Planes, trains, and automobiles... and pangas, ferries, bare feet, hard boats, and catarafts
I left the corporate world on Friday. I was on a plane to Mexico on Saturday. On Sunday morning I was perched high upon a spiny, jagged ledge looking down into the green Pacific Ocean looking for the rooster that swam between the rocks.
The time had finally come. I had spent 13 long years working for the man. Thirteen long years toiling under the warm antiseptic glow of fluorescent bulbs. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of good things that came out of those 13 years, but when it is time to go, it is time to go.
It was not a hard decision to make—but it was still a decision. What finally tipped the scales was the thought that no matter what I thought, the work I was doing was not sustainable. There could be no working for the man.
And there I was. On the beach, in the salt, with scraped and stinging ankles... running down the man.
On our second day we left before the sun rose. We marched a mile through the jungle on a dirt path, through a cemetery and finally to the beach. In the small protected bay we met a 24-foot panga and our boat driver. I had fished here a number of times before and felt fairly confident in the routine. I had never fished with Capitan Willy before but Pablo told me he could handle a boat and knew where fish were, and that is all we were really looking for.
“Aves, Willy?” I said.
“Birds?” he replied. “Yes, I know you want to chase birds.” His english was spot on. “It’s going to be tough today.”
As we motored out my stomach tightened against the nausea that always seems to hit me when I smell gas and salt water and feel the undulation of five or six foot rollers. It always goes away. I tried to talk above the roar of the Yamaha's horsepower.
“No bait in the water?” I asked.
“No bait,” said Willy.
“No sardines?” I asked. He must have seen the concern in my eyes. Or maybe heard it in my voice.
“No sardines,” he repeated. “The sardines were here... but now they’ve gone.”
FuuuuXXXXXkkkk.... I didn’t say it but that is the first thought that crossed my mind. I’d fished this inshore water on three different occasions—in January and February. Each time the fishery lit up close to the beaches: mahi, jacks, bonita, big jacks, pompano, red snapper, sierra. And I have seen two large roosters. All the fish were found on the surface, hammering giant shoals of sardines at the surface. It is the birds that tip the angler off to the maelstrom that is occurring just inches below the surface. The sardines have no where to run but up as schools of larger fish stalk them from below. Up and into the sunlight where gulls, and other ocean birds pluck an easy meal. It is not the smartest or sexiest of fishing, but it's fun.
Locals confirmed that the sardines come into the inshore in early January and stay as late as April or even May. But this year was different. The sardines were here... but now they had gone. The whales, however, were in... close.
Even with my early morning pessimism that I kept locked like a dark secret, Mitch was able to stick a fish on about his sixth cast. It bends his rod and takes line. This is encouraging. But in the back of my mind I think it might be the kiss of death.
After a tough day of fishing, next to nil surface action, and only a few plate-size fish to speak of, we decide to change the game plan. Instead of paying for the boat we’ll watch the waves and fish the beach. We set off down the barren and desolate, fishing deep holes and from the rock outcroppings that pepper the entire coastline. In my heart of hearts, I’m fishing for that rooster I saw three years ago. Running down the man? No, I’m straight up working for the man.
After just a few days my ankles are thoroughly dinged from missteps on the rocks. The bottoms of my feet are cut from the sharp shells and rocks that litter the beach. We march over giant rock outcroppings and boulders where I have to grip my rod handle between my teethe to use both hands to secure four limbs or risk a nasty fall.
At one point the waves recede and I move farther into the surf to fish structure I can see about 50 feet from the beach. Large dark boulders lurk under the darker green, deeper water. It's here I’m convinced my rooster sits in wait. I work line out and pull it from around my feet and punch out a cast to the target zone. I’m rewarded not with a fish, but a giant wave that crashes my into my face and knocks me backwards on my ass. My buddy Mitch is out on the rocks as a local on a horse approaches.
“I’m going to fish one more beach,” I call out.
“Uh uh,” says Mitch. We’re both beat. “It is cerveza time, Amigo.”
“One more beach,” I call back.
The thought of crossing another set of rocks and blistering hot black sand in bare feet is daunting. I go back and forth in my head and a cold Modelo sounds really, really good. But I'm committed. I pick my way across the rocks and head down to the the surf break. There a solitary rock juts from the sand. Instead of standing on it, I stand behind, fairly sure that if I climb on top I’m just going to get knocked off. The water is deep and there is structure. On my second strip I feel the bump and my line goes tight. Then the head shake—then the run. There it is... there it is. There’s my rooster. But then the run slows and I can tell by the arc of my 8-wt that this is a small fish.
I’m still working. I’m still working for the man, and the man’s name is Jack.