There’s Something About Fishing
Or…How A Mullet Becomes A Grander
By Capt. Ken Kreisler
Unlike most fish stories, this one is absolutely true.
As a lead for an article on a new sportfishing boat, I quoted the venerable Sir Izaak Walton (1593-1683):“I have laid aside business, and gone a-fishing.” Sir Izaak, whose classic The Compleat Angler, first published in 1653, is considered to be a mainstay in any serious fisherman’s library should that person want to be thought about, well, as a serious fisherman. Or so they will tell you. “The Compleat Angler? Oh sure. Sure I have it. Great book! Great!”
This brings me to the point. What is it about fishing that makes exaggeration, hyperbole, and embellishment—one word would have sufficed, yes?—come so naturally? For those of us Alpha Male, chest thumping, barnyard strutting roosters, who still retain our hunter/gatherer genes—or pretend to—it’s most likely a way to make up for failing to bring home the bacon in front of our brethren Alpha Male, chest thumping, barnyard strutting roosters.
To examine this phenomenon in the wild, I, under the convenient guise of marine journalist, booked myself aboard the aforementioned sportfishing boat during a recent angling showdown between two fine boat builders.
The event, an ongoing 10 year, two-fishing-day-weather-permitting offshore adventure promotes amiable competition between the boats and crews. This year’s drew 70 decked-out-to-the-nines vessels ranging in size from 48 to 72 feet. And before I put my spin on the day’s events, let me say this: The crew I fished with was comprised of some of the nicest, most sincere folks I have ever had the pleasure of sharing a day offshore with. But there’s something about fishing.
All right, so let’s start with the fish. They’re dumb. There’s not too much there friends. I mean, after all these thousands of years of being caught, you’d think by now they’d have it figured out. But no, you wiggle a worm in front of them or drag a dead fish for miles, and they take the bait. Artificials included! Oh sure, sharks are at the top of the finny food chain but hey, they haven’t changed in 300 million years. Didn’t have to. That walnut size brain has two basic functions: Eat and make more sharks. Dolphins–of the mammalian Delphinidae and not the the fishy Coryphaena hippurus–are a different story. As stated, they’re not fish. Catch my drift here? But I digress.
So there we are, heading out at some ungodly hour of the morning—say, what’s with that 4 a.m. stuff anyway?—on a many multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art vessel, whose powerful diesel engines suck up the fuel at an alarming rate to get us many miles offshore to, catch fish. There are 13 souls aboard my boat and during the next 18 hours, I will get to interact, observe, and share this watery experience with them.
The mate, a stoic chap whom I will refer to as Mr. Quiet for this narrative, has a plug of chewing tobacco neatly tucked into each cheek, making him look a little well, chipmunky. In the early morning light he is preparing our baits, tying lines, and doing all those matey things mates do. He has a tattoo of a billfish on the calf of his right, uh I mean starboard leg. Yo ho ho.
Our captain, a.k.a. Our Captain, I’ve met before and while I have never fished with him, recognize from my own captaining experiences that he knows his stuff. We captains have our ways. The Force is with us. Comes with the territory. Alpha Male. No doubt. Big Guy—there’s always one on board—The Kid, Invisible Man, Dude, The Boss, Mate Too, Mate Also, The Others, and finally Me, make up the rest of the crew.
The GPS tells us we’ve arrived and we see bait fish jumping because a whole lot of something-biggers are chasing them. And there are birds circling, wheeling, and diving into the water to pick up the leavings of those jumping baitfish that are being chopped to pieces by those something-biggers chasing them. All good signs. But we’ve had our many thousands of dollars worth of electronics turned on for hours anyway to come to that same conclusion: There are fish here. Brilliant. See how this works?
Mr. Quiet, Mate Too, and Mate Also get our eight lines out; three each on a pair of massive outriggers and two from either side of the cockpit’s requisite beautifully varnished fighting chair. There’s some hand clapping from Big Guy and a nod of approval from Invisible Man before he finds a bunk below and goes back to sleep. A few of The Others apply sunscreen. Lock and load. The radio crackles with the news that other boats have already hooked up. And so it begins. I mean the chances of hooking up so fast are as good as finding one natural ingredient in Cheez Whiz.
It takes us almost an hour and a half to get a hit. Mate Also grabs the rod and gives it to The Kid while Big Guy slips a fighting belt on him. “Wind. Now pump. Wind. Pump. Dip. Wind. Pump,” he is told. He falters, missing the cadence. Dipping when he should be winding. Pumping instead of dipping. The rod tip suddenly points skyward. Gone. But for the drone of the engines, silence reigns. While the stories of other dropped fish begin to surface, Me decides it’s time to begin grazing through the ship’s stores in the galley.
About half an hour later we see a blue marlin surface, swipe at one of the baits and disappear. “A buck and a half,” someone says. That means 150 pounds. I couldn’t tell though. Only momentarily glimpsed the fish’s bill and part of its head. By the time I finished a fistful of chocolate chip cookies, that marlin had beefed up to 200 pounds. “A deuce at least.”
Two on. A small tuna surfaces and throws the hook. The other stays around to tussle with Big Guy and winds up popping the line. Never did get a look at it. Then come the stories. “Like I felt, BAM! A hit on the line. Like it wasn’t that fish on the line. Know what I mean?” he laments. I’m getting interested in those gummy bears I spied during one of my forages. Another hit. Oops. “That’s quality sushi right there,” Dude chimes in. Where? It’s gone. Never got one wind on the reel. Is this getting any clearer? Another hit. Another drop.
“And we did the Ho-Ho-Hee on that right rigger too,” chortles one of The Others. Unbeknownst to anyone, I had secretly let out some extra line on that right rigger. Ho-Ho-Hee.
In desperation out comes Suzie Rockets a.k.a. the Jiggin Piggy; a good luck charm whose swiny-physiognomied, hula-skirted, suctioned-cupped, bobble-headed presence is quickly secured to the port side arm of the chair and is sure to change our luck. The only thing we raise is a moustache on one of our dead mackerel baits. Meaning we picked up some weeds on the line.
By the time it’s lines up, the tally is Fish 8, Humans 0. A few minutes before the official end of the day, the radio crackles to life: “Boat 32, fish on. Boat 17, hooked up. Boat…” Amazing how that happens during the final seconds. Cheez Whiz anyone?
The ride back to terra firma is filled with other fishing stories from Cancun to Walker’s; from both sides of the Panama Canal and everywhere in between. And they are good stories, which like now have been taken out again and again and told with a smile that pleases everyone and are meant for nothing more than enjoyment. Which is the way it should be.
And as for losing those fish, well let me just quote the venerable Sir Izaak again: “No man can lose what he never had.” Enough said. Fair winds shipmates.
If you have a favorite fishing story for THE SALTY LIFE, send it on in. If it’s good enough for posting, I’ll send you two dozen of my world-famous, hand-made chocolate chip cookies. Promise. Just let me know if you have any food allergies such as those associated with nuts and I’ll avoid loading them up with walnut, pecan, or macadamia. You’re gonna love ’em!- Cap’n. Ken