Monday, October 22, 2012

The Night Bite

 Loud music from the mall grounds was audible from where we anchored. It served both annoyance and comfort to us. The harsh beat broke the calm of the night air but also gave us a feeling of security - much-needed considering the state of the outrigger canoe we were riding.

At times like this, one tends to question ones’ mental state. The claustrophobic darkness, the wood and bamboo shingle that passes for a boat and the ever-present danger of turning into the ocean’s version of roadkill by passing kaladkads (trawlers) would deter a normal, sane man from venturing out. Yet here I was, a 9-to-5er just off from work still wearing the constrictive attire that society requires of white-collar grunts.

Why? It’s all the fault of our ancestors. Ever since the first man threw a rock at that rising fish and picked up the stunned creature, the adrenaline rush he felt burned fishing into our genes.

Eons after, we still feel the rush; equipped with modern tech-laden gear we venture forth into piscatorial territory searching for prey, spending long hours on the water risking everything - including our sanity – for that one moment to heave that rock.

We were not alone. In the darkness, occasionally silhouetted by the garish lights of the mall, were other mental institution candidates. Paddling similar kindling boats, we all waited for the fish to appear. No suitor after a fair maiden has spent more time sitting and waiting than an angler after fish. No soldier has more focus or sharpened senses than one in anticipation. Sex (at my age) would take second place to the excitement felt.

When it begins, the first sign, whether it be the sound of a faint splash or the white spray of broaching fish, the insane go crazy. Paddles hit water each boat trying to be the first to get to the fast-fading activity. Audible clicks from reel’s bails and clutches and the woosh of rods sending off their missiles cut through the quiet. For a brief moment the din from the mall pales in comparison.

It happened right beside us. The water exploded just a few meters off the stern. Any closer and the force may have taken our fragile decrepit hull apart. White spray fluoresced in the pitch black, baitfish flew out of the water followed by the hulking shape of a predator, our prey.

Barely had the water stilled when my lure fell on mark. I worked it in…twitching my rod to give it that sashay that fish oh so love. Left, right, left, right; the lure crawled on the surface with a clacking sound designed to draw as much attention to itself.

Mayhem broke loose! A fish took a liking to the walk and hammered my lure. Steel bit back slicing through hard cartilage and seating itself to the hilt. The predator felt its meal pull back and this enraged it. Thick, strong muscles kicked in and propelled the fish south, my line a thin gossamer thread, pulled tight shedding water in a fine mist. Milliseconds later my rod bent the force moving down its length like electricity running straight into the reel, to the spool, through the gears and finally to the drag.

Mechanical engineering and physics took over. Predetermined amounts of pressure, stress and coefficients of friction all factored in to protect the line kicked in. The drag gave line. Smooth metered, calculated amounts of line, each inch countered with a braking force designed to weaken, exhaust the adversary.

The fish changed tactics taking to the air, once, twice, three times it flew in a headshaking rage trying to rid itself of its tether. Each time I dropped the rod, experience has taught me to give such tactics slack.

The adversary drew its last card, charging the boat then sounding. Again my rod read the strategy warning me to reel hard and extend. Its final thrust parried, the predator succumbed. I pumped in the last few feet of line and the long silver sheen of my trophy materialized. The boatman dipped the net and brought it onboard. I dispatched the fish with honor and as always thanked it and our creator for the blessing.

The noise from the mall creeped back into my consciousness, I flew back from that stone-wielding ancestor standing on the muddy riverbank to my person, a businessman getting his loafers soaked in saltwater in a leaky boat.

I smiled and sat down. An inmate waiting for his next shot.

Paranaque, Manila Bay.




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