I went fishing the other day at the jetty by the Vineyard Haven drawbridge. It was early evening, the sun beginning to set, and I was alone on the rocks. The sky was clear and on the horizon the mainland hovered like a thick slice of bread. The steamship chugged by sending four-foot swells my way and a seagull taunted me from above.

When I was a boy I fished these same waters with my grandfather, but that was over thirty years ago. I have been living in New York city but in the fall, my wife and I and our two small children moved to the Island. Over time it seemed I had forgotten everything. Which lures to use or knots to tie. Whether a net, gaffe, or finger in the gill is the most efficient tool to raise a fish out of the sea. And saddest of all I had lost the ability to hear what secrets the tide, moon, and winds whispered into the ears of experienced fisherman.

But luck was with me and soon I had something on the line. It turned out to be a small blue and in few more casts I hooked another. By this time two young boys, Dave and Tim, had joined me. Both were expert fishermen, and I learned that most evenings Dave’s father dropped them off at the jetty. Dave was out of fishing line, though, too many tangles, he said, and so played first mate of the jetty. With each fish caught, he scrambled down the rocks and lifted it skillfully from the water. Then he would turn to me, a small billy club suddenly appearing in his hand, and ask, “Want me to knock it out?”

After about an hour of this, the shouts of Dave’s father calling from shore brought the night to a close.

“Good luck to you,” the boys said to me.

“Thanks, but I think I’m done too,” I replied. With that we walked off the jetty together, our rods and tackle boxes banging against our legs.

Halfway to the beach, Dave turned to me and asked, “How old are you?”

“Forty-four,” I said. Dave’s face took on a look of puzzlement, contorting in the way that only children seem to know how to do. Registering shock, delight, surprise or sadness with such totality that their faces literally become the emotion they are feeling. I felt it too, this surprise at the sound of my own age. Out on the jetty it was as if the years had evaporated and that the next day I would be joining the boys at school. In homeroom we might struggle together over a particularly annoying set of adverbs or fractions, and during lunch quiz each other about what we wanted to be when we grew up. It is hard to remember what I would have said so long ago, and even harder to imagine I am still wrestling with this same question.

“How old are you guys?” I finally asked in return, partly out of curiosity and partly to distract my thoughts.

“I’m 11,” Dave said,

“I’m 12,” added Tim.

“Sixth grade?” I asked.

“Yeah,” they said.

I was about to ask another question. Something dull like what they were studying in school. Such an adult question, which would have immediately widened the gulf between us far more than even the announcement of my age. But then to our right a cloud of bait fish broke the water.”

“Bass,” yelled Tim.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Blues jump out of the water to catch bait. Bass eat from below and drive the bait to jump,” Tim said. “Think you’re dad can wait some?” he asked Dave.

“Yeah, he’s a good dad,” he answered without hesitation. “How about you, Bill? You staying?”

“Definitely,” I answered.

With that we went to work on the bass, but this time I gave my rod to Dave and played first mate to him. Dave was a good caster and as I stood back watching I couldn’t stop smiling. Really, the difference between age 11 and 44 is not so great when viewed by the light of the stars with a striped bass tugging heavily at the end of your fishing pole.


Bill Eville lives in West Tisbury.