Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ning Dreams of Rockfish

给一个人一条鱼 你可以喂他一天。教人以渔 你可以喂他一辈子
[ Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.]

 An annual rite of spring is to meet friends on Tilghman Island, on Maryland’s Eastern shore, and set out in search of trophy rockfish (striped bass) on the Chesapeake Bay.  I was under the weather and missed last year’s outing, so I was looking forward to this trip with great anticipation.

We boarded the Nancy Ellen, a 46-footer, at Knapps Narrow Marina and by 6:15am Captain Bill Fish was motoring our party into the Bay and setting a course for a fishing  grounds known as “The Gooses” some 25 miles to the south.  It was a beautiful morning - blue skies and blue water - and the day promised only to get better.

Joining us on this trip was Ning, a lovely 78 year old gentleman from the Hunan province of southeastern China.  He and his wife have been visiting one of our party on the final leg of their first and probably only trip outside of China.  Ning had never been on a fishing trip like this before and we all hoped we could give him an up close and personal encounter with a magnificent trophy rockfish.

Unfortunately, Ning does not speak a word of English nor do any of us know any Chinese, yet we conversed with our smiles and with several ‘thumbs up” and other universal hand gestures.  How I wished I had a chance to ask him about his life in China.  Just imagine the history he has seen in his lifetime.  The beginning of the Chinese republic under Sun Yat-sen and the Kuomintang; Mao’s Long March from Hunan and the long Japanese occupation before and during World War II; the years of xenophobic communism with its Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and the Red Guard; and finally the gradual opening to the West and its evolution into an economic powerhouse with the onset of market socialism.  I was satisfied just to watch him as he scanned the Bay and the distant shoreline . . . and dreamed of rockfish. 

It was a slow day for fishing; we have had early spells of warm weather this spring and it has interrupted the normal biorhythms of the fish.  They have not been seen where they are suppose to be and in the normally expected numbers.  We tracked several balls of baitfish, mostly menhaden, but the rockfish were few and far between.  Trolling several lines at depths of 25 to 40 feet, we watched and waited for the telltale clicks announcing a fish on the line.  Ning’s eyes seldom left the water save for a short snooze and dreams of a big fish. Watching him made the entire trip worthwhile.

Ning will soon return to China and the life he has always known.  He will probably never return to America, but he will always have some cherished memories of a foreign land, and a day spent on Chesapeake Bay with a bunch of guys who will try again next year.  When we do, we will recall that beautiful day when Ning shared our dream of rockfish.

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