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The Mast-Head: Summer’s End

Wed, 08/11/2021 - 17:55

The baymen who keep pound traps near our house in Amagansett have begun taking off the nets and pulling up the stakes. It seems early for trap fishing season to end, and I am wistful about it.

Signs of the coming change of season come too soon for my taste. Along the beach, shorebirds working their way south have been around for a few weeks already. I think of the summer things I haven’t done and make a note to get on with them.

Among these are whitebait fries, with silversides seined freshly from the water and cooked on the beach. It is something of a tradition that I picked up from my father, who wisely observed that the best place to drop seafood into a seething pot of cooking oil was outdoors.

Last year I did not organize a fish fry because the mosquitoes were the worst I could recall. So far, the July and August onslaught has been minimal. Even the extra-annoying greenhead horse flies are down in number. So, no excuse there.

Instead I can make excuses about how busy I am or that I have been hobbling around with a sore foot for almost a month. I was playing catch with my 11-year-old, Ellis, about waist-deep in the bay, when, diving to get the ball, my toes bent back on a rock. It is always something, I suppose. I have been tending to my boat, and we have had houseguests nearly continuously since school let out. Still, it would be a shame not to carry on with at least one fish fry for a second year in a row.

It is not that they are complex to pull off. The kids seine up a few buckets-worth of fish from the shallows. I get the oil heating on a Coleman camp stove set on an old door placed on sawhorses. We dredge the fish whole in cornmeal and drop them in batches in the oil. It doesn’t matter what sort of small fish we cook; sand eels are delicious, and baby menhaden aren’t bad. We have even tried sandcrabs, which taste a bit like lobster once you get past the crunch. Then sunset comes and we pack it all up.

In the morning, before we get up, the seagulls have found the last crumbs of cornmeal and cleaned the sand. I go down to the beach and pick up any loose bottles or cups. Other than the splatter on the old door, there is little trace of the night before.

Foot ache or not, I really should get on with it, I think. Summer’s rushing to an end, after all.

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