Panama: Stay Tight Bro! Stay Tight!!!August 15, 2012
There are times in life when things happen that make you really, really happy to be alive. Sometimes– quite often, in fact– these things happen while fishing. I am by no means a source for how to conduct oneself, but it is my belief that in the age of computers and global internet connectivity when such things transpire around you, you are obligated to share them. Blogs and Go-Pro video cameras, it turns out, are all very valuable tools in the dispersal of such stories. In fulfillment of my obligation, it is here chronicled the most wonderful fishing story I have come across lately. It actually happened.
From August 5-9 we had a great group of guys from San Antonio, Texas visiting the Pacific Provider. There were 9 of them, and each was nicer and more down to earth than the last. Their names were Chris, Chris, Hunter, Sean, Mark, Happy, Kelly, Wally, and Brooks. Some of them had hunted in Africa, another fished Australia, and another held several awards from barbeque competitions. Their perspectives were diverse, but most all of them were capably endowed with that uniquely Texan outlook that exists as the combination of dry wit, understatement, and respectfulness that seems at any time to give way to the ever present desire to throw a party. When a bunch of folks from Texas come together with the intention of having a good time, it may be said that it would take an act of God or congress to stop them. In early August, congress was evidently distracted by election coverage and the Good Lord was on the side of the Texans.
In their preparation for the trip, the guys were thorough and analytical. In the weeks preceding their arrival, we stocked up on cigars, adult beverages and beef. One can never be too sure about such things, and it is never good to leave the presence of beer or cow meat to chance. Upon landing, the guys boarded the Provider, knocked back the mimosas that await the guests as they arrive and got to fishing.
The guys divided themselves up and fished four boats. The first day offshore, the San Miguel raised nine sailfish. Aboard were Hunter and Chris. The afternoon was highlighted by tuna up top crashing bait balls. Chris waxed a couple nice tuna on the popper, before we dipped up a tank full of runners for bait. Hunter was in the chair and it was time to play tuna rodeo. This is a game that we get to play pretty often in Panama and it is great. With yellowfin crashing through a mass of bait they had trapped around a log at the water’s surface, we put Hunter in the fighting chair holding a 50 wide reel. “Hey buddy, can you please put her in free spool and make sure the clicker is on?” were the instructions. Junior backed the boat up to 15 or so feet from the frothing madness and we threw a circle-hooked runner into the melee. Trying to determine whether or not the bait hit the water before hooking up with a tuna was a difficult proposition. The screeching of free spool indicated that the runner was no longer with us. Hunter threw the reel into gear and within a half hour we had caught four or five tuna in the same manner.
The second and third day of fishing brought marlin, more sails, some good dorado, and lots more yellowfin. The fishing was good and the guys from Texas and all on the Provider were happy. Chris and Chris each caught good fish, a blue of 400 or so (pictured below) and good black that went about 500. Stories about marlin, marauding tuna, and sailfish accompanied classic country music and good times late into the night. The last day would bring with it not only an acrobatic blue marlin aboard the Sula Sula, but also an occurrence that will not soon be forgotten.
We first heard the report about 10:30 in the morning. The Sula Sula had a good one on. Later, the Sula Sula caught the fish. Junior was talking on the radio. From below I could faintly hear the conversation. I didn’t pay particular attention, as it is common place for the guys to talk about marlin they release. This time, however, the normally terse “Cogió (We caught it)”, was replaced by much longer conversation. In Spanish Junior told me that they caught the fish and something had fallen into the water. I was a bit confused, so I asked what happened. He wasn’t entirely sure himself, so he radioed the yellow boat once again.
He and Andres, the mate on the Sula Sula, talked a bit longer and Junior beckoned me to come upstairs. I grabbed the radio and Andres explained what had happened. To confirm, I asked, “So nobody fell into the water, right?” He said, “No. But we are sorry about the rod. The client said he would pay for it.” I responded, “As long as everybody is alright, that’s all that is important. Don’t worry about it. “ I went downstairs to explain to Hunter and Kelly what had happened on the yellow boat. The laughter and their response was a sign of things to come.
Upon arriving at the Pacific Provider, I walked into the salon to see the whole group of guys from San Antonio transfixed on the television screen. In addition to the marlin and two fishermen, there had been a Go Pro video camera on the Sula Sula that day. The guys had it recording. Upon seeing me enter the room, Happy asked, “Elliott, have you seen the video yet?” “No, but I would really like to,” I responded.
The camera recorded from the back of the cockpit, it pointed toward the stern of the boat. The television showed the back of the angler, dressed in a long sleeved, white, pelagic UV shirt and a red bandana rolled up and tied around his neck. He was seated in the fighting chair and he was cranking proficiently on a thoroughly antagonized blue marlin. The fish was of good size, thick through the shoulders, high through the dorsal. Captain Jose was not visible in the film, but the pictures showed his boat handling to be really good. He was backing down on the fish as she thrashed atop the surface of the ocean. Andres was positioning himself to leader the fish, the front of his thighs pressed against the gunnel. The back of his grey, cotton longsleeved mate shirt was visible.
“Stay tight bro! Stay tight!!!!” It was the voice of Chris as he shouted encouragement to his buddy. “Stay tight bro!” The excitement and exhilaration in his voice was mirrored by the manic, hurried cranking of the angler in the chair. This is what marlin fishing is all about.
Jose put the boat into position. The angler in the chair cranked the wind-on leader into the tip of the rod. The marlin was caught, it was official. The fish lurched away from the boat, jumping with half of its body out of the ocean. It reversed its course, manic and crazed as blue marlin sometimes get. The fish jumped and thrashed with no particular destination in mind. It landed once again in the water, this time facing the boat. She came up jumping again, thrusting her entire body out of the ocean in the direction of the back of the boat. The fish started her maneuvering between 15 and 20 feet off the transom. As she came forward, she looked to all the world as though she would flop into the boat. Jose predicted her move and reacted ably, gunning the boat forward, putting her out of the path of the crazed beast. Andres stepped back a bit from the gunnel, giving himself time to react to what was to come.
When the fish came up, jumping toward the boat, the angler leaned himself back in the chair and threw his arms up. He readied himself to bail out of the chair in case the fish paid the cockpit a visit. As he did so, he released the rod from his two handed grip. For a couple seconds the rod sat still, as if frozen in time. The base of the bent butt rod was in the gimble of the chair, but the angler was not strapped in. As the fish crashed back into the sea, narrowly avoiding the Sula Sula, the rod lurched forward, popped out of the gimble and flew through the air. With a thud, the butt of the rod whacked the covering board and the whole outfit was somersaulted into the sea, still attached to the marlin. The angler and all visible in the video deflated momentarily, before looking around at each other as if for affirmation of what had just happened.
Aboard the Pacific Provider, the room erupted. Among the crowd were the angler’s buddies. Some of them by this point had already seen the video five times (the film had existed for seven minutes). There were people on the couch whose convulsions threw them backwards hard enough to lift their legs off the ground. Those standing doubled over, reaching one arm across their bellies, the other slapping their thigh. I laughed so hard, both at the video and the reaction that it conjured, that tears streamed down my cheeks. When his buddies saw that I was laughing, they said, “Look, even Elliott is laughing!” and they laughed even harder. Even the normally sympathetic Alex laughed and laughed.
The jeers, pointing, heckling and riotous laughter directed toward the poor guy were a sight to behold. Friends, especially ones that know each other well and enjoy hanging out together, know better than to miss such an opportunity. The guy in the chair would have gotten a more compassionate reaction from a pack of wild hyenas. Much of the carrying on was not fit for print. It was really great.
One of his buddies exclaimed, “You know that was an $8,000 rod and reel!” The poor guy, who had been laughing along, kind of smiling at the floor, looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, Elliott I’ll pay for it. What do I owe you?” I knew the value of the rod and reel, but I didn’t at first know the answer to the question. Truth be told, whether he handed over a credit card or not, the poor guy had already paid dearly for losing the rod. He had paid in a way worse than money and his payment would soon be posted on Youtube. I didn’t have the heart to take his money.
I looked at him and said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s fishing, things happen.” “Are you sure, really?” “Yeah,” I said, “Just give us the video and we’ll call it even.” The angler and all those in the room looked at me questioningly. “We’ll post it and get a sponsorship by Vagisil,” I said with a smile, “Everything will take care of itself.”
The guys from San Antonio are great, we really had a good time fishing with them. We do not have the video yet.