Jamestown Island, Rhode Island, with its quaint namesake village, is forever etched in my memory. As a young boy, I fished its rocky shores and enjoyed its New England character, with my father and a friend.
From the town beach, we watched crowded car ferries, criss-crossing Narragansett Bay, on their round-trip passages to Newport. Nearby, in a flat-bottom rowboat, a shirtless, muscular man dug his long handled basket into the sandy bottom, searching for the hard shell clams known to locals as Rhode Island ‘quahogs’, later to be sold at market.
In our small boat, we drifted with the tide, bobbing rhythmically in ocean swells. Our time and effort in the heat of day were rewarded with catches of shimmering mackerel, flounder, and bottom feeding tautaug, a fighting fish with big lips and near human-like teeth. The ocean is a depository of strange looking specimens.
Wading into the foamy surf, our legs wrestled with ribbons of silky sea kelp. Underfoot, docile horseshoe crabs, ancient creatures of the seas, scatterred in clouds of sand when nudged. Terns and gulls circled above, constantly searching for food, and sprays from salty ocean waves dried our skin.
The island’s eastern end, Beavertail, tapered into the Atlantic and was guarded by the sentinel Jamestown lighthouse, with its piercing horn and penetrating light. From here, we saluted naval ships returning to base from their missions, asea.
Jamestown Island, with its sandy roads meandering through tall grasses to hideaway spots at the ocean’s edge, provided a plethera of adventures. None was more fascinating than the night we discovered a small group of Portuguese men fishing for conger eels from a cliff high above a craggy shoreline. Their twin lanterns cast long shadows that blended into the darkness below, and the roar of the pounding surf accompanied their cheerful silence.
Like Pilgrims, we were welcomed into their circle of friendship and taught the skills to catch these ‘monster’ fish, a delicacy to the men. It was a peaceful place to be at day’s end. Fishing can do that, calm the soul and make friends of strangers.
Late into night, with lanterns extinguished, the stars twinkled to life, and we basked in the theatre of the sky.
Who would think eel fishing could be so romantic?