OLD MAN & THE SEA
The paddle from our Yokohama Bay launching site to Kaena Point, where we usually turn around and start the return leg, is about two hours. On this day the waters were calm, the sun was hot, and the fish weren’t biting in the least.
It was the kind of day that one gets lulled to the brink of sleep due to a combined lack of activity and the kayak’s gentle roll from side to side with each stroke of the paddle.
Turning around after hours of paddling and realizing our trip was halfway done with nothing to show for was disappointing. The breathtaking view of the shoreline, a rocky coast transitioning quickly to the sheer mountain range separating the island’s southwest and northern shores, didn’t console us for what was looking to be a skunk day.
Just a couple weeks prior, my partner, Ed Kawasaki, and I had each landed a mahi-mahi (my first) and we were feeling a strong desire to repeat the experience. However, there just didn't seem to be any action to be had on this hot day.
As we turned our kayaks around to start heading back, I reeled in the mackerel I had been dragging, just to check if it was intact. Sure enough the mackerel was still there, without so much as a bit of evidence that something tried to get it. I went ahead and replaced my bait with a fresh one for no other reason than to give myself something to do.
The night before, I had taken my entire reel apart to clean and grease it so as to be ready for any action we’d experience that day. Perhaps it was this extra preparation and my heightened state of readiness that made the lack of any action so hard to bear. Or maybe it was that this was the first really hot day out on the water having no cloud cover at all.
Picking up the pace of my paddling, I tried to get out of the shallower water that surrounded this westernmost tip of Oahu to avoid the smaller reef fish that were large enough to shred the bait but too small to take the hook. Suddenly, my reel screamed as the spool emptied faster than I had ever experienced!
I tried but was unable to lift the rod out of its holder as the pressure on the rod caused by the fish's unrelenting run held it fast in the holder. As I tried to tighten up on the drag, I realized my spool was about two-thirds empty and still loosing line! In a mild state of panic, I tried to crank my reel while still in the holder then became more frantic as the crank handle began to spin free! I continued cranking the handle, but it only freewheeled as if a gear had broken. Suddenly, before I could figure what had gone wrong, the whole spool flew off and jumped around wildly as line continued to pay out through the rod still in its holder.
Knowing that the thirty-pound test line could easily sever my fingers, I grabbed my hat and used it as a glove as I used my hands to put some pressure on the line and slow the running fish. Thankfully, the kayak was now being pulled by the fish and added to the resistance I could offer to tire the fish in its run. Now, holding the line in my hands as the fish pulled the kayak gave me some time to regain my thoughts.
Apparently, I must have left a screw loose when reassembling the reel housing causing the gear assembly to come out of place. Of all days! As I held on to the line, wondering what was on the other end, I started laughing. I could only think of Spencer Tracy in “The Old Man And The Sea”. I laughed out loud as I realized here I was in the dawning of my senior years, living out scenes from one of my all time favorite movies.
After about a half hour exchange of pulling in line then letting the fish take it back then pulling it in again, I finally could see what turned out to be the biggest barracuda I’ve ever seen in my life. It measured around five feet and, when brought alongside, continued to propel the kayak as I looked on in awe. Ed paddled up and asked what I was going to do with it and I said this one’s going back to fight another day! We took a picture as I held my trophy as high out of the water as I could then released it to the depths from which it came.
As the adrenalin wore off I realized, looking at the tangled mess of line in my lap, I had no tackle to fish with for the long paddle back! Half-heartedly, I tied a long length of line with a baited hook to my bowline and threw it over the side. Although the chances were slim that something would bite, the effort would at least give me something to anticipate during the long paddle back to our starting point!
Paddling even slower, I again began to get lulled into sleepiness as I day-dreamingly watched my bowline dragging in the water alongside the kayak. And then, this time very quietly, I notice the bowline being pulled away from the kayak like the minute hand of a clock moving from the six toward the twelve. "Ohhh, my God," I mutter quietly to myself! I yell to Ed who looks over to me just as the bow line goes tight followed by a loud snap! The fish had broken the line. Suddenly, Ed yells between his laughing and points out a large mahi-mahi (dorado) as it jumps madly in the distance apparently trying to shake the hook that it's taken along with my broken line.
Having been convinced that anything was possible, I figured that I could conceivably land a large fish if I could somehow allow it to take line until it tires. I then picked up the spool with its remainging line then placed back onto the axle after running the line through the rod guides and setting out another baited hook. Within a half hour, I got another strike. This time, I was ready!
Again, I grabbed my hat off my head and using it as a glove placed my hands around the spool as it freewheeled on the axle. The pressure was enough to check the fish’s initial run and soon I was again in an exchange of giving and taking line, this time with another mahi-mahi! The exchange went on for about a half hour and finally ended with the successful boating of a seventeen-pounder and what will probably be the biggest fish story of my life.
I thank God for such an awesome experience and, Ed, for getting the photos!