The sound of the wrapped push-pole reminded Alex of a guiro as it slid through the guide’s gloved hands.
Ziiiip. Push. Pause.
The boat crept along through stained water near the bank where birds and small creatures watched suspiciously. Alex removed his sunglasses and squinted into the glare as he wiped water spots from his lenses with the tail of his shirt. There were small faded purple stains on the yellow/green fabric. Fish blood. Why did it turn purple? He didn’t know. Those bonitos always seemed to bleed but he liked the stains. They added legitimacy to the garment. He snugged the glasses back on his face and looked back over his left shoulder at the man on the poling platform.
Ziiiip. Push. Pause.
Shane Mayfield stood above the outboard and stared at the clouds. “Burn off, you mothers,” he said again. The sun’s rays snuck through the grey checkerboard, brightening the landscape and briefly illumination the muddy shallow bottom before being once again blocked by the hanging vapor.
Something unseen ran from the boat leaving little swirls of mud hanging in the water. Cody pointed.
“Sheepshead,” Shane said, and again turned his attention toward the sky. “C’mon you mothers. Burn off.”
Alex stood on the casting platform and stared at gray reflections on the brackish water.
Two days. How long is that? Can you build a relationship with a landscape in 48 hours? Is a three-night -stand getting serious? Will she expect you to call? Come on, baby. Let me see what you got under that blue dress in that stained water. We’re just gonna pole around your marsh for a while, take a little look-see. No harm in that, is there?
The end of the beginning.
Fueled by good whiskey, cheep beer and fried chicken the sextet tumbled out of the van and descended on Woodland Plantation like sieging Viking warriors. Bottles were passed in celebration of the end of the beginning. The Mississippi watched with quiet uninterest. The fog, having a hard time hearing, moved over the bank toward the old plantation house. Cold blooded things kept reasonably still in the dark.
“Who’s the little blind?”
“Four to call?”
“Wait, no. That’s not right becau-“
“Yeah it is. Cody was the big blind and he raised two.”
“Whatever. All in.”
“God dammit. Fold”
“Don’t splash the pot.”
“Shuddup and make a move.”
“Hand me the Jameson.”
“Burn and turn.”
Rick Mikesell’s beard is a dirty girl.
Bobby zipped his camouflage jacket over the Bass Pro bibs and pulled a buff up to his nose and over the back of his Nike baseball cap. Rick sat to his left going through the same motions. I wiggled lower in the beanbag chair and pulled my hat low, facing the others. The Yamaha 50 burped and rumbled at the back of the boat. The world was blue, cut only by a thin brown horizon that gently swayed with the breeze. Bobby gently thunked the outboard into gear. We ran.
There is always a strange feeling when one first encounters a foreign fishing situation. A perplexity of shapes and colors awaiting mental translation. Is that a fish? A log? Do redfish look like logs? Is it moving? What about that? Just a clump of oysters. A push of baitfish… Mullet? Yeah? Okay. What was that? Sheepshead? Okay, they have the black and white stripes. There goes another one. What am I looking for? Lighter? Look for yellows, reds, golds, a white flash but more golden-white than gray-white. Longer, not plate shaped. Do those Sheepshead eat flies? Sometimes. Strip set, remember. Always strip set.
You are never really sure, until you are sure. It’s like driving down the highway when you think a passing car might have had it’s brights on… then you see a car coming and you know that fuckers brights are on. Redfish? No? Maybe… Wait, right there. Yeah, that’s what I’m looking for.
I remember the first eat. Rick and his beard watched quietly, seated in the back of the boat. I could feel the heat radiating from the red facial hair, giving me strength. The fish were stationary and clearly visible. My crab swam past and a white mouth flashed open and turned away as the line came tight. Stank shook off. I threw a high-five to Rick. His beard gave me a thumbs-up as he climbed onto the casting platform.
The sun made its way across the southern sky and it got fishy.
|Rick Mikesell photo.|
Surf and Turf.
The group sat with cocktails and spoke of eats and misses. You remember that fish in the back there? I put that fly right in his lap and he blew out. Couldn’t believe it. Like that one you had around the corner, remember that? Yeah, that looked like a good fish. They just look different, you know? The big ones?
Behind the bar Foster nodded and smiled and shucked another oyster which hardly made it to the tray before being whisked away and covered with horseradish and hot sauce. Frank bellied up to the bar and was tossed a piece of ice, the bullet-scar on the back of his head visible in the dull incandescence.
A plate of the fried variety arrived then was quickly gone. The tall ceiling of the church loomed overhead as we sat at the table and drew with crayons while a women asked me if I would like the char broiled red snapper or a sirloin. I took a sip of beer. “Yes.” I looked at Tucker who nodded in approval. “I like the way you think.”
Eats, drinks, poker. You know the story.
The clouds had listened, those mothers, and had burned off a few hours ago leaving clean blue above. Shane ran for clear water and we drifted on the edge, a visible line where the particulates ended and important things became visible. There were big fish here, but the brown water was closing like curtains from either side.
Cody’s hands trembled slightly as he stood up from the edge of the boat. You could have driven an 18-wheeler through his smile. “That’s the biggest fish I have ever caught.” He said, and looked around like he had forgotten where he was. “That was awesome.”
On the last drift I had caught a nice fish, and now it was Cody’s turn to smile big as he relived the catch. The big ones just look different, don’t they?
Sight fishing is the ultimate. If redfish jumped, oh boy. Ultimate.
|My big red. Cody Hoeckelberg Photo.|
Shane climbed behind the wheel of the boat. “Reel it up, let’s go check another spot.”
I slid the 8wt into the tube and settled plopped down on the cushion. The outboard rumbled and caught. We ran.
They were engaged in some serious conversation, and Alex wasn’t a part. Business stuff, you know, talk that had nothing to do with his purpose in this place as an outsider. A hired gun. He got another beer from the bartender and took a walk out the double front doors into the darkness. The night was warm and smelled of water and wet plants. The owl’s cries were ceaseless from the roof of the plantation house as his shoes crunched across the gravel toward the big river. A large container ship was stopped on the bank near the house and millions of lumens from its crane lamps spilled out across the green/brown grass. He closed his eyes and breathed deep. Different air here. Heavy, thick, full. Not like the desert air from his home state.
He already missed it. One more night.
Voices rang out from the church. He opened his eyes and walked further out into the dark for one last feel.
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-Alex who would like the thank the good guys from Trouts, Shane Mayfield, Bobby, Brian Carter, Foster Creppel, Frank, and the crew from Woodland Plantation.