tick-tick-tick, sang the nylon from the spool.
tick-tick-tick, with each braço out I pulled.
tick-tick-tick, sank the sinker through the ocean.
And then it hit the bottom.
It was hard to tell at first. The line pulsed softly in my hand and then went dead. I bobbed it a few times just to make sure.
Mamede was watching me. “Now let out more line for the fish,” he said. “Not too much.” He pulled out four braços from his own spool to show me, then wrapped the end around the top of the espeque post. “Let it out and pull it back. When the chumbo comes off the bottom—stop! That is where the fish are.”
I did as I was told, counting out the braços. But when it came time to set my spool down I didn’t know where to put it.
“Wrap the line around the mast,” Mamede said, pointing behind me, “then place the roll by the banco (the tabernacle).”
“Why do I need to wrap it around the mast?”
“So you don’t lose the line if you get a big fish.”
Okay. . . With that sobering thought I took an extra turn around the spar.
Back at the rail, I brought in the slack until I could feel the weight of the lead in my hand again. I bobbed the line to make sure the sinker was at the right elevation, then looked at Mamede to see if there was anything else I needed to do.
Like me he stood at the rail, hand over the water, jigging his line to attract a fish. Unlike me he wore no glove on his index finger, and he really didn’t need one. In fact, his beefy brown fist looked more like the head of a large wooden mallet. My fist, on the other hand, wasn’t so large, appeared splotchy in color, and had started to tremble from pinching hard on the line. I tried to focus on the similarities and continued my jigging.
“Good!” Mamede noted. “Now, when the fish bites, pull up fast to set the hook. Like this—” He paused a millisecond, then executed an uppercut with enough kinetic energy to drop a charging bull.
Having set more than a few hooks in my time, I’m not a complete idiot to the basics of fishing. But for some reason, possibly pain and exhaustion, I raised my hand lethargically, as if raising a glass for a toast at dinner. This was not the action Mamede was looking for.
“No!” he barked. “Faster!” And he jabbed his fist skyward with even greater force. I could almost hear a WOOSH of air as his arm shot up. “You need to set the hook fast or you will lose the fish.” He was scowling at me now, just like his mother.
Seeing his displeasure, I gave it another try. In my enthusiasm to please I even hopped off the deck like Ze did when he got a strike. This was a big mistake — made pointedly clear by the dagger of pain that shot through my foot when it landed back down. At least I made Mamede happy. “YES!” he cheered, making sure to cover the few feet of space between us.
Now that I’d finished the required course material, Mamede offered some final words of wisdom. “When you get a fish, bring him up as fast as you can. The longer you take, the more time he has to get free. Just keep pulling. Pull, pull, pull!” To demonstrate, he lowered his head and pumped his arms like the pistons on a train. “Boa Sorte!” he said in closing.
Luck, no doubt, would be needed in spades.
The lesson was over and it was time to start fishing. I must admit, I felt pretty good standing at the rail with that line in my hand. This was The Show
— the show for all the hard work and preparation, the hours and hours (and hours) of sailing, the long wet nights and burning hot days, the ever present danger of scratching a living from the ocean on a boat so small it felt as if you were walking on water. All this to catch a few fish to keep a family going for a number of days.
Yep, I was feeling pretty manly right then. Bit though it was, I had a part in the show.
And like all the other times I’ve felt manly, it didn’t last very long. My downfall in this instance was easy to trace — being directly related to the number of lines the other, real fishermen had in the water. It went something like this: two lines in for Mamede — two notches down in manliness for me; three in for him — three down for me, and so on. Standing behind me, Ze’s effect was harder to gauge — less mathematically discrete. It mattered little. By the time the jangadeiros had set their lines and were working the deck like competing acts in a juggling contest, there wasn’t a lot of manliness left to go around.
Plunkity—plunk–plunk–plunk, I bobbed my solitary line and tried not to let it bother me. Besides, it didn’t really matter what I did. I was doomed as a fisherman even before I began. It was one of those karmic things I don’t even believe in. Some people have it and some people don’t. Guess which one I am?
Things might have been different if I’d taken up fly fishing when I was younger. Unlike jigging or trolling, which are mostly sedentary and therefore anathema to those with high-strung tendencies, fly fishing is much more active and engaging. It demands work from you. But it’s the fun kind of work, helping you to forget the money-grubbing kind. It helps you forget other things too, like yourself, which is good to do from time to time. You need to lose yourself periodically to find yourself again — need to take a trip to remember how good it feels to come back home. What better way to do this than on a river, casting and casting in a rhythmic slow dance with the water. Like a metronome, the casting helps you keep pace with the natural world around you, helps you to slow down — helps reconnect you to that place where we all came from. It’s that oneness thing, drawing us back to water, again and again.
Yes, I could be happy as a fly fisherman. There I am (or a slightly more handsome version of me) crossing the line of scantily clad PETA protesters (covered in fake blood and feathers) in front of the hunting and fishing outlet where I buy my gear; driving for hours to a remote mountain location somewhere in Montana (I’m not telling where); sliding down a steep slope to the river’s edge through thorny brush filled with venomous snakes (not too many I hope); hiking several miles upstream over large granite boulders left behind by a previous ice age (no more of those, I guess); wading through the rapids to reach my favorite spot (no, I’m not telling), where I spend the day casting away, the big sky sun on my back and the glacial waters flowing at least several inches below my privates. It would be a perfect day, made even more so when I returned home to see my beautiful Angelina waiting for me at the front door — fake blood and feather all washed off — with a cold beer in hand and a smile on her lips that said, Drink up buddy, ’cause I’ve got plans for you and your fish!
You see — these are the dumb things one thinks about when waiting for an even dumber creature to take the hook.
Mamede looked over and asked, “Any bites yet?”
No . . . wagging my head like a sad dog. My line had been in the water for over twenty minutes and nothing had touched it. It was business as usual as far as I was concerned. Ze had already caught a nice jack and Mamede had yanked up more than once on his lines.
“Maybe you should check the bait.”
Ah, yes — when in doubt, check the bait. It’s one of the first rules you learn in fishing. For me it was just code for, You don’t know what the hell you’re doing — so might as well check the bait.
Dutifully I started to lift my line, and as soon as I did something smacked it!
“Ah! . . .” I cried out. It was like holding a bare wire suddenly charged with electricity. Then it was gone — quick as it came — gone before I even knew what hit it. The line was dead, leaving me standing there with my mouth hanging open.
“Sounds like you got a bite,” Ze said from behind. I turned around and saw him grinning at me like a jack-o’-lantern. Mamede was also grinning.
“Now you really need to check your bait.”
I hesitated before pulling up again, afraid I’d get another strike. One tentative pull—two pulls—three . . . nothing. Then I started to bring in my line as fast as I could.
Next Chapter: Plunk-Plunk-Plunk