The never-ending battle to keep your mitts from being torn to ribbons.

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.


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.



Dolphin mahi mahi

Fast and Furious

The dolphin were running small off southeastern Florida last summer. You learned that if you were in the Gulf Stream fishing sargassum weed lines for Mr. Big, but you also could have found out from a police blotter that the catch was not as hot as the weather.


Coming Home

The sun was almost down when Jack called out. “I’m on,” he said, and I watched him lean back as the fish turned and made its first run.


The Fall Run

My mind was unconsciously running through the 20 other places I would no doubt have been better off standing.

As two of his brothers watch, Mick Chivers lifts a bass caught the night before from the ice to a cleaning table.

Fishing For The Table

The evening began like a fishing daydream. The sun was dropping. The flooding tide and a cool wind were roughly aligned.

Snook sharpie Mike Thiels makes a 2 a.m. toss for bait from the Lantana Ocean Avenue Bridge in Florida

The Thump

Who answers the phone at 3:30 a.m., chats amiably, swaps helpful information, wishes the caller good luck but doesn’t go back to sleep humming a lullaby of curses?

Cinder worm hatches mostly take place after dark, attracting night-owl anglers and stripers.

Magic Hatch

There’s nothing quite like fishing for striped bass as they dine on spawning cinder worms


One Helluva Fish

Why the bluefish, an animated chopping machine with a public relations problem, just might be the perfect game fish