Welcome to the Dance

 

Mere months since his first fish on fly, Scotty already fished at a level few ever experience. His technical skills were only slightly better than average, but he practiced a mindfulness which allowed a meditation of sorts, while fishing. Muscle memory flawlessly executed long, tight-looped casts as he subconsciously played each breeze, swell and strike with calm perfection. Most importantly, the fish welcomed him now.

The sun was low and pale over the ocean when he arrived at Jupiter Island. He launched his kayak and paddled into an east wind that promised to pile bait against the beach. Drawn by reports of the mullet run, excited but calm, Scotty pushed through the light surf. The sky was gray and the ocean breeze cool and slippery against his face. Black and white gulls screeching above the rolling swells and tell-tale splashes and swirls confirmed the reports. The mullet run was on.

The feeding was most concentrated in the surf zone, so he paddled back to fish from the beach. An endless school of bluefish rolled with each swell. After dragging his yak up the beach, Scotty strapped on his stripping basket. As far as he could see to the north and south, the surf boiled with feeding fish. He admired the powerful blues slashing through the faces of each curling wave and the occasional explosions of large sharks and other fish. The waves shined metallic with mullet. Scotty approached an old cast-netter, throwing for bait.

“Hola, mind of I take a look?” Scotty pointed to his eye and then toward the net.

The old man nodded and watched curiously as Scotty plucked a finger mullet from the net. He opened a case of large streamer flies, arranged by color from pale white and silver, to deep blue, green and gold. Holding the fish against the spectrum of neatly arranged flies, he selected a perfect match and held it up for the old man’s approval. The man smiled broadly and nodded in agreement.

“Muchas gracias, Señor” Scotty said as he tossed the mullet into the old man’s bucket.

“!Buena suerte, amigo!” the man called after him.

Walking up the empty beach, Scotty tied on his fly and stripped 50 feet of line into his basket. Casting the lead sinking line into the wind was effortless. His back-casts straightened behind him then the heavy leaden loops carved forward, sucking all the line from his basket like the crack of a whip. He delivered his perfectly matched pattern into the nervous water behind a breaking swell and the ocean erupted. His rod doubled, and the drag sang as a fierce bluefish sent another 50 feet of line shooting through the guides. Scotty’s blind faith that fly fishing would deliver the richest satisfaction he’d ever known was fast approaching fruition. Every day felt perfect.

He walked the beach in a now-familiar contented trance, catching a blue or pompano on nearly every cast and wondered what else he could achieve in this state of mind. Scotty felt that here, he could fix anything, maybe even everything.

Deep in self-reflection he delivered a cast to a spot where the waves didn’t break and imagined what the deeper cut below might hold. As he stripped his sardine toward him two feet at a time, the flat surface bulged as a massive form rose from the deep, catching the sun. What started as a faint glow, quickly became the silver, saucer-sized scales of a tarpon as round as a telephone pole. It rolled but didn’t take the fly. Scotty’s heart skipped a beat as the long black dorsal fin and powerful tail slashed the surface then disappeared.

Unprepared for the massive fish’s appearance, Scotty was thankful he didn’t hook it. Adrenaline shook his hands as he walked down the beach to sit next to his kayak in the warming sand. What would have happened if he’d hooked such a fish? He scooped handfuls of the dry brown sand, flecked with orange and white flakes of crushed seashells, watching it filter through his fingers like an hourglass. How long must he fear exactly what he wanted?

Daydreaming about the tarpon beneath the waves and the demons lurking beneath his own surface, Scotty wondered if the magnificent fish held a deeper meaning. It had appeared like a beautiful mermaid just as he peered into his own mind. As he pondered, his eyes were drawn back to the sea as if called by a mysterious voice.

Just then, an explosive sucking sound popped and splashed like an invisible cinder block had dropped from the sky. Suddenly two giant swirling rolls alerted him to tarpon corralling a school of mullet thirty yards offshore. The water trembled then erupted, slinging mullet in every direction. Long black fins and powerful tails circled the school and slashed through its center. A six-foot tarpon launched into the air in a full somersault, surrounded by writhing bait, seeming to momentarily defy gravity before landing on its back with a huge splash.

Mesmerized, Scotty stood, eyes sharply fixed on the feeding tarpon as he dragged his kayak toward the surf.

~ Michael Walrath

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