Monday, March 9, 1998
PALMILLA, SAN JOSE DEL CABO, MEXICO -- Terry’s best fish story revolves around catching nine-inch brook trout as a kid from the creek that ran under the street, across from his house. This is from a guy who, while fishing from a little 14-foot aluminum boat three miles out on the Sea of Cortez, brought in a six-foot marlin.
Terry McCarthy is a soft-spoken gentle wisp of a man, who lives contentedly on his 40-acre tract of wooded land, 35 minutes north of downtown Duluth, Minnesota. In February, thirty-five minutes from Duluth can put a guy up to his neck in the middle of nowhere. So he routinely escapes to Mexico; usually to the Yucatan, to the Caribbean, to a palapa on some beach where time passes like a hermit crab across the sand. But this year he came to San Jose del Cabo, hardly a sleepy little beachfront Mexican pueblito. Here with the traffic, the tourists, the high-rise condos, the pounding jackhammer from across the street from seven in the morning to six at night, he chose to spend his week south. He readily admits it wasn’t what he expected. But Terry is an adaptable fellow who exudes optimism. During his precious seven days he sampled just enough of the Baja to realize how much more remains. Never the less, during his brief visit he was able to taste something of which few Baja veterans ever get the chance—he brought in a marlin on light tackle.
Next winter when he is sitting in one of those palapa bars, in Puerto Morelos, on the beach, sipping rum punch amongst a cadre of winter escapees abuzz with south of the border bravados, Terry can quiet them all with a humble fish tale.
Terry’s Best Fish Story-
It goes back to perhaps my first experience fishing. That was when I was a boy about seven or eight years old, in my neighborhood. There was a stream right across the street from me. And it was surrounded by woods. It was a favorite place me to go and hang out, because it was quiet, and it was that private place you could go.
I don’t like fish much. Fishing to get fish to cook ‘em was never a big deal for me. But I remember I would go over to this little creek that ran underneath the street-- I don’t know where the pole came from--and I did that worm thing. I went out and got those worms. I had just a regular old rod and reel, just an old funky thing, maybe my brother’s--I had an older brother.
There was this big old culvert that ran under Norton Street, a big round culvert, and the creek ran through that concrete culvert. There was a little pool where the creek came out. And I remember that I would sometimes just walk across the street, sometimes barefoot, sometimes in my cowboy boots. I knew my mom loved fish. I’d go over and just sit on top of that culvert. I’d take my line, get a worm on there, and throw it inside the culvert. And just let it drift down. I would sit up there and do that. Catching these little brookies. Eight, nine, ten inches. And I don’t remember the thrill of catching fish as being the most important thing. It was that I would catch ‘em, and bring ‘em home--often times they would still be on the hook--but it was the joy my mom got. She loved ‘em. So she’d take care of ‘em. She’d take ‘em off the hook. I’d bring ‘em home…it was just across the street.
She’d gut it and clean it. Put some butter in this little blackened cast iron frying pan, and fry it up. And she’d eat it. That was the thing that got me off about fishing, because I knew she really loved it.
All my fish stories, whether it was my first trip to the Boundary Waters as a Boy Scout with Julius Wolfe and a bunch of guys smoking Lucky Strikes and telling girlie stories, when I was about 14, catching like major amounts of fish in Amber or Bull Lake out of Kawishiwi, or when I was an early teenager with my dad—my parents were divorced—and my dad would come and pick me up, and we’d get a boat and go up to Island Lake; or we’d go, sometimes with my brother, we’d go fishing for panfish on some of the smaller lakes north of Duluth, or between Duluth and where my dad lived, on the Range, it wasn’t the fishing so much; it was much bigger than revolving around fish. Like with this canoe trip thing, it was my first experience with the wilderness, and this crazy group of people that were doing things I had never done before. It was the stories and the magic.
And with my dad and brother, it wasn’t the fish so much as it was the peace that encompassed that one part of that experience of catching fish, or being out fishing.
There is some other dog that has moved into my territory. She’s about ready to have puppies. I can tell. You can smell it. All she does all day is lie around with this scared look on her face. I could chase her out of here in two seconds, if I wanted. She’s a wuss. Eats my food. Drinks my water. Walks right into the kitchen like she owns it. Sheesh. Doesn’t she know, No Dogs In the Kitchen?
Also some stupid cat had kittens. She doesn’t even live here! What kind of place is this?! All sorts of stray animals coming in to have their families…as soon as they are done with their business…OUT! Next thing you know they’ll all be wanting to go for rides in the car!
Otherwise, same old stuff. Food. Sleep. Rides in the cars. Walks.
Terry wouldn’t tell it so I will. Terry’s Fish Tale.
It was supposed to be Terry, Paco, Zelda, and me, but Paco told me his wife was insisting he work. (He makes jewelry and sells it at the Hotel Westin-Regina.) I told him I understood; true fishermen weren’t married. I told him we would troll by the hotel and wave.
Wednesday was as perfect as could be. The waves that rolled onto the beach at Palmilla were as small as I have ever seen them. Prez Ja slid into the water like a sea lion off a rock. We zeroed in on a point seemingly near the horizon and opened it up. Ten minutes later we were trolling prime dorado territory. Most of the morning we circled around and through giant schools of baitfish, at a loss to explain the lack of fish in our fish bag.
Just before eight o’clock a marlin smacked Terry’s eight-inch green and orange mackerela Rapala ripping off line, heading for Mazatlan. The drag on the Penn Senator was set perfectly, allowing him to control the fish until I could start the outboard, turn the boat around, and give chase. Terry quickly regained line.
For the next twenty minutes he struggled with the magnificent fish. It showed us its famous acrobatics as it leaped clear of the water, walking on its tail. It made repeated dives as it neared the boat, effortlessly taking line with powerful fifteen-second runs. Terry methodically reeled it in. The stout pole was often bent to its limit.
Finally the fish was coming straight up from the bottom, leaving most of its fight behind in the depths. Eventually we could see it shimmering through the deep blue water. When Terry had brought it to the surface we silently admired it. It was a noble creature. I reached over with my gloved hand, carefully unwrapped the line from its bill, and unhooked the lure. I couldn’t believe in my hand was a live marlin. Grasping the raspy bill, I hefted it from the water as far as I was able and Terry took a couple pictures. We reverently slipped the marlin back into the water and watched it regain its composure.
We fished for another couple hours but that was the only fish we caught that day. I steered the boat past the giant Hotel Westin-Regina, as promised. When we were directly in front, about 300 meters out, I stood up and spread my arms as wide as they would open. From somewhere up there in that mass of hotel chaos I knew Paco could see us. I only hoped he was selling lots of jewelry.
Oh, and by the way, if you haven’t been paying attention, I still have the boat. Jay Crawford, that most generous of individuals, has left Prez Ja in my possession. It was an act of kindness that will be remembered always. (My guardian angel continues to watch over me.) He has left it with the instructions that I may use it, transport it, and/or sell it as I see fit. Carlos Navarro at the Palmilla panga launch assures me he can get $1200 for it, which Jay told me he would be very happy with. Carlos was especially interested in the 1968 18-horse Evinrude outboard.
Stay tuned, Jay, for more tales; tales that would not be possible without your trusting good will. (Yours too, Marj.)