Fishing the Atlantic full time is trench warfare — an endless sequence of punctures, scrapes, lacerations, blunt traumas, sprains, spasms, burns, water-loggings, dehydrations, freezings, saltings and bleachings. And hands get the brunt of it. The fish gods get their pound of flesh every time.

A dorsal spike, a gillplate, a knife or hook, a line under strain — every fish or object in reach conspires to tear fingers to ribbons, pulverize those bones south of the elbow. Hands, still dangerously soft after months of stop-and-go fishing, top the list of immediate liabilities.

Ansgar Valbo

Ansgar Valbo

Now it’s a run of fish. The boat, like some fiberglass wraith, drifts into her slip after midnight, out again pre-dawn, with crew battered, spirits threadbare. Setting the anchor in a breeze a couple of awake periods ago, you felt the surging line exfoliate your “guide” hand to a slick, printless shine. That same afternoon, as you drew up the tag ends of a splice, the braid side of it worked its way into a crease beside the knuckle of your right index finger and dug out a handy quarter-inch notch that ought to, you note, heal up nicely — in about four months.

The metamorphosis has begun. Not the emergence of a glorious butterfly into the dewy April morn. More like the curing of cheap ham in open air.

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Your years on the pitching deck, and prospects for holding your spot there past 50, reflect your ability to contain, subvert or conceal the considerable — and inevitable — pain. Grousing and bitching about sore hands is the province of greenhorns, young children and the 95 percent who couldn’t hack this livelihood. Awww, does Little Bobby Half-Share need a manicure and a good cry?

Between your covert misery and a hardened state sometime in the future, you live a ceaseless, multi-front campaign against fish poisoning, tendonitis and carpal tunnel. You shield beleaguered digits and attendant joints from full-scale arthritic seize-up. With luck and time, long-atrophied hunter-gatherer adaptations will heal or regenerate your mitts almost as quickly as they accrue fresh damage. But every scar that lasts could tell a hell of a story.

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