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austrotard wrote: Tue May 08, 2018 3:19 am did you see velma?

I saw velma.
Haha, Velma was this kid named Whit, staying where we were with his parents. He'll be included here later for his direct contribution to our tarpon success. He's got a long road ahead of him through grade school, but if he can hang on awhile and maybe grow into the weight a little bit, he's going to be the king of freshman year bio study hall, running through all the young tight stuff that should've been paying better attention in high school.
Andres’ wide smile makes it seem like he remembers us, though I’m sure he doesn’t. The locals here have a way of smiling like that. You don’t see it often but it comes on in a flash, and fills every part of their face. The truth of the feeling is in their eyes. It’s concentrated there. Maybe it’s not much different than any other real smile, maybe it’s the contrast against the poverty, the dirt and the heat, and the thin, stray dogs, the bitches with saggy nipples and the old males with scarred faces and torn ears. There’s plastic trash everywhere, the reality of a third world life lived in the margins of a second world country. A smile shines pretty bright against that background. I wonder if he smiles like that every day. It fits my fantasy of the place to think so, that simple happy folks exist somewhere, but I doubt it. I think he’s smiling because today we are going fishing.

He poles the panga back away from the beach, then reaches down and starts the old two stroke engine with one quick pull. We idle for a moment, and before he pulls his buff up over his face he smiles again, first at Bear then at me. There’s a twist of slyness in it this time. I can see the question at the edges of it.

“Permit today?” I ask.

“Si, amigo” The big smile again. “Perfect for permit today.”

“What fly?” Bear asks, opening his box. Andres leans forward, and immediately points to a shrimp pattern. The lone shop pattern in a box of proudly hand tied flies. There’d been discussion, the theme of our boxes for Mexico 2018 was “buggy.” No merkin patterns. No EP crabs at all. Buggy. Shrimp and crab hybrids, bunny and fox fur, deer hair, loose, sparse, suggestive. Heavy. Definitely needed to be heavy. We did a little swap, each contributing a couple patterns. Andres wants the shop fly, a generic looking tan shrimp pattern. Light bead chain eyes. Bear doesn’t hide his disappointment, holding the box in front of Andres, begging for a second opinion. Please. As Andres scans, unconvinced by anything else, Bear gently pulls one of the flies he tied out of the foam and lays it apart from the others for a better view. In one of the better straight-faced burns I’ve ever witnessed, without even a split second of consideration Andres picks up the fly and sticks it back in the foam, and then shuts the box and hands it back to Bear.

I laugh as Bear tucks the box back in his pack. He just shakes his head and mumbles, “Classic.”

Andres rolls his wrist over on the tiller handle and the panga’s up on plane, down the beach through the light ocean chop and towards the inlet to the flats.

Andres says he doesn’t fish for permit often if he’s not guiding clients. He loves to catch snapper. I’d like to fish snapper with him someday, because I can’t imagine the ability he must have to find and catch a fish he loves, considering his ability to find permit. When Andres shuts off the motor, grabs his white mangrove push pole, and says “Permit here, ok,” you better get your ass up on the deck and get ready for some permit here, ok. And it’s not any of that Belizean-style motor around the flat looking for fish either, it’s that right time, right place, bought and paid for with your soul, uncut, sun-weathered flats guide type shit. One of the last things left in this world that cannot be faked. I’ve asked what it is about certain flats at certain times that makes him certain there’s permit there, and that’s when I get the feeling he likes that his English isn’t very good.

Our first shot comes less than five minutes after he first shuts the motor off. In Bear’s defense the fish is hauling ass. Then, like a dick, he tosses a very long backhanded cast at it as it swam out of range to our right. Andres sees it and says something about us being good casters. “Us” haven’t done shit yet. I can cast, like my right arm has the physical ability to. Sometimes even passably. Those times are never when I’m standing in the bow of a skiff with permit coming at me. So with the table set, I step up, knowing exactly what was about to be served. With the panga pitched sideways to a very manageable breeze, Andres works us across the flat, his mangrove pole grinding lightly against coral and rock, leaving a muddy, meandering trail behind us. He calls the nervous water from an annoying distance. Maybe 200 meters, he says. I narrow my eyes toward the horizon, scanning the chop. 200 meters. How the fuck could he possibly – and then there it is. Faint but unmistakable, a line of chop moving against the wind.

“Can you see, amigo.”

“Yes.” I keep hold of the fly for the moment but adjust my grip on the rod and check that I’m not standing on the line curled on the deck.

“They are coming, I think.”

“I think so too.”

The wake becomes more and more obvious until it’s the only thing. Broadly U-shaped, it pushes one way and back again, urged forward from below, an umbrella fighting against driving wind and rain. I make out flashes of silver and black just behind it, a group of fish, has to be close to a dozen. Andres has his pole down in the sand, pinning us in place. We’re beneath one field goal post, and the fish have barely broken out of the other end zone.

“Ok go!” Andres orders.

Thanks Bear.

I don’t go.

“That’s too far.”

“Too far?”



Somehow, the subordination slows my heart rate. I’d decide now. I start slow as they work their way closer. It feels different this time, comfortable, smooth. The fish are behaving, working toward us more or less on a direct path. I drop the fly and flick a short roll cast, not letting it quite land before I pull back with a haul, feeling the line smoothly load the rod. Forward, and back again, I lengthen to half the shrinking distance. Maybe 70 feet now, a strong haul and then a punch forward, bent at the knees and leaning with it slightly, forming an “ok” sign with my haul hand, letting the line shoot through. I never see the fly drop, it’s just a guess based on where the tip of the line lands. I think I’m on the money. Andres thinks so too.

“Ok good, strip!”

On my first long strip, three fish in the lead break from their path slightly to our left and come right at us.

“They see! Ok, ok strip!”

I crouch down further and strip again. My vision tunnels on those big eyes and open mouths. Eat it. Please. Just put it in your goddamn mouth and eat it.

They don’t. They turn and rejoin the group. There’s the couple obligatory shots at retreating fish that aren’t going to eat.

Andres pulls down his buff “Ah amigo! Good shot!”

“Yes it was.”

It was. We were twenty minutes into the day. Bear steps back up. There’s not any of the immediate feeling of defeat like last time. I’m four days from knowing that I’d just experienced the best part of permit fishing, but in the moment I was graced with the suspicion that that was the case. I was in the sand, throwing a coconut up in a tree. I’m a kid at heart, and everyone knows kids are happiest when they’re standing in the dirt, throwing shit.

I like coconuts :Roll Eyes
It may be the infrequency of my exposure to it, but I haven’t really figured out a way to capture my thoughts and emotions about saltwater fishing with words like I have for other things. It’s not captivating in the way of a clear stream moving quickly through beautiful country, while I can certainly stare vaguely in the direction of the ocean for hours, I never merge with it completely – it’s too big for that. The fishing isn’t exactly relaxing. Not like floating around on a lake tossing poppers for bluegill and bass. It’s not really a technically refined academic sport either, like a big tailwater or spring creek. When there’s no one word sometimes a string of adjectives can get you somewhere on the paper, but I haven’t been able to do that successfully without sounding like an early twenty-something woman who’s just come around to appreciating her mother again, typing up a ‘gram post on Mother’s Day.

“Amazing, strong, inspiring, hard-working, incredible, generous, kind, funny, smart, committed, beautiful, honest, responsible… #lifegoals”

What’s the word for being simultaneously unprepared, confident, and lost, while out of breath and emotionally volatile to the point that your yelling has devolved to animal sounds?

I’m sweating too, standing on the roof of a cabana in the early afternoon. The otherwise persistent day time sea breeze backed off yesterday, and today the palms seem to hang in mid-air like fireworks a frame or two after explosion, shifting their own fronds slightly from time to time out of boredom. For a moment, I think the world might slow down enough to roll back into reverse, but then from my vantage I see the white sand flank of a permit roll just beneath the surface. Its sharp black tail wags, pushing the fish back down into the dirty water off the beach, and the sounds of my own voice rush back into my ears.

“Dan! 1 o’clock! Fifty feet, big permit again!”

Dan, standing nipple deep in the murky water does his damndest to pivot right and match my direction. Hard to double haul with your elbows in the water. His cast lands and something moves a lot of water back on his left.

From down on the beach, Bear yells “Dan! Left, forty feet!”

Still working his previous cast in, Dan picks all the remaining line up and in one shot lays it back to the left.

The permit, or another, rolls again to his right. Someone yells something about a tarpon. Mob mentality sets in, Bear’s yelling left again, Gerrit takes off running down the beach, I’m up on the roof screaming and pointing like that girl in Jaws when the shark is in the pond. Mortar rounds were exploding all around us, machine gun fire ripping the vegetation to shreds. Travis is sitting alone in the sand, knees pulled up to his chest, rocking back and forth, covering his ears with his hands. The enemy was retaking the beach.

The women are looking on from the shade, amused and quietly discussing the odds that any of us will do something stupider than usual.
Now Dan’s yelling about tarpon. The swirls have definitely gotten more violent. Then there’s the unmistakable dorsal to tail porpoise of a big tarpon. Then another, and suddenly the whole beach has fish on it. A permit again, I can see those big eyes from the rooftop as it eats something just below the surface and then disappears again. The water is too stained from sargassum to track the fish, but every time one rolls we yell and guess at direction, Dan does his best to put the fly there. Then, as it does, something begins, ends, stops, or starts, and the fish fade from being things with coordinates back to ideas.

Afterwards we sit around with dazed stares. Our foundations cracked, beliefs shaken. Again. This place has a way of doing that. Tarpon fifty feet from the sand? Permit eating on the surface? I open a beer and sit back in my chair. The others debate, their conversations circling me like deer flies as I sit quietly and let everything soak in. What had happened completely disproved my concerns about being too prepared for the trip. I needn’t have worried – we still had no idea what was going on. I also realized my initial concern had only been attainable through impressive ignorance. Very little knowledge and the ignorance to prove it. I didn’t need a wrench, I was the wrench.

We set upon figuring it out. I’ve only recently come to the somewhat unsettling conclusion that “figuring it out” is really the best part of fishing, and then of course, life as well. Lot of work, sure, frustrating, yep, but I’ve always found that I’m fairly compensated with stories. I’ve hung around after its been figured out, sometimes for too long. It’s hard to let things go. But once the earnest debate fades to lazy conversation, intense focus blurs with normalcy and innocence gives way to bitching about all the assholes, you can either move on or die right then and there.

The swirling currents of the world are constantly pushing things past, both good and bad, unearned and deserved. In that moment, sitting on a front porch next to the ocean, we were delivered an overweight, bespectacled twelve year old named Whitaker. I’d actually first taken notice of Whit the night before at dinner when after four or five beers I’d interrupted a conversation on the other side of the dining room by yelling about a “weird, raccoon monkey” I’d seen run across the road that day. Before the owner of the place, a self-described naturalist, could tell me what it was, Whit said “Coatimundi” with about the same tone as if I’d asked him what time it was. So I pinned him for one of those science kids.

The next evening as we’re sitting around hotly debating what permit would be eating near the surface in dirty water and where the hell the tarpon had come from, Whit’s waist deep in the water with a bucket, poking around in a mat of sargassum. Eventually he climbs out of the water and tentatively approaches what to him is I’m sure a highly intimidating collection of increasingly drunk men, and scantily clad, well-equipped women. For his sake I’d like to think the latter is what baits him over, but I actually think he’s much more interested in showing me and the other guys what he’s got in that little sand castle bucket.

What he’s got is a bunch of little brown crabs, their shells an inch or so in diameter.

“These are in the weeds?”

Whit nods, and scoops up a handful. “They’re swimming crabs, see how their back legs are paddles?”

Like little kayak blades back there, sure enough. “Are there a lot of them?”

He nods again, wincing as one pinches his hand. He drops them back in the bucket. “These little shrimp too” he says, holding an inch long translucent shrimp between his thumb and finger.

We all trade stares. We’re sitting around, planning on talking the problem to death, and this kid, an amateur ecologist in transition lenses, eases up in a wet t-shirt and destroys any sense of competence I had. It felt annoying, a little relieving, but more than anything, it felt exactly right.
Last edited by stillsteamin on Mon May 14, 2018 10:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
Well done C. You've a knack.
Of Tarpon and Men.

Last time there were no tarpon off the beaches. As far as I knew.

“There, in Agosto sometime” Andres had said, pointing out at the fringe of white breakers pounding the reef. The water’s big and blue out there. If that’s where the tarpon are, I thought, then they might as well not exist at all.

Motoring down the beach the first morning of this trip, he pointed at a little cove where the mangroves came right to the water’s edge, and above the topped out whine of the outboard I heard “Sometime tarpon… maybe.”

I just looked at Bear and shrugged. I didn’t have enough Spanish to satisfy my curiosity, but knowing what little I do about Andres, I know he doesn’t waste words. Tarpon were there, maybe. And he was thinking about them. I figured that when the what is tarpon, the why doesn’t really matter.

Just before lunch, Bear and I switched again. As I was sitting down, Andres took a gulp of water from his bottle, spun the cap, sized me up for a second and then said quietly, “Maybe try tarpon, later, ok? Out there.” He pointed back out toward the beach.


“What line?” He pointed at my ten weight.

“Line?” I must’ve looked confused because he balled up his fists and made a pulling apart motion with them.

“Oh, how strong of line?”

He nodded.

“Forty pound… um like twenty kilo?”

He winced a little and shook his head. “Maybe ok, maybe break. Strong, strong fish amigo.” He pulled the imaginary line between his fists again.

Andres can find tarpon just as well as permit. On the way back down the beach he cut the panga hard to the left just before we came to the mangrove cove, and turned us sideways into the wind with his mangrove push pole.

“Tarpon here amigo. Maybe we will see.” He makes a motion like a dolphin jumping with his hand.

I jump up front, and stare blankly at the dirty water. It’s hot, the end of a long day, I’d had a beer out of the cooler on the run from the flats back out here. I’m satisfied. My eyes start to glaze over. Which is why at first I didn’t trust them telling me that they just saw the head, dorsal, and tail of a tarpon rise and fall back into the water forty feet in front of the boat – if my ears hadn’t heard the greasy slosh, and there wasn’t a big quivering swirl of water in the chop where it had disappeared. I react half a beat late, but manage to slap a cast out in the direction my subconscious tells me the fish had been headed.

The fish had porpoised just ahead of the boat so Andres hadn’t seen it.

“You see fish!?” He yells as I start to strip.

I still don’t think I would’ve been able to say yes for sure if my line wasn’t already tight and surging away from me. But since it was I figured I definitely had seen a fish, or otherwise I’d made a damn good guess.

At first, the fish stays down, shaking its head. Andres yells to strip again, so I clamp the line down in my fist, point the rod at the fish, and pull till all the stretch is gone and I feel like I could let go of the rod and it would shoot forward and spear the fish through the brain.

It makes one, two, and then three jumps boat side, making a clackity-click sound as it shakes its head, spraying saltwater. There’s a sense of patience to it, as if I were being put through the first paces of a regular exercise. After the third jump, it decides it wants to go out to the reef with the white breakers and blue water. So there it goes, first clearing the line off the deck, then off my reel, splitting its time between swimming and flying but never seeming to slow down.

Andres wants more drag so I spin the dial on the reel. Feeling the brakes, the fish pauses for a moment as if it had just walked into a spider web. Then like on an old episode of Spanish fly, it’s airborne again, too far away to be real even if I was still connected to it.

“Ahhh amigo!”

I lean back, bending at the knees, looking at the sky, wondering if my bones might all give way at once. I’d slump to the floor like a tossed duffle bag.

I make the long retrieval of shame, watching the tippet flick and bounce its way over the choppy water, carefree, a puppy’s tail before it realizes you found out it shit on the carpet.

Andres bends over and scoops the line out of the water as it passes his end of the boat. He makes an “Isssst” sound like he’d just touched a hot stove, shakes his head, and then shows me the badly frayed tip.

“Forty pound amigo! No good I think.”

I just shake my head. I’m out of breath somehow and words seem like a lot of work. He cracks into a big, wide smile. “Muy fuerte amigo!”

Sometimes I wrestle with the concept of hooking fish and fighting them for fun. It’s not that I expect catch and release fishing to be somehow more free from hypocrisy and selfishness as any other human endeavor – how could it be, and why should it be? Sport involving other living things is as endemic to human culture as sex for fun, and overeating. I’m not considering quitting any of that to make some sort of statement about our place in this world. Walking back down a beach, rowing out at the bottom of a float, or consumed by the rhythm of a skiff running over afternoon chop, I wonder if the playing field was level, did I do the best I could to demonstrate respect for something that doesn’t have the intelligence or physical ability to ensure those things for itself? As I stepped off the front deck of the panga, I knew I’d been wrong all along.

That fish had the capability to defend itself and it had shown me what all the other fish wish they could – that it didn’t want to be fucked with. It showed me up close, then subsequently at quickly lengthening distances until it was over. Playground rules, like I’d pushed it, but instead of pushing back it threw my bike over a fence and down a ravine into a creek. How could I have been so self-assured about maintaining a level playing field, if I’d been the one doing all the leveling? No, I knew then there was no level. Nothing fair. There was this moment, the next, and more after that if I was lucky. Each with a scale balanced across the top, my stack of rocks at one end, and a random collection from the world’s stash at the other. In that moment, when my line came so tight that it broke and recoiled half the distance to the boat, I just hadn’t brought enough rocks.

Shit that’ll make you feel small.

Of Tarpon and Wimmens.

Travis and I are half poling, half pulling our way through a narrow tunnel in the mangroves, watching for caiman and tarpon. Small cichlids stop and start beneath us, their translucent fins rippling as they pause over the junkyard of mangrove leaves and sticks on the bottom. It’s late afternoon and the world’s slowing down but not enough yet to make talking seem like too much. I reach and look up, making sure it’s a limb not a snake I’m about to grab, and pull us through a sharp left turn and out into a narrow cove. The cove opens up into a big lagoon, the far edge lined with a scruff of mangroves, comparably miniature versions of the ones crowding in around us.

As Travis paddles, we talk about how weird it is to be where we are, doing what we’re doing. Not like, weird to us, but when I pull back a moment and look at it from somewhere above my head, with what I imagine to be the perspective of normal folks, what’s going on is different – at a minimum. Whenever someone at work asks me what I did on vacation I feel a little bit like I’m standing naked in a dark garage, wearing only socks and a leather tool belt full of dildos, building a scale model of the Pentagon out of frosted mini wheats, dog hair, and hot glue, and someone just walked in behind me and flicked the light on.

I love it deeply, but that doesn’t prevent me from knowing how weird it is. That’s how I know I’ve not gone crazy yet.

At some point on every trip, someone will take notice of our group as we pile noisily into a bar, laugh until drinks are being spit at dinner, or someone’s standing on the roof of a beach cabana yelling about permit. They’ll wait till we settle down, till there’s a break in the conversation, and ask “How do you all know each other, and manage to make trips like this happen?”

I want to say luck. That I’m lucky to have met these people, lucky to be able to afford it, lucky to be healthy, to have my legs, arms, eyes, and ears intact, lucky to recognize and appreciate the fleeting, nonrecurring moments of perfection that happen from time to time in this world if you bother to look. But it’s not luck, not really. Not the parts where choices and sacrifices were made to live a certain way. Where all the things you’re supposed to want - families and homes and sometimes careers - are put off in favor of experience.

Sitting on the beach with everyone one evening near the end of our trip, I dig my feet into the cold sand as the sun touches something down beyond the coconut palms to the west and explodes into a cascading spectrum of golds and pinks. I walk through the interior of my cave, shining a flashlight up the walls. There’s Bear with a crazed, exhausted look on his face, clutching a tangled mess of fly rods, standing in the road out front telling me about their second day with Andres, two permit, tarpon and jacks on a popper. Gerrit, showing me a frayed wire leader, grinning and shaking his head. I see myself, walking back from a slow morning on the lagoon with Bear, to learn that everyone who’d slept in had woken up to a glassy bay awash with the swirls of feeding tarpon. Andres is there too, holding up my broken line and smiling at me. Travis and his wife there by the pool at the hotel the first night in Cancun, pouring shots of tequila and emptying buckets of beer when it was all still ahead of us. I move the light again, and Yoga Pants is calling a shot at her own tarpon, and stripping line as fast as she could while it slashed at her fly. Her bows to it when it jumped, always a second late. Her face when Andres hands her the fish. The same face I see Gerrit’s better half make as she scoops up her first bonefish the first morning of the trip. A rush of pure feeling captured forever, painted across the walls with the colors of the sky.

Maybe it is luck too. I’m sure it is, how often is anything just one thing? There’s a picture of all us at dinner one night, I don’t know what day it was, we’re grinning like something phenomenal just happened, which fortunately doesn’t really narrow it down at all. If there’s luck involved, I guess it’s lucky that when I look at myself in that picture, it’s the only place I feel like I fit. And it’s the only place I want to. We’re misfits, maybe. Which is good I think. Why would you want to fit in in this world anyway?

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