Lunacy

Not long after I met my husband Galahad, I met his best friend — Gaheris. Back then, Galahad had lots of shaggy dark hair and a reddish-black beard and mustache. Since this also described Gaheris exactly, they perfectly fit the term “twin sons of different mothers.”

Galahad and Gaheris graduated together — same high school, same year — but didn’t really become close friends until they enrolled at the local community college. Gaheris soon became a father and husband, and since he was only 18 at the time he has often said he and his child grew up together. By the time I met Gaheris, they were about age 5.

Since laws pay more attention to date of birth than to maturity, Galahad and Gaheris invested in fishing licenses every year and went smelting. Smelt are small freshwater fish that prefer deep water until Spring, when they rush upriver by the thousands to spawn. This is the time to harvest these tasty guys, by way of dip-net fishing.

Gaheris knew to watch for the full moon in the month of May, which helped to illuminate the silver flash of the fish — the runs took place at night. Galahad insisted that we wives would have a wonderful time coming along on this outing, and I hadn’t known these guys long enough to realize the full value of their opinions. Midnight in May can be fun, until you are soaking wet, reeking of fish, and freezing.

What did I learn? Ask for details before agreeing to any outing. I wound up sitting on the shore with a bottle of blackberry brandy helping me towards numbness. Not only was I freezing, I was terrified: we were near a power station on one of the Finger Lakes, where the security floodlights were so bright that places where they did not shine were plunged into profound darkness, all night vision destroyed. We had to negotiate our way along the top of a gravel bank that dropped nearly straight down to the lake below. I can’t swim, but it didn’t matter, since the fall would have killed me.

Galahad and Gaheris were having a jolly time already, leaving the driving to the wives so that they could freely fortify themselves with alcohol. Since alcohol does not freeze, making sure there was plenty of it in their systems was one way to prevent themselves from freezing. Several beers later, the time had arrived. Gaheris donned chest waders, but Galahad did him one better: a wetsuit, which would allow him to venture further out into the waters. The wives waited on shore with the buckets: each fishing license allowed us to take home a 5-gallon bucketful of fish — and not one fish more. We were careful to watch our limits because the fine for exceeding them was $15 per fish.

Out in the water, the ritual began. Gaheris announced the sighting, yelling “Git ’em! They’re running!” at the top of his lungs. This signaled the start of the hunt. The next step was the challenge: as each man caught his first smelt, he would grab it from the net, bite off its head, and spit it back at the rest of the smelt in defiance. The theory was, this would infuriate the smelt and they would rush to avenge their fallen comrades — straight into the waiting dip-nets. After a while, I felt pretty certain I knew why they called it a dip net, and it had nothing to do with submerging the device in water.

The night ended, no human life was lost, and we spent the bulk of the next day recovering from hangovers whilst cleaning hundreds of little fish.

A few weeks later, when we’d returned home an hour north, Galahad got a phone call from Gaheris, who said he’d been to a local bar, listening to the old guys swapping tales. One piped up with the story of some damn fool yahoos yelling “Git ’em! They’re running!” and biting the heads off their fish. Gaheris agreed with the speaker that some idiots just shouldn’t be allowed out unsupervised.

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14 Comments

  1. eclecticheretic said,

    November 18, 2007 at 12:43 am

    Vivid. Biting the heads off of the fish: I would find that image difficult to shake. Blackberry brandy must have been good, good medicine.

  2. shadodottir said,

    November 18, 2007 at 4:01 am

    It’s the sort of story you can’t make up. There are a lot of tales about these two, back in their wild youth. I’ll have to get them all written some day.

  3. tigereye said,

    November 18, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    I’m so glad to see you here, and just as happy to see this story — it’s a favorite. Welcome to a much nicer neighborhood!

  4. eclecticheretic said,

    November 18, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    It is ceaselessly fascinating to me that we often need to adjust our representations of the oddities of real life when we write about them so that they are believable.

  5. Corina said,

    November 18, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    I know what you mean about unsupervised idiots! Especially the kind that have no idea whatsoever that they’re idiots. That’s the most dangerous kind!

  6. Terry said,

    November 19, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    “Git em”

    What is it about fisherman and football coaches, that they all need to sound like JimmyBob Billy’s cretinous brother? My bro-in-law from Iowa is always taking about the fyeeish he is catching. It gives Southerners a bad name.

  7. pandemonic said,

    November 19, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    Blackberry brandy, huh?

  8. shadodottir said,

    November 20, 2007 at 5:43 am

    Blackberry brandy. I’d never had any before that night, and I’m positive I’d be ill if I even caught a whiff of it now, but it was a necessary evil that night.

  9. supercrone said,

    November 20, 2007 at 9:20 pm

    Here you are! I’m beginning to find my way around the new neighborhood, still tripping a bit, but so far, so good.
    I’m sure I mentioned it the first time I read this, but smelting in upstate NY was one of the few things that I remember with fondness from my first marriage. The little buggers did taste wonderful, especially after a winter of feeding solely on venison. (Yeah..he was a hunter-gatherer of the caveman variety).

  10. jojovtx1800 said,

    November 21, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Hey, I’ve been dipnet fishi…I mean what a bunch of idiots. heee

  11. trees143 said,

    November 21, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    I don’t think I’ll ever look at smelt quite the same way.

  12. trees143 said,

    November 21, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    After reading this, that is.

  13. spirit7 said,

    November 21, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    Very much enjoyed the sense of humor just beneath the surface of this article. Change the prey, and a few other details, and this could have been my first hunting trip.

  14. Quill Gordon said,

    January 22, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Alcohol and smelting just go together but I think smelt through the ice are much more fun!


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