I was just a kid when my uncle Gary first told me about the curse. Of course, at the time, he was standing in an icy river wearing shoes with carpet glued to the soles, so I didn’t put a lot of stock in what he was saying. But the longer I’m alive, the more it makes sense. The men in our family are fish cursed. This is a real thing.
Fish mock us and intentionally make us look bad.
Our father has the mildest case…or it’s a numbers game and he simply outfishes the curse. He was even elected to be president of a fly-fishing club. Uncle Gary and I, however, have a full-blown “Hope-Diamond” grade case, as if some distant relative had stolen the idol that Greg Brady found in a cave in Hawaii…except with fish.
While my uncle is mostly cursed with not catching any fish at all, despite an arsenal of the latest fish catching equipment and gadgets (like carpet shoes), I suffer a more creative strain; Fish go out of their way to make me look bad. I’ll get back from a day of fly fishing or a salt water trip, and I’ll have photos that immediately increase my wife’s sense of humor. She is always quick to make me aware of how much funnier she got while I was off fishing. I have to stop taking these sort of photos.
These tiny fish that somehow accidentally get hooked stealing my bait or mooning my fly have plagued me for years. But the ultimate insult required me to fly a couple thousand miles and get into a boat headed toward rough seas in the gulf of Mexico.
The family and I were vacationing in Akumal when I offered to take my brother-in-law on a quick fishing trip for dorado. All week long we watched boats come back with smiling anglers and a few big dorado to show off before taking them to the resort’s kitchen. We couldn’t lose! The waters were lousy with giant fish and these boat guys were professionals.
Meanwhile, in dark waters, the fish were hatching their greatest plot ever.
I found a boat and made a deal with the skipper, he was hesitant to go out due to the rough seas, but in Mexico cash has a way of getting things done. We sailed out on a medium-sized fishing skiff into heavy swells. As the deck hands were just putting the lures into the water one of the rods bent hard and the reel began singing. They quickly grabbed me and poorly fitted this cod piece thing to me, sat me down on a cooler and shoved a rod into my hands that apparently had a compact car on the line. The fish pulled harder than anything I’ve ever held onto, short of a loose piano on wheels.
“Dorado?” I asked the guide. He shook his head, “big shark, maybe marlin.” The reel screamed and they poured water on it as the line ran out, in the distance a big blue marlin jumped out of the water trying to throw the hook. Marlin, that word echoed in my brain, I was going to be Hemmingway! Ever since I was a little kid I used to read books about fishing and fish field guides. Blue Marlin is the fish every angler dreams of. It’s the fish you get stuffed and hung over your fireplace so you can stand around drinking scotch and recounting the tale of catching the taxidermic eyesore for the rest of your godforsaken life. I had broken the curse, I had a marlin on the line…and not a little tiny one.
I was deep in the cruelest phase of the curse… hope and fantasy. I could already see myself in a grainy black and white photo standing on a dock with the huge fish, giant cigar in my teeth, wife finally not making fun of my fishing, my children and in-laws beaming with respect. The photo would forever grace some dockside bar where only the most grizzled men drank. They would silently toast the noble fish and the man who’d bested it.
One thing no writer can really convey is how much work it is fighting a really big fish. Especially if you are not on a boat that is set up for it. Remember in Jaws when Quint had the fancy chair that he sat strapped into for fighting the shark? I had a cooler. I fought the beast for a couple of hours, at times on my knees on top of a life vest in the bow, or sitting on the cooler. It managed to wrap the line around the prop a couple of times and in general put up one hell of a fight. My arms burned and my brother-in-law was getting bored because he couldn’t fish while I had the marlin on. He also couldn’t take a picture of it as proof. The fish jumped into the air several times for a photo-op, but after a bunch of shots of splashes etc, the camera battery died. No one would believe me unless I brought the thing to the beach. For another hour, I fought the fish and the skipper’s incompetence at keeping the props away from my line.
I brought the fish alongside the boat twice, but there would be no picture to prove this. Then, when he was trying to boat it, the deckhand muttered “pinche” which I believe means “whoops” in Spanish. He held up a bare hook. I briefly considered shoving him in.
We returned with no fish. My brother in law never touched a rod, and apparently can’t take a picture of a fish to save his life. It also varies by mood if he will confirm the existence of the marlin. Only uncle Gary believes me. Or says he does.
The curse is real. I apologize to my sons for passing it on. Perhaps if I sacrifice the youngest to the sea? Just kidding.