The Man in the brown suit.
The sun rose as we were making last minute preparations, gliding above a horizon hidden by towering sand dunes and two story houses. Trying to hurry but also not forget anything is an intricate balance that is made easier with time and practice. We were soon on the road, zodiac strapped to the top of the truck and the fishing partner waiting somewhat patiently for us to arrive at the rendezvous point. Green water and tame surf greeted us as we drove onto the sand, and with a follow-me wave to the fishing buddy we trundled down the beach. We looked a little goofy, no doubt, but we didn’t care.
Boat loaded, engine attached, we walked her out into the wave-wash. She fired up on the second pull, and we were headed towards the horizon, slow but steadily riding over the swells. We saw some bait getting busted now and again but nothing that made us want to stop and cast. Onward to the rigs!
After successfully hooking up to a barnacle-encrusted beam, we waited patiently to see what, if anything, would show up. Almost immediately the spade fish made an appearance, ghosting upwards from the rig and becoming easily visible as they checked out the boat from a few feet away. Then came the Bermuda chubs, schooling with the spadies. I stood up, balancing against the rolling swells and trying to keep an eye in every direction at once. A loggerhead turtle slipped up to the surface, bigger than a manhole cover and sprinkled with barnacles over her back. Her light tan coloration made her easy to spot, and my eyes tracked her for a moment before they noticed something behind her…
Cobia! My heart was pounding as I stripped out line and tried to judge the distance. I wasn’t sure that I could make the shot against the wind but I was definitely going to find out. Two false casts and I hauled hard, heaving a hail-mary cast to where I expected the fish to be by the time my fly got there. The bright orange billfish taper shot forward, carrying its payload of big chartreuse and pink bunny fly. The loop unfurled and laid the fly down in front of the smaller of the two fish. I let the fish see it and then began to strip, trying to elicit a reaction strike. The fish followed closely for a couple moments, nosing right up behind the fly and I tensed up, ready to strike hard to make up for the long distance… she wasn’t having it though; a short follow before being snubbed was all I got. After that, the fish disappeared and we didn’t see them again. We decided to move on to greener pastures.
We bounced around from rig to rig after that, spending an hour or so at each location. Once, while keeping a lookout for cobia, I happened to look up just in time to watch a 6 foot spinner shark jump clear of the water by several feet, pirouetting tight clockwise circles as his fins propellered through the air, flashing as sunlight shone off his gleaming tan-bronze skin before splashing back in headfirst.
It was now well into the afternoon, and fatigue was starting to make itself known. The rolling swells were evenly spaced, but still liable to unbalance the guy standing up and watching for fish. We decided to hit up one last location for a while, and noticed that the wind had switched around. The current wanted to pull us into the rig, but the wind was pushing us away… which was fine, as long as the wind didn’t lull. A person in a rubber boat suddenly becomes extremely conscious of every barnacle on the rig’s structure. Fortunately the wind stayed steady and we floated contentedly. The wash of the waves against the rig and the spaced out warning klaxon of the rigs was the only noise to be heard. My mind began to drift a bit, tired by hours of constant watchfulness.
Suddenly, one of my fishing buddies pointed out a shadow that wasn’t quite a spadefish… we stared as it rose closer to the surface… it was another cobia! I scrambled to strip off and coil line neatly on the cluttered floor of the zodiac. The fish calmly wandered in a semi-circle around the boat at about 50 feet. I cast, a tad short, and stripped a couple times just to see if he should show interest. In a show of ultimate confidence, he simply swam over and ate it. Gills flared, fly disappeared, and I almost screwed up the hookset because I was so surprised. When I came tight the feeling on board the boat was electric – we did it! Well, almost – a little Chinese fire drill ensued. I stepped to the middle of the boat to fight the fish, one guy took the motor and the other cast us off from the rig. Really well orchestrated, considering.
We knew better than to try and gaff this fish before he was well worn out – cobia have a tendency to go berserk in the boat. Proving the point, the fish flipped out when gaffed the first time, sounding for the bottom and ripping drag. I quickly bore down on the fish, pumping him up and not letting him get rest. Soon he was back at boatside, gaffed and in the boat. High fives and congratulations all around – I would have been pretty hard-pressed to catch that fish by myself but with teamwork it went smoothly. We stayed out a little longer; I wanted one of the other guys to get their own shot at a cobia, but we were all tired and the wind started to kick up right about then so we headed back in.
One thing’s for sure though – I am already really looking forward to the next time.