I Close My Eyes and See it all Again.
Feb 2020 Cancun, Mexico
During my weeklong trip to Cancun, Mexico with my dad and his significant other, I booked a last minute day trip with a nearby fly fishing outfitter. I set my fly fishing clothes out, all ready to go for the morning sunrise. I have the perfect mango colored sun shirt, my Athena hat, shorts, and my Teva flip flops. No rod, reel, line, or flies! I hardly sleep. I dream of fishing salt. I dream of the hot sun, the deep aqua water, the bright fly line, the feeling of the grippy flats boat beneath my bare feet, the feeling of the line running through my fingers, the sweat running down my back, and the ocean breeze as it blows through my braided hair and cools my body. And of course, the feeling of a weighted rod bending and loading with every cast, the tight looped line as it unrolls perfectly from the air onto the water, ready to strip my big fly back in hopes of the ultimate tug.
I wake up bright and early all prepared to arrive at the boat dock. I grab a quick sip of coffee, call a local cab, and off I go. The ride and anticipation feel like an hour, but it’s only 15 minutes! I tell the cab driver where to stop. I leap out and walk down a long stretch of narrow metal, rickety stairs built between two local businesses where I was told to meet the guide at the bottom at marina dock. I see Cancun Tarpon Fishing in ocean blue lettering above a wooden door frame. The wooden building is painted white, but is beginning to peel from wear and ocean humidity. I follow the door into a small shop filled with all kinds of fishing gear such as, lures, fishing poles, fishing rods, reels, and more. The floor is a bit sand covered from sandy feet tracks.
I’m greeted by Martin, a tall Aussie man. He gives me a gracious smile. His sun-tanned face and weathered eyes read that he wonders why I’m there; a tall, skinny girl, no fishing partner, and no gear. I can understand the unusualness of it all. He asks me in his Aussie accent, “Would ya like conventional spin tackle on the boat as well?” I pause while I look back at him with a slight smile, and say, “hmmm, sure, why not.” He says with a smile, “Aight mate, I’ll have you meet your guide outside.”
I feel a bit nervous and excited, no more no less than each other. I see a couple of other American men waiting to meet their guide as well. I hear one say he’s from Colorado. He fit the profile of a river guide. He’s wearing an outfitter cap, and clothes all in subdued green, and grey earthy tones. Martin comes out and leads us to our guides at the dock. There I meet a local Mexican guide, Rusty. He is small statured, wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and no shoes. I find it peculiar he goes by “Rusty”. He gives me the same peculiar look without the smile. I’m wondering if he thinks, “What am I getting myself into?” He takes my hand as I step into the boat. I sit down and away we go.
I don’t know exactly where we’re going. I’m excited to just go! I hold my hat pressed against my head in the wind, and watch as the sun continues to rise. The soft, but vivid oranges and reds reflect off the still water in the distance. I close my eyes and feel the warmth of the new day’s sun on my face, and listen to the wind wisp over my body as I smell the saltiness of the ocean. We arrive at the mangroves. The nervousness that I lost during the ride out quickly rushes back. He hands me the rod rigged with a reel, line, leader, and a fly. I take a look at the flashy white fly and drop it in the water. I stand up at the bow, kick off my flip flops, and start to strip off the line. In broken English with a Spanish accent, Rusty directs me where to cast. “Cast close, slow strips, pickup and cast again,” he says. He means business. It takes me a few casts to get the feel back, but oh man does it feel good!
As I continue, I become more comfortable, and my casts are soaring. And there she is, a rolling tarpon fish in a cove. Rusty positions the boat perfectly by pressing his long push pole down on the shallow, sandy bed of the ocean floor. He says, “go now, go now!” With two false casts I cast my line and fly 70 feet out, right in front of the fish. I slowly strip the line back between my fingers, and there she is, a tarpon charging my fly. I swiftly lift the rod tip up to set the hook, which I told myself I wouldn’t do, and the Rusty yells out, “No trout set!!” I lose the fish, because I don’t leave the rod tip down and strip the line straight back and hard to set. Oh, the disappointment!! Rusty is nice and says, “We’ll get another chance.” In my heart I’m not so sure, but I’m hopeful. My brain is trained to lift the rod tip to set, because at home in Utah and out West that’s just what you do when fishing for trout on dry flies. Rusty starts moving the boat slowly again, watching for tarpon as I continue to cast, over and over and over again, at 60-90 feet. I love watching and feeling the power of the rod bend perfectly back and forward as the line soars to the mangrove edges. My arm is growing tired, but there is no way I’m going to stop. And there she is, another tarpon, and her big silver scales reflecting the sun, twisting, rolling, and boiling to the top of the water. I pause, and patiently wait. My heart is pounding with such anticipation as Rusty positions the boat. We see her roll again! I focus on my stance, grip of the rod, and bring it straight back and high just past my ear, and accelerate it forward for a near perfect cast. My fly lands and I slowly strip the line back. My heart is pounding. I’m thinking to myself, don’t you dare trout set!
And there it was, another charge at my fly. I feel the surprising tug, and I strip set HARD! My heart sinks, because I know it wasn’t quite enough, because the tug is gone. She is gone. I stare at the ocean water as it subtly splashes against the side of the boat. I pull myself together, and think… another time, another day. My guide feels bad but he did what he could do.
It is time to head back, but first he steers the boat at the large mangroves, swiftly heading straight towards a corner. I wonder why he’s heading right towards the corner with worry we may drive right into the bushes, but I don’t say anything, because I think he must be up to something interesting. We slow down just before we reach the edge, and he takes the boat through the opening of a mangrove tunnel. Suddenly, we’re inside and surrounded by twisty, bendy, and tightly woven branches with large, deep green leaves contrasting against the vivid aqua blue. We travel nearly the length of a football field as we duck down low, and take in the beauty, and the sounds of the birds nesting within the groves with huge, joyful smiles. I’m thinking I’ve never experienced anything like this, and remembering how lucky I am to be right here in that moment, disconnecting from the world, soaking it all in, and reflecting on life and this joyous occasion. As we depart while cruising fast over the ocean waves, and looking out at the other boats cruising on the water, Rusty tells me I have an amazing cast. He said, “You cast so good.” It’s one of the best compliments I can receive. We chat about the day, and laugh about the misses, and the humbling experience. A day I get to see, and hold a beautiful tarpon of my own will be with immense gratitude.
I return home and share my experience with my fly fishing friends, and come to find out that you normally don’t need to cast 80+ feet to rolling tarpon. The guide wanted to watch my long casts! It’s okay though.. I wouldn’t change a thing. I smile, and laugh, and find peace as I reflect back on the meaningful day. I close my eyes and see it all again.