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.
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.