Sunday, March 22, 2009

Losing Little Red

Losing Little Red

The passing of a dear friend or the closing of a chapter in life is tough on the best of days and yet we sadly said goodbye today to a steady companion who has traveled with us daily over the last 10 months. I am getting a little ahead of myself, so first a little background.

One of the things that especially Marshall and I looked forward to prior to going sailing was the chance to do a little fishing. We have always enjoyed fishing together and the notion of catching something big in the ocean really intrigued us. Having said that, Idaho is not the best place to outfit a boat for deep sea fishing and I was pretty sure my trout rod would not hold up to the rigors of ocean fishing. With the generous help of Susan's dad (an accomplished fisherman in his own right) we left equipped fairly well but sorely lacking in knowledge about how to ply the depths for food, not to mention how to catch "the big one".

Shortly after arriving in the San Blas Islands of Panama 13 months ago Marshall and I took it upon ourselves to reach out to another cruiser and ask for help. We were exploring in our dinghy at our first anchorage in the San Blas and noticed another boat that appeared well equipped on the fishing side of the equation. After introducing ourselves we asked for suggestions and help getting rigged and preparing to do deep sea battle. It turns out we were talking with a retired commercial fisherman from New Zealand and his advice has served us well over the months that have followed.

It was in fact our very next passage that we caught our first fish. We had left a group of islands called the "Lemons" headed for the "Eastern Hollandes" and everyone encouraged us to fish. So we got serious about getting rigged and off we went. It was one of those perfect San Blas sailing days. We had 15 knots of wind on the beam with flat seas behind the barrier reef. We were all listening to music and enjoying the sun and tranquility of the day and then it happened. Without warning, out of nowhere, line began screaming off the reel. Now what do we do? We have the sails up and need to slow down while keeping a close eye on navigational hazards and not wanting to lose our first fish.

The Chinese fire drill that followed would easily have made fodder for late night television comedians. Susan took the helm, Amy cleared the deck and helped with sails, Marshall readied the gaff and I grabbed the rod not knowing whether we had a minnow or a mammoth. After a few exciting minutes we were able to avoid going aground on the reef and got a 45' King Mackerel on board. It was great fun, not to mention wonderful eating, and we were hooked (pun intended).

The months that followed saw us fishing anytime we could, and yet it seemed we just were not catching many fish. A few mackerel but nothing of real significance. Not until we ran into a boat in Bocas del Toro, Panama did we get our lucky break. The husband and wife aboard s/v Lone Star Love were not only avid fisherpersons but actually sold a line of fishing lures. We skeptically acquired a few of their lures with strong guarantees that these would catch fish. Sounded like a fish story to me but I was willing to try anything.

The very first time we used them we caught fish. A small shiny red, silver and black skirted lure hooked up first and then again, not once but 4 more times during our 3 hour trip. The best part was that we finally caught a Tuna, the fish we had been hoping for and our favorite fish to eat by far. Over the next few weeks we tried all the different colors but it seemed that without fail it was the little red lure that scored 90% of the time. The fish log that Marshall had started early in our voyage was finally being updated on a regular basis.

Whenever we sailed "little red" was always in the water. On our sail from Isla Mujeres, Mexico to the Dry Tortugas of Florida alone we caught 11 fish, and 10 of the 11 were on Little Red including our largest fish to date a 47 inch King Mackerel. Little Red provided an abundance of fresh fish not to mention hours of fun and numerous wonderful memories. Upon reaching the Bahamas in January we decided to retire Little Red after successfully bringing to the boat Mackerel, Barracuda, Bonita Tuna, Blackfin Tuna, Dorado (Mahi Mahi) and Jack Crevalle. In total, over 30 fish with this one little lure. Not bad for a $7 investment. We thought we might have a plaque made with the lure mounted on it and a list of the fish caught for the trophy room back home in Idaho.

Our sail to and from the Bahamas and our fishing while there saw us hook up 5 Dorado (Mahi Mahi) but no tuna and by the time we started to head back to Florida Susan asked if we could bring "Little Red" out of retirement for one last shot at a Tuna. Ironically I had just met and got acquainted with the crew from one of the most famous professional fishing boats in the world. When I told them about "Little Red" they emphatically said, "If a lure is hot fish it and never retire a good lure."

I reluctantly agreed and am now learning it is almost always risky to make decisions with your stomach. Arriving back in Idaho with Little Red and one last meal of seared Blackfin Tuna was not to be. Somewhere over the Florida banks he disappeared. We do not know whether Little Red snagged on flotsam, a wayward crab pot or a giant fish. All that remains now are the memories and a lot of left over sushi supplies.

For 10 months "Little Red" faithfully followed behind Mima never complaining and never letting us down. From Panama to the Bahamas this little lure logged over 1500 nautical miles. I am not one to anthropomorphize animals or to give to inanimate objects more than their due, but suffice it to say our journey would not have been nearly as memorable if "Little Red" had not come our way. Good bye old friend and thanks for the memories and the sushi.

The 4Wheelers

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