(originally published – January 20, 2012)
I love my fiancée.
I’m marrying her, aren’t I?
I do EVERYTHING with Lindsay. We live together, work together, share a car, run errands together…even watch football together. But there are a few, select activities that we should never share.
I’m on record.
I don’t want to golf with her because she has the focus of a 5 year old and drinks like a 19 year old (okay…I guess that’s like the dudes I already play golf with…but you get it).
I don’t want to sit quietly and read a book with her because…again…the whole focus thing and because she always insists that I read out loud to her like we’re in a Robert Browning poem.
And I certainly don’t want to fish with her (see all aforementioned reasons).
So, of course, as we planned our trip to Big Pine Key for a week of fishing the flats and backwaters between the Gulf and Atlantic with my buddy James and his girlfriend, I knew what was coming.
“Amber and I want to fish at least one day with you boys.”
Sure that she’d much rather lay out on the beach or work on 12 different puzzles, or go swim with a stupid dolphin, we quickly agreed that the girls would come out with us one afternoon between the morning and evening bites. The “lunch bite” we told them would be the best time for them to catch fish and get some sun (all the while knowing that a skunk of an afternoon in sweltering heat would be enough to keep them off the boat, away from rods and reels for the rest of the trip…if not forever). That’s if they even remembered they wanted to fish.
Of course they remembered. They remembered so well they went out and bought “fishing shirts.”
There was no way to avoid it, so on Wednesday afternoon, after 2 exhausting days of drifting back and forth across Coupon Bight, Spanish Harbor, and both the Gulf and Atlantic edges in vain for silver shadows…and after burning 30 gallons of ethanol free, flying through skinny water from one flat to the next without a single bite, hook-up, or jump of a tarpon, permit, or bone, we made the call.
“We’ll be at the dock at 11:30 to get you.”
We snickered silently to ourselves as we idled into the canal. It was a particularly cold and rough day with a north wind fighting an incoming tide. The conditions were far from ideal, not just for fishing…but for even being on a boat…and it looked like we’d be getting exactly what we wanted; a day that would quickly end their fishing aspirations.
You see where this is going, right?
They were not only ready…their faces were glowing out of the necks of their new “fishing shirts.” They’d made sandwiches and labeled each one. They brought towels and changes of clothing as if we might spontaneously take a dip in the 68 degree water. They brought snacks and enough sunscreen for a pre-school class of albino children. They were nothing if not prepared and exhaustingly excited.
We skipped the flats and found a spot right off of a main channel ; making rough water just a little rougher but giving ourselves lots of room in the hopes of walking away without losing any more tackle than necessary. Figuring that we had plenty of time to cover the finer points of casting, reeling, drag, etc., we popped a couple of shrimp on circle hooks, tossed them off the stern, handed over the rods, and reached for the beer. Before the first sweet, sweet taste of barley and hops hit our lips, line started screaming off a reel. Down went the beers, up went squeals of excitement, out went shouts of encouragement and instructions that fell on deaf ears, and into the boat came a 12 inch grunt. It was Amber’s first fish ever. 1st cast…1st fish.
Back into the water went the shrimp…back it came inside the mouth of another 12 inch grunt. 2nd cast…2nd fish.
Our plan was clearly backfiring as now, not only did Amber expect to catch a fish on every cast, but we were quickly losing Lindsay (think 5 year old mentality) who was clearly getting frustrated because she wasn’t also catching a fish on every cast. This was also short lived as seconds later her rod tip doubled and she fought (with marginal assistance) an undersized, but feisty grouper into the boat; reeling him right up to the very tip of the rod (remember that we still hadn’t had much time to cover the basics).
This continued for about another hour or so until a dozen fish had been fought, photographed, studied, questioned, laughed at, sympathized with, and released. Amber completed the “garbage slam” in record time and Lindsay put the first Lane Snapper and Grouper into the boat of the trip. Eventually, as it always does, the bite slowed and we relocated to calmer, but less productive waters. A couple of hours later, we called it a day, with no fish in the box and no pictures of trophies. We’d held up our end of the deal and so had they. Back to hunting permit and bones.
2 days later, tired, sunburned, frustrated, tarpon-less, bonefish-less, and permit-less, James and I stood and stared at each other from opposite ends of his 22’ Blazer Bay. We’d spent hours….days…researching tide charts and fishing reports, grilling locals for every tidbit of expertise we could glean from the, scribbling illegibly in pocket notebooks as a $250 guide ripped through flats showing us as many spots as humanly possible in 4 hours, jotting non-sensical lines all over marine charts. We were out of excuses like moon phases, cold fronts, hull slap, water temperature, hook sizes, bait selection, and poop buckets (another story for another time).
We made the call.
They were waiting at the dock when we idled by. There they stood in their new fishing shirts (of course freshly washed), still with the same beaming grins, still with too many bags and sandwiches meticulously labeled with our names and the annoyingly deliberate chip selections that made perfect sense…still excited to catch the very fish that “anglers” like James and I tossed readily back with disgust or used as cut bait.
We didn’t even think about running to a flat. We needed them to be happy because we needed to be happy. We headed to a reef and dropped anchor. Let’s get these girls some fish.
That day, they casted on their own, they helped each other bait hooks with squid and shrimp (but no pinfish because they’re too “alive”), they wrestled yellowtail from circle hooks and released them…asking for tips on how to find a big brother or sister further back in the chum slick. Every line tug was a thrill, every lost fish was agony.
As the girls got it, so did James and I. There were 4 anglers on the boat now. Two of them had just never learned how to NOT have a good time fishing.
In fishing, as in life, there must always be a balance. The tides ebb and flow. With great preparation, must come a little luck. With success must come a little failure.
The balance of our trip shifted in a comically predictable direction. Of course my fishing hubris would be my undoing. Of course an overly-energetic, noisy, 5-foot-tall, and ravishingly beautiful woman would “out-fish” me just weeks after I’d vowed to never fish with her. Why wouldn’t she? She bought a “fishing shirt” after all. Who was I to point out the sizes or species of the fish she caught. She caught a TON of fish and that’s all she cared about. I like that.
I’ve been at a place in my life where I’ve actually despised fishing; where I’ve actually turned people down to fish because I was so burnt out. I can remember standing on a boat with a rod in my hand, waiting for the sun to rise in the Caribbean and hating every moment of it. I can’t be in that place again.
I know now that Lindsay doesn’t want to pole flats at 6:30 in the morning for one, solitary bonefish feeding into the tide. She’d never want to silently drift the backcountry all day for tailing spots. She just wants to “catch” not “fish”. When you’re catching it’s tough to complain.
Lindsay wants to stand on the bow of a boat, feel the sun on her back, tension on the rod, energy through the line, and catch a shit load of fish. I love her for that.
I’ll keep the golf to myself though.