The Magic of Salt Pond Fishing at Night

Some nights, fishing in a salt pond, I have this whole world to myself. I do, right then, floating, silent, dark, equally cautious, and tranquil. Some nights, I know magic exists because I believe fish absolutely are there, line-sided ghosts when I rest on hunches. Those nights transport me. Fishing in a salt pond introduces me to nature beyond belief, manifesting the power fish and night have over us. Some salt pond nights, turning for home, reflecting, I know fish were always only part of a watery equation and I am thankful for everything I saw, heard, discovered, imagined, and believed.

Beginning at dusk makes sense for when anglers of average stamina haul out, I quietly slip in. Despite my years on the water, nerves still weave accelerant into anticipation. With three streets to go, tension builds. I peer over small hills, wincing, worried someone might be there. Decades in salt ponds have taught me where fish should be, how they are wise and wary, then reminds me what I know is also very little. Soon paddling east, at peace, I look up. Twilight is pure magic advancing subtle awakenings of heaven so there is always a reason to look upwards. Light fades as perception expands. Springtime grasses sweeten everything as I drift, casting blindly over cobbled rock bottom. Spartina offers no such scent but it whispers. Inevitably, some heron on spindly legs squawks displeasure with my arrival though our separation is ample.

Some salt pond nights, laughter carries on campfire smoke. White pine. Western anglers will opine for mesquite but from sea level, watching thin wisps of grey, barely visible through salted glasses, it is a scent of shorelines. On cold nights, it is oak smoke escaping warm homes. At night, my moves must be sedulous. Experience guides directions yet years are erased when Nature hides bait or pressure turns fish back. Seasons are fleeting but there is no call to rush a night because night is the reason I am there, with wide eyes surveying all directions always. Some nights, fish come to my hooks quickly. Maybe they are heavy though soon sluggish after their pugilistic resistance with stomachs full. Some nights, Nature drafts other plans, divergent from mine so there are no fish. Or, they are present with no intention of feeding or meeting me. So I drift, knowing fish were never the reason.

Just Me and the Fish

Some nights, I barely lift a rod since shallows are gagged with heavy red and thin green weeds and Joe Castiglione is calling the sox game. Hooting for a schoolie is a very freshman move but howling for a full-count blooper to shallow left-scoring Devers is fair. Some nights, I follow the sounds of small stripers slurping quickly before retreating while others crash the surface party, tail-slapping rain bait and then returning to consume them. Such is Nature’s circle and I am fortunate to be there. All night, the water speaks and I listen. Deep pools and edges are clear in the darkness. Sands alternate colors and waters move differently.

Machines look down, I look everywhere. Then one hits, hard, a real fish, solid, heavy and unhappy. She spins me sharply around and then backward, twisting my neck. When my rod is pinned, I wait, spin more, glide, no longer in control, never grinning. Jinxes are real, most certainly in the dark, alone, and with a big fish. Often I forget to breathe. In the barest of lights, I see pearls, silvers, and some signs she is close. Then there is the leader, a thin line connecting my hopes to her. As she rolls, I reach for her slowly so as not to join her. Every movement is a risk now but even in snow, I reach in deeply to haul her upwards, then exhale, release the bail, feel amazed, free the plug, relax my grip, say thank you, and slide her overboard. Most nights, all nights with snow, there is no one to hear or see but me.

I ease past everything because I am alone and invisible. My best plan is to wait, listen, and float. Subtle dark waves roll my kayak as some bass passes to my left, headed for a meal that isn’t plastic. There are few sacred moments like watching a fish swim barely below the surface, in pursuit. Paddling by seasonal homes trimmed purposefully with uninspired Outside White, I smirk with pleasure at the fine blessing that is being who you are without the burdens of announcing how you want to be seen because you think you are more than you are. Often it is pale boring lights of televisions that sparkle a shoreline. With a harvest or sturgeon moon, a bank of heavy clouds bullying high pressure, or the slow easterly breeze which brings welcome rain to grasses and beans, I wonder why so many people are anchored to couches instead of reclining on porches or sitting by windows to see this show. Mostly, I concur, it’s because of repetition. After a while, it’s the same old sun and moon rotation. Fools.

Experience Guides My Kayak Home

Hours later, I will again wonder why house lights blare until dawn, illuminating a possession that few can see, save for a lone angler who sees them as disproportionate to subtle treasures of a magical salt pond.

Gazing overhead at the stars, I have overcome a big fish. With senses alive, confident in my skills, unaware of such riches, I did glide into a bass of great girth. We were both startled, then moved on, with equal speed in opposite directions, wiser for such an accidental meeting. Long after that full body soaking, my heart still raced. On some slow nights, I cross my arms, set down my rod, and rest. Where upwelling fades and sandy bottoms come up to oblige small channels, I am listless and pleased. Grasses slide against each other, hissing slightly, waking me in time.

Some nights I fish too long so the weather overcomes me. Long past opportunities like light or land, in a kayak, sleek and low, I float then paddle then pause then paddle harder, working shallow water, listening for landmarks erected or natural. In rain and snow, I know which lights are south, which long space between two are west. Experience guides me home as I continue watching for signs of fish. No recharge comes so completely as a tug of the line. One pull, one glancing brush, one hint of a fin where every dark line surely is one, and I will succumb to desire and paddle into circling currents once more.

Heading for home is easy. I just know it’s time. It’s not the hour, not cold, it’s just time. It becomes time because I have been blessed with so much of it.  Rounding a small point, I feel warmth, there, in my face and beard. Some nights, fishing in a salt pond, with a big bass on, swirling, marveling at her strength, awash in stars, I have this whole world to myself.