Part II: Blade, Blood, and the Amp
By David G. Brown
If you happened to read “Get Your Line in the Water” in the Autumn 2005 issue of Edible East Bay, you know I endeared myself to a Mr. Manoog Epstein, after catching a 51-pound leopard shark off the Bay Farm Bridge—and gifting it to him. For better or worse, that night, I also gave Manoog my telephone number. How could I not? When he said to me, while gingerly honing one of his razor sharp knives, “Davey-Boy, gimme your telephone number,” I gave it to him.
Two mornings later the phone rang, “Yo Dave, meet me tonight at the bridge (Bay Farm).” We’re gonna put you into stripers.”
I live to catch striped bass (marone saxatilis). Stripers are my mantra. And up to that time, after approximately 125 hours of fishing in California, I was still riding the bubble. That amounts to thousands of tosses; casts thrown to the best of my ability, some sailing over 150 feet, each with a vim and vigor and an everlasting hope that a striper would strike my lure and take me for that long awaited ride—hope turned virtually hopeless.
When I arrived at the Bay Farm Bridge, Manoog and two of his friends were already waiting for me.
Actually, before I go further into this magnificent fishing odyssey, I think it makes sense for you to know a little bit more about me. I’m a Rhode Islander and former insurance executive—a suit, who sold his business in 1997. That was a different type odyssey lasting more than 25 years–two and a half decades of ass kissing, angst and anxiety, along with daily pressure and tension. The day I sold I promised myself to wind down, purge all that pressure, start meditating, eat well, exercise, sleep, the whole nine yards. I accomplished most of that, except for the sleeping part. Don’t need much sleep.
And it was fishing that helped the most. How can you beat a one-hour drive from Woonsocket (my home town) to various, wonderful fisheries along the Narragansett Bay coastline, where the scenery is swell and the stripers plentiful. Because stripers are primarily a nighttime predator, I’ve spent countless nights casting from the sand with the Milky Way above and shooting stars as my companions. Now, I’m 95 percent purged. No longer am I in a hurry. I’ve become easy going, passive and peace loving. I’ve learned to go with the flow. A form of cool has enveloped my persona.
No introductions were accorded at the bridge. However, I sensed Manoog’s buddies had a good vibe about me, and in short order I warmed up to Eddie Oliver from Oakland, who the boys called “Blood.” and Sibi (no surname) from the Philippines who resides somewhere in Alameda. Sibi‘s moniker is “Amp.” “Blood” and “Amp” referred to Manoog as “Blade.”
I’m simply “Yo Dave,” by the way.
Interestingly, these chaps have their own language. Over there becomes “oba dere.” I know it turns into “I knowd it.” Which leads to, “I know you knowd it.” And an offspring comment might be, “You be noted,” or “I been, been noted,” which means I ‘ve known that for years. On and on. There’s a newfound pride in knowding that I’ve become bi-lingual.
The three musketeers had one thing in common and that was to get me hooked up with a striper(s). They got the biggest kick that I had yet to catch. I assumed the role of their mascot, their East Coast angling toy, so to speak. “Blade” called my situation pathetic. A word “Amp” could not pronounce. It sounded like “prosesic,” making me sound like an artificial limb, or something. Then again, to a man, they respected me. Hell, I had them all beat in age by at least 30 years.
So, we unsuccessfully fished from the Bay Farm Bridge for several hours. Mostly bottom fishing, using pungent anchovies for bait, set below a 4-ounce weight. A dull way to fish. But, it gave us time to bond.
Nothing’s dull for the boys however. Constant cell calling. Trips back and forth to “Amps” car. The cracking of beer cans, and when things got quiet, there was always the sound of “Amp” grinding his teeth. Not exactly grinding. Standing next to him, I could see “Amp’s” jaw rapidly moving up and down as his lower set collided with the upper. Aggravating sound, seemed by night‘s end, “Amp’s” teeth would be ground away.
“Blade,” who you should remember as Manoog, said, “That noise could make anyone crazy.”
“So noted,” I replied. Without sounding obtrusive, I asked, “Amp, why do you do it?”
“Blade” countered, “He could make coffee nervous. Ask him why we call him Amp?”
“Be coo, Blade,” Amp said.
“Dave’s plenty cool. I knowd it.” Blade looked me in the eye, “It’s “Amp,” cuz it’s short for meth “amp”—amphetamine fool—, like “crank,” see what I‘m sayin.”
“What?” I was lost.
“Yo Dave, ya gots to blast a glass with us, bro,” Blood piped in. “Time to break your cherry.”
That I understood and passed graciously. And the boyz were good about it.
At 02:00 “Blade” declares, “This place sucks. We’re gettin outta here. Let’s head over to “the field.”
“Blood” jumps into “Amp’s’ car. “Blade” joins me in Pathfinder, and we’re off, soon driving through the streets of Oakland. I’m totally lost. Google-eyed, this naive Rhode Islander becomes witness to desperate and forlorn street folk that have never seen the light of day. Never, ever, never. Scenes that conjure up vampires in all their glory and about to bite. Ghouls I’m tellin ya. I begin to grind my teeth.
“What’s “the field,” I ask Blade,” trying to disguise my fear?
“That’s where we’ll fish.”
“How do you fish a field?”
“It’s near the Oakland Coliseum. “The field.” See what I’m sayin?”
After driving through dark side streets and short cuts, we somehow arrive at “the field,” which is a glorified canal, fed by the East Bay in the distance, as well as sewer outlets and other polluting sources. Any fish in this water has to be toxic, would glow in the dark.
“Stripers hold here,” Blade explains.
“Ok, sure, Manoog, whatever you say,” I nod, “I be noted.”
“Blade” laughs at my comment, knowing damn well I’m thinkin there’s gotta be at least 20 dead dealers floating somewhere within walking distance. “I’m tellin ya Dave, you’re gonna catch.”
One consolation is the ubiquitous, well-lit parking lot adjacent to the field. I rightly figure it’s for sporting events at the Coliseum.
We spread out. “Blade” is fishing next to me. I feel protected. At no time do I suspect the boys have any bad plans pour moi. I can see “Amp” off to my right, glass pipe aglow. “Blood” is still in “Amp’s” car. I see him lighting a match. “Blade” and I are casting surface lures, which is my favorite way to fish.
A good half hour passes producing zero results (what else is new), when a brand spanking new BMW comes screeching into the parking lot. Windows totally tinted, Mr. BMW brings his machine adjacent to “Amp’s” car.
“Jesus, Joseph and Mary,” I look at “Blade.”
“Stay cool, Davey Boy. That’s gonna be Hump.”
“We run outta stash, blood. Hump da man. Stay here, be right back.”
“What? Manoog, I’m not feeling very safe.”
He glares back at me as though insulted, “You with me?”
“Well, keep fishin. I be right back.”
That’s exactly what I did. Of course I’m also keeping a close eye on the activities surrounding the BMW. Hump, a behemoth of a man with rounded shoulders, and his partner, are out of their ritzy car. Another car shows up. Everyone is mulling around, music is blaring, one guy is dancing. I hear uproarious laughter. If they had a grill, I’d swear it was a pre-game Raider’s tailgate party. I’m tempted to join the festivities, when from out of nothin, a fish hits my lure. What?
By God, it’s a striper. Not a big one, not a trophy fighting fish, but enough to get me excited. Exactly 17 inches. What the hell, this culminates over 130 hours of hard fishing. I carefully lean toward the water, trying not to get my hands wet, and bank the fish. I’m receiving a standing ovation from the conclave in the parking lot.
Certainly, there’s no way I’d eat or keep this creature, but I do want a photo before releasing her. I place the fish on the bank and start running for Pathfinder to get my camera. Out of breath when I return, I’m about to press the shutter, when the parking lot illuminates. Red, blue and yellow flashing lights everywhere. At least ten police cars charge the scene and surround the vehicles. The cops are wearing white helmets and all have guns drawn; pistols, rifles, clubs, you name it. My boys are surrounded and within moments they‘re all handcuffed.
Two of the policemen are checking out Pathfinder. I know they‘re surprised to see Rhode Island plates. One of them points at me, and with guns drawn they head in my direction. I’m frozen in time.
“Congratulations,” one of the cops says to me. He sees me holding my now limp fish. “Do you know any of these guys?”
“Well, I couldn’t help but observe their activities.”
Both lawmen laugh. “This is business as usual here in Oakland.”
“Good heavens,” I replied, figuring I’m safe and not a suspect.
“What brings a Rhode Islander here?
“I’m a fisherman. I’ve tried several fisheries, and this God forsaken place was recommended to me.”
“I think you’d be wise to probably head home.”
“Thanks for the suggestion, sir.”
As I walked by Manoog Epstein, Eddie Oliver and Sibi, I had mixed emotions. Not one of them spilled the beans acknowledging our friendship. I know what they were doing was illegal; then again, for a split moment, I wished I was a powerful district attorney and could walk up to the cops and say, “Gentlemen, this time around we’re going to let these good lads go.”
Instead, I stepped into Pathfinder and never looked back, certain that sometime soon I’d return to the Bay Farm Bridge and get the scoop. Maybe Blade, Blood or Amp would be fishin.
P.S. If there is a fishing moral or theme to my story it applies to scarcity of fish. With the knowledge that East Bay striped bass are delicious and our magazine is devoted to foods of the East Bay, I’d much prefer to tell you the fish population is booming and I’ve been catching like crazy. Just ain’t so. Why is our beautiful Bay so fish barren?
It’s not a simple answer:
It has to do with lax regulations and management. For example the Department of Environmental Management in Rhode Island only allows recreational fisherman to take home two fish a day and they must be at least 28 inches long. Here in California it’s two a day and the keeper limit is 19 inches—fish that are only about three years old. Affect? Let me give you an extraordinary example: From the months of September to December, 2005, I caught 491 stripers and carefully released 488, many in the 19 to 27 inch range. Get the drift?
Pollution is a factor. As well as commercial fishing regulations.
I’ve been told by old timers that at one time there were so many salmon and stripers, you could walk across them in some of California’s creeks. I’ve been advised that the primary reason over 75% of California’s fish population is diminished is due to displacement of water. To simplify those words means that water for drinking and farming purposes have destroyed fish and drained the fisheries in the displacement process. To further simplify the issue, we must understand that the primary force behind these activities is, what else, m-o-n-e-y.
Now I certainly appreciate the vital value of drinking water and farming. But, I also understand the balance of Nature, and the disregard and apathy for our fish population in all waters could prove disastrous. Apocalyptical I say. Most importantly, it’s incumbent upon us, the body politic, to become better educated. Then exercise a more concerted effort for remedial action.
It can be done. It ain’t hopeless folks. The lobby of the Rhode Island Anglers Association (RIAA) has become a powerful force in the state legislature. Not too long ago Lake Erie was so polluted, it set on fire. It’s a healthy, viable waterway now—with fish. The same holds true for “over-a-course-of-time” damages to the Hudson River, which curves it’s way north from Manhattan to upper-state New York. The Hudson is now cleaned up and loaded with fish, primarily striped bass.
Lord only knows I’d love to hear those words regarding the magnificent East Bay and all of California’s waterways. ❖
David G. Brown is a former small business owner in Rhode Island. He has freelanced as a newspaper writer (Woonsocket Call and Castro Valley Forum), and now spends full time writing novels (Not Home, Gone Fishin, and Return of the Free Faller).