The day passed in a similar manner to the day before it, and the day before that. I swung in my hammock on the back deck and read my book. Nothing much was said on days like these and we were free to gaze out across the water, contemplate the scenery, and let the boat sail itself. I looked down into the water for a while with the sun at my back and watched as it shimmered a deep navy blue color. There were layers and folds in it, and it looked as if it was producing its own light.
Most days we'd catch 3 or 4 fish as we were sailing along, but it was already mid afternoon and we hadn't even had a nibble. "That's odd," I thought, "I wonder where all the fish are..." We were passing close to a point of land and an up-welling in the seafloor that might bring nutrients to the surface. I reckoned that there must've been hundreds of fish swimming somewhere down below me in that shimmering water. "Oh well," I said to myself, "Might as well finish this chapter before we get to the anchorage."
The handline took off like a rocketship. Often times it starts with an aggressive spin and then slowly calms down, but this one was different. My heart started beating faster and I put a hand on the spindle to try and slow it down a bit. As I did, I looked up towards the horizon and scanned for signs of a jump. Normally a dorado will spend some time with jumping antics when it first gets hooked. This fish wasn't spending time doing anything but running. The pressure I put on the spool didn't seem to phase him and the spool was starting to burn my hand.
"This is big," I told Autumn, "maybe even bigger than that one dorado I caught with Wade. Could you grab my gloves?" Was I full of shit? Maybe he wasn't so big and he was just running hard. "I guess we'll find out," I figured in my head. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something dark break the water. Definitely wasn't a dorado, but too far away to make any guesses about what he might be.
I finally got the pair of gloves on, and still he was running. "I wonder if the big bastard even knows hes hooked..." I was able to put pressure on him more evenly with the gloves on, and I started to sock it to him. I looked down at the spool. "He must've taken at least two hundred yards already," I reckoned from the dwindling amount remaining. Eventually his run slowed down and Autumn dropped the jib and maneuvered the boat so that I could try and work him from the side deck instead of having to deal with all the clutter around the cockpit. The tension in the line was high, but I managed to get a few feet of it back. He didn't like that one bit and took off running again. The boat was pitching around in the swell, and it was tough to keep a solid stance to work him from. After running another 30 yards or so, he broke the surface of the water and I saw something I hadn't ever seen before. A bill.
"You see that thing?" I yelled at Autumn. "Nope," she answered as she continued to maneuver the boat. "He's got a bill on him," I hollered back to her. She responded with an excited giggle. He was maybe 250 yards away at that point, and it was tough to gauge how big he might be. Maybe around 3 or 4 feet? Tough to say, but man was he fighting.
The sweat was starting to build on my brow, and I kept fighting him, slowly taking line in whenever he would give it up. Water was jumping from the taut line like crazy and I knew that I was right on the edge of snapping it the whole time. Inch by inch, I worked him in closer to the boat and I noticed that he was diving down deep in the water as I pulled him towards the boat. Perhaps fifteen minutes of this tug of war match continued and I managed to win 70 or 80 yards of line back. He must've gotten a wild hair, because the line started rising again, and I could tell he was heading up for a jump. "Maybe he wants to get a peek at us," I speculated silently to myself. Autumn had the camera ready this time, and as he broke the water, we both gasped.
I looked over towards Autumn. We were both still wide-eyed. "Do you think its even possible to land a fish like this? The handline is only 40lb test. That might be the only good look we ever get at him," I reasoned. She shrugged her shoulders, but gave me a look that instilled confidence in my angling skills. "Better get the gaff out just in case," I told her. I could feel my hands starting to tire from gripping the handline, but I knew this was no time to take a break. Each wrap brought him that much closer to the boat, and as he got closer, he started swimming sideways to the boat, sliding his way around the port side, then the starboard, and then back around to port. Each time he passed a rigging wire, I'd have to transfer the spool between hands, and I was mighty nervous that I might drop it.
I managed to keep the pressure on him, however, and about 45 minutes into the fight I got him to within 50 yards of the boat. I could tell he was starting to tire, with slower runs, and a bit less vigor. The line started rising to the surface and again he jumped, and this time he really took to the air. The spray leaped off him and he cleared the water entirely, with a mighty thrash of his tail and a fearsome shake of his bill. There was no mistaking that he was a monster.
I knew it would be really difficult to try and land him into the cockpit, so I slowly worked him around to the side of the boat. When I finally got him in close, you could tell he was exhausted. I was blown away that he still hadn't broken the line, and I managed to maneuver him over to the port beam. Once he came alongside it was finally clear just how massive he was. He easily took up a third of the length of the boat.
I bent down to remove the hook, and it slipped right out of the corner. I knew that Autumn and I couldn't possibly eat a fish this big, and after such a valiant fight, I felt that he deserved to return to the sea that was his home.
I couldn't help but document an occasion this monumental, so I half-hoisted, half-bearhugged his hundred pound, nine foot long body up for some pictures. This was no easy task.
I sat down on the front hatch, completely in shock of what had just happened. Some people pay thousands of dollars to go out on sport fishing day trips and I had managed to land this big, beautiful sailfish with a 5 dollar handline and a .69 cent rubber squid from the deck of my home. I read "The Old Man and the Sea" when I was a little kid, and ever since then, I've wondered what it would be like to really catch a massive fish. Surely Don Rodrigo the Magnificent wasn't quite as big as the fish Hemingway describes, but he surely was enormous and every bit as beautiful.
I reckon he is the finest fish I'll ever catch.