If you’ve never brought up two-hundred feet of fishing line with your bare hands, it’s harder than you think. It’s not like pulling on a normal line that you can easily hold onto — get your butt, back, and legs into. The mono-filament fiber is just too thin, requiring your hands and forearms to do all the work, pinching and pulling, pinching and pulling . . .
The jangadeiros made it look easy. Theirs was an economy of effort gained through years of repetition. Like champion sprinters they got the greatest stride from the slightest stretch — the biggest bang for the buck: each hand swinging up in rapid succession, grabbing the line below the waist and letting go at the shoulders, just as the other hand took over. Arms cleaving the air in this manner they could move through a hundred feet of line at a pretty good clip. It didn’t hurt that their grip was like iron and their skin tough as leather.
My own hands were ready to cramp by the time the sinker broke the surface. Finally! I groaned to myself. All that effort to raise an ounce of lead from the bottom should have given me pause — made me think of the bigger picture (i.e. fish). But right then my attention was focused solely on the bare hook dangling beneath my palm. The fish had picked it clean with one chomping bite. How did he do that? Hobbling back to the bench for another piece of bait, I could almost see him swimming around down there with a shit-eating grin. Hee hee hee . . . Come on and get me — sucker!
“Yes, you got a bite,” Mamede said, glancing down at the hook. “Put on a smaller piece this time so he has to take the hook.”
Sound advice . . . WHY didn’t we do it the first time?
There were two small fillets lying side by side on the bench. I picked one up and punched the point of my hook into the tough hide, threading it through like a needle. I poked it in again and pulled it out, then back in one more time, drawing out the barb — just far enough to mean business. Snugging up my sewing—tidy seams, tidy seams—I returned to my fishing spot and dropped the sinker over the side. Here I come — sucker!
Amazingly there were no tangles as the line ran out. The pile just melted from the deck like cotton candy on a hot sidewalk. An old hand at this now, I could easily tell when the sinker hit the bottom. But I dunked the line a few times anyway, just to make sure I was at the right spot.
Plunkity—plunk-plunk–plunk . . . Here we go again.
“When the fish bites,” Mamede said, “don’t forget to pull up fast.”
There wasn’t a trace of condescension in his voice, though the image of me standing at the rail, vapor-locked, was probably still firing neurons in his visual cortex.
I was determined not to be caught off guard this time. But I also knew the limits of my attention when it came to holding a fishing line: one step up from watching paint dry. It might have been more interesting if I had two lines in the water. Tired of one I could turn to the other and back and forth I’d go like ping pong: tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock . . .
But using two lines would have doubled my chances of actually catching a fish. And now that I’d had time to think about the electrifying force of that one bite, I wasn’t so sure I wanted that to happen. I mean — What if I hook a really big one? How the hell am I going to bring it up? As soon as this train of thought left the station, there was no turning back.
Succumbing to my growing anxiety, I looked at my mestre.
“Mamede, have you ever caught a fish that was too big to hold?”
“Does it happen a lot?”
“But it does happen?”
(His reticence could be maddening at times!)
“So, what do you do when it happens?”
“You let go.”
“And lose the fish?”
He turned and tugged on the end wrapped around the post.
“Oh . . .” I said, looking back at my own line, wrapped around the mast.
“Then what happens?”
“The fish gets tired or he breaks the line.”
Plunkity—plunk-plunk-plunk . . . I still wasn’t satisfied.
“Mamede, has a fish ever pulled you into the water?”
He hesitated at this and his face seemed to tighten.
“Yes . . .” he fidgeted, clearly not happy with this line of inquiry.
My eyes grew bigger. “What happened?”
“It was my fault. I didn’t let go. When you’re young you don’t want to let go.”
Now my palms were pouring out sweat.
“So you fell in and let go?”
“The line was wrapped around my hand.”
“Yes. And the fish kept pulling until the espeque stopped him.”
“And then you let go?”
“Well . . .”
“Well . . . WHAT?”
“It was hard . . . The line was tight. Finally the fish turned and I could let go.”
Meu Deus do céu! This conversation was not helping me at all. The thought of being dragged underwater by a monster fish — it was not the image I needed right then.
Deep breath . . . Take another deep breath . . . Just keep breathing . . .
Fishermen and sailors have drowned, or have had body parts removed when caught by a line. Call it an occupational hazard.
“So what happened to the fish after you let go? Did he get tired?”
“Not that one,” he said, shaking his head. “He broke the line.”
Silence and more damn plunking. Though twenty years had passed since I’d last seen that movie, certain scenes were still fresh in my memory. Particularly the one where the great white shark leaps over the transom, weighing it down so the irascible captain slides kicking and screaming to a blood-spitting end — all in vivid Technicolor.
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat . . .”
Suddenly Mamede’s fist shot up.
Next Chapter: Three Strikes – YOU’RE OUT!