Sleepwalking on Water

One afternoon some thirty-odd years ago, I went fishing out of my canoe in Apponagansett Harbor in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. There was no wind on the water, which made paddling easy. I had brought an 8-weight fly rod with me and was tossing a Clouser Minnow, festooned with lots of flash-a-boo. It was a garish looking thing and I had hoped its shimmering appearance would entice something to hit.

As I drifted near a rock outcropping, I worked my casts so that the fly slapped noisily on the surface, hoping that the disturbance might attract the attention of a stray bluefish or striped bass. Nothing happened, but that didn’t really bother me all that much. I was enjoying the task of trying to get my fly up against the rocks without actually hitting them. It was a modest undertaking; uniquely styled to my equally humble mind.

This serene scene was shattered when something rose partway out of the water and inhaled the fly. I had just neatly plopped it about six inches from the face of the rock I had been drifting closest to and was casually stripping in the line. The fly rose and dove a few inches beneath the surface, according to the rhythm of my retrieve. It had been hypnotic, putting my mind into a state resembling deep REM sleep, which was why I was completely unprepared when the strike came.

I reared back, rocking the canoe violently in the process and the starboard gunnel dipped dangerously close to being level with the water’s surface. If there had been any chop that day, I might have been swamped, but I was a lucky little SOB and righted my craft without incident. More to the point though, I had somehow set the hook and my rod tip bent sharply as the fish began to run.

The canoe swung around and settled into a line following the fish’s path. In order to bring my rod tip higher and to gain a better look at what was happening in front of me, I slowly stood up. This was something I used to do regularly when I was somewhat younger, although I certainly wouldn’t recommend it anymore. I considered myself quite invincible when I was in my late 20’s and was therefore prone to some pretty wild lapses in judgement. The fish, which I now saw was a striped bass pulled the canoe away from the rocks, much to my relief. I soon realized that the farther I was from those rocks, the farther I was from the shore. I began to wonder where this damned fish was going to tow me and how much of a paddle I had ahead of me afterward.

Apponagansett Harbor is home to many large, beautiful sailboats during the summer months and as I fought my fish, several of them passed me on their ways in and out of the harbor. One tacked close by and two of the people on deck shouted their encouragement to me. While I appreciated the gesture, I knew full well that when you’re fighting a fish, if anyone sees what you’re doing, you’re screwed.

As that cheerful thought occurred to me, my fish broke off, saving me any further public embarrassment or risk to life and limb.

Peter Cammann has been writing fishing stories for magazines and newspapers for over 30 years. He is the author of three books: Fishing Vermont’s Streams and Lakes, Ultralight Spin Fishing, and a novel titled SlipNot, all of which are available on

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