A Fish Story
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having little or no continued interest in freshwater fishing I chose to stalk the estuarine flats of peninsular Florida. My quarry were highly educated, cunning and taunted me by waving their blue-tinged tails in defiance as they gorged upon delectable, mud-covered crustaceans. My mind was lost upon dreams of tipping tails as far as the eyes could see and I became obsessed with taming them by a divine rod. It was a coastal calling I couldn't resist or replace until....
Somewhere in deepest central Florida a clear, natural lake holds a group of super-sized, golden-scaled trophies which would rival the largest of S. ocellatus. Calling them just a fish doesn't honor their genectic or cerebral development and diminishes how incredible their legend has become. A creature so large and impressive smaller aquatic animals flee at it's very mention and terrestrial beings unfamiliar with our waters shrink back from the lakes' edge when one rises from its' depths like a volcanic seamount.
Seeing just one of the majestic animals drift by would fill a lifetime of memories for even the most calloused of anglers, but to see half-a-dozen daisy chaining through a floating grass field is the stuff of dreams for a fly rod wielding mortal. It was more than I could stand, but I had years of experience and luck behind me and I came prepared for a fight.
My mouth was dry as I tied the special WonderCharlie fly onto the thin mono leader. I double checked each knot and then stripped all the stiff fly line and thirty feet of backing into a loose pile at my feet. Crouching low to diminish my profile in the cold, post-frontal breeze I squinted into the lakes' rippling surface for a shadow or swirl.
Seconds turned into minutes, and minutes into a day but I held my position and waited for a chance while being buffeted by a lingering wind. And then slowly, a dazzling golden-glow slid from the deep green below and drifted upward like ash from a smoldering campfire.
Instinctively, I false-casted the bulky fly, feeling the weight of the line pulling to be released. As the rod pushed forward and the slipping line hissed through the guides I felt the tug of a full cast. The fly landed softly without a ripple somehow catching the full attention of my quarry. The ensuing violent rise caught me by surprise, the resulting king bed sized vortex sucked down into the darkness and drew the thick line taught. I heaved back and stepped away from the waters' edge arcing the rod into a wide "U" and listened as the reel sang out like crickets on hot summer night.
The line started moving slowly at first towards the surface and then lifted itself clear as the beast tailwalked twenty, thirty yards falling back with a loud splash. I shouted without thinking, feeling as if I was alone, fighting for control, knowing this would be a struggle of the fittest.
Another jump! This one a tail snapping, head-twisting spiral rising higher into the cold, steel blue sky. A shower of silver droplets exploding like liquid meteors and a thunderous clap as it fell back into its' home. And then another! I feared one of the jumps would crash onto a boat, annihilating each occupant and leaving me for guilty.
The frenzy continued for nearly an hour. I felt as if my actions were meaningless and had no affect other than to infuriate this beast into an apocolyptic insanity.
The end of a heated battle
And then, as violently as it began, it stopped. I felt a heavy, dead weight pushing my 3 weight to the breaking point. I struggled to gain inches as the reel groaned under the stress. Crank by crank, revolution by revolution the spool filled.
My first glimpse of the beaten warrior brought a pang of sorrow for this valiant gladiator. The golden sides glistened in the sharp afternoon sunshine like armor on a worthy knight. It's large, black, saucer-shaped eyes rotated slowly following my delibrate sweeps of the rod.
As the side of the fish scraped the sandy beach bottom it gave one last flip of the massive tail throwing a waterfall's worth of water into the air and onto me. I was drenched, exhausted and had just enough energy to pin the fish just long enough to grab the barbless hook and twist it free.
It was half out of the water now, pumping water heavily through the gills. With a half-roll and a kick of it's thick body the big girl turned towards the open water and slipped beneath the surface.
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