The One That Got Away

Ron Karpinski  1999


Most fishermen stretch the truth now and then, for it is in their nature; but my best old friend, Bob, is no fisherman at all.  For him, the whole affair amounted to nothing more than a long day in a leaky boat.  This is his story, and it is no fish tale.

In the spring of 1963, several families from our street joined forces on a sojourn to the tiny coastal village of Ensenada, Mexico.  At fifteen years old, Bob and I were the only non adults invited.  The group set up camp on a short stretch of deserted beach.

Early on the first day, all the men piled aboard a twenty-six-foot cabin cruiser and prepared to go out fishing.  From ashore, Bob remarked that the boat sat quite low in the water.  There did not seem to be enough room left for the two of us to join them.

At that, Vern Craig jumped off the boat and into a nearby eight-foot dinghy, signaling for Bob and me to join him.  Glancing at the overloaded cabin cruiser, we concluded that the dinghy looked at least as seaworthy and stepped aboard.

For several hours in the early morning fog, we trailed the larger boat due west into the Pacific Ocean.  Eight and ten foot swells rolled in from behind, pushing the dinghy like a surfboard.  Wave after wave looked to crash over our heads but, at the last second, slid under the stern.  Now and then, Bob or I stared bravely out to sea.

With an uncanny sense that comes only after many long years at the helm, Vern proclaimed that we were nine miles from shore; and the sacred fishing grounds lay just ahead.  The men on the big boat all hung over the sides to get a close look.

Vern explained this as "chumming."  Seeding the swells with that morning's breakfast, he told us, enticed fish to the surface where they could be properly clubbed to death. Hours passed in silence, and not a single fish obliged.

Then Bob had an idea.  Once, in a science book, he had read that big fish like to eat little fish.  So, he reached into an old bait bucket and pulled out a dead sardine which he then impaled onto the barbed hook at the end of his jig.

With a quick flick of the wrist, he cast his line out over the water, and the sardine took flight.  Twenty yards it soared in a lazy arc toward the shimmering brine; but, just before it hit the surface, a sea gull swooped in and gulped it down.

That bird must have weighed five pounds!  Furious at the hook in its mouth, it strained against the line.  Flapping and squawking, it hovered high above the boat.

Bob eased out some line, letting the bird run, hoping it would tire.  As the line spun off his reel, a small plume of smoke rose in the air.  "Quick," Bob screamed, "give me a cold beer to pour on this thing!"  Vern just smiled.  Nice try, kid.

The battle raged for twenty minutes.  Twice, Bob thought the bird had tired and tried to reel it in, only to watch it surge to life with a savage new fury.  Vern wanted to cut the line, but Bob, in the fight to the end, would have none of that.

The ten-pound test line held fast and gradually sapped the bird's strength.  At last, Bob pulled it in.  Reaching out, he grabbed the creature firmly by the neck and, with some effort, removed the hook.  Then he let it go . . . and watched it fly away.


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