It wasn't his fault, we realized, after we had motored over to another, anchored, panga where two men sat fishing handlines. "There are these men," Olto had said. "You must buy bait from them. Two American dollars for a mackerel. I am sorry. They have the protection of the president of the harbor. I am not permitted to catch bait."
So that was it. Even as we watched, a gleaming marlin boat, the charters aboard with their glasses already in hand, stopped by for its quota of live bait. It could be noted that the duo in the boat, the Mackerel Mafiosi, as we would soon be calling them, were not a pretty sight. To a somewhat prejudiced eye, indeed, they seemed like a pair turned down for bit parts as bandits in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre because they looked too mean and ugly. Meantime, their foot-long mackerel were double the price of the Buena Vista ones, and just as useless.
"You wanna buy?" Olto said.
"We wanna buy breakfast," Nick said. "Let's go home."
Olto looked close to tears. "I am only living here three years," he said. "I am of La Paz."
We understood, all right, but it's a tough old world, roosterfishing. "Tomorrow," I said to him sternly, "we'll try again if you can figure out a way to get small live baits. Check with us at El Coral."
Which he did—and this was a new, resolute Olto, evidently. The only way he could beat the system, he said, was by going out at midnight to catch bait, and this he would do. Until the morning then, he said, leaving us with a new lightness in his step.
When we met him on the slip, though, at first light next day, all the jauntiness was gone. He had caught the bait, all right, he said, muchas sardinas. But this morning they were all dead. He had had no means of aerating the tank. As proof, he showed us the little corpses.
What could we do? Only one thing. We headed over to the bait banditti and paid up. One of them counted the money carefully and passed the overgrown mackerel across. One, I noted, was already dead, and we lost another five minutes arguing over this. And then we headed to the outer harbor, where the sea was alive with big roosterfish harrying shoals of six-inch ballyhoo. And, trembling as we fumbled to set up our tackle, we saw in the clear water pods of roosters swim under the boat.
They loved very large mackerel, it was evident. For a while, each time we lowered a bait, within moments it was seized and a sizzling run developed. Each time, also, though, we failed to set the hook, and the baits came back mangled. Even very large roosters have comparatively small mouths and they couldn't handle these crude, marlin-sized baits, all of which, eventually, were used up. That seemed to be that. We turned for home.