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Dog Days: Fish Pots & Fly Fishing


Owen Island Key, Cayman Islands

August 2000

“Bloody heat! I kya’ see how nobody kin stan’ dis kine a’ heat! Bloody Augus’!”

No one is around to hear my mutterings as I string the rod. Should have done this back at home, but that would have made too much sense, been too logical, you know. Sweat burns my eyes as I thread the last guide and I decide to attach my fly on the flats. I need to get out where the breeze is blowing, if only a little. I’m sure I’ll wish it were blowing less as soon as I see a fish upwind, but for now all I can think of is getting out of this sweltering sauna behind the mangrove windbreak.

On the beach, facing the open sea and southeast breeze, the sweat dries quickly and the mind turns outward. Where will they be today, these fish I seek – outer flats, shoreline, channels? The decision process still relies much on luck but at least I am given the comfort of saying to myself, “I knew it.” if I see one where I decide to go. Listless wandering will come later, after my plans have failed to produce. Right now I am full of hope and certainty: today is the day I shall catch a bonefish…

Hours later I stagger home. Of course I didn’t catch any; no one can catch these things. I don’t believe anyone ever does. All those pictures in the magazines are fakes – digital lies concocted on computers by bloodless designers looking to sell more reels and flylines. Hope they choke on their cafe lattés…

*

“Catch any?”

“…”

“Brederin, catch any?”

“Mmm, wha’?” I look around. I feel drugged by the heat, like I’m playing catch up. In front of me is a bar, but no drink. Something amiss there. There’s the sound of people playing pool in the background and to my right a dark-skinned fellow with a weird grin is leaning close. He has an expectant look.

“What?” I ask.

“I said, catch any today?”

“Oh.” It’s only Angel (pronounced Anhill by his Cuban people.) Thinks he’s a fisherman. Always talking about lures and reels. Blue water, trolling kind of guy.

“Na,” I say, “I seen some nice ones but only gaw a good shot at one. I drop da’ fly on his for’ed and he jus’ blew up, man. I b’lie’e he still runnen’. Mu’ be sum’whi’ ‘rouwn’ Cuba now, I guess.

He laughs and takes a swig of beer. “Yeah. You need ta take up some real fish’nin’, man. Troll fi’ some bonita or barra or sump’in’. Catch sum’tin’ yi’ kin’ take home wit’ ya, man!”

“Yeah. Look, I gaw ge’ up early an’ go pull dem fish-pots. The ol’ man don’ gimme no break. I gaw pull da’ man-killa’ too. Bloody double-mesh pot, man. Late’a, right?”

The night is close as I step outside. No moon – I should go fishing. Might hook a tarpon or snook down by Papagallos. No, better not; the old man’s expecting me early…

*

“Man-killa’, man! Dis enough work fi’ one day, too.”

We wrestle the big pot aboard to the old man’s litany of how poor the fishing is.

“Looka yeh!” He says, “Use’to be we could catch a fish along yeh. I doe’ know why she ketchin’ so poor. I had da’ eas’en’a buil’ her da same way as dem uddas, but deez fish mus’ jes’ go in an’ out as dey please. I ca’ figga it. One time you could always ketch a few squabs along yeh, ‘spes’lly if ya had koke’nut in di pot. I doe know wha’ to say. She mus’ jes’ le’ dem go somehow.”

For weeks now it’s been the same thing. In the still morning air we haul his three fish pots to the surface to find little or nothing in them. I have to hear then about all the fish he used to catch in the old days: squabs, grunts, snappers, doctors, goat-fish, hog-fish, hinds, big mutton snappers, and even the occasional giant rock-fish. He recites the fish names like a mantra or spell. It’s almost as if he relishes each name in his mouth, tasting the fish as he utters the name. Maybe the old people used to call up fish that way.

There’s power in a name. Some tribes think if you know a person’s name you can control them, maybe forever. Real names were guarded secrets, never given to strangers. Perhaps the old man is attempting to exercise such power now, to call fish from the deep. Stranger things have happened, I guess. Maybe I should…

“Boy! Watch da line de! Wa you doin’ inywi’?”

I clear the lines as we flip the pot back over the side. I suppose my apathy shows. For weeks now we’ve caught next to nothing and the worse it gets the harder we fish. It used to be we’d pull the traps once or twice a week, but now it’s up to four or five times. I don’t even make enough to pay for the gas I burn driving to his place and back.

All I can think of at such times is the cool solitude of the flats and a fly rod in my hand.

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