When John Rafter asked me “Pete, if you knew tomorrow was going to be the last day you ever got to fish in your life, but you could be wherever you wanted to be, and in the prime time or season, where would you choose?” A thousand images flooded my brain. “That’s really tough. There are so many places.” I replied. “What about St. Thomas?” Rafter queried. “We were talking about this at Oden’s Dock in Hatteras and someone said that was the best blue marlin fishing ever.”
St. Thomas is a lovely island and the Virgin Islands have great diving and snorkeling in crystal clear bays over sand so white it hurts the eyes- and some of the best reefs in the Caribbean. With 5 to 10 bites a day on blue marlin not guaranteed, but also not unusual, it conjured up fond memories.
“I’d have to think about that and Cape Verde would probably win if I was going after blue marlin. There are even more fish there, and lots of action would probably win out over someplace like Madeira which is such a gorgeous place just to BE that the fishing is almost a bonus. In Madeira even though the action is not as red hot when you do get a bite it is likely to be a real monster -but the biggest blue I ever saw was off Mindelo in Cape Verde so that’s a tough one.” I mused.
I make my living fishing for monster marlin and tuna and love that kind of fishing even though it can be hard work and is often stressful when we’re under pressure to produce. When I fish for the sheer fun of it I’m often targeting smaller fish.
“I haven’t had a chance to take my daughter, Bimini, after bonefish yet.” I told Rafter. “I can remember wading the flats east of the island she’s named after at sunrise and that’s pretty darn gorgeous. With a rising tide and those schools of fish pushing up onto the flats trying to pick out tails and get a bite out of those spooky devils, if I could only fish one more day I’m not sure I wouldn’t like to share that with my little girl.”
Then I thought about tarpon. Its cooler and yuppier to fish with fly rods on the flats and that is also great fun, but Boca Grande won for that scene. I remembered the sun setting in the west just as a full moon was rising in the east. Calm water shimmering in the light that never really quit with the big full moon spring tides carrying all that LIFE. Weed and crabs and minnows all going with the current and then the tarpon- thousands upon thousands of them rolling in huge packs of prehistoric predators eating every bait we put out. No records, no pressure to perform, just fish after fish jumping, fighting, and being released-healthy. I’d hate to think I’d never see that again.
“What about those days we had in Hatteras when the bluefins were THICK?” Rafter interrupted my silent thoughts. Boy could I see that in my mind’s eye. Enormous shapes zooming through the water eating chum before it could get really wet. Giant tuna eating chicken wings and squashed Pepsi cans if they were thrown in the cadence of the cut up baitfish chum. The line crackling off the reel. Using 100 pounds of drag on custom Cal Sheets 130 reels with a top shot of 300 pound line or sunny days off Cat Cay and Bimini with even bigger tuna running before the sea. Harder there to get a bite but even bigger fish!
“It has to be Australia,” I told Rafter. “The Great Barrier Reef is the ultimate. Not just lots of marlin but monsters over 1000 pounds and if they aren’t cooperating, the reef is still some of the best fishing anywhere. Deep jigging, throwing poppers for huge jacks. We caught 16 species in an hour one morning just playing around. Even in the off season fishing for reef species is better than the Florida Keys or anywhere in the Caribbean.” “And the diving there is truly wonderful. The dive industry is WAY bigger than fishing down under. We get to snorkel and dive in the best spots, ones that even the dive boats don’t go to – in fact the fishing guys found most of the dive spots when we were the only boats out there and that was only during our short black marlin season.”
Then Rafter stopped me cold. “You know what? Ernie Foster was in the crowd at Hatteras and here’s what he said. ‘Boys, you never know which day IS going to be the last one you do get to go fishing. You better enjoy each one as if it WAS the last.’”
Thinking about this has made me appreciate my time on the water even more and I’ve resolved to concentrate even more than I already do on two aspects of my fishing.
Share it with kids. There is no better way to enjoy a day on the water than taking a kid fishing. Someday I’m going to finish a book I’ve started called “Mentors”, partly about men who took me fishing. In the meantime, I’m going to do more of what my grandmother called “Paying for my raising.”
I have always been a conservationist and I will continue to help out the fish populations. Only strong resources and good management can ensure that what I have loved will be here for future generations to enjoy.
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