By Jay Anglin
The phrase “fishing story” is often associated with exaggeration and, in many cases, sheer myth.
It’s fairly common for a fishing story to turn into a yarn that ventures into the absurd so quickly that anybody listening assumes that at some point there will be a punch line. Alas, quite often there isn’t one.
Sadly, the average storyteller relies on fiction to gain the ear of the listener and uses smoke and mirrors to drag the story on. The elite storyteller knows that the best fishing stories are the true ones.
About 16 years ago my wife Angie and I had ventured to Belize for our honeymoon. We had our own villa on the water. There were flowers everywhere, including giant hibiscus and the ever present Buganvilia that reminded me of adventures in Mexico with my folks years prior.
The purest pink sand on earth covered our bare feet like talc. A shallow pool a few feet square made of hand-painted tile was at the entrance to rinse our feet before entering what would be our home for a week.
The main house was a colonial-style built by the British long ago. The lower floor was an open bar with quiet ceiling fans. It reminded me of “Donovan’s Reef” in the 1963 John Ford film of the same name. Angie and I dodged crabs and lizards and skipped over to the most perfect place to enjoy a cool one on the planet.
It didn’t take long and I was inquiring about the fishing. The bartender pointed straight to the water one hundred feet away and said, “Right out there”. So, the next morning right out there we went. Our guide for the day pulled up to the dock in a hand-carved “panga” that came in at around 19 feet I’d guess. These boats are very sea-worthy and roomy. Utilitarian, for sure, but I’ve always preferred simplicity when it comes to boats. Two 70-horse outboards pushed this immense chunk of wood along at about 25 mph.
Belize shares the world’s second longest barrier reef with the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. At the point in the reef we were rapidly approaching there looked to be a small cut between spires of coral. I could see that our captain was timing the swell to get through. Finally sufficient water pushed the gap and he twisted the throttles in each hand and we charged through. The adventure was just beginning.
Not a quarter-mile from the break the water drops to a couple hundred feet. He pulled out some ancient spinning rods and used his toe to pull the lid off a bait hold in the hull where he’d stashed some fresh sardines that morning. The rigs were elementary; the next step down would be a can and some string.
We ran one “hi line” with a live sardine and within seconds a Great Barracuda had mauled the bait. I was busy with that when Angie screamed out that she was into a big fish that’s she picked up off the bottom with a chunk of cut bait. I looked back to see her holding herself against the side of the boat with her knees as the rod doubled over. Even the handle was bent.
I managed to horse mine in and the guide gaffed it and swung it into the large hold in the bottom of the boat. I’m guessing it was a 35-pounder. I never saw it again.
I turned my attention to Angie and helped her with her fish which turned out to be a Cubera Snapper weighing into the high teens. Same drill with that fish. Our guide wasn’t much into the photo op thing. Angie was smoked by the last fish but she got right back in the saddle and lobbed another chunk into the navy blue depths.
It went like this for an hour. I managed several more barracuda and the jumpiest fool of a King Mackerel on the surface bait while Angie kept hammering on the snapper and a few grouper. All of them got the club.
At some point I asked our guide what he did with all the fish and he just gave me a look that only an American can solicit out of a poor man living in a third-world country. I apologized and figured that he’d feed what he could to his family and sell the rest at market. Regardless, I figured we’d have one of the grouper for dinner.
I lobbed another chunk of bait to the bottom and Angie did the same. Before Angie’s hit the bottom the line began to race off her reel and the guide says, “It’s a shark.”
I told her to engage the line and when she did, the fish yanked her so hard that she slammed into the side of the boat. My bait is over the other side and I’m trying to stand on her side of the boat and hang on to her so she isn’t pulled overboard.
It all happened so fast, she’s screaming and I’m asking for help and our guide just sat there on his milk crate. I only had one hand to work with so I couldn’t reel my line up. I can hear the drag on Angie’s reel singing and I knew it was going to overheat soon. Finally I set my rod down against the far side of the boat and turned my full attention to Angie.
I was able to help her slow the run slightly but I realized that whatever it was that she’d hooked was much too big for this light tackle. There never really was any hope. Just before her line broke I looked back at my rod sitting there and in a flash it flew over the side of the boat. It was like fast forward. It was gone.
Our guide was very upset and after a long and heated negotiation we settled on $100 to replace his crummy old junk rod and reel. He wanted more. I had done my best not to lose my temper but this guy was testing my patience.
I wasn’t done yet. When we got to the dock I reached down to take my fair share of fresh fish. He stood fast on the lid and said, “No,” and he meant it.
Then he learned why America is the greatest country on earth. I had to get help from the bartender to haul enough fresh grouper and snapper up the dock to the kitchen to feed the entire resort that night.
Call me a jerk, but hey, I tried to be nice.
Jay Anglin writes a weekly outdoors column for the Herald-Argus. Write to him at [email protected] HeraldArgus.com