April 12, 2011
He’s young, blond, mostly, but fading to gray at the edges. By the way he carries himself I’m guessing football, college, maybe. But it’s his hands that catch my eye; they’re hard, thick, construction workers hands. Though I imagine they’re still mobile enough, they appear solid, immovable, and lay on the table like objects with weight. There’s a stark incongruence between the boyish face and those hands, and as the story unfolds I glance from one to the other, trying to reconcile the two.
“So, I’ve got a story for you.”
“Yeah? Let’s hear it.”
“She was relentless. Super Natural. Spectacular. She was everything I have ever aspired to be and more, and I feel less of a man (and much less than spectacular) for killing her—an athlete the likes of which I’d never seen before this Sunday. I still love this game, but never, ever anticipated feeding a stout 70-year old woman to an 18-foot hammerhead shark.
She thrashed her way across the bow of my little skiff, tail-walking as blood streamed from her gills. You know how time can seem to slow down in those situations? You see every head-shake, the water exploding away like droplets of mercury. Well, I actually had time to have a conversation with Adam about breaking her off because she was gut hooked. Tarpon gut hooked by a fly? But Adam yelled, ‘Na dude it’s normal. Don’t you dare break her off!… Holy shit, look at her walk on water’.
“Wait, that’s normal?”
“I guess… Adam says he sees it all the time.”
“What a beast…”
“Wait, wait, wait. How did you get into this fish? Oceanside, laid-up, migratory, what?”
“Yeah, big migratory fish… so deep and fat. Head like a Clydesdale. Imagine that: a horse running, bucking, bleeding from its ears as it leaves a trail of blood on the green grass.
We were up Largo way and see this huge school in deeper water. So we pole out there but they seem to be ducking the fly out there. They’d come up then go back down, and I couldn’t maneuver the boat; too deep, you know. So, we decide to head up the coast, try to head them off as they push into shallow water. It’s nice up there, sandy, clear, almost like down south. Sure enough here comes the same school—there was a fish in there with a white spot on its back and there it was.
I never know what to do with those large schools like that: like 80 fish. Pretty soon they’re bumping into the boat and just milling around like cattle—not spooked yet but like “shit, there’s a boat here, what do we do?” I’m casting on em, making it worse when Adam yells from the platform, “Go way back in the school; they’re coming forever, man, you’ve got time!” So I look back there and see this big shadow on the edge of the school, big fish. I blast it out there, line like three other fish and put it in that fish’s face. She kicks once, twice, and just hammers that fly. I’m like, ok, clear the line, be calm. The line is gone in a second, and then she starts jumping.
The sheer ferocity of its movements was staggering. I could never expect better ever again—maybe different, but never better. She did four marlin jumps parallel to the water, her wild tail lashing a blur every single time. Adam and I both though the fight would be over soon because of the insane jumps and runs… and the blood too. We were wrong.
I soon leveled my adrenalin and corrected my breathing and posture for battle. I was challenged to a heavyweight fight. I drank water early and remembered to incorporate my legs to save my back. I’ve seen people fight a fish like this one seated on the casting platform with a high rod. That differed from my strategy.
My plan was to bring the fight to the fish. I believe I did this. Blow for blow for three hours. We traveled from the shore of Key Largo to the reef. Around buoys, towers, sea fans, coral outcroppings. I forgot about the blood because I had to. Constant pressure, side pressure, crank down, lift the legs all in rhythm. It was toe-to-toe, and I didn’t feel bad about what I was doing in the least. Dead lifting a monster fish from fifteen feet a hundred times with an 11-weight never got old. Everything was right and I felt good. I was going to land this fish.”
He seemed to be struggling with something at this point. As he continued his words came slowly, as if he were trying to find his way along.
“As the sun set the fight was changing. The fish stayed up longer. When she would take air I could stop her half way from the bottom. I was the Old Man n The Sea, only in much better shape and in a really sweet boat. Technically we had the leader in the rod many times. The fish was caught. I wanted to touch it. Many times I wanted to jump on its back. Shortly after Adam grabbed the leader the fish launched in the air again at the end of the second hour! “and i wanted to grab that fish’s mouth” he said! She later jumped again this time her tail didn’t kick as it soared parallel to the surface. I had so much respect and admiration for that animal at the end. I know what I am capable of. I never expect as much from others. Earlier in the day when fishing was slow I was asked if I had ever lost a Tarpon to a shark. ‘No’, I said.
I had slowed and stopped her again half way from the bottom. In my next breath the fish made an erratic burst and was under the boat in a second. ‘Adam, something’s wrong… I think I just got sharked.’ The fish circled tight under the boat and I felt something new rubbing the leader. Thump. Thump! The fish was hit hard. ‘Shark’. I said, sadly this time as the line went slack.
The light was low; I felt sick. I saw, we both saw the five-foot grey fin surface twenty feet away. There was a silver flash in front of it. A few minutes later a four-foot dorsal surfaced as the monster hammer cleaned his plate. It was so big I felt small and vulnerable. ‘Adam, what say we motor away a bit?’ ‘Yeah, I can even smell the cut fish.’
We split the last beer; I wished we had a spot light to find the way home.”
It’s quite for a bit—a sobering pause, like the moment of silence at a funeral—then he speaks again, his blue eyes staring at his hands on the table.
“So I just gave my modern version old man in the sea. I wish that fish still alive. I will still tarpon fish. I think mother nature tough. I wish the shark indigestion. May the fucker choke on my worm fly. Does a fish of such grandeur deserve to be treated this way? Its not a game, though we tell ourselves it is. Here is what I will do differently next time: Make the cast, hold my marbles , and clear my line. Shout like an Indian and lean into the fish. Every fish is different. Some will come to the boat under the same pressure in a short and reasonable time. Pet on the head, photograph, and be sent on their way, aggravated and winded, but not beat to hell for three hours.
I want to hear the drag scream and lean into a heavy fish. I will do that. Not three hours worth. I could go home and read The Old Man and the Sea with the remaining two and a half hours. The shark and I are the same. Predators. Merciless. But I’m not gonna be that guy again. I think popping the fish off is what is best for the fish. I felt like I should tell this story to encourage others to do the same. I also want to publically pay respect to the animal that helped me arrive at place in my life as a sportsman, a sport with (hopefully) a better understanding of this understanding of mutual respect we all need to have for the animals we love, and those that chase them.”
“Yeah… I’ll drink to that.”
Ummm…I don’t really know, but I think I get it. Somehow.
More madness from the Keys. Enjoy.
What do tarpon fishermen do on long, lonely nights when tarpon season is effectively over? Well, some do this.
And We Don’t Have A Freakin’ Skiff!
Yup, tarpon season is just around the corner and our brains are heating up along with the weather. Just got this little piece of mental clusterflop from good old Nate “Dubya” down in Tavernier Key. I can’t figure whether to call the Bureau of Mental Health, just feel sorry for him, or start stressing out myself that this tarpon season may find us skiff-less. Read and enjoy.
So I have figured out some things down here. I don’t think the carbon guy has his shit together to spend that sort of loot on his product. “Some” is the operative word here [as in, let’s do “some” of what we should to have a nice skiff]. Damn it! Is skiff construction a winter Olympic sport?
If I knew some of the right answers here I would find the motivation to work on it more at night. Instead I dream I am sanding fiberglass in the nude. I know it’s not smart but I keep on grinding. I do however have a respirator on. Horrific stress dream, man. I just don’t want to waste my energies or miss a tarpon season. I think I have misplaced some of my energies lately, and I know I left it near my sanity somewhere? What do you think, Mr. WindKnot?
Dolphin marine has some goodies to be bought for cash:
- Old school poling platform: single pipe from the transom with a “Y” or split with two steps. We will build an insert like the last boat, as opposed to a mount on top cap. (Hope to score this for no more than $200.00.) It also allows us to choose our desired platform height and gives the room to steer a tiller. Not as stable as I would like it to be, but neither is my life at this point… so why not?
- Slam hatch for the transom replacing the circular access to the bilge. Like the one on the old skiff. $20.00???
- 27-gallon fuel tank? I can’t find one that works with her dimensions or my dementia. It would take the whole space forward. They are [freakin’] seven inches tall. They put carpet on top of them. They have a baffle but not a great one. I am skeptical about this and wonder if they were not pulled for this reason. Plus, that’s a lot of fuel. They have temp ones, but I would rather put a perm one in and glass in the step up to support the span of the cap above.
- Spray rails @ $44.00 apiece. (A steal.) They’re pre drilled and counter sunk and the Keys people quote $190.00 for the job.
- Rubrail, end cap and insert for $130.00… a fair deal and we know it is the right one.
- The tiller? I have been looking on ebay, but no one can seem to tell me exactly what I need. It cost around $600 new from Dolphin.
[And, after all that there’s still] the trailer. It has no title. And is a royal pain in the scrotum to register it as “homemade”. [It’s gotta be] weighed, certified, serial numbered, and $200 bucks for taxable worth. Is it worth it to refit it with new tires, hubs, and bearings? This shit is stressing me out. [I mean,] do I glass the rigging holes or put pie covers?
Tell me if this scheme is nuckin flagrently fucin crazy or smart and nifty/resourceful?
[Wait,] do I put the battery up front?… did you know all the fish froze to death?… L.E.D. lights on the trailer?… paint a tarpon on the entry?… shit, flush mount push pole holders?… composite electric trim tabs or bennett sports?
About the Author:
Mr. Nate “Dubya” runs a successful/struggling/booming/busting business building sweet-ass shit for rich people in the Florida Keys. In his spare time — which he has none of — he a fish-a-holic… recently inducted into the close-knit (yet suspicious) brotherhood of fly fishing tarpon fanatics. A self taught scholar of the flats, tropical architecture, and interior design, he hopes to one day finish rebuilding his own tropical home and have a functional skiff to wet a line on the fabled flats in his (freakin’) backyard (for goodness’ sake). (He has also promised to one day visit the author of this blog and cast flies at little bonefish in my backyard, but I’m not holding my breath.)