A Fishing Story from Belize
By Young-Bean Song
By Young-Bean Song
“Here they come! Ten o’clock. A whole school of them. Get ready… steady… Shoot! Shoot it!! DO IT NOW!!!” The guide’s words take me to the top of the mega rollercoaster. I grab the rod in complete free fall.
Everything is moving. The fish are jetting shadows, the waves rippling everywhere, the boat bobbing and turning, the wind is absolutely howling. Per the guide’s instructions, I point my rod towards the fish.
“See’m? Point at 12 o’clock! Left, left, slowly… now right… slowly… THAT’S IT! You got it! Now hit that!! One shot. DO IT!!”
Problem is, I can’t see a damn thing. Even if a fish is there, I don’t know if it’s moving from left to right or the other way. I don’t know if he’s getting closer or farther from the boat. This is my sixth time on the podium, but it still feels like the bright lights of my first piano recital. That silent moment when everyone is waiting for you to start playing, and the panic sets in that you left the sheet music backstage.
“One Shot” reverberates in my head. The term refers to the fact that when the guide has put you in striking distance of a fish, you have one cast to get the fly in the right place. Clock starts at three seconds. Sounds hyperbolic, but it’s no exaggeration. In the saltwater flats, the big fish are on the move. Their world is more like the Savannah grasslands. Everything is out in the open. Everything is hunting or being hunted. The ground they cover is vast and structureless. They can come at you in any direction, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always unpredictable. You just have to be ready. If the first shot misses, it doesn’t help your second shot because the fish are now in a completely different spot in both direction and distance. But now you have a bunch of line in the water that’s impossible to pick up all at once. By the time you get the fly back in the air, they could be out of reach or upwind. It’s best to make one false cast before making that 80 foot cast. Or better yet, none at all. Take a second false cast and you’ve halved your chances at the fish. Try a third, and you mine as well throw your rod into the sea. No more time on the clock. Game over. One shot.
“They’re gone. You missed it man! C’mon man… Jeeezus fucking Christ. You gotta take the shot when I tell you to shoot…” You can tell the guide is trying to soften the disgust in his voice.
This is the point that I might see something. A moving smudge amongst smudges. A shifting shadow. It could very well be brain trickery, a desperate coping mechanism. But I’ll take it. Anything at this point to taste a glimmer of hope, even if it’s a mirage. The shame thick, welling up in the throat, hot breaths under my face rag steam my glasses. I’m trembling.
“Bring it in. Check your fly. Organize the line. Get ready, they might come back around again… Ah Ya Yaaa… That was a huge school. 30-40 Permit. Big ones.”