You'd probably assume that 5 days of fly fishing on a sun-baked flat off the coast of a Mexican island would be about as relaxing and therapeutic as it gets. And, in many ways, it was. But along with all the fresh fish and cervezas and siestas a guy could ask for came a big dose of humility in the form of the silver king.
Leading up to this trip I considered myself to be a competent caster. Put a 5-weight in my hand, tell me where to put the fly and 9 times out of 10 I'll get it there. Give me a 10-foot 7-weight and I'll hit a trashcan lid at 60 ft. with an off-shoulder roll cast. Apparently though the transitive property doesn't apply to fly fishing, because I couldn't cast a 12-weight to save my life. So, in hindsight it was probably a good thing that Brett was on the bow first when on the second day of the trip we ran into a massive school of 100+ pound tarpon.
Seeing a school of adult tarpon rolling on the surface would probably unnerve even your average non-angler... It sent me into a heart-throbbing panic and i wasn't even the one casting. So as I watched Brett and tried to capture the first fish of the trip on film, here's what I remember it going down...
1. Half-way through the retrieve the line goes tight. The surface explodes and a silver missile flies out of the water with alarming velocity. The monster tail walks the surface for what seems like a few seconds and the water explodes again as the fish disappears.
2. I hear line hissing furiously through the guides as I try to anticipate the fish's next aerial display.
3. Fish goes airborne again and I start snapping.
4. "!!!!!***&&&????" - stream of incoherent obscenities coming from the bow of the boat.
5. "CRACK!!!" - the fish, fly line, and almost every snake guide on the 12-weight rod are gone.
We recouped, tallied the casualties, and rigged up the backup rod. But all this had made me uneasy. Watching that first fish defy gravity as it shattered the surface traveling skyward scared the piss out of me. I thought to myself that if, by the hand of God I could get a fly close to one of these dinosaurs, and heaven forbid if one were to eat it, how the hell was i going to land it?
The whole thought process gave me a case of the Jello-Knees the likes of which I haven't had since I asked out my 6th grade girlfriend. As much as I wish all this colorful commentary was just me trying to sensationalize the story, I legitimately had a difficult time standing when it was my turn to take the bow.
And sure as shit fish started rolling again. Some of them were uncomfortably close. So close that I wasn't sure that I wanted to hook one for fear that it might jump into the boat. As much as I'd like to say I shined under the pressure of the moment, the truth is I shit down my leg with impressive style. My casting loops were collapsing like folded waterfowl. To say I was getting hot and bothered would be an understatement; I was sweaty and nervous and angry and frustrated and anxious and wondering if I was blowing the best chance I'd ever have at hooking a triple digit tarpon and wondering what the hell I'd signed up for in the first place and whether I could even call myself a fly fisher when I got home after such a pitiful display and maybe it was about time I grew some cajones. And then the line went tight.
It probably lasted all of 3 seconds and truthfully all I can remember is thinking "OH shit oh shit oh shit." I'd liken it to hooking the bumper of a stock car just before the green flag goes up. Dead weight suddenly accelerates to mach 3 before the neurons in your brain have time to get from one cell to the next. During that nano-second the fly line had backlashed around my stripping hand and snapped with an Independence Day caliber "BANG!" It didn't register until after the fact that I'd felt like my arm was going to be pulled through the stripping guide and that if that had happened I probably could've ridden that fish all the way to Cuba.