When the alarm went off he quickly snagged his phone from the bedside table and silenced the trilling tone. Mental note to self – get better alarm tone. A reel screaming or something. Anything.
Outside the wind is still howling when he pokes his head out for the local weather report. The palm tree silhouettes lash wildly, and the the wind speaks with a low moan where it pushes between the buildings. Pushing 35, and he has a friend in from out of town. Them’s the breaks – time fall back on the contingency plans.
A string of grumbled swearing announces the fishing partner waking up. Best not to speak until the first cup of coffee is consumed.
While the coffee maker gurgles softly in the background, the soft blue glow of the laptop screen illuminates the fisherman’s face. Weatherman says it’s gonna blow out there. Nah, really? By the way, tide is slack til almost noon. Great. Well, the good thing about that much wind is it'll create its own tidal movement. He clicked over to a satellite map to consult.
Quickly going over his mental list of fallback options, he picks out a couple likely candidates. Both offer secluded pockets of water that are wadeable, within walking range of a parking area so no boat is needed. To fight the wind sometimes you gotta keep feet on the ground.
The truck loaded, fishing partner with large coffee mug in hand, tunes cranked up; they’re off, heading towards the eastern horizon just catching a hint of grey from the day to come. The partner doesn’t say much – he knows today is going to be tough. The fisherman had been warning him all week the weather looked like crap, but he was by golly here to fish and fish he would. Wind be damned.
They pull off the blacktop and wind down a rutted sand track, crawling the truck though holes with the confidence of experience. The vehicle knows the road just as well as the driver, and together they get through as they have so many other times. The fisherman takes time for an affectionate pat on the dusty dashboard. Thatta baby. Good job old girl.
The man knows his partner wants to see tailing redfish, and they came to this spot for that reason. Sometimes reds would get up on this particular patch and tail or cruise. Most of the time there weren’t many but usually they were larger fish, singles and doubles. Large sand dunes and the bulk of the barrier island created somewhat of a wind break for the area – it was the best he could think of.
The sun had snuck up over the rim of the horizon while they bounced down the sand road and now it hung poised, golden-orange and welcoming. Even the grumpy partner smiled.
“If the clouds stay away we have a chance.”
They flowed through the ritual – sliding rod pieces together, spinning reel seats tight, stringing up, putting on a fresh leader of stiff fluro to help fight wind knots. The gusting wind was there with them every step of the way. The fisherman got ready, then watched his partner finish readying. It had been a couple years since they had last gotten to fish together.
"Glad you haven't forgotten everything up there in landlocked country. Still remember how to cast?"
"Ha. This guy. He's got jokes. The crap I have to put up with just to catch fish around here..."
When it came time to choose a fly, the partner just held out his box.
“Pick a good one.”
“So you can blame me later if you get skunked?”
“Ha, yes. Exactly. Now pick me a good one, Mr. Guide.”
“No, your flies smell like you – no self-respecting fish will eat them. Start with this. That way you won’t only catch hardheads.”
The partner’s outstretched hand received a rough-looking cream and tan crab. He looked up with a smirk ready, but realized it wasn’t a joke.
“You’re going to make me fish a crab.”
“Yep. That one's caught 5 this year already... it's got the mojo.”
“You know I hate fishing crabs. Aren't they eating anything more mobile? God, I hate not stripping a fly.”
“Is that the sound of whining I hear? C’mon, the tails are waiting.”
With that, the fisherman pulled up his buff and turned away, becoming inscrutable and obviously done with the fly choice conversation.
The partner only grumbled a little as he tied on the crab – it was the right time of year, he knew, and it wouldn’t have been recommended if it wasn’t working. Still, he couldn’t resist a parting shot at the retreating back of the other man.
“You’re an a**hole! Wait for me!”
“Love you too brother; hurry up, the fish wait for no man…"
The partner swore softly and grumbled, jerking the knot to finish tying on the crab and hurrying after the retreating figure of the other man.
At the water's edge they stopped for a moment to admire the sunrise and scan for any tails that might be close. When they stepped in, the partner noticed that the water went immediately to their knees; within another couple steps though they were up on the flat proper with shin deep water that gradually slid into deeper water on each side of the flat. The bottom of the flat was hard sand well-sprinkled with grass and punctuated by slightly deeper potholes. Crabs, marine worms and seashells were easy to see in the crystal clear water even though the surface was ruffled by the wind. They shuffled slowly forward, trying not to push a wake or make sudden moves.
The partner finally began to smile a little as he looked around at the life at his feet. Ah, yes, this was much better. He didn't have to think about all the worries at home, and the...
"Fish!", hissed the other man. "Two o'clock or so. Maybe 40 feet. Headed to us."
A few moments of quiet panic ensue - the partner hadn't even stripped any line out to prep for a shot, and the fisherman chuckled a little at his friends' expense. Luckily, the fish turned and stopped to tail on something after swimming a few feet closer, waving the redfish flag for all to see in the morning light.
Now, line stripped out and rod at the ready, the partner moved slightly forward as the fisherman moved slightly back, giving him room. The tail disappeared and the wind gusted hard for a few moments, making it impossible to see through the water's surface. The fish vanished, and the two men strained to pick up a shadow or movement of any kind.
Nothing. It was just gone.
"There's no where for it to go! It can't have just teleported!" exclaimed the partner.
The fisherman smiled ruefully and shook his head. "I dunno... they're really good at that. You'd think it'd be impossible... but they can just dissolve."
The partner was looking for the fish so hard he actually leaned forward a little as his eyes darted to and fro; the fisherman's hand on his shoulder brought him back.
"C'mon man, there will be more. You gotta know when to fold 'em."
Numbly, the partner just shook his head, and turned back to face the open flat. The organic pattern of the flat spread out before them, eel grass and algae patches interspersed with thin, soft mud and firm sand. Every step was a slight effort. Suddenly, an arm slammed back against the partner's chest mid-step; wordlessly, the fisherman pointed at the stingray nearly underfoot. A prod from a rodtip sent the ray scooting off.
"Shuffle - I don't have time to take you to the hospital... and don't step backwards. They're attracted to your silt trail and will follow it to you."
The partner grunted assent, and they resumed the tireless searching. Trying to divide time between searching the water close for fish silhouettes and the far water for tails, wakes and splashes that could indicate feeding. Every dark weed patch became a fish; every mullet leap a redfish crashing bait. The partner tried to pick out the differences, the nuances that helped the fisherman separate the fish from the fish.
Suddenly the fisherman halted, raising his rod hesitantly toward a vague area slightly to their right, quartering downwind.
"That... might be a fish. Hold on, he may move again... Yes! There he is!"
The partner had no idea what the other man saw, but readied himself just the same.
"Where! Give me a mark!"
"Just a sec, I think he's swimming to us... yes! See the tail? About 50 feet, you got this.You'll have to lay it in on your backcast."
The fisherman stepped quietly to the right, leaving the partner's left side free from obstruction. Tossing the fly to the side from where it had hung in his hand, the partner roll cast to get the line moving and then punched a hard cast into the wind. He allowed the breeze to carry the line, cushioning it, landing the crab with a soft plop a foot from the fish.
The men watched intently as the fish moved slowly over to where the fly had hit the water.
"One inch strip, then let it sit."
Rodtip low, the other man stripped incrementally, barely twitching the fly.
The redfish turned slightly, body language telling the anglers that their offering had been spotted. Suddenly the fish darted forward, stopping over the crab and tailing.
"Slow strip..strip.. set! You got him!"
The partner's line came tight and the feeling of connection hummed through the rod. But only for a moment; as the fish turned and started to run, the line went slack, and from the highest height he was plunged to the the lowest low.
"Aw, hell. The hook pull out?", the fisherman queried.
"No... I don't... hold on." returned the partner as he brought his line in.
Quick scrutiny revealed a failed knot where the crab was connected.
"Boy it is just not your day! You wet that knot before you tightened it?"
"Ah... no. I don't think I did."
"Here. Quit moping, here's another crab. We'll get you one yet."