A Night Hunting Eels
July 1, 2008
“Hey guys. You want to go catch eels tonight on my father’s barge?”
Matsu was a fisherman’s son and one of my classmates. I never could have predicted that I would still remember this night over fifty years later.
At dusk, four of us pulled the twenty-foot barge to the water front and jumped in. It was low tide. The full moon above the horizon made a runway for us on the dark sea. Matsu propelled the boat by sculling, moving both arms back and forth, balancing himself by standing on the end. A ten year old kid handling the scull like a fisherman! We looked up at him with amazement.
At both ends of the beach, there were mile long bulwarks and across the beach another breakwater showed us its top where we could catch eels. Fish splashed here and there. White bands of rippled water were coming toward us one after the other like a lullaby. Outside of the bulwark, we could hear the sound of raging seas hitting the wall, like a symphony of drums. We felt we were in the bosom of nature.
Suddenly Matsu moved his lantern to show us a moving creature alongside the rocks against the bulwarks. He grabbed a rectangular-staked net, dipped it, scooped the thing, and threw it on the floor. A two feet long eel!
“Eels hide themselves between rocks or in holes. They are nocturnal fish, so they come out to get food at night.” His voice sounded like a teacher in class. In his left hand, he held a three-foot bamboo stick with sharp pointed steel on its end, then pierced a small fish with lined fishhook. With the aid of a lantern and the moon light, I searched holes between rocks. Matsu stretched the bamboo stick to a hole, holding loop end of line in his right hand. Nothing happened.
At the next hole, Matsu moved the bamboo stick as if the bait were still alive, and then we saw him pull the line sharply toward the boat. Another eel on the hook! He made a circle with thumb, forefinger and middle finger, and then held the eel by its neck to unhook it. We felt reverence for his action.
For an hour or so, we had marvellous, exciting time. By the time the tide was changing, Matsu had forced us to go back to the shore, and nobody spoke against him.
We never went back to catch eels after that. Matsu never finished elementary school and I haven’t seen him for a long time. Later on in my life, whenever I have come across hardships, the memory of the night with Matsu comforts my soul and gives me courage to stand up again.