secure a ration of four eels.

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Choosing the right eels is a critical decision

Of course there was a planned diversion for snacks. One cannot be expected to find linesider treasures without snacks. At the helm, Grandpa Bob Kolb, aka Kwazii, aka Papa, oversaw the eel purchase, advising, “You have to have one snake.” Team Simpson was battle tested for sure. 

Underway again, nine year old Micheal Simpson observed, “I don’t think there’s any fish left in the pond.” Environmental conditions, lack of bait? “No,” he replied through a slight smile, “We caught them all.” Simpson brothers’ smiles say it all.

Gus manned the bow. A proud Green Beret, he regulated snacks, maintained order. Boats have rules. Huge is pronounced (h)yo͞oj with extra points given for emphasis, style and volume. Gabe is relied on to apply “The Juice,” his magic elixir, spoken to the rod, to bring luck and fish. Johnny Cash plays on the radio. They sing pirate songs, like “The pirates who do don’t do anything”. On Speedy McSkiff, there’s always time for pirate songs.

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Big fish, bigger fisherman

Finally drifting over “The Spot” and free of my blindfold, Papa deftly slips the boat into neutral, shuts her down and drifts. Wind and tide align for the Simpsons. He hooks then slides an eel over the starboard side. Seven year old Gabe takes command of the boat’s only rod. One rod is all they need to bring home supper. Fresh from digging his first clams, he’s on his game. He’s trolling through an afternoon before a planned swim to regroup for a family lobster and striper dinner. No hits come on the first drift. 

“I got a nervous eel,” observes Gabriel. Summer has faded his stars and stripes shorts, life jacket and Waves ball cap, slung low and off to the left a bit. Micheal sits patiently, enjoying the day with handfuls of Goldfish. Everyone waits for a hit. Gus warily eyes the snack consumption. “Catching fish is about being in the game,” someone whispers, through a mouthful of Goldfish. 

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Gabe Simpson, on the ready

“Don’t worry, I had nibbles,” says Gabe, leaning back on the bow, providing council through a mouthful of snacks. Only a genuine ace can handle a seven foot rod trolling a snake with one hand while providing council through a mouthful and extra handful of snacks. 

“Come on, one time for the kid,” Papa says softly, motoring south to restart the shallow water drift. There is palpable concern the guy with the notebook perhaps brought some bad juju. Thankfully there was no plank on board. A chorus of “Juice, juice, juice,” rises from the crew. “Juice, juice, juice,” Gabe whispers to the rod.

His eyes, almost hidden beneath his cap, catch mine. “Don’t doubt us,” he says.

If he was ten years older he might have sealed that with a wink.

The rod tip jumps, everyone bolts to attention. “Open the bail,” Papa advises. It’s 3:47 in the high heat of a July afternoon. Both boys have a look of casual confidence. Papa takes charge of the rod, hoping to set the hook. He is a wealth of patience for two wonderful young boys growing up in the shadows of three strong men. With a bump, the bass moves on. Papa says, “That was a big one,” handing the rod to Micheal. 

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The one that got away, but not without lots of solid effort

“What did I do?” says Micheal after a second big swing and a miss as we drifted. It’s the day’s only sign of mild frustration as the sun burns its way west. Papa has been relegated to captain only now, after the last fish was lost. “I won’t touch the rod again,” he laughs, knowing full well he’ll be hands on all day, teaching these two characters how to be the best fishermen. At 4:06, a fresh eel wiggles below the reach of a hungry gull as the crew breaks into a rousing pirate song about not doing anything. Everyone sings. A passing boat slows, someone behind the wheel asks why we have just one rod.

Everyone laughs; clearly they don’t know Simpson brothers. 

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This picture has clearly been cropped. I was blindfolded so you get to share in the fun

We drift over the spot for the fifth time. Micheal holds tightly as finally, the tip bends. Two quick snaps tells him this fish is real. Micheal spins to set the hook, totally confident. He reels easily, taking line back from the fish as they wage the timeless battle of man versus fish. Papa is there, advising. Gabe sits patiently. “My juice is gone,” he says with the family smile. Micheal twists and turns at the stern. After five long minutes, a fin shows off the starboard, then a splash, then it comes easily to Papa’s hands. It’s a beauty. Micheal rises from his seat, easily hoists the 26” linesider and waits for the inevitable barrage of pictures. Just shy of dinner plate size, the fish is carefully released. 

“Right at the end of the song, he just nailed it!” Papa exclaimed to his lovely wife Shelly, both now under the shelter of the Kolb family’s crooked yellow beach umbrella. Tucking the blindfold back into my pocket, I watched the Simpson brothers plashing in the surf, waiting for a dinner bell and smells of boiled lobsters.  Once again they proved they catch fish like nobody’s business, enjoy a fantastic shared confidence and are blessed with unforgettable smiles, all the essentials for salt pond pirates and solid young men.  

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