I dug in my feet, turned sideways and hung in. The drag of my reel screeched. I worked my way up to the top of the bank and felt the hard kick of the fish. And then its weight was gone, and white water was swirling around me again. "Lost him!" I yelled to Nick, digging in against the undertow once more.
"No, you haven't," he yelled back. "Look behind you!" And there, unbelievably, leaping on the sand at the high water mark, was the biggest sierra that I had ever seen, my spoon flashing in its jaws. Nick said he had seen it just picked up by a wall of water and flung ashore.
That seemed enough for the moment. We moved back well out of danger and, hypnotized, watched the immense power of the sea. And then, from behind us, I heard a voice that could only have come from Texas. "Man," it said, "this is the meanest surf I ever see. You could get inundated here. I have nightmares about this surf."
The voice, we soon learned, was that of Brad Harelson, 23, of Abilene, Texas. Like his buddy, Corey Howard of Corpus Christi, who now materialized alongside him, he was a recent graduate of Texas Lutheran. For six weeks they had been living out of the back of a Subaru BRAT, fishing their way down the length of Baja, sleeping under a tent awning except for once every couple of weeks, Brad said, "when we can't stand ourselves any longer and we check into a hotel for a shower. You can wash yourself in the sea if you use dishwasher powder, but not in a surf like this."
As the sun moved down into roosterfish time, the surf didn't ease. "We've caught 28 species," Brad said, "but we ain't seen a roosterfish yet."
"Biggest fish we got," Corey said, "was a 58-pound bull dolphin."
"Unless it was that eel," said Brad. "We didn't weigh that moray eel. Got to tell you about that. We came on some people who told us about a place called Punta Trevado and said the sailfish there swam like 20 feet from the shore. But when we went there we cast for hours and all we caught was a couple of yellowtail.
"That night, though, we took them yellowtail heads and hooked them onto a shark line on a superstiff rod. Then I went paddling out about 250 yards in the middle of the night on a boogie board with a hook full of shark bait. I tell you, this gives you a real scary feeling. It really gets to put a mix in your brains. You turn round, you start to paddle back and you can barely see the lights on shore. Then you look behind and there's all those little things in the water that glow at night and they're glowing around your legs and you know you look like the biggest lure in the world with the greatest action. I got home, though.
"Then it's hours later and I can hear eeeeee-eeeeee-eeeee. It's the reel going. I wake up Core and I tell him it's his turn. 'I know,' he says, and he commences to reel. He sits there, buck nekkid on a sandbank in the moonlight, and he reels and reels and reels. And then out of the water and over the bank comes this big snarling moray eel, and, boy, is this eel mad. We cut the line and let him go, fast."
And so we batted fish stories around until dark and arranged to meet at the beach of the Bridge of the Shepherd next morning. We were a touch late showing up. Corey and Brad had been there for a while, but they had nothing to show for it but a couple of bonito, which they wouldn't be eating because, as Brad put it, after six weeks they was all ate out, fishwise.