Things You Don’t See (Every Day)

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“Whale Skull Flat,” the Mud Keys, Florida – M.-J. Taylor photo

Very few sports give the participants a chance to see the completely unexpected.  In my years of fishing the flats, I’ve seen: a pair of 40-foot sperm whales dying on my favorite bonefish flat (it later became Whale Skull Flat), a 20-foot hammerhead bang his dorsal against the gunwhale, a tarpon eat a butterfly flying a foot above the surface, a ring of 5 waterspouts that had us completely surrounded and the birth of one as a tiny swirling cloud no bigger than a snow cone.

I’ve also seen the head of IT for the NASDAQ take a swing at a psychiatrist on the bow of my skiff, but that sort of thing isn’t memorable for where it happened, only that it happened at all.

Fishing–and especially fishing a lot–from a skiff puts us in places where truly amazing things happen.  Granted, there’s plenty of luck involved.  I once spent three days in a black, hammering rain waiting for a single shot at a tarpon before my motivation collapsed, then just before noon a hole opened in the clouds and shone a spotlight 50 feet wide on a school of daisy-chaining tarpon that ate everything we threw at them for 15 minutes.  Then the window closed and the world turned black again.

A client who was dying of liver cancer at age 30 booked one last day with me before going into the hospice.  We fished the east side of the Marquesas into the late afternoon, and permit, tarpon and mutton snappers swarmed the boat for hours.  At 6PM a very black squall line chased us home, and Jerry was dead a month later.

You couldn’t fabricate some of this stuff and make it believable.  Even more to the point, you won’t ever witness  these things unless you are “there and square”–you’ve gone to a place for a specific purpose, and prepared, often long and hard, for good things to happen.

Fishing out of a small boat in a big ocean, especially the near-shore fishing that we love, puts us in place to witness the unbelievable and makes us pay attention.  In that respect it’s a rare sport indeed.