Fishing with Steve, Ian and Chad
Last week, I fished with Steve Huff. If you’re familiar with these reports you know what we were trying to do: catch the 6. The pursuit of this record has brought me to places and with people that I am lucky to be around. It has also tested every bit of my mental and physical resources in ways that six years ago I couldn’t conceive. I drove up with Ian on Sunday (Chad had a work conflict on the first day of fishing from which he was unable to escape, and Ian slid in at the last moment to give us a third set of hands in the event we came tight to a candidate). We got to Steve’s house in the evening on Sunday, had dinner and prepared for the next day.
As is usually the case when I’m starting to fish for a few days, I had a tough time staying asleep before the first day. I woke up multiple times between fish dreams to stare at my phone and have something to eat before falling back asleep as best I could. In the morning we met at the Island Cafe for breakfast, starting the day with a proper sit down.
We launched the boat after getting sandwiches and gas, and headed out towards the incoming cloud field for a look. After a [redacted] minute run, we settled in to our first piece of water and started to look around. The first 30 minutes showed us a rolling fish far away, and we headed that way to look for the animal. We saw a few more rolling fish, though as we tried to find the center of activity we realized it was not as concentrated as it needed to be. After 45 minutes we were gone, headed elsewhere in search of a cluster.
Through the rest of the morning and into the afternoon we were destined to repeat the pattern set at our first spot. We would get to an area and spend some time around in search of the highest numbers of targets. The fish would stay too low to see, and after a hard look we would move on to repeat the same program in another basin. We were stuck in a loop of initial hope, increased effort, and final resignation until the afternoon sun bore down on us and Steve called a move to a faraway basin.
At what was to be the final stop of the day, Steve brought us to the place we had yanked a last minute rabbit out of a hat more than once. Both with Jason and Chad, we had pulled a fish from this place in the final minutes of a day, and I was more than eager to throw repeatedly into a deeper hole that Steve finds by looking for the tarpon rolling in it. On this late afternoon there were fewer fish in said hole than I’ve seen, but once we figured out our placement most of them were within range and I was happy to simply throw in their direction and keep the fly wet with optimism. After an hour of this we had still not forced an error. Each time a fish would roll we would make a cast in the direction we thought it was going, every so often letting the fly sink to what we hoped was a more dangerous altitude. On one of these robotic reruns the fly stopped. I set the hook and we watched as a fish of near 100 pounds launched out of the water. After the first jump the fish ran 20 feet off the bow and stopped.
In the expected chaos of the moment, this pressing of pause was surreal. I pulled and the fish didn’t move, and we sat by and waited for what was going to happen next. The fish still didn’t move, and as I watched my running line in the water start to drift down current in dangerous tangles I took the opportunity to minimize risk and reeled it up. I finally got the fish on the reel, and as I took a last grind to begin a pull in our direction the fly came out.
We finished the spot with a hard effort, trying to make something happen in the final minutes. When the sun dropped out we reeled up and headed home.
On the second day of fishing, we were joined by Chad “Chadillac 305” Huff for the third man operations. The weather was still warm, and the clouds had eased some, but the wind increased and kept the work hard. We moved from place to place as we had the morning prior, keeping our eyes on the places we could see in hopes of spotting a piece of a dragon to throw the feathers at. The day wore on in lock step with the wind, relentless and annoying. We did what we have done before in the face of prohibitive conditions and pushed on, making every effort we could to consummate an opportunity should it appear. By the time we had lunch we were happy to spend some time with our horns not locked with the wind and low lying fish.
After lunch the sun was no longer blinking quickly on and off. Steve got us in the area that had shown the most promise in the morning, and we dug our heels deeper in the mud and leaned back against the rope. We found two shots of terrible quality, from these squeezing the smallest drop of optimism that quickly dried in the low lying sun and chop. Neither resulted in a bite. Our day expired when the sun was interrupted by the mangroves, and when we pulled our feet out I swear you could hear the rush of air once the seal was broken.
The third and final day of fishing found us even more entrenched. We refused to give up and spent the day hidebound in static effort.
If I had the energy (or time), I would make an effort to describe the repetition of effort that led nowhere. I would describe (again) the Hurculean effort of Steve on the pole that became Sysyphean when we left with a single shot of dubious quality. I would discuss the frustration of being so deeply invested in the six, and how it was reflected back with sharper edges and firmer bones by our most recent attempt. I would try to make it sound good.
The reality is that I’m not going anywhere on the record, and if I have to bury my heels in the mud up to my waist I’m happy to do it. I’ve got time booked with Steve in January and again in March. I’ve got an upcoming trip to New Zealand with my parents and wife, and I’ll keep at it.
More to come