Fish This!

One line holds this jumping arctic grayling in Carcross near the walking bridge. The large sail is the distinguishing characteristic of this northern treat. Angie Cremata

Amazing Tales from the Deep (Part 2)


All I need is one line.
It is the mechanism of my madness. Allow me to explain.
It is common knowledge that there are fish. They live in the water. Then there is me, I live on the land. These two worlds have little in common. At times though, there is something that they share. That something is line. It begins in a fixed coil spun around the spool of my fishing reel and extends upward, through the eyelets of my fishing rod. It then travels down at an angle into the water, ending its lay with a carefully constructed knot.
It is so simple a fisherman can understand it.
This simplicity becomes shattered fragments of chaos when plunged into the vortex of the truly weird. Circumstance can undermine the anticipated, leaving a man in shock and speechless.
This is the time for one line.
On a warm August afternoon I set out with local Captain Monte Mitchell on his vessel “Fishful Thinking.” We were going after chinooks in the upper Lynn Canal. Monte had two other passengers that day. A young, newly married couple named Dan and Jan on their honeymoon.
Dan and Jan were excited. Not for the sole reason that they recently exchanged vows, but for the prospect of a day on Alaska waters. For them it could only be a day of unexpected wonder. For me it was a much-needed mid-summer day on the water, for Monte another day at the office.
Monte is not only a charter boat captain, but also an experienced fisherman, so we soon found ourselves on schools of salmon. Dan took the first turn on a striking fish; he played his prey like a pro and soon had a nice 12-pound fish boat side. Jan then took her turn with the same result. Then I caught my first fish of the day.
So far, the biggest surprise of the day was Dan’s disclosure that he really didn’t do a lot of fishing, just some catfish wrangling back home in Iowa.
Over the next hour we caught fish at a steady pace, one salmon, then another. A patrolling humpback whale in the distance occasionally distracted Dan and Jan. Its back or tail would break the surface of the water and they would scurry to grab their camera before it sank again into the depths.
Monte informed us that because we caught our limit of salmon, we could no longer keep fish. Rather than hooking and potentially injuring fish we could not hang on to, he offered us the chance to spend the rest of the charter whale watching. Dan and Jan jumped at the opportunity.
As we began to bring in the lines, the rod I was holding bent sharply and I knew it was a fish. Dan and Jan, camera in hand, watched from behind as I played the fish, which was about two-thirds in, about 40 feet from the stern of the boat and unseen to the eye.
Then, something amazing happened. Just beyond the fish’s position in the water a humpback whale breached the surface with a thundering sound, rocketing skyward. It rotated in midair and crashed back into the water on its side with a deafening plunge.
I looked over my shoulder at Dan and Jan whose eyes were like saucers, their faces frozen with wonder.
I shouted as I still played the fish, “I got a BIG one!”
I laughed as I watched the mental process of this chance occurrence formulate in their brains. They realized when I pulled a 24” cod from the water that humpback whales probably don’t eat angler’s bait, and they too began to laugh.
All I need is one line.
I overheard Jan tell Dan on the return to the harbor something I will never forget, “This is the best day we’ve ever had.”
Twelve years previous, five miles off the coast of Clearwater, Florida, I was grouper fishing with my dad in a 16-foot boat we purchased mostly for that purpose. Grouper can grow large, but most of the fish we caught in this spot were barely over the legal limit of 24 inches, barely strong enough to put a bend in our stout boat rods equipped with 80-pound test line.
I hooked a fish and by the fight it felt like it would not meet the legal length requirements. The fish was about halfway to the boat in 50 feet of water when the rod suddenly bent so sharply that I thought I had entangled a passing nuclear submarine. I could barely hold onto the handle as I loosened the star drag. Line began screaming out at a mind-boggling pace, and it would take 30 minutes to begin gaining any ground at all.
As I fought, alternatively gaining and losing line, I began to wonder what this mystery fish might be. There were plenty of sharks in these waters, but one does not use wire leader for grouper and surely the razor-like rows of teeth in a shark’s mouth would have severed the monofilament with barely a whimper. Maybe it was an amberjack, but they didn’t often come this close to shore. I was without an answer.
An hour into the fight I was gaining position steadily, with only 30 or so yards of line left to retrieve. I felt the fish turn upwards, and like a slow-motion bullet it soared into the air. Thrashing wildly it rotated twice while spinning head over tail, and impacted the water on its side causing a splash that soaked us thoroughly.
It was a shark, a lemon shark to be more precise. I couldn’t fathom how it remained hooked.
A few moments later the fish was more docile and I was able to lead it along the port side of our vessel. The shark seemed to look back at us with its black eyes as it slowly swayed its tail back and forth, waiting for its second wind. I noticed the hook lodged on the outside of its mouth toward the joint of the jaw, amazed that it never once grazed the teeth on the swimming giant.
If you’ve ever seen a 10-foot-long fish alongside a 16-foot boat then you know that it looks a whole lot bigger. I had images in my head of the Quint character in Jaws meeting his demise by one particularly aggressive toothed predator.
My dad then said something that defies all logic and common sense. For my dad, who was always practical, it was completely out of character.
“Get the gaff,” he shouted!
I looked at him incredulously and shouted back, “Cut the line!”
As the fish passed us by, I grabbed a knife, and with barely a touch the line was cut and the fish meandered into the deep, disappearing out of sight.
Sometimes one line can be a little too much to handle.
Next time you are on the water, and the windowpanes of reality smash into splinters and expose you to a world of unexpected madness, remember the power of one line. It is one that never breaks.