October 25th, 1999

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories. . .

On Salem Pond

By Charlie Place

It was the last day of October and I was riding in a station wagon loaded with fishing gear and three expert spin fishermen. Their six fishing rods lay angled over the back seat, all rigged for stripers. I was sitting right behind the driver. A long, scaled, plastic lure dangled from the well-used rod leaning closest to me. It had an ink black back and a creamy white belly that sparkled as it swayed back and forth, caught by a single hook drawn through one of the rod's tarnished guides. Its large dark red eye was scarred from a previous battle, and stared lifelessly. We went over a bump and the six rods bounced, filling the wagon with the sound of rattling, razor-sharp, treble hooks.

It spooked me a little. I'm not used to all this hardware. I'm used to the quiet swish of a fly rod and a single hook, hidden under colorful feathers. I was spooked all right, but not as much as, we all would be later.

We were headed for a salt pond on the coast. A call from the driver's friend had told us that Salem Pond was full of hungry stripers. I hadn't fished with these guys before, but they knew me from work and had invited me to go. With names like Catfish, Pennsylvania Slim and Fish Hound (AKA Chow Hound) there was no doubt that these were dedicated fishermen. That's not all Sea Dog was coming later. Sea Dog was a legend. It was said, if you scratched him on the arm, fish scales would come off.

We were early, so we stopped at a well-known fast food restaurant, ordered, and found some seats. Except for Chow Hound. He sat alone. I asked, "What's up?

"You don't want to know," Catfish answered.

We never let him sit with us because of what he eats," Slim said.

"Why, what did he order?" I asked.

"A pumpkin milkshake and a fish sandwich," Catfish answered. I just continued eating my burger and tried not to think about it.

Dinner was over and we all piled into the wagon. Another thirty minutes and we would be at the pond. Since Chow Hound was in the back seat with me, I was hoping that he wasn't prone to motion sickness.

Catfish's friend met us at the pond and gave us the layout. He told us where the fish were likely to be and where we could wade without getting into trouble. We were fishing an incoming tide. The one place we were to avoid was a salt marsh. "It looks like flats," he said, "but it's real muddy and more than one fisherman has gotten stuck waist deep in the mud, and drowned when the tide came in. Some have never been found. I have to go to work," he said suddenly. "Good luck."

Three spin fishermen were in the water in no time. Since I was a fly fisherman, I was slower getting ready. I had to get my rod out of the case, attach the reel, string up the rod, etc. While I was doing this a strange man appeared. He was a tall, slim man wearing a long black tattered trench coat. Underneath the trench coat, it looked like he was wearing old time long johns, the ones with the trap door. He smiled a toothless smile. His face was pale gray and leathery looking with deep dark circles under his eyes. His long gray matted hair hung on his shoulders. He smelled like wood smoke. "Mister?" he said, "Jack Lannturn here," in a deep raspy voice.

"Hi," I answered nervously."You wouldn't happen to have some matches?" he asked. I rummaged around in my fishing bag and came up with a book of matches.

As I passed them to him, my hand brushed his. His hand was cold and rough and gave me a chill. "Thanks mister," Jack said as he turned and shuffled away.

"Jeez," I thought as I finished getting ready."Homeless people out here?"

Catfish and Chow Hound had moved far out into the pond. Slim was a lot closer so I decided to wade out and fish with him. Slim and I weren't catching anything, but we could see frightened baitfish leaping out of the water trying to avoid being eaten by the ravenous stripers. They were too far away for a cast and the pond was too deep between them and us. It was a frustrating situation. I asked Slim if he thought Catfish and Chow Hound were catching anything. He said, "No." "You would be able to hear Chow Hound yelling, Fish on!"

It was only a half-hour before dark by the time Sea Dog arrived. He carried a cooler, a backpack, and an assortment of spinning rods to the edge of the pond. I was hoping there were some adult beverages in his cooler. Sea Dog waded out to where Slim and I were fishing. We asked where he had been.

"Everybody knows that striper fishing is night fishing," he said authoritatively. Slim pointed out the stripers that were feeding, but couldn't be reached.

"I'll take care of that, Sea Dog said. Let me warm up for a while." We split up and fished for another hour or so. It was dark and the feeding stripers had refused to move any closer. Finally Sea dog marched to shore "I'll take care of that," he repeated.

While he was on land, I turned to look at the salt marsh. I had no plans to go anywhere near it. I was just curious. I noticed a soft red glow moving across the forbidden marsh. It pulsated slowly, like a coal from a fireplace. I strained my eyes to get a better look. I could see a silhouette of a man. A man wearing a trench coat, seemingly floating slowly across the salt bog, above the sucking mud, holding the glowing coal in front of him as he went. I closed my eyes for a few seconds in disbelief. When I opened them, he was gone.

Sea Dog was rushing through the water. He had a rod that looked like it was fifteen feet long. I could hear a chain rattling "What the heck is that," I asked.

"Chain mail," Sea Dog said, in a determined voice "I'm sending those stripers chain mail." He stopped about twenty feet below me. The wake his strong legs made lapped against my waders. He reared back and shot a long cast toward the distant stripers. You could hear the chain mails erie rattle as it arched thirty feet beyond unsuspecting linesiders. The longest cast I had ever seen. Sea Dog began reeling, "Got one," he shouted. After a couple of minutes, he landed his fish.

"Striper?" I asked.

Sea Dog didn't answer. "Striper?" I called again.

"Half a striper," he answered, in a whisper.

"Half a striper?" I muttered to myself. Then I understood. Something crashed into my leg. A chill shot up my spine. The hair on my neck stood straight up. "No, No, No," I thought. I stood still, real still. My widened eyes darted about looking for a telltale fin. I thought about "Shark Week." I thought about my family. I thought about poor Captain Quint sliding slowly down that Great White's throat. Something bumped my leg again. Slowly, I moved my shaking hand into my vest pocket, and clutched my small flashlight. I took a deep breath and turned the light on. A horseshoe crab! "It was a horseshoe crab!" I shouted.

"What!" Sea dog said.

"Nothing," I answered, laughing with relief.

Catfish and Chow Hound were slowly moving toward us. Slim saw them and was reeling up. I was happy to be getting out of there. We stood in a circle, hip deep in the saltwater discussing our nights fishing. I told them about the glow in marsh and the homeless guy. Sea Dog told them about the half striper. Despite his eating habits, Chow Hound is the smart one.

"What are we standing here for," he said, "Let's get the heck out of this water."

"One more cast," Sea Dog begged.

"Hurry up!" we all yelled at the same time.

Sea Dog shot his chain mail high into the air.

"This is like being in a Stephen King movie," I thought.

"I got a sea gull or something," Sea Dog shouted suddenly.

We all looked at his fishing rod. Sure enough, his line was straight up in the air and skyrocketing all over the place. His reel sang as the apparent gull took out line.

"No way," Catfish said, "Not a sea gull, at night."

We strained to see what it was, but it was too dark. All of a sudden, Sea Dog's chain mail dropped out of the blackness, making a tremendous splash as it hit the surface of the pond. He began reeling in. "Something is still on this line, and it's heavy," he said. We waited anxiously. Sea Dog finished reeling in what ever it was. Then dragged it through the water with his rod until it floated in a heap in front of us. Slim reached down and carefully picked it up.

"It's some kind of a large rag," he said. Four flashlights illuminated the mystery cloth. Slim took the hooks out of it and shook out the water. He held it up at arm length. "Looks like a trench coat," he said. ~ Charlie Place


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