I knew it was a bad idea before I did it.
I had been into fish as soon as I splashed the kayak. Paddling down river into the tide I had run through pod after pod of schoolies crashing bait on the surface. Conscious of mooring balls and channel markers I tactically fished the edge of the grass and waited to clear the hazards before following the bigger splashes in the channel. It was early, the schoolies were eating on every other cast and other than Wilson Pickett lyrics running through my head I had the water to myself.
Up ahead the tails slapping the surface in the channel were a lot bigger than the rats I had been pulling out of the shallows. I caught sight of a Whaler with two dudes in it both hooked up on fish about a quarter mile in front of me. I wanted to get into those bigger fish before they ran up on me. I cleared the last two mooring balls and a few more paddle strokes put me close to the edge of a pretty good boil. I launched a cast into the middle of it and in a few strips was tight. It was a bigger fish than I expected and let it pull line as I put it on the reel instead of stripping it in. When it went tight on the rod, I started singing “Mustang Sally” out loud with Wilson.
You might ask, “Why is that relevant?” Well, since you asked, I’ll explain. The rod I was fishing was a signature 2018 Cheeky Schoolie Tournament Thomas and Thomas Exocett 8 weight I had won in May. The first day I fished it was one of those days you don’t forget, like one of those days when the sky opens up, the sun shines everywhere and angels sing. It was like a junior high relationship, like we were made for each other and nothing else existed. We brought a lot of fish to hand that day. I love that rod.
When I fish, I usually have an album or mixed play list from a particular artist or time period playing in my mind. That day The Best of Wilson Pickett was on a continuous loop in my head so I christened the rod “Mustang Sally.” Every time I have looked at that rod or picked up since, all I hear is that song. So I sang and as I brought that fish boat-side I let the chorus rip.
That’s when everything went to shit.
With a few feet of line outside the last guide I reached into my pocket to get the Iphone ready because as we all know; if something isn’t on Instagram it didn’t really happen. While I was trying to open the camera app with one hand and hold the rod in front of me with the other the paddle started to slide and the fish ran to my rear turning the bow of the boat with it. As the bow turned, the Whaler I mentioned before came into view conveniently at the same second the wake it had pushed reached me. It was right about then that I noticed the tide and current had pushed me back to the two mooring balls and I was close to colliding with one of them. I stuffed the phone back in my pocket, wedged the paddle under one arm and tried to get control of the fish, which had managed to pull out enough line to get on the other side of the mooring ball.
That’s when the music went out. Remember what it sounded like when you’d bump the turntable and the needle would run across the record? Well, that’s what I heard as the music ended and a pink Sluggo went flying by my head. And then everything was quiet.
But only for a split second because as I watched the fish turn back and circle around the mooring ball and under the kayak, from somewhere in the back of my mind I heard Neville laughing and yelling at me.
“Oh yeah, you’re in the shit now!”
I tried to paddle with one hand to get up current of the mooring ball but just got pushed up against it. I was fucked. The fish had gotten one good wrap around the mooring line and was going for another. That’s when Nev came into view (self-diagnosed temporary hallucination) bobbing along on his back with a pair of Aqua-Man water wings and a can of Jack’s Abbey Post Shift clutched to his chest.
He took a sip, looked up at me with a very serious expression on his face and said, “You’re going to fucking break my rod!”
Knowing he was a mirage I chose not to respond and leaned into the water to try and unwrap the fish. What I should have done was back off the line, get the rod and line under control and then figure out how to get to that fish or break it off. But I didn’t. I put the butt the rod between my knees and reached down frantically grasping at the line trying to get to the fish and in so doing nearly flipped the kayak. I didn’t go over but somewhere in the blur of a split-second I heard that sound none of us want to hear. Flopping around in the boat had popped the rod from between my knees and the angle and force of the line with the weight of me and the kayak bent the rod and broke the tip just past the last ferrule.
“Noooohhhh, you fucking broke my rod. Damn it. I told you…I can’t believe it.”
Looking at Nev, who wasn’t really there, I raised my hands up in the air and shrugged.
From the Whaler I heard one of the guys yell, “Yeah, that sucks, man. It happens.”
Neville laughed and pointed at me.
“Just send it to us, we’ll fix it.”
He took another sip of beer, eased back on his water-wings and kicked his way out of my view and out of my mind.
I did get the fish released. Then I called Jill, had her meet me on the riverbank with another rod and went back out. There were more fish that day but no music.
Over the last couple of weeks as I’ve looked at that rod sitting in its tube in the corner of my tying room I’ve heard the lead-in to “Thunderstruck” faintly fade in and out. I’m getting that feeling. I fucking love that rod.
I may re-name it Malcolm when we get back on the water and make some more music.
South River, MA
7 August 2018