by John Skinner
Each day on my way to work I drive past a little cafe named "The Grind" across from the pond in Wading River. The cafe brings back memories for me because of its former life as Wading River Bait and Tackle, which occupied the building for about ten years. The tackle shop's owner, Matt Maccaro, gets the credit for getting me into kayak fishing when after I looked over one of his kayaks for about the 20th time he said - "Take it with you already and bring it back when you're done!" My fondest memory of the shop was the morning I finally got to see a scale go past fifty pounds on one of my surf-caught bass. I miss driving by the tackle shop, but it's a mighty tough business nowadays.
It's some consolation that the new cafe has excellent food at a reasonable price. Now there's another reason to make me smile when I go into the old familiar building. There are some beautiful pictures on the wall, and one of the scenes is a little more than familiar. Entitled "Wake Reflections", it's a tranquil water scene of a dock and reflections of fall colors blended by a gentle boat wake. It also happens to be the place that made some of my earliest memories, and where my parents still live.
A memory that remains vivid involves the first time I hooked a weakfish when I was no more than 8 years old. I was on a small sand point exposed by low tide on the far left hand side of the picture casting a Johnson Sprite spoon in hopes of catching one of these colorful fish that my father and older brother caught with regularity, but had always eluded me. I had been casting straight out, but a boat was coming, so I made a cast to the side to avoid having the boat run over my line. I remember that retrieve stopping like I had hooked bottom, but then the rod was pulled to the water as line peeled off the lightly set drag. That the fish was named "weakfish" because of its weak mouth had been overly impressed upon me to the point that when I got it to the shore, I was afraid I'd rip its mouth if I tried to pull it onto the sand. I screamed so loud for a net that my parents came running because they thought I was drowning. I wasn't, they didn't bring a net, and the fish didn't wait around long enough for my father to tell me that I could have just pulled it onto the beach. My first weakfish was gone, but many were landed in the coming summers as I got a little smarter.
Whether it was weakfish, snappers, or small bass, no fish was ever larger than about 16 inches. There was no house on the property back then – just a shed, a dock, and an old wooden flat-bottomed boat. On the rare occasions when adult bunker would swim through, I'd row out into their path and try to snag them, because they pulled harder than anything else. One day while reeling in a snagged bunker, my rod doubled over and I watched almost all of my line go off the reel. Somehow I held it together and managed to get all of the line back. By the time I did, the 11-pound bluefish, a monster for those waters, was so whipped that I was able to grab its tail and slide it over the side. It was the biggest fish I had ever caught at the time, beating out the 8-pound bluefish that I wrote about in A Season on the Edge.
There are many other memories as well, often involving crabs, clams, and flounder. Even though I don't think I've ever admitted it, there's also the realization that I probably would have drowned there as a child had my older brother not reached me with an outstretched oar from the old wooden boat.
One day last fall, Captain Jerry McGrath, aka "Schoolman" on Noreast, saw something special in the place as he was cruising up Mattituck Inlet and heading for the Sound, so he snapped a picture. It's now one of the most popular in his gallery of prints that he offers on his website, and a reason for me to smile while I'm waiting for a sandwich at The Grind. You can see more of Jerry's work at www.capturedmcgraphics.com
or on his Facebook page