The moment that I'd been daydreaming about for the past 8 months manifested itself into reality on maybe my 5th cast that afternoon.
Stace and I paddled out into the mouth of the channel at dawn that morning. She for the sunrise, me for the fish. I had a 7ft spinning rod with an old spinning reel attached. Within the past year I've been turned on to the powers of conventional tackle for their ability to cover huge swaths of unfamiliar water. I am not a purist, and would have no problems with my first GT coming to hand not on the fly. After that first fish though...
After chasing a school of big bonito around without luck, we sidled up behind a small break for a few casts. On my first, a school of 8-10 modest GTs harassed the spoon back to within the shadow of the kayak. It was thrilling.
We soon realized the kayak was taking on water, so we headed back to the safety of the banda. We were a good 2 miles offshore. When we got back, I dumped out the 200lbs of water, ate a quick lunch and went out again on my own.
The reel I had with me was no ordinary spinning reel. I picked it up out of a pile of dusty gear in my parent's garage more than a year ago. It had been my grandfather's. I have no idea what year it was made. It is a faded Shimano 500s, no doubt designed for bass or something similar, but over the past year it has brought in more tarpon than I can remember, some massive barracuda, a few large snapper and countless smaller species from the waters of the caribbean. Spooled with 30lb braid, the thing has performed flawlessly for me, as I know it did for my grandfather when he used it on the lakes of Canada and the canals of Florida. I don't know when the last time he went fishing was, but he died in 2001. It had to be well before that.
On top of its history and uses, it allowed me to chill out a bit and connect with some great guys on weekly beerfishing nights at a local bridge. We had named the reel 'Old Granddad', and had all become familiar with the notes of its drag when it hooked up.
Those days were gone and all that mattered at this moment was the surf break dead in my sights, the slowly sinking kayak and the monsters that I knew awaited me. I paddled until my arms screamed, then stopped for a few casts before continuing on towards the break I had previously identified on Google Earth.
I rounded the reef and lined up behind the breakers. I cast the 7" popper out as far as I could, picked up the slack and started working it back towards me. The popper was throwing up foot tall splashes, but the huge swirl and explosion that made it disappear was unmistakable.
I set the hook hard and fast. The braid left a mist of vaporized water droplets on the surface as it lasered towards the shallows in a big arc. The GT was trying to reef me. The drag on the old reel held and the kayak began to swing around.
I pumped once on the reel, twice, and then my hand slipped off and slammed into the plastic of the boat. I still held the handle. Without looking, I knew it was over. The old reel had had it. Mercifully, the fish came unbuttoned and I brought in the lure.
I can't think of a better way for a fishing reel to be retired. It was a good death. The reel has now become an artifact, a monument to days on the water, and memories of my own and my grandfather's.
The take was an erie realization of an image I had daydreamed. It did not end with me hoisting a dripping aquamarine leviathan for the most heroic of hero shots. That's okay. I'll be back.