A Hunting We Will Go
07 May 2014 | Maloelap Atoll
Beating into 20-knots of wind, we were reefed down and moving along pretty well when I noticed the bungee on our hand-line stretch to its limit. Looking astern, the large splash confirmed that we had a fish on. With only ten miles separating the atolls of Aur and Maloelap, I knew we'd catch something because fish like edges of reefs and confluences of currents. In the tropics, you usually catch fish when things are most uncomfortable - that is when you are sailing fast. There is usually a lot of wind, which creates big waves. I carefully scrambled to the leeward rail and grabbed the hand-line. Sailing at 7 knots with no easy way to stop, I usually just drag the fish in by pulling the line hand over hand. But whatever we had on the end of this line was different. I was unable to pull the line and instead watched as it sped out abeam of us. I caught a flash of neon blue in the water as it pulled firmly against my efforts. "Oh no!" I thought, as I feared it must be a billfish of some sort which is something we don't want or need. After a while, I slowly began to make progress by pulling just a foot or so in at a time. The fish was swimming at or above our speed and giving me quite a workout when I wondered if he might break or bite through our 400lb test line. While I hung on, Lolo headed the boat up a bit and began rolling in some genoa to reduce our speed. When I felt the fish tire, I would gain a few more feet on him and after what seemed like a long time, he was close enough to see us and leaped clear of the water in protest. There was the biggest, most amazingly colorful iridescent bull mahi-mahi I've ever seen. "Lolo, get the gaff and the knife!" As I worked myself forward on the heeling, pitching deck, I had to pull the line out and around a solar panel and running backstay and into the gate on the leeward rail, transferring it from hand to hand without easing the line or without falling overboard. Finally in place, I braced myself against the gate stanchions, wrapped the line around one hand and thrust the gaff hard into the side of his head. Checking to ensure I had a good hold of him, I lifted the great fish as high as I could with one arm. His tail was still in the water as I reached for the filleting knife. This was a huge fish and there would be no way to bring him into the cockpit while still kicking and thrashing around. While pulling firmly upward on the gaff, I pushed the knife through the side of his head just behind the eye area and waited. I could not really move until I could lift him with both arms, but he needed to be mostly dead for that. As I waited, my gaff arm began to ache. With his tail in the water, he could easily push himself up and off the gaff hook resulting in the tragedy of a lost dying fish. I held fast and watched the brightness of the rainbow technicolor fade away before my eyes. Finally wrenching him into the cockpit, I sliced through a couple gills and sat back. We had won the battle, but it was not easy. Gazing on the great fish, I was filled with thoughts. Measuring nearly 5 feet long, this bull (male) mahi was majestic and certainly the epitome of his species. He was successful in his environment and had survived long enough to grow into a splendid specimen. I am not really a hunter. I like to eat, but I don't kill for sport. For some reason, there seems to be a difference between catching a small fish or rabbit and killing such a large magnificent animal. It makes one think. "Why am I doing this?" "Was this necessary?" "Do I have a right to take this life?" I believe every hunter asks some of these questions. But in a world where man is commercially depleting many target species into oblivion, I wonder if we're all too sheltered from these thoughts. As a modern consumer, one never has to contemplate the kill. Perhaps when one is forced to stare his kill in the eye, there is a reckoning that evokes respect and guilt and reverence and thankfulness...a conscience. Nowadays we're too removed from where our food comes from. It appears instead on store shelves as an endless commodity. Maybe if a commercial tuna fishing boat owner were forced to look into the eye of every fish in his boats 1000-ton fish hold, he might feel something. Maybe he'd see more than dollar signs. Maybe he'd know that he's taking too much? Maybe. Traditional native cultures hold great reverence for the hunt and show respect and thankfulness in its success. These cultures knew a sense of balance with their food chain or suffered immediately the consequences. Today I have a few sore muscles from the battle. There's a bloody mess all over the cockpit to clean up. I do not feel a sense of entitlement, but instead lucky that this one fish will feed my wife and me for nearly a month..and I know where it came from.