It’s Good To Be The Hero…I Guess?

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Photo by Johnny Spillane

Photo by Johnny Spillane

By Louis Cahill

Everybody wants to catch the big fish.

The skiff glides over the flat calm water, running from the dark of night into the blue and pink Rorschach test of the coming dawn. Every few minutes Jessie Regestor, our guide, kills the throttle and makes a hard turn when a big push of water breaks the perfect symmetry ahead. The lagoon is full of life, including a good number of sleeping manatees, wakened by the whirring propeller.

This is my first trip to Mosquito Lagoon. I likely would not have taken the time to fish, the day before the IFTD show in Orlando, if my buddy Johnny had not invited me. There are few folks I enjoy sharing a boat with as much and with him running two successful fly shops, we don’t get to do it enough. I’m always excited to see new water and, of course, I’ve heard all of the stories about how educated the lagoon redfish are. I’m looking forward to a challenge.

I live near the coast, so I insist the guy from Colorado take the first shift on the bow. The sun is just creeping up so we pole an edge looking for pushes and tails. Johnny gets a couple of shots but they aren’t easy ones and he’s met with the response we’ve been told to expect. Refusal. He makes a few more perfect presentations without a hookup and puts me on the bow.

Not long after, Jessie spots a group of tailers directly in the glare of the morning sun.

He takes his time and poles us into position where we have the sum from our left, where I have good visibility and can make a cast without my line making a shadow over the fish. This is the first time Jessie and I have fished together but I’m already a fan. That kind of strategic fishing gets results.

These fish are all big, but a couple of them are downright beasts. Their big tails waving like fans at country church in August. I make a couple of casts, which go ignored, before putting the fly right in front of one of the better fish. The fish sees it and turns on it. I strip short and quick as the fish moves but the line comes tight on something small. A ladyfish has cut him off and grabbed my fly. I horse the little guy out of the water and go for the hook but he’s swallowed it.

“Give him to me,” Johnny says, reaching for the fish with his left hand, pliers in his right.

The big fish is still happy, doing headstands about fifty feet off the bow. Johnny gets my fly back and I make another cast. Perfect presentation, except the lady fish had trashed my leader and the fly sailed away on the first false cast. I land an empty leader in front of the fish and let go with some colorful language.

“Give me your leader,” Johnny calls from behind me.

He pulls a fly out of my box and ties it on. I don’t even look at it.

I’m watching the big tail, keeping track of the fish. When he hands me the fly I see what he’s chosen. It’s an experiment I tied after a couple of beers. Something I thought was genius at the vise and later viewed with scepticism. I’d never had enough confidence to fish it. Johnny liked it though and I knew I was running out of time on this fish, so I cast.

The fly lands in front of the fish and there is no hesitation, just a solid thud as I strip set. The big fish doesn’t even know it’s hooked at first; it feels like I’ve hooked a log. When it does run, it feels like I’ve hooked a jet ski.

“Clear line! clear line! Big Fish,” Jessie is dancing on the platform, he’s so excited.

That morning, I had chosen to fish my 8-weight G Loomis Asquith, for soft presentations in the calm conditions. It’s now bent to the cork, with my rod only fifteen degrees off axis to the fish.

“Those rods are supposed to be tough, right?” Jessie’s voice sounds nervous.

“I guess we’re going to find out,” I reply.

“What about that reel? Is that the one you said was on the way out?”

“It sounds fine.” Clearly Jessie wants to land this fish.

I put the wood to the big red and everything holds. The rod doesn’t break, the reel doesn’t fail. My knots hold and the hook doesn’t straighten. I even work around the bow when the fish charges under the boat. Everything goes right and my forearms are burning when Jessie’s hand goes around the fish’s tail.

The photo doesn’t do it justice. I’ve caught 30-pound redfish before and this one is bigger. It’s head is as big as any watermelon I’ve ever held. Jessie has to help me lift the fish for the photo. He is beside himself.

“It’s the biggest I’ve ever had to the boat here,” he tells me. “You never get these big ones. Maybe once in a while with bait, but never on the fly.”

Jessie’s enthusiasm was contagious.

He had worked his ass off putting me on that fish. I decided to do something I almost never do. I posted the photo on social media and tagged Jessie. I seldom even photograph my own fish and when I do it’s usually someone else holding them. Even though I photograph a lot of fish, I kind of feel funny about showing hero shots of myself. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just not my thing. I do know, however, what photos like that can do for a guide’s bookings and Jessie deserved that, so I posted.

The next day, walking the floor of IFTD, a surprising number of folks mentioned the fish. It’s easy to forget how many eyes are out there, bearing down on their smartphones. It kind of started to eat at me. I know this is weird, but it just didn’t seem right somehow.

There I am in the photo, looking like the hero, but when I look at it I remember my guide working like a dog to put me in the perfect position. I remember my buddy salvaging my ladyfish situation and choosing the hot fly. I’m proud of the fish, sure. I did my job. I did it well, but so did everyone else and we fished well the rest of the day but no one else got a photo holding a monster redfish. It wouldn’t bother me except that I posted it. That kind of made me feel like a tool. Mental, I know but here it is. I guess that’s why I’m writing this. To clear my conscious.

Social media has changed so much about fly fishing. Not all of it is bad. Some of it is really good, in fact. I was hanging out with my friend April Vokey this weekend when she was approached by a 14 year-old girl who follows her. I overheard this earnest young woman telling April how she was bullied and picked on at school, because she loved fishing, and that was weird for a girl.

“It’s not ever going to stop,” April told her. “You just have to believe in yourself and do what you know is right.”

That actually choked me up. I thought how lucky that girl was to have connected with someone who knew, so exactly, what she was going through and knew what to say. That’s a pretty nice pay-off for an Instagram follower. It kind of makes me think that I don’t care if someone recognizes the spot I’m fishing if stuff like that is happening.

No one’s life is going to be changed, one way or another, because I caught a nice fish and shared it online.


Glen Ray’s first fish on fly

Still, there’s a responsibility there and it’s something to think about. Either way, catching that redfish was one of the coolest shots I’ve had in a while and I’m glad I had good friends to share it with.

A few weeks ago, the fellow who cuts my lawn told me was interested in fly fishing. I went straight in the house and got him a rod. We had a casting lesson on the freshly mowed lawn and gave him a handful of flies. This weekend he came back with a photo of his first fish on a fly rod. He was like a little kid. I’m a hell of a lot prouder of that fish. I wish I’d posted it instead.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “It’s Good To Be The Hero…I Guess?

  1. Great fly fishing story that recounts how important it is to have synergy on the boat amongst your guide and anglers. One person caught the giant redfish but everyone in the boat had their hand in creating the success. This kind of story should inspire many anglers out there to work as a team and set aside competition. This is one fly fishing memory that will not be forgotton for those that were there for a very long time.

    I hope the guide gets lots of trip inquiries, as I know personally, how important days like this are for a long-term succesfful career. Props to Johnny for being one hell of a fishing partner and props to Louis for rewarding everyone with the execution.

    Man….., I really would have liked to witness this one in person as it had to be truely EPIC!

    Kent Klewein

  2. I totally get it, Louis.
    Not a hero type, either.
    Even worse, to me, are the mass kill pics of dead fish, as evidence of ones luck or prowess.
    Ever seen a mad-face emoji?

    Maybe cause I grew up the fat kid, I don’t feel the need to catch the biggest or prove it. I lost the weight, but kept the humility.
    While I sometimes have a hard time relating to your adventures, I know humble.
    One of your best pieces, sir.

  3. I’m new to fly fishing! It didn’t take me long to fgure out how critical it is to have a great guide and the right fly to catching that fish! Yes, skill and practice help. Some of my most memorable moments were not with the “big fish” but with the ones that got away or had a story. I post my pics all the time. I hope they inspire more women to fish. I’m so lucky my husband invited me to share this great sport. Some of our best moments are on the water!

  4. Thank you April Vokey from my inner child. I was that little girl, who at 10 years of age wanted to learn how to fly fish while all the other little girls were playing with Barbie dolls. I did finally get to learn how to fly fish in my mid twenties and that was 26 years ago. I still love fly fishing to this day.

  5. Great post…my favorite one yet. Humility and recognition for others in spite of ourselves can be hard to find these days (preaching to myself, too). Congrats to all of you for a once in a lifetime red and for sharing your conscience.

  6. Thats why i guide.. i can catch a fish, but seeing someone light up when they make all the connections is the best. I rarely hold a fish or get in the picture. You have to for marketing every now and then,but that’s the clients moment not mine. The best catches on my books are in the hands of children. Can’t count how many “first fish” experiences ive had with kids,but every one takes me back to my childhood & i consider myself so lucky to pass this on & experience these moments again & again. I like your move busting out the stick on the yard man! Great!

  7. Louis, first off, you are a heck of a good writer! Great article and I completely agree with your thoughts. There are a couple of videos I’ve seen I think you’d like: “Tapam” (Tarpon from a float tube – crazy) and “Bulls on Top” (big Reds). Keep up the great work!

  8. ” I posted the photo on social media and tagged Jessie.”

    seems perfectly reasonable to me – except you should have tagged Johnny too 😉

    “it’s never going to stop” from April Vokey – probably quite true but very sad..

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