Off the coast of Cape York, in the rain, we came upon thick bait balls being squeezed tight by schools of large, hungry queenfish. We fished two to a boat, six of us. The melee lasted more than an hour, during which we released more than a dozen fish.
Unfortunately, my boat mate Alan, an elderly ex-advertising exec (we drew names), lost his entire rig on the first cast. I was on my second fish while Alan was still slowly, patiently readying his fly rod. After tying on, Alan flipped his fly out a few meters and began stripping line into the bottom of the boat for his first cast. As he is stripping line, a mongo queenie comes up right next to us and slams the fly. I glance over and see Alan stand up, but he can’t keep his balance, so he quickly plops back down. But Alan has sat on a coil of fly line. Instantly, all the line is ripped out of the boat coming tight around Alan’s back. It holds there for a second before rolling up towards his neck, taking his shirt with it.
In my memory, it all unfolds in slow motion, but it must have happened in seconds. Alan’s shirt is peeled off his body and down his arms, talking his hat and glasses with it until it reaches his wrists. Then, the ball of hat, sunglasses and shirt wraps around his fly reel and just like that, everything is gone.
A shirtless 70 something year old man now sits in the boat next to me.
I remember my exact words. Holy fuck, Alan! He laughs just a little, before reaching behind his seat for his backup rod, and then slowly, methodically, starts to build a new leader. Alan was a proud Brit originally from the Isle of Man. He refused all of my offers of help and I don’t blame him one bit. He did manage to catch a few fish that morning all by himself. Alan and I became good friends after that, and corresponded through snail mail. I still have the letters and package he sent me from Man-very cool stamps. I hope I’m still out there doing combat fishing when I’m his age, with or without a shirt!
Im yet to catch a queenie, but I hope to hell it unfolds in that sort of predatory chaos.