Nearly hypnotized by the swirling school of massive tarpon feeding fifty yards off the beach, Scotty slid his kayak into the ocean. Entranced, as if lured by an invisible piper, he paddled through the swells toward them.
As he approached, the violence of their feeding frenzy transformed into a rhythmic dance punctuated by acrobatic leaps and spins. He readied a cast and felt the warm buzzing in his chest which he was beginning to recognize not as nerves, but as his growing self-confidence. Only fifty feet from the circling school, his heart thundered in his ears, but his hands were steady. Scotty’s quickening pulse blended with the lapping waves and the muffled bass of a distant storm to create a musical score the most gifted of composers could not possibly improve upon. He laid out a perfectly straight cast, delivering his fly to the center of the turbulent mass of feeding tarpon.
The water immediately trembled as the tight school of mullet cleared away from his fly before a massive head crashed through the surface and launched into the sky. The fly line lifted from the water like a kite string and the angelic fish seemed to float above him. Scotty instinctively bowed forward to ease the tension and after it crashed back into the water, he felt the hook slide around to the corner of the fish’s mouth then catch fast. He strip-set hard, to ensure the hook up.
Preparing for the powerful run that would follow, he tightened the drag, hoping his knots would hold and the kayak itself would absorb some of the pressure. But even so, the huge fish ripped line from the reel so powerfully, Scotty was sure he’d be stripped out. Into the backing in seconds, there seemed no hope the fleeing giant would slow in time. With almost a hundred yards of line out, Scotty desperately synched down the drag and squeezed his eyes shut. The line drew tight as a bow.
With his rod doubled and line tight as piano string, the impossibility of this catch and the familiar fear of losing his prize crept in. The kayak lurched forward, slicing the water like a dog sled. A myriad of disappointing endings flashed through his mind. After a ten minute sleigh ride, the fish again launched into the air, this time violently shaking its head as it walked across the surface on its thrashing tail. Scotty bowed to it once more. The fish turned sharply to the north when it landed, the kayak stopped, and Scotty reeled to maintain pressure. He felt the tight line moan as it swept the arc of water between his idle kayak and the circling fish.
As he prepared for the next test, Scotty’s focus returned, and his senses heightened. The rod vibrated in his hands and he felt the line bumping mullet as the fish circled north. The kayak soon swung around behind the fish and again drew forward as Scotty clutched the cork handle with both hands. His eyes were wide, but calm and his excitement became mindful enjoyment as the last of any fear of losing her melted away. The fish eventually turned east, heading for deeper water, and now pulled the kayak steadily. Scotty relinquished all control and resigned himself to following and enjoying every moment with her, rather than fighting for control. The kayak plodded east. When it finally began to slow, he realized he would soon be united with the magical creature he was so eagerly following out to sea.
He could feel her rolling and laying up, exhausted. The fight had lasted forty minutes and Scotty’s wrists, neck and shoulders ached. He slowly regained his backing and then his fly line until he saw her submissively wallowing on the surface ahead. Though he’d cherished every second of the chase, Scotty’s heart raced at the thought of landing what was easily a hundred pound tarpon, on fly.
As he brought the fish alongside his kayak, Scotty gasped at her surreal beauty. He silently offered thanks for the strength and confidence it took to find, fight and land this fish of a lifetime. The pure beauty of the moment seared into his mind and her inky black eyes seemed to stare deeply into his. Scotty knew she was the embodiment of his newfound strength. Never had all his energy known such balance. Never had he been so invigorated, nor happy to be alive.
He pulled the silvery mermaid up onto his lap. He ran his hand over her saucer-sized silver scales, as smooth and cool as glazed ceramic, before popping the hook and sliding her back into the sea. Scotty held the base of her tail with both hands and gently rocked her forward and back, to revive her.
As the seawater flushed across her gills, the exhausted warrior began to twitch and with a sudden burst of strength, she was gone. Scotty sat motionless, closed his eyes and smiled as the soft song of the Sirens gradually faded.
~ Michael Walrath