SEA OF CORTEZ — Before the marlin, I had rarely talked to a fish for more than a second or two.
“What do you WANT?!’’ (as my lure floats past a trout)” A silver PLATTER???”
A sloppy cast, a poor retrieve and the little shadow darts for cover.
For Idaho trout hunters, there’s no time to get past introductions, so no relationship ever develops. Even when you hook up, that little fish is off your line in a minute or less.
The fact that I say I respect trout, but bad-mouth them behind their dorsal fin is further proof of what the sociologists say: Superficial interaction is fertile ground for prejudice.
But on a marlin boat, you’ve got as much as 40 minutes with each fish, a lifetime if you consider the attention span of the average angler.
Forty miles offshore in a 20-foot boat, you scan the sea for a pair of black fins: dorsal and tail. “Here, fishy, fishy, fishy ...”
After a dozen rookie mistakes — leaping manta rays, sea turtles, dolphins, whales — you spot your fish ... sometimes two fish. “There you are ... hang on, I’ll be right there.”
The captain pilots a pair of fluorescent magnum squid lures (“hoochies”) in front of the lounging monsters, hucks a live mackerel into the mix and guns the motor. The fins follow, disappear into the churning wake of the boat and you hold your breath.
“Where’d you go?” you croak, heartbroken.
And then right behind the orange hoochie, a silver-blue head and a gossamer sail slice the water.
“Come to mama, come on, come on ... take it!”
If you’re 40-something and have read Field & Stream all your life, the best opening line you’ll manage is something like, “Beauty!”
But there’s time to redeem yourself.
A hundred-pound billfish on a sport rod takes 10 or 15 minutes, a 200-pounder takes 20 and a small marlin of a mere 250 pounds seems to take an hour. That’s enough time for a proper courtship.
First a song: “Ah, sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you!” to the tune of the giant Penn reel that buzzes like a chain saw. The pelagic hunter, now the hunted, runs straight away from the boat and dives. Hundreds of feet of line smoke off the spool.
“I’ve dreamed of this since I was a kid,” you say, riding the adrenaline rush through the first 10 minutes of pumping the stout rod and cranking on the reel.
You’ve read the Billfish Foundation’s Web site, so you have no intention of killing this fish and you say so.
“Easy baby ... that’s it, come on in, come on in and we’ll have that hook out.” You’re tired, so the guide is warning you to keep tension on the line.
And then the fish surfaces 50 feet away, in the archetypal pose of 50 years of Field & Stream angler porn: head up and tail-walking, spray bursting into the sunlit air.
And then the fish dives straight down, dragging hundreds of feet of line off the reel.
Sunburned landlubbers start channeling for Ernest Hemingway’s “Old Man,” stubbornly hanging on all the way into every high school English curriculum.
“Feesh, I love you and respect you bery much. ... Do you have to keel me, too ... You’re feeling it now, feesh ... And so, God knows, am I.”
And when the fish should be tired, it is reeled to the very gunnel of the boat, where it dives again.
Now you’re well past small talk.
The fish has taken the measure of you and you of the fish.
When at last the gleaming flank lies across the transom, you’re in a hurry to get your marlin back into the water, where all that brilliant blue and silver will come back into focus and then the fish, with one stroke, will disappear into the deep clear water.
In that moment, your eyes will be the same color as the sea. You’ll be cheerful, undefeated and all talked out.