Hero to Zero

Brent J. Mechler II August 12, 2009

My mom once said to me, “Brent, don’t make your highs too high or your lows too low. For every crest, there is a trough.”

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Illustration: CHRIS ARMSTRONG

Like other sports, fishing has the amazing ability of both exalting and humbling its participants. Any single fishing trip can yield “the best of times” or “the worst.” In fact, at the age of 13 I learned that a lone cast can provide both!

I was proudly lipping a snook and loudly boasting a 3-to-1 catch ratio over my buddies. Seconds later I was on my way to the hospital and that ratio more accurately described the number of barbs per treble hook lodged deeply in my hand. Both my ego and appendages would recover from that debacle, and I would eventually mature into one of the “World’s Best Fishermen.” This status would be proven during a recent trip to Canada. Though my cousin and I had never been salmon fishing, we eagerly accepted an invite from family friends who had been making the trip for years.

As “newbies” we were tutored on the nuances of salmon fishing during the five-hour drive to our remote lodge. “Don’t they know who they are talking to?” Jeremy and I wondered. It was apparent they did not, as the suggestion was made that our longtime fishing partnership split-up so that we could each fish and learn from one of the experts. “Nah, I think we’ll be fine. We know what we’re doing,” Jeremy said flatly. Our long-tenured hosts tried to hide their skepticism and muffle their snickering.

For the next five days, all eyes would be on us. Each morning the crew of 10 awoke, gathered tackle and bait, and two-by-two pushed off from the rickety dock in small Jon boats. Around the same time each evening we would all trickle back and convene at the cleaning station with fish and fishy stories. To the surprise of all, Jeremy and I more than held our own during those first four days. But it was day five that would cement our status.

Being the final day, it was decided that we would all fish the same area…partly to enjoy the camaraderie of friendships, but also to partake in some good ol’ competitive fishing! For two-hours we dominated our opposition. Our fellow anglers watched in amazement as fish were practically jumping in our boat. Everyone inched closer and closer; convinced that we had to be hovering over some fish-holding anomaly. But even as they launched casts virtually under us, nothing changed. We hauled in an un-godly number of fish, while our fellow anglers confoundedly picked through a modest few. Back at the dock they shook their heads, smiled and gave us our deserved kudos. “You really showed us how to fish,” one of the veterans conceded.

My precipitous free-fall from fishing grace would occur only weeks later…on my own boat and home turf. Dolphin season was in full swing. Optimism and confidence were brimming that morning as I shot out of the inlet with two buddies and a livewell full of frisky baits. Within minutes, the VHF crackled and a familiar voice interrupted our horizon scanning. “Brent, it’s Jimmy. We’re on ‘em. Call me on my cell.”

Prior to heading out, I spoke with my friend who was also taking his boat offshore in search of dolphin. We agreed that if either of us found fish we would hail the other and provide location. Jimmy lived up to his end of the deal, and soon we were speeding toward his locale. As we approached Jimmy’s boat we watched his crew fully engaged in the ‘phin fire drill. Rods were bent, drags were screaming and beautifully lit dolphin were jumping, flipping and splashing in all directions.

I approached cautiously, shut down the motors and quickly tossed out the first hooked pilchard. Before I could even place the rod in the rod holder we were hooked up. The fish made a beeline toward the engines and the line quickly parted. “No big deal. We will catch plenty,” I reassured my crew.

Those were my famous last words! The next 45-minutes provided the most frustrating and humbling angling experience of my entire life. As Jimmy and company frantically flipped 10-pound fish into the boat, my friends and I stared bewilderedly at the water and our casually swimming, untouched baits.

“What the %$^@ is going on here?” I stammered.

I shouted to Jimmy asking what he was using for bait. “Pilchard,” he replied. We sat in silence as Jimmy hoisted one last fish over the gunnel and started the engines. “If you guys want a few fillets, we have plenty,” he generously offered.

I couldn’t even muster a reply. “Well, it’s just not our day. Bad luck, I guess,” said one of my co-anglers in a consoling tone. As I despondently cruised back in on my fishless vessel, I thought back to my Canada trip and the sudden reversal of my fishing fortunes.

And then my mom’s refrain hit me like a rogue wave.

“Don’t make your highs to high or your lows too low. For every crest, there is a trough.”

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