The Big One that Did Not Get Away

Dad with 53-inch wahoo - IMG_3475 copy

A spectacular day off of Cozumel, Mexico, which must be the bluest place I’ve ever seen. The sky melts into the depths of the ocean, light bouncing off the pure white sands at the bottom, and reflecting back up into the sky as clouds. The blue is so big, so all-encompassing that it shocks and awes you, and makes you humble before the power of nature.

Or it could be Cerveza Brain.

My fondest memories of childhood are going fishing with Dad, surf fishing off the beaches of Southern California, back in the days when you could actually eat what you caught.

Dad taught me the meaning of fishing is not about catching fish but the time spent contemplating the true nature of life. Fishing is a metaphor for living your life in harmony with all beings. Well, that and catching lots of good eatin’ fish.

Dad always said he was a “meat” fisherman, not a “sport” fisherman.

So, taking my Dad, my wife (who is a closet fishing fanatic), and our son for a chartered fishing boat trip in Cozumel sounded like something that would validate my life choices, bringing together everyone I loved on a trip to remember. Maybe catch some good eatin’ fish.

Mom tends to get motion sickness so she elected to check out the local museum, and then sit at a cafe reading her book, gazing at life passing by in the bright Cozumel sun. Mom knows that sometimes you must let boys be boys.

The fishing started out great – as usual, our son hooked up first. Whizzzzzz, click, ugh, ugh, ugh, and, wow, that’s a green fish! The Dorado is a gorgeous fish, dazzling the eyes with greens and yellows that blaze in bright Mexican sun. Then, my wife landed a beauty, then me.

Dad, master fisherman and old man of the sea, wasn’t about to be skunked by his kid, daughter-in-law, or his grandkid!

Whizzz, click, oh yeah, ugh, ugh, ugh, oops! The wily Dorado must have slipped the hook because suddenly, nothing. No sound except the silence of monofilament sliding out of the water.

The Mexican deckhands are suddenly uncharacteristically quiet. Softly whispering, “que lastima” to each other, they look a little bummed.

Dad, master fisherman, explains, “that fish will tell the other fish to head for the hills. Fishing’s over for the day.” Dad is definitely bummed.

Me, ever the optimist, says to the captain and crew, “No problemo, los dudes. Nosotros continuamos los fishing para mucha grande pesces! Yee-haw!”

After the crew stops laughing from my broken Español, they re-set the gear and we start trolling. The first hour of trolling is what fishing is all about. The sun, the wind, the water, sunlight glimmering like thousands of fireflies doing la cucaracha after one too many tequilas.

An organism lower on the food chain than me shall not win the battle today!

We keep trolling.

I have a cerveza. My wife has dos cervezas. I have una mas cerveza. Mi wife has quatro mas cervezas tambien, just to be mucho humoroso.

Our son, used to this game of “who’s got Cerveza Brain,” has another coke and looks hopefully out on the water, as his parents take a siesta under the shade.

Suddenly, El Capitan is going muy loco, yelling something in Spanish that sounds like, “hey, el dumbo americano japoneso dude, wake up, el grande de grande pesce hook-up ahora!”

My Cerveza Brain is not quite functional yet so our son, cool kid that he is, is saying, “grandpa, you take it! now!”

Dad, having the chased away all the fish three hours ago, is doing a classic Nisei jap “enryo” thing and demurring shyly. Even Cerveza Brain recognizes this and thinks, “Dad, demure doesn’t work for you,” and finally conscious control returns and I yell, “dad, take it!”

Dad knows what to do. Pull, pull, pull, reel in, reel in, reel in.

But this is the fish of a lifetime.

Big. Heavy. Fast. Ready to kick ass.

After 20 minutes, Dad’s smile has faded and it’s become a battle of wills. I see drops of blood dripping from his fingers but neither he nor I mention it.

El Capitan knows his caca and is turning the boat away from the fish to keep the line taut. The deckhands are keeping a close watch on Dad, the fish, and the expensive equipment that might end up in the azure waters off Cozumel.

My wife, my son, and I are cheering Dad on, doing the “wave,” and sacrificing virgins to the gods of big-ass fish.

Suddenly, an incredible silver missile explodes out of the water! And then it’s gone. The line goes slack. Has Dad let the big one slip away? The deckhands are stunned into silence.

Dad, master fisherman and old man of the sea, smiles. He’s seen this one before. He waits.

Wham! The tip of the pole nosedives, the reel screeching, but Dad is ready. Leveraging decades of tossing lawnmowers into his old Ford pickup, Dad plants his feet, sets his back, and puts his whole body into it, and sneers with an evil grin, “who’s your padre now, el señor fish?”

The fish knows. This is the end. El ultimo finito.

The deckhand grabs the gaff, leans over, and throws out his back pulling up the biggest, brightest, bluest-striped fish I’ve ever seen. In fact, the biggest fish I’ve ever seen out of the water.

The 53-inch Wahoo, the biggest of the season, has conceded defeat to gracefully to Dad, Master Fisherman and The Old Man of the Sea.

The Wahoo’s spirit touches Dad’s for a moment, and the Wahoo goes off to join the other fish in that place where all fish swim happily in peace for eternity.

My wife and son are bouncing up and down, doing the banzai dance, “oh boy, we can eat sashimi until we burst!”

I don’t have the heart to tell them you don’t get to eat the big one because I want to have it mounted so Dad can put it on the wall at home.

Cerveza Brain is having a grand ol’ time handing out tips the size of the GDP of Mexico to El Capitan and crew. It’s obvious they’re having a ball, except for the one who threw out his back hauling the Wahoo on board. Clearly they get bragging rights, a commission from the agent for the company that mounts these things, and some extra cash to buy a Nintendo para los niños.

They feel so good in fact that they share the Dorado with us (traditionally the crew takes home the fish on a charter), so my wife and son did get to burst their bellies with freshly caught sashimi that night!

Having bought several kilos of local lobster tails as a backup (Dad taught me that too), nos familia had an incredible feast to celebrate the day that Dad caught the big one.

Even Mom had one tequila too many, hiked up her skirts, and danced the Mexican hat dance in honor of the “big one.” Little did she realize that “El Grande de Grande Pesces” would shortly grace her living room, staring down with cold glass eyes, stripes of Cozumel blue, and an enigmatic grin.

But I know she’ll put on her best smile and roll her eyes just a bit when Dad tells his story of The Big One That Did Not Get Away. For the millionth time.

Later that night, after everyone had gone to sleep, Cerveza Brain and me looked up at the night sky of Cozumel, sipped una mas tequila y lima, thanked the gods of fishing, and millions of shimmering stars joined us in quiet celebration of a day well spent, fishing with Dad.

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(originally published June 7, 2008)


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