SI Vault
Clive Gammon
January 16, 1978
There's an awful lot of fish in Brazil but, as the author soon realized, the natives are, shall we say, reluctant to disclose their whereabouts
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January 16, 1978

The Snook With The Faraway Look

There's an awful lot of fish in Brazil but, as the author soon realized, the natives are, shall we say, reluctant to disclose their whereabouts

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Something must have worked. Next morning I reckoned I could not only stand but toss a light lure with Abercrombie's Revenge. Slightly crooked but mobile, I went in search of Vidal. He wasn't around. No one at the desk could speak English, but the word finally got through to me. It was Senhor Vidal's day off.

But on Day Three he was there, smiling benignly. The fishing? But of course. At noon, Luiz' brother's boat would await us on the beach. It would be no gleaming Hatteras, of course, or even a stylish runabout. The boats at Tampaú were solid old wooden, diesel-powered whalers, 36-footers, that class of thing. But who needed a Hatteras at Tampaú? On our idle day ashore, we had seen how the whalers would run out beyond the reef and return as soon as they had a few sizable fish—a couple of hours at most and a mere 20-minute run to the fishing grounds.

Luiz' brother was indeed there at noon. He greeted us on the beach. But where was his sturdy whaler? The truth dawned as he courteously indicated a craft drawn up on the sand, one so small, so primitive-looking that it could have been idly hammered together by a giant child with some slats of wood and a box of nails.

Basically, indeed, it was a slat of wood. A raft, in fact, with a mast amidships and a single foresail. The mast was a plain old bough with the twigs hacked off, as was the primitive bowsprit. There was an anchor, also made of fortunate finds in the jungle and weighted by half a dozen stones in a wicker cage arrangement.

Slowly, very slowly, we tacked out to where the sea was breaking white. There was little wind. Periodically, Luiz' brother hurled a can of water on the sail to wet it. In 20 minutes we were a good 300 yards off the beach, which seemed to satisfy him. He furled the sail and picked up another objet trouvé from the bush. He was going to pole the boat. I looked down and, yes, I could see the bottom. After five minutes with the pole, over went the anchor. A large yellowish rock could be seen maybe six feet under the surface. Fish around that. Luiz' brother indicated in sign language.

There were fish around the yellow rock, sure enough. Some of them were almost eight inches long, and all of them pretty. Luiz' brother smiled and laughed as he stowed each diminutive capture into a little wicker basket, no doubt intending them for some Brazilian equivalent of bouillabaisse.

That was Tampaú. Further investigation proved that the owners of whalers did not approve of do-it-yourself fishing. That afternoon a broadbill, small but indisputably a broad-bill, was brought into the market. In vain I tried to make myself understood, that what I in fact wanted was to go to sea. We came away with a couple of pounds of wahoo wrapped in newspaper, a result of the senhora's ill-advised pointing at the fish in an attempt to make our message clear.

In Brazil, I was coming to understand, they are reluctant to share their fish with you. In Salvador, 1,700 miles down the coast, there was ample opportunity to stroll on the extensive beaches, to look at churches, to samba and to sear your mouth with the hottest chili sauce on earth. But it took five days to rent a boat, a very old boat with a canopy over it that prevented the Abercrombie Special, which had now been lugged more than 6,300 miles, from being cast properly upright. With this handicap, however, the little rod accounted for an electric ray and a sort of bluish fish the shape and size of a dinner plate.

All I had left now was Rio and the thinnest of chances to get some fishing action. Sport had to compete, after all, with mandatory trips to the Christ statue and Sugar Loaf, with Copacabana Beach and several thousand restaurants. And, unexpectedly, with the Jockey Club. My companion had learned that the club was a perfect replica of the old Longchamp track in Paris, as it was before they rebuilt it in 1966; too much to be resisted by a fervid racegoer.

I was just about ready to swim with the tide. It is far easier to go to the horse races in Rio than to fish. My companion had soon ingratiated herself with what seemed to me the foolishly simpering apparat of the Jockey Club. Free membership. Lunch with the president. One evening I said, "Why don't we get a car and drive up the coast for a few miles?" Impossible, she said. Baron Hubertus von KapHerr had invited her to drive out and inspect his stud farm.

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