I can’t help it. I’m spending a lot of my idle time, which hasn’t been much lately, thinking about bugeyes, skipjacks, luggers, dead rise and other types of work boats.

I imagine myself standing on the rail, tonging for oysters off of Long Island one day and raking for clams the next, or heading down to the Chesapeake Bay and trying my luck there.

There are many winter seasons for shell fishing along the East Coast, and as long as I am in or near coastal estuaries and within sight of land, it’s all good as far as I am concerned.

I also dream about taking one of those shallow bottom boats up near the mangroves down off of the coast of Southern Florida and casting for red snapper.

My childhood business partner, Joey and I, would often spend our lunch breaks fishing for red snapper.

Take a few of them home and prepare them properly with the proper side dishes and you have the best meal in the world for your family.

The problem is, I haven’t been anywhere near the waterman’s life style for coming on 40 years.

Imagine such a thing.

I love the ocean, but I guess I love my wife and family more, so I am turning into an old deep-rooted tree up here in the southern Adirondacks.

But, that doesn’t keep me off the water.

It did for close to 20 years, because I had a total disdain fishing in fresh water, where you need to catch a half dozen to two dozen fish just to make a meal. Besides that, I was somewhat skeptical of all fresh water fish apart from eel or salmon which return from the sea to spawn. (That wasn’t the case when I was a lad.)

My prejudices have slowly faded mostly, because of my late friend John Vincek, who loved ice fishing.

If you are farming, there is not much time for fishing in the summer months. There can be hours and hours of time to fish on the ice in the winter, even though you have to get home to take care of the animals and do chores before the sun goes down and the light fades completely.

Sit on a bucket and catch perch through a hole in the ice. It’s a relatively basic way to bring natural protein into the house and the freezer, and a way to catch fish that is the same for an adult and a child.

John and I would always clean and bag the fish in disassembly-line style. That job went relatively quickly when we worked together.

It’s different doing it alone. It seems like a hard job then.

There is one great advantage to fishing on ice. You don’t need a boat to get to those places off shore that have the right kind of grass and depth and fish.

You are the captain of a vessel, whose deck can stretch for miles.

I know of a few who are already going out on ice 2 inches thick. I will wait a bit. I’m not interested in risking a dipping.

But even with the ice, I can’t help thinking of the open waters of the Chesapeake, of Apalachicola, or of Florida Bay.

Maybe one day I will have time. In the meantime, I know I can still be on the water, even if it’s hard.

Forrest Hartley lives in Hadley, N.Y. The only oysters here are the shell given to the chickens. Leave a message at new_americangothic@yahoo.com.


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