Tuesday 24th June, 2008
The whole thing seems quite surreal now, it seemed quite surreal then! Standing on the front deck of a small boat, fly in one hand, 12-weight in the other. Hours of busily standing trying not to fall off or over while a man wearing a headscarf uses a pole to make the boat lurch. Then the man with the pole starts shouting, the other guy in the boat (also wearing a headscarf) starts shouting.
Shouting is a sure sign that tarpon are near. As the volume and pitch rises, tarpon get nearer, as the pitch drops but the volume gets louder they are gone, well the shot is gone. Settle in for more hours of actively trying to stand while the boat rocks then lurches, rocks then lurches, then more intense moments and shouting.
After tarpon fishing, you find yourself still busy trying to stand, an uneasy feeling on dry land, worse lying down. Close your eyes and giant herring silently break the surface, huge unblinking eyes, sharp dark fins barely leave a wake. Sleep is short and back to the casting deck or sitting on the cooler watching, looking and trying not to invent a fin or shadow or fish shape. Nothing prepared me for the reality of tarpon fishing. I didn't hook-up. I want one more now.
I've fished with a few guides, for trout, salmon, graying, carp, bonefish, taimen. I've even guided a little myself. From time to time I've wondered why guides do it, money? lifestyle? For me it was a way to be around fishing and make some pocket change. The guides I've met are never rich. Some certainly decide to guide because they want to be outside. Most are keen fishers, some are superb anglers. But guides spend their working lives guiding not fishing.
Then you go tarpon fishing, where the guide is not a quick-fix means to make more of brief fishing time, he's an essential part of fishing. Without his boat and muscle and expertise you can't fish for tarpon.
Listening to the shouting and teasing and advice and jokes it was clear that those guides were fishing. When Rich, Carl, Eric or I were taking a shot, trying to make the cast that landed the fly that drew the tarpon that made the eat - they were taking the shot with us.
If fly-fishing is a way of making angling a little more demanding, testing skills, nerve, patience and character, how much more demanding when the fishing is vicarious. All sight fishing means hunting, spotting the fish, manoeuvring into position and taking the shot. Whether for trout or bonefish or tarpon, when we launch that fly we wonder if we could be closer, will the cast work out, is the fly on target, will the fish eat? As an angler, watch the other guy spot, manoeuvre and make the cast and you know empathy, you feel his success, you chide his failure exactly as he feels or scolds himself.
On the first day I sort of understood the kick a guide gets from getting his fishers a shot. Watching a strong man step off the casting deck doubting his ability to stand let alone cast made me wonder why we fly-fishers choose to fish that way. But I could see and hear and feel the guides share - he's fishing.