Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Living on a Dream

In the predawn hours of semi-darkness we idle north to the calm waters enveloping Key West. It’s May, the commencement of peak tarpon season. The islands tourists that flock here have departed the culturally mixed tropical destination for their more mundane domiciles, leaving it relatively mundane for those who pursue a mythical fish that has captured mans imagination since the early 1900’s.

Outside the no wake zone our guide seamlessly puts the small skiff on plane, navigating the juggernaut of invisible channels and the myriad of moored boats tethered randomly like abandon dogs within the islands sheltered basins. Startled cormorants emerge interrupted from the oceans oiled reflections as we pass. The morning’s cool air tugs at ones flesh vitalizing senses that aren’t accustomed to functioning at such an early hour.

John slows the skiff some to accommodate the smooth emerald rollers that separate us from Tower Flat, the deep channels blue waters vibrant even at this dull hour. Pulling up to the flat, its dimensions are easily defined by the mornings soft ruffling breeze. With the turn of a key, the motor dies lending an anxious calm to the atmosphere as we glide silently to the flats distal edge. All eyes methodically affix upon the shimmering waters, a rods quietly extracted from the hull, while John deftly attains the poling platform. To the east, the horizon turns various shades of crimson.

Having the pleasure of fishing with John for a number of years, we’ve learned some of his subtleties. Idle conversations slips between us in hushed tones in anticipation as he deftly works the shallow waters. In our first years we wouldn’t have noticed the alteration in the skiffs movement, but now we understand. Following the alteration peripheries locate the tarpons dissipating footprint, the only visual evidence that there are tarpon here. John quietly maneuvers the Dolphin knowing from experience that should the fish again show we’ll be in position to have a shot. Somewhere submerged the fish slips by silently undetected, “we’ll find another”.

From a thousand miles removed, I can smell the sweet scent of the ocean, hear and feel the breeze as it ruffles the ocean waters, the tousle of flags perched atop the marinas tall ships, they’re all vivid recollections. Once you’ve experienced the roll of a giant tarpon, felt its immeasurable power, heard and witnessed its manic gyrations timelessly suspended above shattered oceans the impressions remain eternally etched.

Just before the tarpon takes the fly, there’s a moment of brief hesitation as the prehistoric fish sizes up that which it pursues, their giant eyes unwavering. With a flick of a powerful tail, the tarpon accelerates, lifting simultaneously opening its cavernous mouth, the abyss, sucking in its prey. In the briefest of moments the fly disappears, almost imperceptibly, yet there is no mistaking the act. Moments later the line comes tight, the giant fish clearing the water, shaking its body violently before crashing into the emerald waters of the flat. In an instant the entire length of fly line disappears from the oversized reel, like a runaway kite severed from its string.

For the first time since being introduced to the waters off Key West and hooking my first tarpon, I’ll not make the annual migration in pursuit of this revered fish, yet realize the wealth achieved in past experiences. Like the addict I’ve become I yearn for that which I can not have. Fly-fishing is like that; casting allusions of hope for that which is often not so easily attainable.