February 10, 2023
By Aaron Wood
Fishermen are of the superstitious mold for reasons I can’t understand. I can only assume it is a tradition passed from one angler to the next, or something that exists within the water itself—A contagious virus shared like old tackle; a molecule attached to the compound that is two hydrogen and one oxygen.
As far as myself, I did not believe in superstitions; nor ghosts, spirits, bad omens, haunts, voodoo, witchcraft, UFOs, or any other hijinks that fall beyond the boundaries of scientific explanation. While I consider myself a man of conviction, my immovable stance on such matters was thrown into question by a chance encounter with a cuddly mammal.
“Do you see that tail?” my wife asked.
I detached myself from the perfection that is the Yucatan starscape and turned to investigate. Beneath the wooden deck of our small hotel were the goggle-tanned eyes of an adolescent raccoon, staring back at me as if to measure my character. I approached the animal only for it to vanish beneath the deck and into the shadows.
“What’s his name?” I asked as I returned to Scorpius and the glow of Jupiter.
“Harold,” my wife responded.
“Harold? No, we are in Mexico. His name is . . . Robalocito. He is little snook.”
We soon decided it was time for bed, climbing the winding stairs to our room. As I turned the final corner I found Robalocito on his haunches, his front hands placed on the door to our room. Caught by surprise, Robalocito landed on all fours and began running for the only exit he had available—the stairwell we stood in.
“Fuck. Fuck, run. Argghh! He’s coming,” I yelled, ignoring the fact that raccoons are harmless unless foaming at the mouth. As we reached the ground I turned to see him cross the road and disappear into the forest.
“That . . . was weird,” I noted, unaware of Robalocito’s motives.
Overnight the relative calm we enjoyed over cocktails vanished and I awoke to palms slashing at our window. I collected my gear and got dressed, hoping the storms on the horizon would push south. At the landing, my guide Pancho introduced himself, his eyes drifting to the looming clouds behind me.
The route to Ascension Bay was fortified by a line of storms, and soon we were stationary, the storm scuttling any prospect of success. Whitecaps ran along either side of our mangrove shelter in striations like wood years traced in felled pine. My raingear was soon useless as Pancho huddled beneath his head-to-toe coat, bone-dry except for the raindrops that collected around his eyes and nose.
“Mi casa,” he said.
“Mi casa,” Pancho said again, pointing to his massive raincoat. Indeed, I thought, a home away from home. We stood there in silence, soaked to the core, occasionally laughing at our situation while the voices in my head wondered what spell Robalocito had left on my door.
That afternoon I recounted my day over a mound of ceviche on a restaurant patio a few blocks from our hotel.
“Tomorrow is the day. I just know it,” I said as I shoveled ceviche down my gullet like a seabird devouring glass minnows, noting the storms had passed to leave favorable conditions.
“Aaron . . . Turn around.”
Creeping into the restaurant patio and approaching the table beside us was none other than Robalocito. He stood to inspect a chair for food, dropped, and moved on to the next chair. He was soon so close I wondered if I should reach out and pat him on the head.
At the time, my suspicions of the creature were overshadowed by the large dose of dopamine pulsing through my veins. In fact, I was quite happy to see the little guy, ignoring altogether the day I had spent in the rain.
Robalocito was within six feet of us, judging our intentions, staring me in the face, before being shooed away by the wayward boot of a passing server.
“What are the chances of seeing him here?” I asked, but soon I understood it wasn’t by chance at all.
While I thought it impossible to have a hangover, the sight of the eggs at breakfast the next day left me uneasy. Strange, I thought, but it will pass once the fishing starts. Making my way onto the panga, I found it quite a relief to sit down.
Ignoring my unease, I soon learned of the glory of Ascension Bay, a looking glass of opal and indigo, sandy shallows tracing the edges of healthy mangroves, a place so perfect for the sporting angler I pondered if it were drawn in the hand of the angler himself. A truly special place, where the mouth of the ocean breathes light into the lungs of the bay, and in doing so, gives life to the anglers who explore it.
Pancho spotted a pair of permit cruising in deeper water before he was on the platform. Moments later, another appeared starboard side and we were forced to choose. In the next thirty minutes, the permit seemed to multiply, granting us a fortunate problem. The moment I had been dreaming of was upon us, except I wasn’t entirely focused on the task at hand, but doing my best to keep my footing.
I was running a fever, and the aching in my head edged closer to a migraine. I told Pancho,“I think I might pass out,” but focused only on the permit around us, Pancho told me, “Put on your boots.”
I ignored my condition in the name of permit and did as I was told. We waded in close to them, the occasional tail piercing the surface while I struggled to keep up with my guide. He beckoned me with his hands, told me to hurry, but I had to sit down, struggling to hold my rod above the water.
I was becoming a worthless, whining, limp excuse for an angler in an area with more permit than I may ever see again. When I finally hooked one, I thought I could soon call it quits—I can retire for the day; I can leave here with my pride intact in search of a cool pillow. After a brief fight, my line went slack and I watched on as the fish disappeared from the edge of the boat.
Pancho led me through Punta Allen to the doctor, me still in my wading boots.
“Lo siento . . . ” I told the doctor, pointing to the muddy tracks I’d left on the formerly pristine tile floor.
She performed a brief exam before handing me some antibiotics. “Infección,” the doctor said, pointing at my stomach.
I trudged my way through town back to the panga, Pancho wondering if I could continue fishing.
“Maybe tomorrow,” I said, knowing full well I would not be better. I spent the next three days confined to my room, splitting my time between the toilet and my bed, soaking my sheets as the fever broke and then returned, wondering where Robalocito was, ruminating over what curse he had placed on my door, over my ceviche, how I would kill that bastard if I saw him again. Such conclusions seemed beyond possibility for a pragmatic thinker, but I was now a convert to the cult of superstitious anglers, doomed to carry the burden of paranoia along with me until I too passed it on to the next dubious angler.
I pulled the sheets up to my chin, brought my knees up to my chest, shivered, and faded off into fevered dreams.
Aaron Wood lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and splits his fishing time between the salt and the watersheds of Appalachia. He is an avid fly tier and writer, devoted husband, and in 2021 became a new father.