If You Can Stand the Waves, the Fishing’s Good
Battling my stomach, waves and 20 Yellowtail off the coast of the Florida Keys
Every year my dad and I make an annual pilgrimage to the southernmost point of the United States. Like birds migrating with the seasons, we board planes from our separate cities and start the journey to better weather and open water.
Our destination is Key West. The logic for our trip is simple, a weekend in a place steeped in the history of freedom and bad decisions is the perfect location for an annual mental reset. This year (2019), we’re starting our trip with a morning of fishing. So on Friday night we touch down in Miami, pick up our rental car, and make the drive down to Marathon to fish the next day.
The next morning we check out from our hotel and drive over to the marina. I spot our boat, Wayne’s World, and who I presume is our captain, Wayne. Wayne is your classic Florida Key’s fisherman, wearing a hat and shirt that have been worn down by the sun and saltwater and rocking a perma-tan you can only get living this close to the ocean.
After introductions between himself, his first mate and us, Captain Wayne informs us that as long as we can handle five foot waves in our tiny little boat, then the fish are there for catching. My dad and I exchange nervous glances. We’re not inclined to sea sickness, but in our fairly small vessel five foot waves are enough to make us think twice.
If you can stand the waves, the fishing’s good
Afraid to look weak, we give a falsely-confident “sounds good!”, and we’re off to sea. Upon reaching our spot I see that Captain Wayne has told us the truth, and nothing but the truth (so help us God). As the first mate tosses out the anchor, we look into the water to see what appear to be over a hundred Yellowtail swimming in a circle, forming a whirlpool of fish tsunami below the surface.
We get our hooks set and begin to cast; slowly letting our bait sink before bringing it back up to recast. The waves have started to make their presence known. I hear Wayne’s words echoing in my head: “If you can stand the waves, the fishing’s good”. The boat is really starting to rock now, causing me to shift my weight drastically from one foot to the next to counterbalance the rocking of the boat.
As the minutes go on the constant motion starts to leave its mark on my stomach, and I know if I don’t concentrate on the task at hand, I’m going to be delivering the fish their breakfast before too long.
Sure enough, though, Wayne’s prophecy comes to fruition and we have our first bite. A quick reel in and I’m back in the water for round two. A few minutes later we’ve got a total of eight between my dad and I. I’m grinning ear to ear when my dad hands off the rod to sit down. Man down, but we’ve got to push on. Wayne’s informed us that we can take back a total of 20 Yellowtail. We can keep fishing after but we’ll be tossing them back.
The Race to Twenty
“Alright, so twelve more, Alex. That’s doable. Just concentrate on the fishing and not so much on the hurling.” I tell myself as I cast back out.
12 fish in and my dad stands up from his place of rest to give an offering to the sea off the back of the boat. Not a sign of encouragement but never the less a sign that it’s on me now to get the job done.
14…15…16…nearing the finish line. By this point the fishing isn’t the hard part. It feels like I’m doing the rod equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. The real competition is between my mind and my stomach. Can I keep fishing long enough before my stomach gives way?
17…18…goodness we’re close. It’s felt like an eternity but in reality we’re catching them so fast it’s only been about an hour total. I’m close though, and if I can just make it a few more minutes, I should be able to put the rod down and start thinking about what we’ll get to drink back onshore.
19…okay last one. I cast back out much to my stomach’s dismay. I’m focusing with all my might. My mind is holding strong but I know it won’t be able to fight back my stomach for much longer.
The Fish That Broke the Camel’s Back
My mind drifts and my stomach starts to take over. It seems like I’m being forced to throw in the towel, but just when I think I need to give up, I feel a tug on my line. The pull snaps me back into the moment and I reel in the final fish.
As it breaks the surface and I draw it over the boat, I feel the sea sickness force me to give way. I pull the fish over the side and quickly hand over the rod to the first mate. Leaning over the side of the boat I give way and begin to vomit into the ocean. I guess you’ve got to give, once you take.
I come up from leaning over the side of the boat and the day feels anew. A rush of relief fills my body and victory fills my soul. I notice the cool breeze bouncing off the ocean water and a smile growing on my face. Time to wrap it up and refill my stomach back on shore. The Lostak boys are coming home champions.
Back on shore, the fish are laid out in a neat line and gutted. It’s a lot of fish and we eat like kings later that night at Blue Heaven: our favorite restaurant in Key West. We each take half of the remainder home with us when the weekend draws to a close. The following week I’m able to feed 12 people with the catch. What started as a moment of fear and nervous energy ended in victory, and I think those are great ingredients to add to any good fishing story.