Freezing temperatures didn't stop the author and his father-in-law from reheating an annual Thanksgiving fishing trip.
I wore a short-sleeve shirt, long-sleeve shirt, sweatshirt and winter coat. I had gloves, a hat—I was too tough to wear a scarf, even though it would have been handy. I tried in vain to neatly coil the shore power cord: It was frozen solid and refused to bend. The thermometer read 18 degrees. Warmer than the day before, but not by much.
My family’s annual fall fishing trip was a slight break from tradition; we typically aim to go fishing for stripers on Thanksgiving morning. High winds and seas had canceled what we affectionately call The Turkey Brawl. Overnight, as the tryptophan and food coma wore off, the wind offshore shifted direction and the seas lay down flat. Suddenly The Brawl was back on.
Over the years we’ve seen a revolving door of friends and family come aboard the family Egg Harbor for this annual pilgrimage into the Atlantic. The last couple years unfortunately saw only a skeleton crew of my dad, brother and me fighting to keep the tradition alive.
Last year, at my wife Karen’s family home on Thanksgiving, with desserts and after-dinner drinks before us and a fire in the fireplace, I invited my father-in-law, Bryan, to join the outing. He accepted immediately. It was at this point that his daughters and wife reminded him he’d never been fishing. As tends to happen at a proper family party, debate ensued.
Bryan claimed to have fished as a kid with a now-disgraced family friend—something only disclosed following a few more drinks—and again on a head boat years later. No one really wins these arguments, but it became Sambuca clear he hadn’t gone fishing in a long time.
The next morning we were up with the sun, dressed for a blizzard and huddled around the helm bound for Jones Inlet and the Atlantic. Weaving through the channel to the inlet there wasn’t another boat in sight, let alone a peep to be heard on the VHF. I wondered how strange this annual trip must seem to outsiders. Getting up early, dressing in more layers than an onion, skipping breakfast, burning a bunch of fuel—all in the hopes of catching a few fish that more likely than not, we’d end up throwing back into the frigid sea. I hoped this first fishing trip wouldn’t be my father-in-law’s last.
Fortune would favor the crazy. We quickly hooked up with a striper. I grabbed the rod, turned up the drag on the Penn reel and turned off the clicker. My brother put the fishing belt awkwardly high on Bryan as I handed him the rod. He began making quick work, bringing his first bass to the boat with ease. I gave my brother a hard time—in keeping with family tradition—about his belt placement. He gave me a look that said, “You go ahead and fix it. He’s not my father-in-law.” I left the belt where it was.
From there we would find our rhythm. We cracked a couple beers, put on an old mixed CD my dad burned in the early 2000s, butchered some Quint impersonations and continued to reel in one small striper after another. The action kept us busy and warm-ish. We fished for a few hours before our fingers and toes began to really get cold (surely those Heinekens we were holding couldn’t be to blame).
We caught more than two dozen striped bass, all of our extremities remained intact and everyone seemed to have some fun. My only regret was not catching a keeper. I would have loved for Bryan to get the last laugh back at the house by bringing home a mess of striped bass for dinner. That would have been the icing on the holiday cake.
I guess if I think about it, the size of the fish doesn’t really matter. We added a new member to our motley Thanksgiving fishing crew, took a break from our hectic lives to spend time together, reeled in a few fish and had a few laughs. That’s the tradition. That’s the real keeper.