The light of dawn woke me. I had slept off and on during the night due to the anticipation of the day's plans. The evening prior, I had settled on a reasonable price for a full day of chasing GTs from a powerboat with a South African who was living in Kilwa. I grabbed my packed bags and stepped out into the humid African early morning, walked about a hundred paces from our banda to the shoreline and stepped aboard the vessel. We shoved off and were on our way as if we'd carefully choreographed and practiced the maneuvers.
Our gear was less than adequate. My broken reel and rod were out of commission, so we used the guides'. I could tell almost immediately that the soft rods were going to have trouble setting a big treble hook. I had my 10wt, but the tiny boat and biminy would have made casting an impossibility.
Nevertheless, off we went. After stopping to throw a few casts at some uninterested bonito, we made it to the first landmark and started popping.
A stormfront inexorably overtook the horizon and swept down upon us more quickly than I anticipated. There was no lightning, only vast amounts of rain. We stood. drenched, in white-out conditions just laughing when the rains ceased as quickly as they had begun.
The fishing was slow. Not a hit, follow or swirl for hours. Doubt crept in and put down roots. The old cliche of it not being about the fish is only true for me when I'm fly fishing. And then, sometimes, it's only true after I or those with me have caught a few fish.
Seven-inch poppers can be thrown far, but working them back to the boat hour after hour started to wear on me. I switched arms until both wrists ached. Then, like my popper had bumped an old derelict mine, it's position on the surface erupted and I was connected to something very strong and very angry and very fast for a few seconds until my prophecy was fulfilled and even bent double, the flimsy rod could not set a treble hook. Silence prevailed.
I had just about resigned myself to not catching a damn thing when the captain made the call to move into deeper water to use the fish finder and heavy jigs to find some action. On the heaving deck I sat rigged and waited for the signal to drop the 4oz fish-shaped object straight down, then haul it back towards the surface in a mechanized pumping action.
On the first drop, I connected with something that didn't seem as much alarmed at being hooked as it seemed bothered by the inconvenience. As unyielding as the morning's storm, the fish moved steadily away from us and took out line. The cheap rod felt like a 2wt stuck on the bottom, and the fish responded to my exertions just as much.
With the butt digging into my spleen, my knees digging into the gunwhale, and my bicep about to tear from the bone, I fought this fish for 40 delirious minutes. I'd have gone for a swim if it wasn't for the captain grabbing my belt loops, and towards the end, when I dared to think that I might have actually been regaining some line, my legs were quivering beneath the weight of my frame.
I was pulling at the exact limit of the line and the rod. I had to compensate for the rolling of the waves for I knew the rig was toeing the line. I did not have much left in my arms, and my abdomen was taking a severe beating when I think the fish saw the boat for the first time and did what fish do when they see the boat. The 30lb braid parted and the removal of the other team in our tug-of-war caused me to slump to the bottom of the boat, utterly destroyed.
If things had gone my way during this trip I'd have brought to hand at least one GT and the unidentified sea monster, as well as a tigerfish or two from the pitstop on the way south. That's how I'd been envisioning it for the past 3 months. Instead, I was faced with yet another period of a few fishless months here in East Africa. It's back to daydreams and living vicariously for the time being.
It's not enough to merely go fishing. It used to be, though. Back when I could step out into the salt whenever I felt like it, the fishless days and weeks only enhanced the experience of a take and a run and, especially, the admiration of the actual animal itself. The next fish I bring to hand is going to savored like a last meal.