The Fish Story

Weirdest Boat Fishing Trip of All Time; Biggest Bass Don’t Make the Best Bass

By JAY MANN | Mar 13, 2019

It’s well known that many boat fishing trips are not made purely to wet lines. Anything can go down out there, including some mighty homicidal happenings. Take, for instance, the whacking of Big Pussy in the “The Sopranos.” That snuffing was done within sight of LBI, when Tony and the boys went out fishing … for revenge. Boy, I hated seeing that reality TV series end. Whadda ya mean that wasn’t reality TV?! I suppose you’ll be telling me the Lake Tahoe rowboat fishing scene in “Godfather II” – the one where Fredo Corleone’s “Hail Mary” couldn’t save him from a swim with the fishes – was also fictional. Well, the remaining Sopranos and Corleone are down here in the summer. Maybe I’ll just happen to alert them to your disbelievingness.

Well, there’s no disputing the weirdest smokescreen “fishing trips” in all of history. It went all the way to the White House in 1893, involving good old boy, two-time President Grover Cleveland. Talk about a beer-guzzling, cigar-smoking, poor-eating fearless leader. In fact, Fitness magazine recently dubbed him the least healthy president we’ve ever seen.

So, during Cleveland’s second nonconsecutive term, the nation’s economy tanked. Clenching his ever-present cigar between his teeth, while raising high his sudsy mug, he vowed to put an end to the economic tailspin.

The country loved Cleveland’s 260 pounds of bravado, so much so that every word he issued swayed the economy. Unfortunately, the beyond-portly president also brought his own profoundly unhealthy lifestyle to the table.

Cleveland’s bulk garnered him the D.C. nickname “Big Steve.”

Big who?

Turns out “Grover” wasn’t his real first name. Come to think of it, who would call their kid Grover? He was your everyday Steve. But, recognizing “Steve for President” might not look all that vote-inviting on posters, he went with the enigmatic Grover moniker. It worked – since nobody even knew what a Grover was. “Let’s just elect a Grover and see what happens” resonated at the polls. Hmmm. How times don’t change.

With larger-than-life Big Steve/Grover anchored on the ship of state, nobody dared to imagine what might befall America if the take-charge president’s daily economic pledges and assurances suddenly fell silent – possibly terminally so.

Yes, I’m getting to the boat fishing aspect.

It was White House physicians who first noticed the president had gone asymmetrical in the mouth and jaw region. Oh, the intellectual president had long known something was amiss in his mouth. But those were the days of old-fashioned “it’ll go away” type guys. He ignored it … until the pain began aligning with the doctors’ observations.

When doctors finally got permission to probe around inside the presidential mouth, they found an advanced cancerous tumor. Cleveland was notified of this, as he puffed on a post-exam cigar. He stopped mid-puff when told the lump had to come out, like, yesterday.

Author Matthew Algeo, who detailed the Cleveland crisis in his book, The President Is a Sick Man, told NPR, “Shortly after he took office for the second time in 1893, he noticed a little bump on the roof of his mouth. Around June ... he had noticed it had grown quite large. And the doctor diagnosed it as cancer, (saying]) ‘It’s a bad looking tenant, and I would have it evicted immediately.’”

A consummate national leader, Cleveland knew the last thing the sagging economy could take was word that the stalwart man in high office was calamitously down in the mouth. He made an in-House edict that not a peep about his potentially fatal condition could leak out.

According to the article “Grover Cleveland’s Deadly Secret” in mentalfloss.com, “After weighing his options, Cleveland chose to have the tumor removed, under one condition: The operation had to be conducted in total secrecy. The president feared that Wall Street – already reeling from falling stock prices in the midst of a depression – would panic if news of his illness leaked.”

His condition publicly unknown, it then came down to having high-risk surgery performed without the world getting wind of it. Calm as a clam, Cleveland announced he’d be taking himself a little four-day fishing excursion … during which he would be utterly incommunicado. Far more incommunicado than the public could ever imagine.

For a known sport fisherman, such a lengthy silent-running fishing trip didn’t sound immensely out of the ordinary. Remember, those were times when presidents could just up and shove off for days on end, confident in the ruling capacities of very efficient and highly qualified vice presidents. In Grover’s case that vice president was … uh. Whomever, I’m sure he was a very efficient and highly qualified vice president – though even the Vice wasn’t told about that little presidential mouth thing.

One would surmise that a fake fishing trip would consist of Cleveland being secretly whisked off to some secluded shoreline retreat, an ideal terra-firma location conducive to such complicated oral surgery. Not in Big Steve’s case. He said let’s do this open-ocean style – and don’t forget the rods.

For the fishing trip, the president commandeered a New England friend’s yacht, the Oneida. By way of itinerary, he would angle his way from New York to the president’s summer home in Cape Cod.

On June 30, Cleveland and six-man team of top surgeons boarded the Oneida, anchored in New York Harbor. “Sitting in a deck chair, the president smoked cigars and chatted amiably with the men as the boat set sail for Long Island Sound,” wrote mentalfloss.com.

With the president waving to shoreline onlookers, the fishing trip shoved off, naval vessels close by.

“And it was on that yacht that this operation was performed,” said Algeo. “They assembled a team of six surgeons. (It) took about 90 minutes. They used ether as the anesthesia, and they removed the tumor along with about five teeth and a large part of the president’s upper left jawbone.”

There’s a ton more to the story, but that covers the coverup fishing trip angle. And there was some fishing done, toward trip’s end, though the prez was quite closed-mouthed about it. I can’t help but picture the removed tumor being hung from a weigh-in hook back at the dock, with all the doctors and a smiling president – holding a rod – victoriously smiling next to it.

Speaking of that trip’s big catch, it now resides at a nearby museum. Per whyy.org, “Part of the macabre collection of medical abnormalities at Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum is a piece of President Grover Cleveland’s jaw floating in a brownish fluid. It is the evidence of one of the great political cover-ups in American history: the president covertly had a cancerous tumor cut out of his mouth.”

ALL OVER AGAIN: There’s a ton of torrid talk about an emerging striped bass crisis. It stems from piss-poor fishing for trophy bass. It is fueled by a shabby showing within recent striper spawns. Social and print media are a-flap with editorials. Blame is being aimed at the usual suspects, most often other fishermen, primarily anglers elsewhere. Finger-pointing has taken a Pogo-esque tilt. “We have met the enemy and he is …”

Among accusations of too many trophy bass being kept by the other guys, some more in-depth gripers are pointing to long-term biomass woes, including aggressive mycobacteriosis outbreaks, rampant poaching and to-be-expected cyclical population swings.

The pissing and moaning about the decline of big bass has caught the ear of fishery management, which isn’t always the ear you want to catch.

BAD ON THE ONE HAND: There is shaky agreement that overall stocks of striped bass, meaning fish of all sizes, are not in hot water, per se. The problem is focused on big-time bass fishing, which has always been based purely on bigness. The targeting of trophy bass easily outweighs fun fishing for schoolies or even medium-sized stripers. Of course, that biggest-is-best syndrome applies to virtually any gamefish species.

Past cures for legitimate shortages of bass stocks have proven amazingly effective. The moratorium of the 1980s was a resounding and applauded success. Maybe too much so. Bass came back so fast and furious that other gamefish species – already strained when they became targeted during the striper shutdown – were consumed by the striper population explosion.

Since the moratorium-related recovery, well-managed fishing for stripers has worked … until now, per many.

The current dearth of wow-bass has sparked a demand to protect trophy stripers, possibly via a true slot, like a moratorium on the keeping of bass over, say, 42 inches and up.

One of the prime premises behind saving the biggest bass is the belief they’ll produce more of their genetic ilk, referencing something known as a genetic propensity. And such a propensity is very real in the higher animal realm. Ask any remaining Roman soldiers, cross-bred to be the biggest and baddest.

I won’t make friends saying this, but that thinking is fully flawed … genetically speaking.

ALL BASS ARE EQUAL: Preserving the largest of bass stocks is not all it’s knocked up to be. Simply put: Huge bass do not produce more huge-bass genes than other spawning bass of smaller sizes.

During spawns, when waters carry eggs and sperm from all spawn-age stripers, nature doles out body-type zygotes with no favoritism or prejudices. Both fat-ass and lean-cuisine bass add genetic input as nature demands, not as mankind would prefer. Spawning bass of any size have an equal chance of contributing to the production of genomes destined to become trophy fish.

The complex genetics of survival demand offspring of both sexes and all body types. We’ve seen bulky, heavy bass being caught in close association with lean and relatively lightweight fish of the same length. That has nothing to do with one bass out-eating another or being a better predator. The divergent weights/shapes represent a well-planned and natural genetic representation.

Nature designates certain bass to get bulky. Females often lead the bulky sector, for egg-carrying reasons. However, nature just as enthusiastically assigns other bass to remain relatively lean, even among female fish. A balanced genetic distribution is essential to the survival of the species.

During fat forage times, bass bearing bulk-up genes go for the gusto, bringing world-worthy weigh-in bass to anglers. However, nature knows that good times come and go. For inevitable lean times, a segment of the bass population has been genetically allocated to stay lean, either through reduced metabolism or a propensity to feel satiated before growing portly. Most of the biomass are somewhere in the middle, which makes sense in a long-run survival way.

Worth repeating: Any and all striped bass large enough to spawn offer the DNA needed for trophy bass of the future.

BIG BASS HAVE PROBLEMS: Bigger bass do produce more eggs and sperm. However, it then comes down to fecundity – the fertility of those eggs and sperm cells.

In an unfished and chemical-free world, the eggs of the larger bass would be a huge and prolific asset to any spawn. However, in our chemicalized world, toxin loads accrue as a fish gets older. This is known to do harm. Along with the famed lingering PCB presence, human glucocorticoid and androgen hormones, flushed into the marine environment, are attacking bass, internally. Reproductive organs are stressed the most. As impressive as the egg and sperm output of large and jumbo bass might be, the fertility of those genomes is now in question.

Even with an old-fashioned 100-percent fecundity rating, one trophy fish's spawning output can easily be matched by the contributions of two medium-sized spawners. What’s more, medium-sized stripers might now be most virile and fertile spawners.

Worrisome note: Even smaller fish can be permanently harmed by human hormones in the water.

Without supporting or opposing any upcoming bass regulation, I’m pointing out that one way to foster a big-ass bass recovery in the long run is protecting the prime spawners, possibly those fish between, say, 32 and 40 inches. Exclusively protecting bass above 40 inches – and how many of those are there, anyway? – is a highly dubious way to preserve the biomass well into the future.

No matter how you cut the spawn, allowing stripers to get large enough to strain the scales is mandatory. Regulating that has long been a striped bass bugaboo.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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