WE'VE HAD a close friend and fishing buddy for decades, Carl Geraci, now of Alabama but formally from Portsmouth. Carl used to live on the shore of Great Bay in Eliot, Maine, and moved to Alabama when he retired from the Portsmouth Navy Yard. He was a avid sportsman and quite skilled at striper fishing and most other saltwater fishing.
In his youth, he stayed at the Isles of Shoals and worked as a mate on a fishing boat. Back then many of the small fishing boats working the Isles of Shoals were catching codfish with hook and line. By that we mean simple handline gear and huge, heavy lead jigs. This was not easy work. The jigs weighed as much as three pounds. You'd let them slide over the rail on a roller and when you hit the bottom it was pull up and let fall down with the jig until you hooked a cod. Then you'd haul it up, hand over hand, unhook the fish and drop the jig back down as soon as you could.
Because the codfish bite was best very early in the morning, Carl would be in charge of preparing breakfast on the way out to the fishing grounds, a mile or so off. Every morning without fail, he'd cook up a batch of what then was called "jigger's delight." It might not delight you if you knew that it was scrambled sea gull eggs. But the second ingredient probably would please as that was lobster meat. It was rumored that fisherman never ate a legal lobster.
Carl was in charge of finding the seagull eggs on the islands during the daytime. The trick was to mark eggs that were already in the nests with a crayon, knowing that unmarked ones that were subsequently found the next day would be very fresh.
In our late teenage years and beyond, Carl, myself and a friend of both, Ralph Hammer Jr., were pretty serious about our striper fishing, as we were doing it commercially. Even though we'd share secrets with each other there was a friendly completion for the biggest striper, with our goal of winning the Suds-n-Soda Sports striper contest. First prize was $500, a lot of money for us back then, but the bragging rights were priceless.
I had caught a monster striper early in the fishing season. It weighed an honest 49 pounds on the scale at Suds. Carl called me soon after and told me that he'd be catching a 50 pounder and for me not to be too sure of that money. Fifty-pound stripers were not common, even in those great daysm but Carl's confidence seemed to put a scare into me. With only a few days left in the Suds striper contest, Carl called and told me he'd just registered a 50 pounder and we knew he wasn't joking. But the second prize of $250 didn't look too bad for me. With only a day or two left in the contest, wouldn't you know that someone outside of our circle of friends had brought in a fish that weighed 52 pounds, putting Carl in second place and me down to the $100 third place.
A couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to be able to take Carl out for a striper day on Great Bay, as he had come for his annual three week stay with his son Carl, who lives in Rye. It was a windy and rough day with a cold front making it kind of miserable. Knowing how cold fronts usually put a real damper on the striper fishing, we told Carl not to get too excited about catching any fish. But he was very positive and wasn't worried about any cold front.
We pounded around in my 16-foot skiff for about three hours, never getting a hit. Actually this was the first time out striper fishing in this new boat, leaving my larger and more powerful boat at home. The boat was working out fine but the fish were not responding. Finally, in the middle of Little Bay, where the wind was fierce, we decided to call it quits and head down the Piscataqua River towards our launching place at Peirce Island. It wasn't minutes after turning the bow down river that my rod bucked and a nice striper was on and landed. There were lots of smiles, with Carl giving me some trouble about me saying we wouldn't catch fish. And that didn't stop as soon he had one on and landed it. And then the "beat went on," with several other hits and landing nine fish before we finally got into P-town and got the boat back on the trailer.We had kept three fish. Two ladies from NH Fish and Game checked out our catch and were very good natured and a lot of fun. And of course Carl had to tell them about me bad mouthing about the cold front and not being able to catch a thing. He hasn't changed much. And he still knows his striper fishing.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.