When you first climb up there, scrambling over the bait well to your perch above the Baja blue, the bow of a panga feels like love itself beneath the soles of your naked feet—warm, slippery, perilous, unstable. The sea, you sense, lies at your command; the authority seems daunting, then reckless, even appalling. For at some point you recognize the earth is round, spinning, hurtling through space—and you are but bobbing on a liquid membrane sloshing this way and that in direct response to the sun, the moon, the wind, the gods.

Bull Run

The rod, however, helps. You are not entirely unaided in maintaining your fragile sense of balance. No doubt there’s the expedience of the tightrope walker, and yet you can’t help but feel kinship as well with the conductor and his tiny baton, the great import of his responsibility to the music, the musicians, the audience, himself—all of it distilled down to a childish stick less a tool of productivity than of imagination.

Your rod, of course, offers every advantage science and sport alike have conceived for the work of casting a fly and fly line, and fighting fish. Yet as you stand in the bow of the panga, gazing out over the wide sea, riding the wind and the waves, you understand that, like the conductor, you’ve embraced the ferment of imagination, conjuring fish to the surface of the vast and restless sea, while believing in your heart you’ll be able to hook and land them.

Dorado make credible this far-fetched belief. One moment the sea lies empty, a desert of physics and light in all its cryptic palpitations. The next moment there’s a flame racing along the surface, the colors of chemical incinerations blistering the fabric of the sea. It’s a little like a nightmare, but more like a dream. Probably the shock of the fish’s electric appearance arrives not as a complete surprise. The conjuring potion includes buoys, bait, a herring or two tossed by your pangero. You’re calling up spirits, after all. You can’t expect them to come easily.

The problem, ultimately, is one of proportions. The ocean is vast, the bow of a panga but a speck in the cosmos. The good news is that dorado are suckers for crease flies—or just about anything you can get in front of them—as they course and illuminate the surface like erratically propelled sparks.

The bad news is of another dimension. Big dorado—I mean the true bulls, not the twenty or thirty pounders, almost grotesque in their huge proportions, with their great blunt heads designed to kill at a speed that baffles those of us fitted for land—bring into question just what, in fact, is possible to land with a fly rod. In our minds we imagine no limits to the gear, our talents, or the parameters of the sport. But once hooked to a truly big dorado—on par with billfish for their capacity to hand you your ass—you understand again that talk is cheap, imagination can run wild, and that the reality of the moment threatens to leave you unhinged.

The bow of a panga belongs to one of those infinitesimal spaces in our lives from which we sense we can view everything we need to know about life. Clearly, only madmen fall prey to such beliefs.

Scott Sadil lives in Hood River, Oregon, and is exciting about the number of steelhead swimming past his house.