Me and Den in Key West – Part II


An “uh oh” snap and line goes dead.

Den looks over at me. “Well Buddy”, He says, “No blood in the boat for us on that one. But I’m here to tell ya that was enough to make anyone sit up and take pleasure.”

I give Den a thumbs up. We had run the game trails since teenagers and knew thrill of the chase meant far and away more than final kill. Memories are memories and we’ve cherished them all around the campfire. We exchange a few positive words and gestures with the crew as Manuel baits hooks and re-rigs the rods. Capt. Mario puts the Teaser in gear and we start trolling again.

Bottles of water in hand, me and Den sit and talk. Manuel has thrown my small catch into the fish locker and he’s searching the water off our stern for more clues of fish. Time doesn’t move too far down the pike before there’s a shout from Capt. Mario, “Birds to starboard!! About a quarter mile.”

Gently, with no change of speed, Capt. Mario swings the Teaser in the birds’ direction and the adrenalin rises again.

“Looks like school Dolphin. Make sure to leave one hooked fish in the water. It’ll attract the others. Keep them schooling”

Five minutes, then ten go by. Anticipation mounts. By now we’re in the birds. Nothing. We wait. All of a sudden. “Bam”, Starboard outrigger lets go. Manuel takes the rod and passes it to me. I’m already in the big chair.

I hardly begin the pump and reel routine when starboard stern rod hits. Manuel lifts that rod for Den who’s jumped into the starboard side chair. Teaser has slowed way down. Minimal headway.

From the Bridge, Capt. Mario shouts, “Teaser hooked!” He lifts that rod from its holder on the bridge rail and begins to slowly reel in line, same time watching cockpit and keeping boat under control. Meanwhile, Manuel is reeling in the port aft rod when he gets a strike. Fish is on and now we’ve got four rods in the battle. Mine is soon within gaff reach. Manuel sets his rod back in a socket, grabs the gaff and slings a mahi into the cockpit. I lay my rod down, go for port rod, sailorwalk back to the port chair.

Manuel gaffs it over the rail and slides it into fish locker now beginning to fill with fifteen to twenty pound schoolies.

“Wham!!” Port outrigger lets go and line streams it’s way out. Mario’s fish and Den’s are both near gaff zone. Manuel goes for the gaff as Mario, still on the bridge, works his fish alongside. Mahi decides he’d be as bull headed as he looks. Uncooperates. Not an easy drill to work a fish, keep it away from other lines, hold it off the side and away from props all the while keeping boat in good location for cockpit fighters. He was doing a magnificent job, while mate Manuel was doing his level best to keep the situation figured out as well.

From the bridge again, “Manuel ….......”something in Spanish. Manuel now with rod in hand again sets this rod in the closest socket and starts up the bridge ladder to grab Mario’s rod Mario tries to pass it down. Port rod is still discharging line behind a runaway dolphin. Den’s fish nears the stern as Mario says, “Let him play off a bit if you can Senor while we get this fish in.”

“Okay, but I don’t wanna lose this one!”

Mario now is holding the rod about midway up past the second line guide with his other hand on the bridge stanchion as Manuel reaches for the butt with his free hand. Other being wrapped tightly around the ladder rail. In the excitement, however, he would make that fatal mistake of climbing. “Rule of three. Always have three limbs holding before moving.”

Just as Manuel took the rod and Mario let go, the Teaser lifted it’s port side on a roll to starboard. Manuel, no chance to hook his left leg around ladder, goes flying towards Den who’s completely unaware of what’s happening behind him. Manuel hits Den’s right shoulder, his cranking arm, with outstretched right arm still holding Mario’s rod. Den’s rod goes sailing against the stern, catches, and lands on cockpit floor. Manuel, sliding, struggling to regain balance, loses, slides down Den’s legs and fetches up on the footrest. I work my way out of the port chair, death grip, slam my rod butt in port rail socket. Capt. Mario by this time is back at the helm. He’s thrown the gearshifts to neutral, debating whether to come below or standby the controls. Sea action, aided by passing sportfisherman’s sternwave, gets sloppier. Mario opts for the bridge. Gripping sidedecks, I edge, quick as possible, around cockpit towards Den’s rod, harboring notion of then being jerked over stern deck. Quantum time races by as I skate on the bloody floor, kick the boated dolphin away, make a downward reach, catch and hold the rod mid way up, lean my hip to the sterndeck, press hard against it for stability, release the drag for slack and pass it to Den. “Set the Drag!”

Manuel, God love him, might as well have been saying his rosary for all I knew. He’d finally been able to lift himself with one elbow, rod still locked in hand and get his knees planted on the floor. Facing forward, back planted on the stern again, I reached out, convinced him with head language and a “Por Favor” to release the rod into my outstretched hands and I jam that rod into an empty holder.

Den’s sitting in stunned disbelief. Manuel trys to get to his feet as I gain the starboard chair, hold its arm for balance, reach over, get my arm under Manuel’s left armpit and help him to his feet and a grip on the main chair. He tries swaying with boat’s motion, unintended of his own included. “Por favor, ” He mumbles in Spanish. “Water, soda, Senors”. Den and I laugh as tension breaks. Manuel collapses into main chair.

Three fish still on. Three fish to be fought to the cockpit. Manuel gamely stands again, staggers to port rail. Blood streams down his left forearm. Lifts that rod. Sets the drag. Not much line remaining. Den’s pumping away on his fish again as I go to the other port rod and standing, begin reeling. Mario, after making sure we’ve clear water all around goes to neutral, comes off the bridge, gaffs the shimmering, deep blue and yellow dolphin into the fish locker. Puts on the leather gloves and gaffs Den’s fish. Pulls it aboard, says something to Manuel in Spanish, then us in English, “I’m going to re-bait these two rods. You play the fish. We’ll have fish in the water and a chance for more.”

Baiting completed he takes salt water hose and sluices blood and slime off the faded white fiberglas floor and returns to bridge. Me and Den are cranking away. Manuel, recovering his balance, moves past Den, now in main chair, and puts on gloves.

No sooner than I’ve said,”You bring yours in first,” to Den, than both of the newly baited rods are hit. Manuel sets hook on the starboard rod. Before he can get across the cockpit, line goes slack on port rod. In a flash he reels in, reties, rebaits and lets out line. Back to three fish, two being fought.

Den, doing well with a smaller fish this time, aggressively winds his dolphin to the gaff zone. Manuel gaffs it over the rail and slides it into fish locker now beginning to fill with fifteen to twenty pound schoolies. Den wrestles hooked starboard rod to main chair and begins another fight. I take the other. He’s tiring as we both are. Thankfully this is a short day or our backs would be broken first day out.

I get my fish in. Manuel passes me the port rod. Pump and reel, Pump and reel. Back and arms are screaming. Fifteen to twenty pound fish may not sound like an overly large adversary, but with wind , water, strength and agility on their side, battle is skewed to the fish.

Manuel baits another rod, releases drag and lets the bait stream astern once again. Den and I both play our fish, pumping and grinding away. Mine decides he likes other side of the Teaser better and dives under Den’s line. With Manuel’s gestures, Den gets up and moves to the starboard rail hoping to coax his fish away from mine. No deal. Mine heads back to port and in seconds cuts Den’s line. Both Den and Manuel tend me as I, back to pump and grind again, manage to get this fish to the gaff zone where Den in a burst of energy, gaffs and pulls the dolphin over the rail and into the fish locker. Den and I shared the same thought. This was enough for now, just hoping the last bait in the water would fail to connect. It didn’t. With the “schoolies” when it’s over, that’s it. Like an act in a radio play. Wait for the next episode. Ours would come the next day with a different boat.

Fair Winds and Good Roads

– Lee Wilbur