On sail day, even if the trip is an hour, I toss the fishing lewer, a purple squid as long as my forearm, off the back of our 75ft catamaran, and sing my fish song.
Here, big fishie, come for a snack
There’s a squid you might like (mind the barb in its back).
I promise it’s not bait, I swear there’s no hook
I promise there’s no dog ear on the recipe book
Today, the passage is six hours of 10-knot sailing along the coastline of Flores, Indonesia.
Three hours in, I have forgotten that a silicon squid dangles behind us. The zing-zing of the rod, however, pulls me out of my book. Silence follows. Whatever nibbled, didn’t take the bait. It was probably a plastic bag-fish anyway, there sure are enough floating past.
Halfway down the page, the rod zings again. I spring up and stand, hand on the real, waiting for another bite. Plastic bag fish don’t strike twice. Zing, then silence. Something big is hungry, swiping at the lewer, keeping up with a 10-knot boat. I grab the rod out of its boat-holster. Zingggggggg, the rod almost gets ripped from my hand.
I pull back, trying to lock the hook into lips, hopefully, fat ones. Maybe tuna, or Mahi Mahi. Sharks aren’t this persistent. Salmon don’t live around these parts. Whatever it is, it’s big. I tighten the trace, strap on a rod holder, and try and wind. But the beast steals more line. Too strong for the rod and me, it now thrashes 120 meters behind the boat.
I wind when the fish rests and rest when the fish dives. I scan the water 50 meters behind the boat, and a fin cuts the surface. A thrasher shark maybe? It shakes and pulls more line, trying to spit out the hook. I brace like I’m waterskiing, heels digging into the teak deck, shirt drenched in sweat. I check to make sure the rod is chained to the boat and catch my breath, just one heave away from being dragged into the Flores sea and eaten by a still-hungry fish pissed off because its last bite was rubber. But the fish is tiring. The contest swings my way. I brace, breath then wind. My forearms swell, lactic acid pumping to my shaky fingertips. Only 30 meters to go.
The fish jumps and a sail slices the air. I wind, now stronger than it and only 15 meters until I can claim the glory of catching a sailfish. It fights again, one final tug-o-war of shakes, pulls and dives. It flaps onto its side flashing a torso streaked with purples and greens and blues. The sail, one meter long and spanning half its body, fans out, dead weight in the water. When it’s speared-nose gets within arm’s reach from the boat, Jack, our captain, approaches, gaff (long hook) in hand, ready to drag the 50 kg, 2-meter monster onto the boat. But, the fish thrashes, banging its head against the stern, whipping its tail and nose, its weapons firing.
“I gotta cut it lose,” says the captain. “There’s no point bringing it onboard. Sailfish are game fish, not eating fish.”
Inside, my vanity says no, please, I want to snap a selfie holding a fish bigger than me, but then I look at it, and its black eye stares back, frightened, exhausted, and pleading. Jack pulls out a knife, cuts the line and the fish, not realizing he is free or too tired to swim, floats away.