March 16, 2010
"We are looking for Big Louise!" Raul, my Belize River Lodge guide, exclaimed. I cringed a little bit because I don't like harassing fish that have celebrity status for the same reason I don't like eating anything that has been tenderly named by it's owners. It seems like once you label something it has a deeper significance and some sort of bond always emerges. It had been a slow day of fishing, however, so I was ready for a little action and anxious to catch a fish, more specifically a big snook. I am a sucker for snook and, yes, a big, strapping man in a cowboy hat, but that's another blog.
The water was quite cloudy, but Raul poled slowly along the chain of mangroves as I cast blindly into wooded pockets and points. As I retrieved the fly back to the boat, a well-fed snook floated to the surface of the murky water no more than 20 feet from the bow. I quickly fired my fly in her path and she crushed it with the same ferocity that my dog destroys a squeaker in a new toy. Raul frantically shouted, "Don't let her take you to the trees!" I bent the rod low to the water and stripped diligently until the fish was a safe distance from the web of red mangrove roots.
The fish jumped, as all great fish do, shaking her head frantically. I threw some slack and pulled hard when she hit the water and began to regain her bearings. Immediately, she wanted to take my fly, my line and ultimately me into a downed tree that menacingly laid at my 1 o'clock. I changed the angle of my rod and pulled. Another bullet dodged. The fish was still not directly connected to my reel, so I swept my hand along the spool of the reel a couple of times to quickly retrieve the last few feet of fly line. I happily welcomed my drag to the tussle.
A few more jumps and I was finally able to steer and pull the snook to the boat where the net was waiting on the edge of the gunwale. As soon as she caught a glimpse of the knotted rope, her eyes changed from bewildered to determined faster than I could crank my reel handle one revolution. She realigned herself and set her internal GPS for the most direct route back to her house. And that is where she went with the speed that only a thick tailed, big-bodied fish can achieve. I was still connected, but knew that the fish ate the fly deep enough to expose my 40 pound shock to her sandpaper mouth throughout the entire struggle. The end was near. One quick thrash and the game was over. My fly line snapped back toward me and settled on the water's surface, the frayed shock tippet mocking me. I always remember the fish that come undone more than those I intimately release, but thankfully, fish win and Big Louise won. Perhaps, that makes me a winner as well.