We all have heard or have told a story about that huge fish, which seems to grow in strength and size as the years go by but didn’t quite make it onto the supper table. Then there are those embarrassing fishing incidents that shouldn’t have really happened. Some of these stories or incidents can be believed and some are . . . well just tall tales.
My first memory of fishing is when my Dad had taken me out to a lake near Calgary. I’m maybe five or six and had the understanding at that time that there were huge and gigantic rainbow trout in this lake that were at least 15 – 20 cm (6” – 8”) in length. On a warm summer evening we were standing on a dock when a fish took my lure. I must have got a little excited because I fell into the water. When my Dad grabbed me by the shirt collar and hauled me out, I was still reeling in this monster that had pulled me in. I wasn’t about to let my first fish get away. Little did I know that this was my first time that I had narrowly escaped being eaten by an enormous fish.
In the South Pacific there are flying fish, which average about 30 cm (one foot) in length and can fly or more accurately glide 30 – 50 meters (100’ to 160’) in the air before they enter back into the water. During this flight they can reach speeds of up to 60 km/h (37 mph) and can alter their coarse and projected entry. They usually take flight when trying to escape larger predators like swordfish and tuna.
While sailing along one night I was out in the cockpit trying to locate the Southern Cross. This is a major constellation in the Southern Hemisphere that can be used to determine where the South Pole is. On this beautiful warm starry night, Pleione is sailing along nicely at about three and half to four knots. Even at two in the morning it is still over seventy degrees out, so I’m in a T-shirt and cut-offs and trying to find this constellation. When all of a sudden something out of the night hit me in the middle of the chest with a fair impact and scared the hell out of me. It took me a few seconds to calm down and when I did I heard this fluttering and flapping noise near me. I had to go down below and get a flashlight to see what was making all this noise, which turned out to be a 20 cm (8”) flying fish. I didn’t get a bruise but the chest was sure tender for a day or so. The flying fish was eaten for breakfast the next morning. Later I found out that if you leave a cabin light on at night this would help attract even more of these flying fish. I don’t recommend this way of catching fish, as this can be a little hard on the nerves. This was the first time I was ever attacked by a fish.
Nuka Hiva is an island in the Marquesas and was my first warm lush tropical island landfall which also ended up being one of my favourites. At that time Pleione had what I called a Hawaiian grass skirt on her water line and a hull that was covered with !@# $%^ )(*&^%$ goose-neck barnacles. The grass skirt was just seaweed that was either flat against the hull or fluttering out as Pleione gently moved up and down in the ocean swell, much like a hula dancer. All this growth on Pleione’s bottom was slowing her down.
The Marquesas belongs to the French government and so they have topless beaches. With the temperature in the nineties and getting hotter as the day progressed, I decided that this was a good afternoon to start cleaning the bottom. With a mask, snorkel and a paint scrapper you start to clean the bottom and are doing a great job only to find that something has taken a liking to your nipples. They are not hurt but something is definitely nibbling on them. A closer look at the situation showed that there was a lot of 50 – 76 mm (2” – 3”) fish hanging around for this free meal of fresh barnacles and would accidentally mistake my nipples for another tasty morsel. A day or so later I was talking to another offshore sailboat that was anchored nearby and I got the understanding that the first mate had the same problem and she was more than a little annoyed. After hearing this I was glad that I was at least wearing a pair of swimming trunks and that there wasn’t any bigger fish around. This is the first time that some fish have actually attacked and tried to eat me.
There are the rare occasions when I have some disturbing fishing dreams. Like the time when a huge flying fish just opened his mouth and snatched me off the fore-deck as it silently glided by. Or when a large school of deadly barracudas have surrounded me and I’ve only my diving knife with me. Then there are times when I’m in a hammock having an afternoon nap and a salt-water crocodile comes by for lunch. Somehow I manage to escape these situations like my fishing buddy Jonah.