A Fishy Dude…….an essay by Mad Mike Benson
A Fishy Dude
By: Mad Mike Benson
Reputations are fickle things. Most of us never fully understand how we’re perceived by other people, and some of us just don’t care. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, some good, some bad, none really worth remembering or dwelling on, but I often do ponder what will be said about me when I’m gone. What will people remember, and will it be what I want to be remembered. I don’t worry over this too often as it is something that is completely out of my hands, but it is something to be considered from time to time while making decisions.
None of that was on my mind as I rolled through Everglades National Park, watching the sun rise over a sea of grass, broken only by the occasional island of trees. After an all-night run from Charleston the road seemed to stretch on into nothingness, a never ending slab of asphalt with a boat ramp at the end. We had come to fish in a place that we didn’t know, for fish we didn’t understand without the safety net of a guide, or even a person who had fished there before. On trips like this it’s important to keep ones expectations at a reasonable level, but I’ve never been called reasonable in any sector of my life, fishing is no exception. A quick change of clothes in the ramp parking lot, and we were rolling towards the Gulf of Mexico at 40 mph, where exactly we were going we didn’t know… but we hoped we would find tarpon when we got there. After a bit of a run we backed off the throttles, looked around, and made a decision on where to fish based on nothing but the very few things we knew about tarpon, mostly gleaned from books, magazines, and hearing other people talk about fishing for them. It didn’t take long for doubt to creep into the boat with us, and it manifested itself through a statement from James on the poling platform. “Dude, I don’t even know what a tarpon looks like in the water…” Doubt is a gluttonous beast, give it even a crumb and before you know it, you will be fully consumed. “Don’t worry man; you’ll know it when you see it…” I always seem to be confident when fishing. Standing on the bow of a boat I will doubt my relationships, my future, hell even my religion, but I never doubt my ability to get a fly in front of a fish, and I never doubt that once I do I’ll catch him. It doesn’t always work out like that, but it doesn’t change my level of confidence.
Within about fifteen minutes of poling down the bank we had picked out, James spotted the first fish. I never saw him, as he crept up on us from our up-sun side, and spooked after nearly running into the boat, but the fact that James was visibly shaking, and kept repeating the same sentence over and over again: “Dude, that was a fucking tarpon!”, left me fairly certain that it was indeed a tarpon, and we were in the right place. Not long after, I got my first shot ever at a fish… two fish actually, moving quick coming in on us at 11 0’clock. I dropped the fly just outside the lead fish, and began moving it at a 45 degree angle across and away from their path. The lead fish never even glanced at the small black creation that crossed his nose, but his partner never even pumped the clutch before inhaling it as it came into range. I struck hard, felt a bump, and the fly slipped out, never finding purchase in the cinder block hard mouth. I couldn’t have cared less, he had eaten, hard, and I was elated. Both James and I exclaimed glances that didn’t need words, the look simply said, “That just happened… We are really doing this…” More fish showed themselves, I made a bad shot on a fish, and finally came tight and landed a fish that weighed about 70lbs. James took the bow and stuck a fish that was easily over 100lbs. His line tangled around one of his legs however, and the leader parted as though it were made of thread, once again, we didn’t care.
The week progressed much the same as that first morning. We would head out, pick spots, throw flies and catch fish. Tarpon, Snook, Trout, Redfish… We caught them all, with no real idea of what we were doing, or where we were going. I’ve known people in my life whom I can sum up only with the words “A fishy dude.” No matter where you put them, or what lives in the water there, they will catch it. They just can’t help it. Reputations are fickle things, and you don’t get to pick yours, though you can conceivably live your life in a manner that predisposes you towards one. But a reputation like being “A fishy Dude”, cannot be bought, or even acquired through practice and time on the water. You either are one, or you’re not, it’s just that simple. When I die, I’m sure there will be at least a few people standing around somewhere talking about me. Some won’t have great things to say, others will be polite and forgive some of my misgivings in order to respect my passing, it’s only polite after all. But I hope I get to look down and listen, if only for a few moments and hear what people really thought of me before going off to whatever endless plain awaits us after death. And hovering there above the earth, listening, I believe my soul will rest in an unending peace if only one person who knew me looks at freshly turned soil covering my casket, throws a handful of dirt on it, and says, “He was a fishy dude…”