Suddenly my reel is screaming, my line disappearing at an alarming rate...
|The Fight For Life
My Dad's Landcruiser rolled to a stop at the top of the lookout in a cloud of dust. I jump from the car and run to the wooden structure that was hanging off the edge of the cliff, leaning far over the railing to catch a glimpse of the beach below: a panorama of crystal blue water and yellow sands, contrasted by dark jagged rocks. The small beach stretched away from me to my right, curving round into a rocky point before cutting back and forming into another beach just visible from behind the rocks.
“Be careful, Paul.” My father warns as he joins me at the railing. “Don’t lean so far over, there is no need.”
Obliging I asked him, “Do you see any, Dad?”
He looks down at the water, squinting. After a moment a grin splits his face and he points over to a tiny beach wedged between layers of rocks. “Over there, in the shallows; you can see them moving.”
I follow his finger but the glare from the sun bouncing off the water inhibits my view and all I see are the non-moving, dark shapes of seaweed and rock. “I can’t see them. Where dad? Where?” I ask impatiently.
“They are just over there. Wait for a wave and look for moving silver streaks.”
I wait and sure enough a small wave brings into view a school of silver streaks. “I see them! Look, there are heaps. What are they?”
“I’m not sure,” Dad acknowledges, “they look fairly small, maybe they are herring. Then again we are a long way up, it could be a school of salmon.”
“Salmon,” I say slowly, trying the word. It sounded good, exciting. Without waiting I run back toward the vehicle. “Quick, Dad.”
We drive back down from the lookout to the parking bay and pull out our fishing gear from the back of the car. My rod is a small Jarvis walker with 15-pound line. Dad has a long 12-foot beach rod with only 12-pound line; he said that thinner line was more challenging. We were both rigged with ganged hooks, a set of 3 hooks linked together through their eye, and a triangular sinker.
I grab the empty bucket and the bag of pilchards - a small bait - while Dad takes the tackle box and we start our trek down the stairs to the beach.
The stairs lead to a larger but still small beach to the right of the place where we had seen the salmon. To reach the smaller beach we would have to climb over a rough stretch of rocks. Being younger and more agile I shimmy across boulders, arriving in time to drop my rod and the bucket of bait and run back to help Dad with the tackle box. As we traverse the awkward surface toward where I had left the bait, dad stops on a high rock. “Look!” he calls. “Here, climb up over there, you can get a good view.” I scramble up the rock and look toward our destination. From this vantage point it is easy to make out a school of salmon swimming in the shallows; my heart starts to beat faster in anticipation.
Once we had both conquered the rocks, we bait up our rigs and cast our lines into the water. My Jarvis Walker has a good flick but I could not manage to match my father who cast his line over the back breakers. I adjust my drag, just like Dad had shown me and wait impatiently. I'm so excited about catching myself a salmon that within a couple of minuets of casting I'm reeling my line back in. The bait still hung from the hooks, untouched. A little disappointed but unperturbed I recast and continued to wait.
“So, a few pointers,” Dad said as we both stood ankle deep in the water. “When you get a bite you have to pull your rod back sharply but not too rough. This will lodge the hooks into the mouth of the salmon. Then you’ve got to wind your line in. Try to keep it tight so that the salmon can’t spit the hooks and get away. All the same your drag is not allowed to be too tight so that you pull the salmon straight in as this will only cause your line to snap.” I nod my understanding as I tighten the slack on my line.
Then Bam! A tug so sudden my reaction to tug back is too slow. Not again, I reprimand myself, next time I’ll be ready. My whole body tenses in anticipation, and with my finger on the line, I eye the tip of my rod.
This time I’m ready and make an impressive counter-tug that buries the end of my rod into the sand.
“Not too hard,” Dad comments, “you might rip the hooks straight back out of it’s mouth.”
I re-tighten the line with shaking hands, electrified from the strong rush of adrenaline; I take a breath to calm myself. Dad is watching me intently now and I start to feel nervous. After a short time and no more bites I reel my line in. The bait is gone so I hook another pilchard on like Dad had shown earlier, measuring up the hooks so that the bottom one of the trio went near the tail and top one through the eye. Running back to the water, I cast out again. Dad had gotten a few bites in the meantime and he was walking back for more bait.
Before my sinker even had time to bury itself into the sand I got another bite. I tug back and suddenly my reel is screaming, my line disappearing at an alarming rate toward the open ocean.
“Tighten your drag,” my dad yells from behind me as he comes running to lend a hand, but I'm spinning my reel so fast trying to keep up with the loss of line, I have no hands free. Helpfully dad tightens it for me and the sudden panic dies down with the realization that the salmon has stopped fighting and I am actually starting to pull it in.
Then the line goes suddenly slack. “Quick, it is swimming toward you don’t let the line get too slack.” The words were barely of Dad’s lips when the salmon makes an unexpected rush for the surface in an effort to spit the hooks, shooting a good meter out of the water in an awesome display of glinting silver.
“Whoa! Did you see that, Dad?”
“Yeah, it was amazing,” Dad replied. Then in a more urgent tone, “Don’t stop reeling now, you will loose it.”
In a frantic rush to keep my salmon I reel with all my might. Thankfully it is still hooked and the fight commences. My rod is bent double and my arms are starting to ache but slowly I start to make some progress pulling the fish in bit by bit so as not to snap the line.
“It’s a strong one,” Dad remarks, “Usually they would have tired by now and you would be able to pull them in.”
“I’m getting it,” I grunt through gritted teeth. The salmon is real close now, just beyond a small rock that sat about a meter into the water. Then, without warning, it receives another burst of energy and makes another run for freedom. After a short burst of speed the salmon realizes that its tactic wasn't going to work and rushes for the surface once more, clearing the surface in a spray of water and a flash of silver.
My arms are really hurting now but I'm not about to complain, an exhilarated smile is still transfixed on my face. The salmon is also tiring again and I manage to reel him close enough to shore so that I can see it’s dark shadow zigzagging across the ocean floor.
Dad is still standing beside me, watching excitedly as the 20-minute fight starts to come to an end. “Alright, Paul, you've almost got him. When he starts to drag on the sand don’t reel him in, he will be too heavy and will snap your line. Use the waves to wash him closer.”
Doing so I manage to pull the salmon enough out of the water so that Dad can run forward into the water and get a firm hold of it. He grips it behind its gills and pulls it out of reach of the waves lapping up onto the shore; now to get the hooks. The salmon was flipping slightly in the sand and its mouth was gaping, trying to draw a breath that would never come: the fight for its life had come to an end. The small stab of empathy I felt for the dying creature was overridden by the overwhelming excitement of my big catch.
The hooks were easy enough to remove and with two hands that still trembled with exertion and excitement I hold my prize in the air. It weighed a ton, or at least it felt that way.
“Good catch Son! That is at least an 11 pounder.”
Proudly I helped my father clean the salmon all the while dreaming about a nice crumbed salmon fillet, coated in lemon sauce.