Sunday, 9 December 2012

ARC Day Eleven

Over the winter, in preparation for this trip, I had considered upgrading my fishing equipment for something more robust, but then in a moment of austerity I decided to make use of the same rod and reel that I had bought for my last ARC in 2005.

My father used to say ‘you can only catch a fish when your line is in the water son’, so a few days ago when we decided that it was time for fish, I assembled my rod and reel, attached the latest acquisition of gaudy plastic lure, and let out about fifty metres of line so that the bait was swimming in the wave behind us, occasionally streaking to the surface. As usual, when I start fishing I hover near the rod in anticipation, visualising the moment when a big Tuna or Dorado will strike and I will reach for the rod and begin the long and honourable fight to the finish.  At this stage on previous fishing expeditions, Fatty looks at me with an expression of mild amusement and pity, knowing that some hours later I will return empty handed and despondent.  Well today was to be different, but even with my vivid imagination it seems too good to be true. Within minutes the reel is screaming for help as the ratchet sounds the alarm and we have a fish on. I grasp the butt of the rod, insert it into the harness, my heart beating as the line is stripped from the reel. I tighten the brake as far as I can to halt the run of the beast but to no avail and all I can do is watch as the brake fails and 500 metres of line is stripped from the reel and disappears into the depths with two expensive lures attached to some unseen monster from the deep.

With Andrews help I wind another line onto the reel, attach my second set of lures and once again, over the side it goes, with slightly less enthusiasm but nevertheless confident that victory will be ours.  The rest of the day passes along the lines of most of my fishing outings, with little sound from the reel, certainly no fish and other matters take our attention away from the Mitchel reel which is sulking in the sun. As I return from my daily checks on the foredeck, Kim suddenly shouts to me and points to the rod and I arrive on the aft deck just in time to hear a loud twang as my second and last spool of line disappears over the side,  the line snaps and once again Mitchell is beaten by the Atlantic. This time I am convinced that it is no fish, but rather the pressure from 500 metres of line and attached lures being dragged through the sea at 10 knots that has defeated Mitchel.  It happens that I have a nagging headache which I later realise was caused by dehydration, which adds to my bad mood and Mitchel nearly goes over the side in a fit of pique.  What bothers me most is that I will have to admit to Fatty another failed expedition.

Meanwhile Kim has a more utilitarian fishing rig, given to him for the ARC by a friend of his called Dr James Ashby. This rig comprises about 200 metres of massively strong monofilament line, wound around a home-made frame of timber, with a chunky brass swivel and a wire trace to attach a lure. Not exactly a sporting rig but far more suited for the job in hand. Kim, who has more faith in Mitchel than I do, suggests that we use the good Doctor’s line and wind it onto my reel. The line is so thick that we can only get about two thirds of it onto the reel and I tie a double clinch knot to secure it firmly to Mitchel’s throat, so that if the brake fails again it will be a simple tug of war between me and whatever is on the other end. Paul has lost all faith in my fishing abilities and willingly takes the offer of a bet to buy the first round of drinks in St Lucia if I catch a fish before midnight. Night falls and Mitchell hasn’t uttered a sound so I start counting my Caribbean dollars and curse Mitchell again as I wind in the line for the night. 

After breakfast the next day we again attach our last set of lures to the Doctor’s line which we stream out the back of Juno into a big following sea. Having had a very broken night’s sleep, at around mid- morning I decide to go below for a doze when suddenly Mitchel bursts into life.  Despite the break being on hard, the ratchet shrieks in alarm as line pours into the sea and I can see the rod bucking in its holder on the push pit. I strap on my harness, brace myself against the guard rails and lift the rod into position. Another thing my father used to say when I imagined a fish on my line at every twitch of the rod, was ‘That’s not a fish son, you’ll know when you’ve got a fish’ - we definitely have a fish. 

I am amazed at the strength of the fish as it strips all our remaining line and I brace myself for the inevitable shock as the line stretches taught and then snaps under the enormous load. However, I have underestimated the Doctor and although I can feel it stretch, the line and knot hold firm and it is my arms that take the strain. I brace myself against the movement of the aft deck and call to Steven to slow the boat to reduce some of the pressure, but still I find that all I can do is to hold on while the fish tires itself out.  Occasionally we catch sight of a flash of silver, leaping from the sea desperately trying to escape from this unknown predator, and I feel a moment of sympathy for the fish, dragged from its beautiful habitat. At last the pressure eases and I can start to retrieve the line by raising the tip of the rod, then winding the reel hard as I lower the rod to create some slack.  The reel soon fills up so I hand the rod to Andrew and grab the line using leather gloves that I have brought for this purpose, eventually lifting the gleaming fish over the guard rails onto the aft deck where Kim and I pounce on it.

We squirt rum into its gills to sedate it and then dispatch it quickly throwing its head back into the sea where it will be recycled by some other predator, less fussy than those on board Juno. Sitting on the aft deck we use a sharp knife to slice a deep fillet off each flank, keeping just the creamy white flesh and throwing all the remnants back into the ocean. A few buckets of sea water to sluice away the evidence and we are left with two thick fillets of Mahi Mahi, about eighteen inches long and a large smile on the faces of the crew.  We slice one fillet into thin slithers which we marinade in lemon juice and garlic and eat with freshly baked bread. The other fillet goes in the fridge for supper and we feel very satisfied that not a piece of this lovely fish will be wasted.

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