Enos could catch a bass out of a bathtub. At least that’s what everyone who knew him always said. Some fishermen seem to possess a type of extra-sensory perception which allows them to locate and capture fish, even when everyone else draws a blank. Enos was fortunate enough to have either been born with this special skill, or to have developed it in his youth as he grew up chasing bass in his home waters. Enos was a Southern born, Southern bred bass fishing maniac. His job and even his pretty young wife were peripheral to this obsession. He lived in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where he spent every free minute in one of his several boats, each specially outfitted to optimize his pursuit of ‘Ole Bucketmouth. He had a twenty two foot fiberglass hulled, red metal flake finished sleek bassin’ machine propelled by a two hundred and twenty five horsepower Mercury outboard. It sported powerful remote controlled trolling motors, a pedestal seat, and a sonar that would make the Navy proud. This rig was capable of military speeds, too- nearly sixty five miles an hour, if he pushed it. That boat was just the ticket for fishing the expansive waters of the Santee-Cooper system, one of the most hallowed of bass fishing grounds. Many famous bass professionals had honed their skills on these manmade lakes before tackling the world of big money bass pro circuit fishing tournaments. And, to Enos’ delight, this bass laden gem lay a mere one hour drive from his modest dwelling.
Enos’ fleet also included a tiny six foot one man boat that permitted him to slip through the muddy backwaters of the area’s myriad swamplands in search of blackwater bass that lay hidden in wait among the countless stumps, roots, and downed logs dotting these remote waters. There the bass watched for prey to unsuspectingly swim or crawl by, only to be suddenly and viciously attacked by a fearsomely aggressive largemouth intent on securing its next meal. Many of these crafty predators had fallen for Enos’ skilled presentations of jigs, rubber worms, or buzz baits. These bass were masters at hiding from prey , but it was like Enos possessed “fish-ray vision.” He always seemed to find them. Enos loved all the variations bass fishing offered, but took particular joy in silently slipping through the dark swamp waters, all alone in his munchkin sized vessel, but for the barred owls, turkeys, night herons, and the occasional gator. The gators didn’t worry him. They rarely attack boats, and even if an especially grumpy one became a bit too aggressive, he could always unsnap the .44 he carried on his hip.
Enos even had a small two man pond boat. It was a favorite. He operated it with foot controls, leaving his hands free to prepare baits, and his very favorite part, release the lunkers he found in smallish private ponds scattered around his home county. He had spent many afternoons prowling these kinds of waters, flinging lipless crankbaits and skitterfrogs at dark sided bass vainly attempting to camouflage themselves beneath large green lillypads. Enos just could not fathom how anything could be more addictive than the sudden, savage attack of a ten pounder as it engulfed a topwater bait being worked over the pads. It was like someone had dropped a refrigerator into the water from a helicopter. Enos never seemed to grow tired of this spectacle of Nature.
In fact, he loved it so much, that he had never done any saltwater fishing, despite living less than ten miles from the ocean. “How can it be any better than feeling the fury of nine angry pounds of a hooked bass wildly throwing its body four feet into the early morning sunshine?” he wondered. As an added benefit, largemouth fishing precluded all the maintenance required of equipment used in the salt. He had listened and learned as his buddies complained about how quickly their saltwater gear corroded and failed despite meticulous care, and how expensive it was to replace after only a few years of service. “No,” Enos reasoned, “I’ll stick to the fresh. It’s what I know anyway.”
Enos’ life was about to change. After a night of downing a considerable number of Budweisers with some of his fishing friends, he decided he might give it a try after all. His buddy Craig was fond of telling new acquaintances that he “went both ways”. After snickering at the typically shocked expressions caused by this statement, he explained that he fished both fresh AND saltwater. He typically then broke into hysterical laughter that lasted some three to four minutes. Fortunately, Craig’s fishing skills far surpassed his comedic ones. He had been fishing the salt for quite a few years and had enjoyed success in his efforts to catch the commonly encountered saltwater species such as redfish and trout. Not rainbow trout, but the seatrout, an aggressive striker that is much revered for its table appeal. After his rapturous descriptions of landing thirty inch redfish on light tackle in very shallow water, Enos acquiesced and agreed to accompany Craig the following Saturday on a quest for monster reds in the brackish waters of the North Santee River. Craig had previously dialed in a few spots which on specific tide phases, had proven to consistently hold some larger breeder size reds. He was aware of the laws protecting the fish that are of reproductive size, and had no intention of retaining any of these bruisers. He merely wanted to see his friend tussle with a large saltwater fish, just to gauge his reaction, and just maybe, to create a convert to the saltwater cause. “Every new member of the CCA helps,” he thought as the two fishermen decided on a time and place of meeting.
As agreed, Craig and Enos met at a landing known locally as the “Pole Yard.” The landing is so named because in a previous life, it had served as a marshalling area for the thousands of long slender logs harvested from the abundant upstream forests and floated down to this spot. Here they were removed from the water with massive cranes, loaded onto log trucks, and transported to a nearby creosote plant, where they were treated and turned into utility poles. After the supply of trees had faded away, the state turned the yard into a handy landing for area boaters. Here sportsmen had access to the Santee Rivers, and some ten miles or so downstream, the open Atlantic. The brackish waters of the Santee system held good numbers of redfish, including large bulls at certain times of the year. Those fish were today’s target.
Craig expertly backed his Chevy Silverado down the dual lane ramp and let his blue and white bay boat slip gently into the dark waters of the Santee. Enos, who had ridden in the boat as it backed down the ramp, easily fired up the Honda four stroke, loosened the trailer strap, and guided the boat to the dock as Craig parked the pickup. Craig soon jumped aboard, assumed command of the helm, and pointed the boat east towards the sea. After about a twenty minute run, Craig slowed the boat, carefully studying the depth finder/GPS device mounted on the helm station. Soon, he located the twenty five foot deep hole in the Santee’s bottom that had yielded so many big reds in the past. His fervent hope today was that Enos would hook up on a feisty large red and join the ranks of fishermen who had become addicted to the charms of the salt.
Enos, under the watchful eye of his buddy, began preparing his rig. His concept of “heavy bass rigging” was about to change radically this morning. His rod was a nine foot heavy action Shimano rod featuring a fifty pound class baitcasting reel . The reel was oufitted with sixty pound braided line that terminated in a heavy duty saltwater swivel. A two ounce egg sinker had been placed between the reel and the swivel to act as a stop for the weight. It looked like something you might use offshore at the Georgetown Hole to catch marlin. Enos next tied on three feet of eighty pound fluorocarbon leader secured with a four turn clinch knot. To the business end of the leader he added a 5-0 Gamakatsu circle hook which had been chemically sharpened. “I remember when all my tackle was American made- Eagle Claw and Shakespeare.” Enos thought as he made the connections. “It is hard to argue with the quality of the imported stuff though,” he admitted to himself. Craig interrupted his thoughts by instructing Enos to run the hook through the hunk of mullet he handed him. ” It looks like a giant Carolina rig,” Enos remarked, referring to the rigging style commonly used in bass fishing. “That is exactly what it is,” replied Craig. ” Drop it over the side, and I’ll set the anchor when we drift a few yards off the hole.” After making the anchor fast to the muddy river bottom, Craig began to set up a rig for himself, though his primary interest was in seeing his friend’s reaction to the pull of a monster redfish. Craig soon completed his own rig, but cast it across the river and away from the hole where Enos’ bait lay, exuding the scent of fresh mullet into the deep hole to draw in any big reds that might be ready for an easy meal. Craig really did want to see his friend latch onto a truly large fish, though his intentions were not altogether altruistic. Craig had been looking for someone with whom he could fish the salt. That way, he could share the ever increasing gas costs for the drive and the fuel hungry motor hanging off the transom of his boat. Having someone to talk to while waiting on the big bite was also a definite plus.
Enos secured his rod in the port transom rod holder and sat back in his seat. Craig’s rod occupied the forward holder as they began the waiting process. Enos was accustomed to a more active fishing style, a constant barrage of casts made to likely bass holding spots. Nonetheless, he took it all in stride, making small talk with Craig as they waited for some action. The sun shone brightly overhead, occasionally obscured by passing clouds. A freshening breeze made for a pleasant September afternoon. Both men were college football fans, though neither’s educational path went further than high school. Enos was a hard core Clemson fan, while Craig supported the University of South Carolina’s program. “Enos, I know it’s early in the season, but Carolina’s running back and that new quarterback are going to take the Tigers down this year,” Craig said. ” We have a gameplan for ’em,” Enos said, his statement stopped short by a sudden bend in his rod. The Shimano pulsed a bit, then laid hard over as something, something powerful, sped downriver with the mullet piece. The reel was now turning like a spinning top and line played out at an alarming rate. “Looks like you got a nibble there, Enos!” said Craig excitedly. “How much line is on this reel anyway?” asked an anxious Enos. “Oh, you’ve got plenty,” was the response. Craig had spooled nearly 400 yards of the braid on the reel, an easy feat as the line was of exceptionally small diameter for its breaking strength. “And you can put plenty of heat on him since you have sixty pound leader material” he added. “I just hope your knots are good.”
The line cut through the dark water of the river as the unknown fish set sail for the Atlantic. Enos had never imagined anything like this in his wildest dreams. Not even the largest bass of his life, a hulking fourteen pounder, could begin to match the velocity and raw power of this saltwater creature. “That must be a huge redfish!” exclaimed Craig. “I bet it is at least forty pounds, maybe more!” Enos carefully tightened the drag star on the reel, comforted by the fact that he had heavy line and leader. ” I got to slow this guy down some before he does take all my line,” said Enos, elated to feel the energy being transferred by the great fish through the line and into his hands and forearms. Then he felt the line slacken just a little. Just then, the water about a hundred feet from the boat exploded into the azure afternoon sky. “What the hell???” Enos’ words hung suspended in the air like the massive silver beast before them. “It’s a TARPON!!!!!” shouted Craig. “A nice one, too.” Enos had never seen a tarpon and he was incredulous at the sheer size and power of this large fish. The tarpon leaped ten feet into the air, twisting its body into a pretzel like shape, desperate to dislodge the hook from its mouth. It crashed back into the river with a massive splash that threw water twenty five feet in every direction. “Keep the heat on him, Enos,” advised Craig. “That’s an unbelievable fish. We have to land him!” Though Enos had never caught a saltwater fish in his life, he knew how to fish. As the tarpon altered course, Enos expertly used the rod to turn his head the opposite direction. Despite an air temperature that was a comfortable seventy eight degrees, rivulets of sweat began to flow down Enos’ face. His forearm muscles began to ache and his throat was suddenly dry. Craig handed him a bottle of water, and Enos quickly downed it, while simultaneously maintaining the pressure. Soon, the mighty tarpon made another jump, this time a bit further away. “Drop the rod tip, Enos. You have to bow to the king when he jumps!” said Craig. “The king?” a puzzled Enos asked. “The Silver King!” replied Craig.
Enos did a remarkable job handling this fish. He had expert advise from Craig, but he also possessed solid fishing instincts. The tarpon dove now, but was limited by the depth of the river. It could run, but it could not submarine like pelagic fish typically do. After a forty minute battle, the tarpon lay alongside the boat, defeated and submissive, but still breathing. Enos, though triumphant, was ecstatic simply to be breathing as well. Never had he considered fishing a physically demanding sport, but he realized that he had now crossed the threshold into a whole new world. “Wow! What do you think he weighs?” inquired Enos. “I would guess SHE goes a buck and a quarter,” was Craig’s response. Craig explained to his friend that most of the larger tarpon were females. “I need to take a closer look at this girl,” said Enos. He slowly took it all in, the humongous chrome silver scales, the massive gill plates, and of course, that huge mouth. “She has a giant bucket mouth, just like a bass!” exclaimed Enos. “Very similar,” agreed Craig. “And she jumps like a bass. In fact, she is the saltwater version of a largemouth bass!” said Enos. “I think I have died and gone to fisherman’s heaven!” he added, a large smile across his face. “A hundred and twenty five pound bass! Can you imagine?” he wistfully said.
“Craig, help me load her into the boat. This big ‘ole girl is going home with me. She is going to look mighty fine mounted on the wall in my living room.” “I hate to tell you this Enos, but it is illegal to take a tarpon. But you can always have a replica mount made. People do it all the time. Modern graphite replicas look nearly identical to the real thing, but last forever, unlike old fashioned skin mounts. I’ll just take a few pictures of her, and we can release her to be on her way”. Craig rummaged around the boat for his digital camera to record the moment and give the taxidermist a model for his replica. ” Oh crap!” exclaimed Craig. I can’t find my camera. I must have left it in the truck.” he admitted dejectedly. “I do have a tape. We can get the length and girth. That’s all we really need anyway,” said Craig.
After carefully obtaining the tarpon’s vital statistics, Enos carefully removed the hook. He then revived the great fish by having Craig move the boat slowly forward using the trolling motor to flow water and oxygen over her gills. Enos lovingly admired her huge dark eyes, her bright red gills, the shiny scales covering her massive body, and that impossibly large mouth. Enos thought for a second and said “Craig, her mouth is so damn big, I could do that lion tamer trick and stick my whole head in it!” Craig laughed and said “Let’s let her go now. She seems to be wiggling pretty good now.”
Enos slowly released his grip on the tarpon’s upper lip. He felt sadness creep over his body as he reluctantly let the magnificent creature go. He lovingly stroked his hand along her silvery body as she sank away from the boat. Enos stared at the water, hoping to see her perhaps one more time. But she remained cloaked in the dark waters of the river. “Man, I wish I could have kept that fish.” said Enos. “I would love to have been able to show her off to my buddies. A fake fish on my wall just isn’t the same,” he said sadly. ” I don’t even have a photograph.” “Yes, but think of it this way. How many people have been blessed enough to catch a tarpon? You will always have the memory of feeling the strength and power of this fish. You will always have in your mind the sight of it jumping, like Michael Jordan taking the ball to the basket for one of his trademark dunks. And I know you’ll never forget that huge bucketmouth, just like a giant bass.”
At that moment, something caught Enos’ eye. It was a flash of polished silver somewhere off his left side. He looked downriver a bit, and saw the tarpon come to the surface, the bright sunshine glinting off her mirror like body. She turned away, and gave Enos a farewell wave of her broad tail as she sank back into the depths, never to be seen again by human eyes. The big fish instinctively began her journey to vast limitless expanse of the open ocean a short distance downstream where she would forever be free to roam the currents wherever she wished. Enos returned her farewell, trying to be content with his memories.
As Craig guided the boat upstream towards the Pole Yard, Enos felt a mix of emotions. He felt a deep sense of frustration and sadness that he was coming home empty handed, despite landing a fish of truly monstrous proportions. He had no fish to show off to his buddies down at the tackle shop, not even a photograph. “You’ll back me up on this, won’t you, Craig?” he asked his friend. “Of course I will,” Craig responded. Enos reflected on the bite, the speed and power of the mighty fish, and that awesome leap high into the morning sunlight. “Sometimes, we just have to be happy with the memories,” Enos concluded. Around the bend, the Pole Yard came into view. “Hey, Craig. You workin” next Saturday?”
“Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realise that nothing really belongs to them.”
― Paulo Coelho
In many ways, fishing seems a metaphor for real life. In life, as in fishing, sometimes we are fortunate enough to find something rare and valuable. For the blessed among us, that thing is a person with whom we are able to deeply connect. We may have the opportunity to love them, spend our time with them, and to come to appreciate their strengths and weaknesses. But there may also come a time when that which is most precious to us is taken away. The pain of our loss can be unbearable. With time,however, we may come to understand that they were never really ours to possess in the first place. We learn to celebrate the time we did have together, to feel again the depths of the love we shared, and most of all, to remember what it felt like laugh, love, and simply be with them. Life has a way of slowly filling in the holes in our hearts and teaching us that there really are other fish to be caught. Though that first glorious catch will forever remain close to our hearts and its story indelibly written there, it is comforting to realize that there may be even bigger and more wonderful ones still swimming out there somewhere.