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  • [excerpted from a longer piece]
    [February, 1991. The Long Island Sound, Off Fairfield County]

    Joe Kadar went out ahead of us, clearing a path through the river ice. The day dawned clear and frosty after a night wracked by storm. Only our breath had soft edges. East, over the farther bank of the Norwalk River, the sun's first color enlivened the treetops beneath the gray sky. The cold still managed to insinuate itself through six layers -- two undershirts, turtleneck, over-shirt, down vest and cloth jacket. I clumsily paced the small deck to keep blood flowing while pulling on yellow rubber gloves over polypropylene liners. Joe’s boat, bigger than ours, newer and made of fiberglass, moved through the harbor ice as a beautiful woman parts a crowd, and we followed in her wake. Our boat -- Rick's really, though as her deckhand I had certain proprietary feelings --was ancient wood, and while she could probably handle the ice, no one felt an urge to test her. Unlike the Ricksand, she was nameless. Once she'd been called Jackpot. Now her stern was blank and white as the snow I'd shoveled off the plastic bait-totes that morning. This was my first ever snow day on the water, and before Rick could stop me, I’d stupidly hosed down the snow-covered deck, forming an instant rink that resisted pounding with brushes, hacking with knives and screwdrivers, kicking with hard-rubber heels. The ice scorned all efforts to dislodge it. That frozen deck made the morning's fishing an adventure, five hours of skating on a moving pond carrying waterlogged traps, dodging waves of icy water that rose higher than my head.

    The fishing, as usual after a storm,
was good. The traps came up loaded with lobsters, chipper and angry despite 
the frigid water. I asked Rick why, but he didn't hear me. He was 
staring off across the metal-green water toward Port Jeff. I grabbed a handful of stiff, half-thawed bunker from the open bait tote and jammed it into a mesh bait bag. Rick turned my direction, though his eyes didn't engage mine. He stared down at his sunglasses, wiping them on a sheet of paper towel. Then he looked up and raised his eyebrows.

    “Hey Rick!” Joe’s voice crackled over the radio. “Bastard's all over me. Wrapped me all the fuck up.”

    Joe's boat was so much faster than ours, he had pulled through his inshore gear and was already into the deep water sets, west off the Stamford coast. But Stamford men hadn’t caused his problem. They all knew Joe, knew he was semi-retired and not fishing a lot of gear, respected him for his long experience on the water. A Darien guy, Rainer French, was the culprit. If someone's gear was knotted up, set across or moved, the blue buoys were always close by. If gear went missing, the spot where it should have set would be occupied by French. French didn't give a damn what other guys thought of him. So five years before, Rainer French had, in his own words, “just gone crazy” and started cutting people's trawls.

    The deck was clear. The sun had burned through the morning clouds and melted the ice. I was sweating now under all my layers of clothing. Rick stood at the wheel, cutting the boat in a hard, sweeping arc to drag the rebaited traps off the transom and back into the water. As the last trap jerked off the stern and submerged, he hefted the buoy over the side and drew a line through a number in his spiral-bound logbook. Then he let the revs of the engine drop, lit a cigarette and turned to me. “That's it for around here,” he said. He consulted his watch. “Quarter to twelve. You want to eat now, or travel then eat?”

    “How far to travel?”

    “All we got left is down to the west. Twenty minutes, half an hour.” I looked into the water and considered: my stomach could no longer remember the egg-and-cheese sandwich I'd had for breakfast five and a half hours earlier. I wanted to eat now.

    “Does it matter? Now or later?”

    “If we travel now, I'll want to pull one string down there before we 
eat. We've got about twenty strings on a three-day set. If the first one comes up empty, we'll go in. I'm not going to bother. But I want to take a 
look. French's all over the place down there.”

    “It's your boat.”

    “Are you hungry?”

    “Of course.”
 We sat on the rail and unwrapped our sandwiches. When I first started working, I wondered how Rick could eat the same peanut-butter-and-
jelly sandwiches every day, day after day, month after month and season 
after season. I concocted all sorts of grinders, Dagwoods and whole-food-organics-on-pita lunches before I understood: after lifting 60 sixty-pound traps an hour for four hours without a break, anything tastes good. The reek of rotting bait has no effect on your appetite. You inhale the sandwich. You guzzle the soda pop. The Twix candy bar disappears in a matter of seconds. Now I ate peanut butter, and loved it. The flavor of jelly changed every couple of weeks when the jar was empty.

    When we had finished eating, Rick lit another cigarette and I opened a piece of peppermint bubble gum. Rick crossed his legs and looked off to the south, where the clear sky was paling before a sweep of thin gray cloud. “Huhn,” he said, without enthusiasm.

    I had risen and was counting the bugs in the holding tank. “I make, like, sixty, seventy.” I started pulling the vulcanized gloves over my liners.

    “63,” Rick said, climbing back into his overalls. “Almost two pounds
 a trawl. Not bad for this time of year.” Other times, like spring, a pound a pot was good. In summer, good strings could bring in twenty, thirty pounds. 
An exceptional single trap might net ten legal lobsters. But the summer price, during the run, was about $2.25 a pound. Winter prices might reach six dollars. It was meant to average out, but it didn't. Winter was the sparse time. Rick restarted the engine. “Tommy has a lot of gear down where we're going. He told my father he's been catching.”

    “Rick, it's Blankenhopper. You're not going to start believing him.”

    “I wanna take a look,” he said, giving the engine more throttle.

    “He's a fisherman,” I said. The roar drowned me out.

    The Johnny C. hove to beside us about two miles offshore from Noroton. Five minutes earlier we had heard a loud, nasal voice over the radio: “Hey, Rick! Rick Kadar! You out there?” Rick looked to heaven.

    “C-Cup!” I laughed. “I thought he took the winter off.”

    Rick sneered as he lifted the handset. “Bet the Giants,” he said, then depressed the button. Johnny Carlo must have heard my snort over his radio.

    “Go ahead,” Rick said.

    “I wanna talk,” the voice said.

    “Go ahead,” Rick repeated.

    “I wanna talk,” Carlo said. “Is that you out there?”

    “I'm in the forties, heading west.”

    “Yeah, right. Okay.” We knew Carlo couldn't read the Loran, that he set his gear by sight and hope, that he fished by ‘Guinea luck:’ threw a helluva lot of traps in the water, waited a long time before pulling them and took money from his parents when times were tight and the Giants lost. ‘The Forties’ would mean no more to him than ‘the Horse Latitudes.’

    “We're out here,” Rick said.

    Carlo was a little fat kid whose raingear always looked new. He wore a neon-green cap and plenty of gold. His father, a plumber, doted on him, and had bought him the new $100,000 boat he fished, appropriately named after himself: a sweet little witch with lovely, fast lines and a Cat engine they must have pirated from a Space Shuttle. It was more boat than Johnny knew what to do with. After a year, he still could not handle her. He floated along our side, and as he and Rick talked and the current carried the two boats apart, he gunned that engine. Then I had to leap to the rail and start kicking the red boat's fiberglass hull to keep her from staving in our side.

    This was the conversation Johnny couldn't send out over the radio: “I'm missing gear.”

    “Buoys?” Rick asked, leaning against the davit.

    “Gear,” Carlo said. “My new four-footers.”

    Rick was suddenly interested. “Are you catching with those?”

    Johnny spit in the water. His deckhand, a tall, bedraggled-looking kid with red eyes and a beer paunch, stuck his chin out. “Not wit' the missing ones, cuz.”

    “You're outa Norwalk,” Johnny said. “What's your fuckin' problem?” Rick and I looked at each other. “I know you don't like me,” Johnny said. “That don't mean you can fuck with me.”

    “Who says I don't like you?” Rick asked. “If I didn't like you, I'd tell you.” That was untrue. He detested Johnny.


    “Young Rainer, the kid?”

    “Rainer Senior.” 
I could see Rick's eyes narrow and mouth tighten from where I stood bagging bait.

    “You shouldn't
 listen to that cocksucker, Johnny. He's a lying sack of shit. Where'd you see him?”

    “He's got the little boat out on the water again. They're fishing both boats.” The big boat was the Belinda, even newer than the Johnny C. but cursed with an engine that died once a week and a transmission as fragile as glass. The little boat was the Jolly Roger, the Frenches' first vessel, apparently still seaworthy.

    “He's not supposed to be out on the water,” Rick said. “That was part of the ruling against him. Where was that gear you lost?” Johnny named a point off southern Stamford. “Shit, man, I got nothing that far west.”

    “He said you called me an asshole.”

    “Hey Johnny, who's fishing next to you down there? Where yours should be?” But Rick didn't even need an answer.
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