We were easing along the coast of Cozumel in a strong wooden panga. It was simply set up but it had everything we would need. Captain Miguel clearly was making a course for what he called the "lighthorse" (really meaning lighthouse) but on the way to a meeting with his roan stallion, the water in front of us erupted in all directions with the splashes of gamefish carnage. As we got closer, I made out some half-airborne blackfin tuna savaging what looked to be a form of sardine.
Out came my trusty traveling spinner — two pieces of rod became one. I threaded the 8-pound line and 40-pound mono leader through the guides with shaky hands, and grabbed one of the tiny homemade jigs Miguel kept on the helm. One quick improved clinch knot, an open bail, quick cast and rod jerk was all the time it took to tell you now that I was hooked up to a fine blackfin tuna — a fish that runs like an Indy Car. When the arbor of my reel made an unwelcome appearance on this show of shows, I tapped Miguel and told him in Spanish (a mixture of anxious "signing" and utterance) to come out of idle gear and follow the fish. He did. I regained precious line, and as Captain Buck Starck — my Islamorada mentor — put it, "got well."
Eventually, the silver and black battler came alongside and he gaffed the fish expertly in the head. We looked around us to find more striking tuna, but the calm sea indicated the tuna had moved on in their typically hit and run tunahood.
Miguel smiled and motioned for me to sit down. He pulled the tuna onto his cutting board and with his razor-sharp knife started slicing shoulder strips off the still-quaking tuna. He cut the skins off the strips and laid them on a plate. He dug out a small bottle filled with what looked — I hoped — to be salt and pepper and lightly dusted them. He held the plate my way and said, "Take!" I did, and had my first sashimi experience. I knew the Native American idea, and maybe Aztec, too, that when I ingested my trophy, it became a part of me and vice versa. So, I tunaed my way through a bunch more tuna strips. Water was turned down for the iced Carta Blancas I brought onboard. One beer was just right. Dessert was naranja y manzana- orange and apple. As I happily crunched away on my apple, Miguel put the vessel in gear.
We had not even arrived at the "lighthorse" and yet the day, the action, was full and fulfilling already...all the rest would be Mexican gravy on our Cozumel enchilada. Who knew what lay ahead of us, but who ever does?
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