Emboldened by the smile this elicited from our new captain, Pedro struck up a conversation, saying, "Mon capitaine, necesito un grande pez vela, ahora."
The captain smiled down benignly. "What's it mean?" I asked.
"Captain, we need to catch a large sailfish now."
"Good thinking. Now he hates us."
"No he doesn't," Pedro said, smiling up at the captain. "Ahora, mon capitaine."
The man nodded. "Ahora." Three hours later his benign expression remained unchanged. We still had not cast to a fish. With increasing annoyance we had watched sailfish jumping spectacularly, greyhounding across the calm ocean all afternoon. No tienen hambre. Maybe tomorrow the fish would cat, but today they had love on their minds.
At 9 a.m. the next day, aboard a new boat, the Enchantress, we had our first look at what is known in the trade as a "hot" sailfish. It came up behind one of the baits, and when the mate reeled in the bait, the sailfish seemed oblivious to the boat. Its sail broke above the surface, less than 30 feet away, when the captain cut the engine and shouted, "¡Ahora!" The mate jerked the mullet from the water, and simultaneously Pedro cast his pink mackerel tube fly, which looked like a Mardi Gras costume. The sailfish, its skin tone a fluorescent blue, weaved in search of the mullet. Finding the fly, the fish sucked it unhurriedly into its mouth. When the fish started to turn away, Pedro struck, pointing his rod at the fish. For an instant he felt resistance, then the fly reappeared, wafting beneath the surface. The hook had failed to sink.
Then the sailfish, still searching for its lost mullet, swam beside the boat—we could have practically gaffed it—and Pedro cast again, stripping the fly past the fish's head. The fish—perhaps 100 pounds and more than six feet in length—looked up, eyed the bizarre clump of feathers and cork, and finned slowly away. It couldn't have been less spooked. Pedro cast three more times before the sailfish finally left us.
It was great theater. It was also the end of our action for the next six hours. Once other boats arrived and began working the water, crisscrossing the same area time and again, it was apparent that the sailfish had gone into a sulk. "Go give the captain an ultimatum," Pedro suggested.
"What would you like me to say to him?" I asked.