By Noel Marcovecchio
Copyright 1995, 2017
We all watched as O’Toole cranked in his line. He tried to look cool but we could tell how thrilled he was. Over the side, we saw the fish below the surface as O’Toole continued to reel it in. What a beauty; I had never seen a fish so large. The salmon was about to be netted and excitement ran high. If one hit O’Toole’s line it surely wouldn’t be long before rest of us would catch fish too.
The crewman put the long-handled net over the side waiting for the fish to be brought a little closer. Suddenly, the tip of the rod shot up and O’Toole fell backward onto the deck. In the blink of an eye, the silver prize was gone. No one said anything as O’Toole got to his feet and reeled in the remainder of his limp line. The skipper grabbed the line and examined it. O’Toole had forgotten to close the clip which held the rig in place; it was the reason fish escaped. “Putz” the skipper said to no one in particular as he returned to the wheelhouse.
“Jesus Christ, O’Toole,” Capogrosso shouted. “Don’t you know how to set up a rig by now?” I hope you aren’t going to live up to your nickname.” O’Toole turned very red as Capogrosso resumed his place at the rail.
“What’s his nickname?” I asked.
“El Niño,” Billy replied. “After they got skunked the last time Capogrosso started calling him El Niño.”
El Niño is a weather condition that can happen in late December hence the reference to baby Jesus. It’s a complex situation but its warm weather that negatively affects coastal fishing.
“I’m even surprised he let O’Toole come out with us,” Billy added.
For the rest of the day we drifted and trolled; moaned and cursed; drank and got sick. I think we did everything you could do on a boat but catch fish. The skipper threw a line in the water and in no time caught a fish, which was quickly followed by another. They weren’t as big as the one that got away but they were the only fish we had. We continued on for another hour without a single bite and finally, the skipper decided he had enough for one day and headed for home.
The trip back in was worse than the voyage out. In the morning we were full of hope and enthusiasm but the trip back was a boatload of disappointment and fatigue. As time crept by everybody started thinking about the two fish the skipper had caught. Suddenly, as if he could read minds the skipper appeared shuffling a deck of cards.
“We’re going to draw for the fish.” He said.
He spread out the cards and we each took one. I drew the queen of hearts; my chances were good. The queen was a high card but O’Toole had drawn a queen too. He and I had to draw again. We stuck our cards back in the deck and the skipper shuffled. I, like all of the Mangiapane’s, had grown up with a deck of cards in my hand so following a card in a deck being shuffled by an amateur was a breeze. He spread the cards and I quickly pulled out the queen of hearts again. O’Toole drew a four; the fish was mine. The winner of second fish was decided the same way but without me. If I pulled the queen for a third time to win the second fish, I might have found myself swimming back home.
We finally arrived in Sausalito and, one by one stepped on to the dock. It felt weird since our legs had gotten used to standing on the deck in constant motion; I welcomed the stability. The events of the day are just about done. I saw a lot of empty-handed fishermen come ashore from other boats. I felt better as I walked to my car with a cleaned salmon in a plastic bag but as I reached my car a guy ran up to me.
“Hey, were you on the Courageous Caruso?”
“That’s your fish?”
“Boy, we didn’t catch anything; you must really know how to fish. What did you catch it on?