Spitting on bait fails to lure fish to bite

Published 5:41 pm Monday, July 17, 2017

By Dwight Sparks

ON THE OCEAN ISLE PIER — There are two types of fishermen. Those who catch and those who reel in empty hooks.

I reeled in an empty hook for five days while teaching the grandchildren to fish last week. I didn’t teach them how to catch.

The third generation fishermen did better than their mentor. Three of them caught one small fish each to their sheer joy. Nobody caught two.

Geezers on the pier handed the grandchildren welfare fish —finger-sized freebies from their catches which qualified as toss-backs. The children were thrilled with the gifts.

Last week was not notable fishing.

Sure, somebody landed a four-foot shark that grandson Sam, 6, got close enough to touch. We looked into its green, devil eyes and felt its smooth skin. Somebody caught a small sting ray. Lots of people caught little croakers and whiting. Mostly, we had a good time … catching nothing.

It was not for lack of trying.

We tried shrimp for bait. Then cut fish. Then squid. Blood worms. Shrimp again. Squid again. Shrimp again. A $5 tub of squid fell off the pier and into the ocean when granddaughter Cayden tipped it to drain off the ice water.

I finally complained to the bait shop clerk that his products weren’t working.

“Did you spit on it?” he asked. “You’ve got to spit on the shrimp.”

We hadn’t done that. I suspected that he took me for a fool. The granddaughters — normally well-mannered — took the advice and spit like champions on their bait. And they quickly caught two small fish.

I was stunned, wondering if the spit was a secret lure. The girls were fishing with their father. Young Sam was my partner, and we were empty handed.

“Girls rule. Boys drool,” Cayden, 9, and Chloe, 6, chimed.

Neither Sam nor I could spit a fish onto our hooks. In desperation, Sam abandoned me to fish with his luckier uncle who had just helped land fish for his spitting daughters.

I understood. I wanted to switch too. I felt unlucky.

Along with most of America, we spent the July 4th week at the crowded beach. We couldn’t fish in the surf for fear of hooking a slow-moving human. We opted for the pier instead. For some of the grandchildren, it was their first fishing outing.

A sudden convert to the sport, Sam woke me at 6 a.m. every morning to go again, undeterred by our lack of success.

I gave up fishing long ago after years of meager results. My rods and reels had sat unused in the garage until I dusted them off last week. A grandfather is supposed to take the children fishing.

Old timers on the pier nodded and smiled. They chatted with the children, answered questions and even shared bait.

The old pros explained why we weren’t catching. It was too windy. The water was too dirty. It was too hot. Come back tonight, they said. Maybe the fish will bite tomorrow, they suggested.

Maybe pigs will fly.

The children enjoyed the wind in their faces, the swaying of the pier and the spectacle of adults lined up at the railing tossing hooks into the sea.

Making sure everyone was safely out of range, some of the grandchildren tried their hand at casting. Nobody was accidentally hooked. No reels were dropped over the railing.

We didn’t land a king mackerel worthy of mounting. We caught nothing big enough to eat. But we did catch some fun.

“Are you coming back next year?” the bait shop clerk asked. He’s drooling to sell us more bait.