It is a wild thing, deep sea fishing. You sit on the edge of the abyss, the edge of your world, and reach out into another world entirely. Sometimes you get nothing. Other times an unknown force in the darkness takes hold of your probe and gives you a run. You struggle with this invisible force, wondering what it could be, guessing based on its strength and how it fights. If you’re lucky, you eventually bring it up enough to get a glimpse of it through the water. Maybe enough to bring it into the boat. If not, it disappears back into the depths of its own world, having taken you for the one small meal you dangled at the end of your line.
I feel alien out there on the water, and I am not ashamed to say that I feel afraid. I have never loved deep water. Sitting out there on a tiny boat bobbing among the swells, I feel that I am not meant to be there. I have a sense of foreboding, as if at any moment some goliath could surface from the deep to punish us for our intrusion on its domain. There is a great mystery to the depths of the ocean, someplace that, given our soft bodies, we will likely never fully understand.
Despite the enigmatic nature of the ocean, on this trip to Mexico we managed a whole day of fishing without harassment by serpent or kraken, though we did pull a number of giant fish out of the depths. Each time one of these massive fish was pulled up I was awed by its size. There are surely monsters down there–animals that would absolutely terrify me, were I to meet them in open water.
Our day was likely typical of such adventures. We took off from the dock in Cancun in the early afternoon. We cruised through the beautiful turquoise waters past Isla Mujeres, where we stopped and the Captain and the First Mate started tossing lines in the water. Within seconds of the first line going into the water, they were pulling them back in, some with two or three little six-inch herring hooked. Within fifteen minutes we had enough bait for the rest of the day and again turned our prow out to sea.
After another surprisingly long time, we reached whatever spot our Captain had chosen for us. Unfortunately for us, the Captain, who was the better English-speaker of the two, had recused himself to the top of the ship for the duration of the day, leaving us with only the first mate, who we were barely able to communicate with, leaving many of the decisions that they made throughout the day quite mysterious to us.
To that end, the first fish on the line was nearly a fiasco. None of us had been deep sea fishing before and they gave us no instruction. When the first fish was hooked, the First Mate, Valentino, shouted “fish on!” But none of us were certain what we were meant to do. Eventually we figured it out and I got in the chair and slowly and awkwardly dragged the fish to the surface while Valentino told me all the things I was doing wrong without ever telling me what I ought to be doing instead.
The day continued much like that: they put fish on the hooks and we clumsily pulled them up from the depths. There were enough fish for everyone to have a couple turns, but they were all amberjack, and we were hoping to bring home something good to eat that night.
As the day drew on and the sky began turning a soft peach, they got a fish on that, based on their reactions, seemed more significant. One of us gave it a go and lost it. They hooked it again and this time I lost it. Each time we lost it the crew let out enormous exasperated sighs. They hooked it a third time and I took the rod again. This time it worked. The fish must have been completely exhausted, because by the time it came to the surface it wasn’t fighting at all. I slowly dragged it toward the boat, its effort clearly spent. But there it was, the beautiful red snapper that we’d been looking for. With that fish on the boat, the day was done and we began the long motor back to town as the world grew dark around us.
Back at our lodgings I cooked one of the snapper fillets. I did it simply in a pan with butter and garlic, and finished it with fresh lime juice. We ate it with tortillas, avocado, and rice and beans. This fish was large enough that one fillet proved to be more fish than the five of us could eat, regardless of how delicious it was.
We are very lucky to be able to have experiences like that–in the middle of winter, to be able to escape to the tropics, and then even escape from there, out to sea, to chase and capture some of the strange creatures that reside in that wild place. Going to bed that night, with tired arms and a full belly, I was very grateful.