The pursuit of fish far and wide stays with you long after the day has ended.
There are as many reasons to go fishing as there are fish in the ocean. Some choose to fish for sport and relaxation while others fish for food and to fill the freezer. For me, it’s about the memories that linger long after the salt water has been rinsed from the rods and reels. My memory is indeed selective: I may have to scroll through my iPhone to retrieve a number, but I can still recite LORAN coordinates for the Manasquan Inlet even though that nav system has been disabled for years.
As if it were yesterday, I can recall dozens of trips I made from Palm Beach to Walkers Cay, the northernmost point in the Abacos, starting 30 years ago. This infamous fishing hole, which was the scene of countless big-game tournaments from the 1960s up to its demise in 2004 after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne leveled it, was nothing more than a 101-acre rock surrounded by impeccable deep-blue water and acres of crystal-clear flats teeming with bonefish everywhere. Walkers Cay attracted anglers far and wide not only for the exemplary fishing, but also for the seclusion. There wasn’t even phone service in the early days of the club. In the small hotel on the island there was a sign over the front desk that proclaimed, “The gods do not detract man’s allotted time on earth the hours spent fishing.” This is probably great news for many of us and hopefully it is true. How could you go wrong with that philosophy?
While Hurricane Sandy destroyed an enormous amount of the photography I collected during my Walkers Cay experiences, I retain a photographic memory of one particular blue marlin I had the good fortune to leader and release.
A young frisky fish about 150 pounds, the marlin invaded our spread of mackerel and swimming mullet before eyeballing the portside squid teaser. For several minutes, it swam back and forth and across the pattern without selecting from our carefully rigged menu. Typically, when a fish shows up in this manner, most people on a boat will start yelling, screaming, and gyrating around the cockpit as if their words or body English might improve the situation. I am more laid-back so I just watch and try to anticipate where the fish will go and get near that rod and stay focused. This marlin decided on a swimming mullet and put on a nice aerial display on the 50-pound outfit for about 20 minutes for the thrilled angler.
I was taught when grabbing a leader to be prepared for anything. The fish may come to the boat easily, or it may go nuts when it feels the pressure of your gloved hands. This one was of the former persuasion. As I drew the fish closer, it turned on its left side and we met eyeballs to eyeball. I stared at it for a moment, felt its eye draw a bead on me and paused, admiring the raw beauty of this wild creature, which came up from the deep to give all of us on the boat a moment to remember. Every inch of its slender body from bill to tail sparkled in the water alongside with colors of lavender, cobalt blue, and white silver. The fish was lightly hooked and I released it with little fanfare. Seconds later the marlin did a sudden U-turn and disappeared into the deep. I can still see its tail waving good-bye like it just happened. Talk about being in the moment. I hope that fish is still out there.
Over the years there were countless trips to Walkers Cay and lots of marlin action. Tuna, dolphin, grouper, and snapper provided countless meals. One special week I fished with the late Dale Earnhardt and helped him catch his first blue marlin during a yacht manufacturer’s tournament. The Intimidator may have been infamous for his tactics on the racetrack, but onboard a fishboat he was a soft-spoken, gentle family man. He was new to saltwater fishing but quickly appreciated and understood the catch-and-release program and that a game fish like a marlin is much too valuable a trophy to catch but once.
To be sure, our allotted days on this planet may be numbered, but I’ll spend as much of my time as I can on the water fishing and helping others to learn the sport. After all, whatever I catch is another thing to remember. And whether or not the gods grant a pass for those days on the water, it’s time well spent.
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.