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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Friday, June 08, 2012

Hooking fish and other things in Georgia

On Memorial Day, waters in the creek showed whitecaps due to Tropical Storm Beryl moving in. Mark and I fished from the dock. We were at Dad’s on the Georgia coast south of Savannah.

The previous night, just before the rains hit and during rough waters, we hung the boat. Dad built his floating dock in a “U” shape with the opening just big enough for his 18-foot Shoal Cat. He maneuvered it in, placed hooks through two belt-loop-like metal pieces on either side in the back and one on the bow and powered it out of the water. I pulled the plug from the back so the rain wouldn’t collect.

So, we didn’t have the boat to sit in, and the dock was wet from morning rains. Mark was smart and thought to bring a plastic chair from the porch, where we’d eaten crabs earlier.

We took turns sitting in the chair. I sat first; he stood. Not much time passed before he hooked a hotdog shark, what we call the tiny ones we catch consistently, and I shoved the chair down the dock, careful to hold on to it until he sat so it wouldn’t blow away. Then I caught a hotdog and he passed the chair back.

Dad walked down and pulled a five-gallon bucket from the boat and sat it end-up, thus making himself a seat. Mark offered him the chair, but he refused it.

After several more hotdog sharks and chair trades, I hooked something big. It pulled hard. I stood and eventually landed it: a butterfly ray. I’d caught one Saturday when we were out in the river. In the 13 years Dad’s lived there, he’d never seen one.

The chair had been mine, but before I could transfer it, the wind blew it into the water. Mark tried to snag it with his pole but was unsuccessful. Dad suggested grabbing it as it passed the neighbor’s dock, about 8 yards away. Luckily the tide was slow.

To get to the neighbor’s dock, I ran up Dad’s floating dock, and up the portion elevated over the tall grass and marshy soil, through the yard, squeezed through a hole in the greenery into the neighbor’s yard, which I ran through to the next yard. Out of breath, I stepped on to the elevated portion of their dock.

Mark waved me back. I figured he was able to hook it with his pole and reel it in, so I turned around. Only a couple steps later I heard yelling. I turned and he and Dad were pointing to the neighbor’s dock shouting. I was too far away to understand them, but the situation seemed urgent. I misunderstood Mark’s waving. I booked it down to the floating dock.

When I got there Dad shouted over, “It should float out the other side. Just wait for it.”

I waited. “It’s not coming.”

I reverse-pushupped my way down to look under the dock and saw the chair stuck between floats about eight feet back.

Dad recommended I not swim under to loosen it because of the barnacles. Barnacles cement themselves to any stationary, solid object consistently underwater. They’re tiny with rough shells. A time earlier when Mark and I came to Georgia Dad had left his boat tied up at the dock a few days without running it. Barnacles attached and created drag when he did run it. To remove them, Dad motored his boat to a sandbar at low tide, I got into the water, gathered a big gulp of air and went under to scrape them off with a hatchet. The tops of my fingers were bloodied when we were done, but the boat slipped through the water a lot better.

Barnacles hurt, so I wasn’t swimming around floats ensconced in them. How would we get the chair? Dad shouted over that he’d make something, and he started toward the house. 

Several minutes later I intercepted Dad in the yard. He carried a 10-foot, thin, metal pole on the end of which he’d duct taped a gaff. A gaff is a hook on a handle used for lifting fish when a fishing line might be too unreliable. They come in different sizes. The hook on this one was about the size of my thumb and index finger making a C.

I took the pole, rested it on my shoulder and reversed direction, as did Dad. After a couple steps I turned: “You wanna come down to see the action?” He answered, “Why not?”

A woman and two girls played on the dock just beyond the neighbor’s. As Dad and I walked, I told him I was glad I was doing this: doing the work to get the chair. I wanted to show those girls that women are capable of doing things most would picture a man doing. I wanted to be their hero for the day.

On the floating dock, I lay, belly down, and hung my head to reassess the situation. The chair had not moved. I lifted my head and pushed my now wet bangs to the side before grabbing the pole and hanging my head again.

I barely nudged the chair and it came floating out. I grabbed it with my left hand and held the pole in my right. It was ungainly because of its length. I asked Dad to take it. As he bent over, I lifted it higher and the gaff bit into my cheek.

I felt my skin pop and I screamed, not knowing how deep the hook entered but picturing myself disfigured. But…it didn’t hurt too much. However, I was still freaked out. Dad took the pole and looked at my face as I turned my cheek toward him. He said it didn’t look too bad.

I sat up as he pulled the chair from the water. With concern, he looked at me again and offered his shirt to wipe the blood. I declined and sat half a minute more, hyperventilating, blood running down my jaw, drying on my neck and collar bone. Then I got up and carried the pole up the dock, followed by Dad carrying the chair.

I stopped to tell the woman and the girls that I was OK. They’d witnessed me screaming, crying and hyperventilating so I doubted they thought of me as the heroin I’d wanted to be. But I let them know I was getting over it quickly.

A hook to the face. Now I know how the fish feel.


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