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A Fish Story That Was All Too True
Clive Gammon
February 14, 1977
A well-toasted dream begun in a Manhattan restaurant was realized off Panama, where two anglers rode in pursuit of bounteous sailfish and wahoo and a Red Horde of cubera
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February 14, 1977

A Fish Story That Was All Too True

A well-toasted dream begun in a Manhattan restaurant was realized off Panama, where two anglers rode in pursuit of bounteous sailfish and wahoo and a Red Horde of cubera

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Next morning, though, when we hit the sailfish grounds, we had a hard time convincing Rafael that the hooks should be removed from the plastic squids we planned to use as teasers, but finally, looking at us as if we were crazy, he consented to do this. And we hadn't been bouncing the teasers along for more than 15 minutes when everything started to happen according to the rule book.

Up came the sailfish, yawing about behind the starboard teaser, and Tom then commenced the teasing operation. Just as the book said it would, the sail became very upset. It changed color violently and tried to rush our transom. It was time to cast the fly, a big arrangement of white feathers and silver Mylar strips with a polystyrene popping head. As the rule book instructed, Rafael took the engine out of gear. Then he hit the deck as the fly whistled past him on the back cast and I launched it at the sail.

Perfect. It landed to the sail's port side, I twitched it a couple of times and it was comprehensively grabbed. The slack line slid through my fingers and I set the hook hard four or five times. The sail went into its hopping-about routine, did all its dangerous antics, and the hook held firm. By all the rules, given a little patience, it was mine. Then, as the fish surged off steadily, I realized that something unusual was happening. The backing was melting off the fly reel but the boat was still revving in neutral. "Come on, Rafael," I yelled, "let's go after him!"

Rafael said, "Se�or," and paused. It was the first time that he had called me that. "Se�or," he repeated, "I am sorry. But the propeller have fall off the boat." A moment later, with the line in a great arc, the fly fell out of the sail also.

That took care of most of our fishing day. It turned out to be a three-hour tow back to camp and another hour while Rafael fitted a new prop, one of the shortest-lived in marine history, because when we headed out to sea again Rafael struck a submerged log.

But at least it all made way for a longer planning conference at cocktail time. With the time we had lost, the next day would have to tell. Wahoo Alley was out for a start. The McGinns and the Gores had been fishing in the area since the first day and it looked as if the big wahoo had gone, though they had had a great variety of lesser fish, and Frank McGinn had spent the best part of one day fighting something that he never saw on his six-pound line, a big amberjack possibly.

"If it weren't for the sharks," I said to Tom, "I feel strong enough for the Red Horde again." Between us it had been agreed that my lost sail was to be regarded as a release, a piece of mild sophistry that enabled us to tick "sailfish-on-fly" off our list. And secretly we didn't want to use up another whole day looking for billfish that might never show up. A consultation with Rafael seemed in order.

"Is there any place," I asked him, "where we could throw a plug at the cuberas without the sharks arriving?"

"No, se�or," he said. He was a much chastened Rafael since the two props had gone, and he waited a few seconds before telling me that nevertheless there might be a way of coping. He and his father had once worked together as professional snapper fishermen, he said. They had the shark problem, too, and they solved it, simply enough, by catching some sharks to start with.

"Then, se�or," he said, "we kill them and put them back in the water. Soon there are no more sharks. Maybe the others don't like the taste in the sea."

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