Now and again one of these would hastily drop his oars, stand up, and haul in his line hand over hand. There would be a splashing and splattering on the surface, a bright silver fish leaping and threshing the water, to land at last with a plop! in the boat. Whereupon the fisherman would hurriedly strike this dynamic, glistening fish over the head with a short, thick club, lest his struggles snarl the line, after which he would put out his spoon and bend to the oars again. It was a daylight and dusk job, a matter of infinite patience and hard work, cold and wet at times, and in midsummer the blaze of a scorching sun and the eye-dazzling glitter of reflected light.
But a man must live. Some who came to the Cove trolled long and skillfully, and were lucky enough to gain a power troller in the end, to live on beans and fish, and keep a strangle hold on every dollar that came in until with a cabin boat powered with gas they joined the trolling fleet and became nomads. They fared well enough then. Their taking at once grew beyond a rowboat’s scope. They could see new country, hearken to the lure of distant fishing grounds. There was the sport of gambling on wind and weather, on the price of fish or the number of the catch. If one locality displeased them they could shift to another, while the rowboat men were chained perforce to the monotony of the same camp, the same cliffs, the same old weary round.
Sometimes Squitty Cove harbored thirty or forty of these power trollers. They would make their night anchorage there while the trolling held good, filling the Cove with talk and laughter and a fine sprinkle of lights when dark closed in. With failing catches, or the first breath of a southeaster that would lock them in the Cove while it blew, they would be up and away,—to the top end of Squitty, to Yellow Rock, to Cape Lazo, anywhere that salmon might be found.
And the rowboat men would lie in their tents and split-cedar lean-tos, cursing the weather, the salmon that would not bite, grumbling at their lot.
There were two or three rowboat men who had fished the Cove almost since Jack MacRae could remember,—old men, fishermen who had shot their bolt, who dwelt in small cabins by the Cove, living somehow from salmon run to salmon run, content if the season’s catch netted three hundred dollars. All they could hope for was a living. They had become fixtures there.
Jack MacRae looked down from the bald tip of Point Old with an eager gleam in his uncovered eye. There was the Rock with a slow swell lapping over it. There was an old withered Portuguese he knew in a green dugout, Long Tom Spence rowing behind the Portuguese, and they carrying on a shouted conversation. He picked out Doug Sproul among three others he did not know,—and there was not a man under fifty among them.
Three hundred yards offshore half a dozen power trollers wheeled and counterwheeled, working an eddy. He could see them haul the lines hand over hand, casting the hooked fish up into the hold with an easy swing. The salmon were biting.