Ate Weight

by Walt Bailey
Heart of Winter Catalog 2007

Splash. Okay now I’m smiling. The stress of the last busy month is washed away. We jump off the panga into the clear Pacific water and paddle to the reefbreak with plenty of chest-high rights.

I’m the first back to the boat. I’m tired and hungry, but also curious what lurks underneath the water. I string up my 8-weight fly rod and make some tentative casts ... nothing. Slowly, the remaining crew paddles back to the boat with big smiles and limp arms. I ask the pangero to give me a shot at any fish we see on the way back.

Birds and the telltale sight of explosions in the water visible from over a mile away spark my excitement. I urge the pangero to go faster. Tuna? No, jacks and big ones, too. With an 8-weight and 30- to 60-pound fish, I’m undergunned but it’s all I’ve got.

Trying to stay upright in the swell that’s rocking the boat, I cast to the fish. I fight my nerves and the urge to hurry. They’re everywhere! I have to manage my fly line in the boat so as not to tangle it around the bow cleat. I feel the eyes on me from within the boat. Man, these are big fish. We’re downwind too far, run upwind ... no, cast over my shoulder to that group of jacks there. It’s all part of the attraction of saltwater fly fishing.

Some jacks bust the surface in front of me and I cast to them ... strip, strip, fish on! My friend Matt helps me clear the fly line tangled on the bow cleat. Cheers from the peanut gallery; dismay from the reel. The fish is into the backing and it’s going fast. The drag on this reel is nowhere near enough; I palm the reel to slow the fish down. The backing instantly cuts nearly to the bone on my line finger. I point the rod at the fish, and pull my now-bloody index finger back.

Then it happened, how, I’ll never quite know. The story will be forever burned into my memory by the bubble trail leaving the rod and reel as they screamed through the water. The situation is only made worse by the witnesses: “It’s called an ate weight, right?”

My finger burns from the cut. I’m going to need something for the pain. The jokes are getting old.

About the Author

Walt Bailey is the Eastern wholesale sales manager for Patagonia. He’s still working on living down this story and thinking of teaching remedial fly-rod holding skills.