Ryan and I have been threatening to fish ever since we left New York back in October. We kept putting it off, though, throwing out the excuse that we didn’t own a fishing rod.
Then we found ourselves a mentor named Von at the flea market in St. Marys, Georgia, who sold us a rod for $35 and sweetly gave us some free lures and lessons in tying fishing line. And for his patience and generosity, all he asked in return was that we send him a picture of our first catch.
That was November. And every month that’s gone by that I haven’t sent a photo to Von has weighed on me. He was like our Mr. Miyagi; he gave us wisdom and coaching, and all we had to do was be his Karate Kid and make him proud. Except we never once tried out our fishing rod in the two months after we met him. If the Karate Kid never waxed on and waxed off, clipped Bonsai trees or practiced chopping bricks with his bare hands, he wouldn’t have made Mr. Miyagi proud either.
You may be asking, if I felt so guilty, why didn’t I just trawl our fishing line off the back of the boat and see what we could pick up, or cast a line while we were at anchor one night? For crying out loud, it can’t be that hard. Just throw a hook in the water!
I don’t have a good excuse, really. For a while I said we didn’t have the right lures (too big) or the space to clean a fish on deck (really?), but in reality I think it was just fear. I had no idea what we would do once we got a live fish up on deck, and I was pretty sure we would have to kill it, which didn’t sound like a lot of fun.
In my mind, rather than pull up little two-pound dinner-sized fish, I thought with our 50-pound test line, I’d find myself locked in a death match with a 40-pound tuna, conflicted simultaneously by wanting to eat sushi and not wanting to bludgeon a massive, writhing, beautiful monster on Hideaway’s foredeck.
And the book I bought, The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing, didn’t do much to put me at ease, either. I opened it up to the section on “Stand-Up Outfits,” which is similar to our rod and reel, and it said, “This arrangement allows the fisher to move freely around the boat as needed during the battle; for example in response to a sudden, fast, sustained change in direction or depth on the part of a strong fish.” I’m sorry, but did that say “battle”?
All I wanted was a two-pound, maybe four-pound fish MAX. I didn’t want to fight a fish with my last breath like Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea. And what would I do with 40 pounds of fish if I ever got it on board anyhow? Even Charlie and Celia can’t eat that much fish. If I had 10 more cats on board, they couldn’t eat that much fish.
So you can see the shape my fears took when it came to fishing. Probably not dissimilar to the irrational fears I had about sailing and boating when I first started, actually.
However, being docked for a week at the Bimini Big Game Club — where Ernest Hemingway himself came to fish marlin, and where I was surrounded by guys in t-shirts emblazoned with bonefish — got under my skin. And the clincher was coming up on deck to find two men fishing right off our dock, next to our boat. And here I was trying to avoid fishing in what appeared to be the sport fishing capital of the Bahamas.
Finally, I couldn’t take the guilt anymore. So I poured a glass of wine and at about eight o’clock on Saturday night, when all the fishermen were at the bar and couldn’t see me fumbling with a rod I’d never used, I announced to Ryan that I was going fishing. I had no idea how I was going to catch a fish, but I put a hook on the end of my line and I dropped it in the water.
Two hours later, Ryan came out to check on me, and by this time I was sitting on the dock with my legs dangling over the water because, as it turns out, fishing is really boring when you don’t catch anything. Luckily, I had enough wine in my cup to amuse me while I sat by myself in the dark, though.
But Ryan had a better idea and managed to grab a fisherman from a neighboring motorboat and asked in his best English accent if the fellow wouldn’t mind giving me some pointers. Ryan was probably thinking I was either going to catch a fish, or I was going to end up really drunk and bored.
And it turned out our new friend Al was just the mojo we needed. He took one look at the enormous trawling lure I had on my line and disappeared into his tackle box. When he emerged, he was holding a set of tiny hooks and lures called Sabikis and he showed me how to tied them on and tug them through the water.
Two hours of dangling a line with a big, fat hook on the end and nothing. Five minutes with some Sabiki lures and I yank up a little fish Al called a “Goggle Eye.” I’m not sure if that’s the scientific genus and species, but it definitely had big ‘ol goggle eyes, so the name worked for me. We threw him back in and I pulled up another four fish just like him.
Finally, after Al retired for the night, I pulled up a one-and-a-half pound jack, which looked just fat enough to eat. And since it was my first fishing success, my philosophy was we had to eat it. It was probably good luck or something.
I did manage to hook one more fish that night – my seventh – but when I yelled to Ryan to come look, he could see that whatever it was had bent my rod beyond what was comfortable. This was no one-and-a-half pounder. I had no idea what to do or how to pull the thing up, so I made what was probably a classic rookie mistake and I started trying to reel him in. And the tighter my line got, the more my rod bent.
Before Ryan could tell me to give the fish some slack, the line snapped and I was left with no fish and no first-time-lucky Sabiki lures. The fish took it all, hook, line and sinker.
I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get a glimpse of whatever was on the end of my line, but the truth was I wasn’t ready to be traumatized by a big fish just yet. My one-and-a-half pound appetizer-sized fish was plenty for now.
As for fishing, I was hooked. The moment my line pulled and I discovered I’d pulled up dinner, I felt a primal sense of satisfaction. In a way, it was similar to the excitement I feel when I realize we’re traveling by wind power alone. It’s like I’ve stepped just a little closer to total self-reliance, developing skills that I’ve only read about in survival guides. It feels very empowering. I can almost see why sports fisherman are such fanatics about wearing t-shirts and visors with fish all over them. Almost.
The second best moment of the day, though, was when I got to email Von with a picture of me with my first catch. Wax on, wax off.