What a Catch!

Ron Karpinski  1999


The line went taut and the pole bent almost in half.  "Looks like you've hooked a big one," yelled the skipper.  "Give him some line and let him run."

Aboard the forty-four-foot Chris Craft out of San Diego, a corporate salesman and four of his customers enjoyed a day of sport fishing off Coronado Island.  They were trolling for barracuda and yellowtail.  In spring 1970, both were plentiful.

The fish on the line was, indeed, a yellowtail and a big one.  Twice, it jumped, off in the distance.  From his post up on the bridge, the captain guessed that it weighed close to thirty pounds.  He ordered all other lines out of the water.

When a yellowtail strikes, it puts up quite a fight.  It may circle the boat several times; and, if you don't have room to move with it, you can foul your line on another man's gear and lose a good trophy.  In just a few minutes, the other anglers on the boat had all pulled in their lines and stood back to watch.

One stanchion at a time, the salesman moved along the boat's perimeter, keeping a clear track between his pole and the fish.  At each stay or guy rod that got in the way, the deck hand held the pole while the salesman slid under.  Forty minutes passed, and the two men made three complete loops around the boat.

Finally, the fish tired, and the salesman began to reel him in.  Alongside the boat, at last, it "broke color."  Twenty feet down in the blue-green waters, the deck hand could see it rising.  "Hey," he said, "you've got two fish on the line."  Up on the bridge, the captain rushed to the rail, leaning far over to see for himself.

"Horse him in, or you're going to lose him!" yelled the skipper.  "That's a shark!  Give me the gaff!"  He leaped down onto the deck next to the salesman.

The frightened salesman pulled hard on his pole and reeled in as fast as he could.  As the yellowtail rose to the surface, a huge nurse shark, ten feet in length, rose with it.  Only inches below the surface, the shark lunged at the smaller fish.

When the shark fell back to swallow, the skipper drove the gaff deep into its back, three times.  The shark dove straight down, into the depths, trailing a thick ribbon of crimson.  "His friends will have him for lunch," muttered the captain.

The salesman sat on the deck and stared at his catch.  A perfect semicircle, six inches across, had been carved out of the underside of the yellowtail, as if with a straight razor. "What am I supposed to do with this thing now?" he cried.

"You should have it mounted and hang it over your mantel," offered the deck hand. "There can't be another fish like this in the whole world."


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