Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Friday, January 04, 2019
The Good, The Bad and The Lucky
Tuesday, January 29, 2019
Westward Ho!

The weather on Baja’s East Cape was perfect. Maybe too perfect. The wind was perhaps a little too calm, the sun a tad too bright. Other than prospects for an occasional tuna or dorado, our hopes of a marlin were becoming bleaker by the minute. The relentless drone of the boat’s engine coupled with the steady froth from teasers and lures only added to the treacherous lullaby that can put fishermen to sleep.

Then, without warning, a solitary fin appeared. Other skippers, desperate for anything to rally their troops, saw the same thing. On cue, tuna towers began heeling over as every boat began turning in chaotic arcs to intercept the lone marlin. As the big fish breezed by our baits without the slightest deviation, our disappointment soon changed to mild amusement as the fin continued, undeterred, on a straight line through the fleet. With a boat reserved only for the morning hours, we were all but done.

Clinging to what little time we had left, we began lazily drifting away from the fleet, fly-lining some live bait. Off to my right, a marlin suddenly broke the surface, free jumping on a parallel course. My hand became a blur as I spun the reel handle, water-skiing the mackerel back in for a cast into the kill zone. Incredibly, the marlin kept jumping and I kept reeling.

“Look!” my partner shouted. “Look!”

With my head cocked hard to the right, eyes on the prize, I answered with an irritated shriek, “I am looking!”

The next thing I felt was a hand over each ear, physically turning my head astern. There I saw the bill of another marlin slashing up and down as it tried vainly to grab my bait. In the next instant, all that remained was an indistinct swirl. It only took a few more cranks to see what was left — a bluish fish pancake with eyes pointed skywards as if pleading, “What just happened?”

The species and the place may vary, but nearly every fisherman has experienced something very, very similar. Let your guard down, give in to distractions and the moment will forever be burned into your memory. Whether you call it “being in the moment” or prefer the more Zen-like term of “mindfulness” to describe the phenomenon, you’re saying the same thing. As much as this mindfulness is an integral part of fishing, it is generally ignored when describing the attributes of a good angler. To me, mindfulness should always be at the top of the list.

Great fishermen see and process information that others do not. It’s not a robotic act, but one of simply being aware more often and more intently than most. They don’t ignore the nature around them, instead they become a part of it. If this is sounding too New Age for you, think back to my marlin. Being in the moment is built on a foundation of experience. It becomes internalized and doesn’t require conscious thought. In other words, I knew better. The chances of getting a cast out to that jumping marlin were slim at best. I had a bait in the water and I should have kept it there. Lesson learned. If you want to issue me a pass, I’ll take it. Yes, the heat of battle and all that, I get it. But, probably like you, I’m hardest on myself.

That said, I never want to give in to distractions, nor do I want to bring any along. While many can be avoided, the modern bane of being in the moment is, without question, the cell phone. For those of you who have never experienced life without one, it’s impossible to fully appreciate the nostalgia associated with a Gone fishin’ sign. There was a day when we got in our trucks, headed down the road and everyone understood the program. Yes, there were emergencies and other events where a cell phone would have been helpful. Lives could have been saved. I know, I know. But, for now, let’s restrict the discussion to fishing.

With the rare, good fortune to have shared days with some of the world’s greatest anglers, I can say with assurance they all shared one common trait: intensity. Although wildly different in personality and background, put a rod in their hands and every one of them was immediately locked in. Some put forth a more carefree demeanor, some appeared more serious. Some were chatty and told jokes, others measured their words. But none of them missed much. Now, maybe Kevin Van Dam can cradle a phone on his shoulder, knock out a sponsor deal with Johnny Morris and sense a subtle shift in baitfish activity. I have no doubt he could do it. Us? Not so much. In our angling lives, we all spend a king’s ransom in money and time learning, re­fining and mastering a showcase of talents only to be ready for the moment. Not being in it can short-circuit everything.

If you do fail, learn from it. You can learn from a loss, just don’t make a habit of it. After the marlin debacle I had to get my mind back in the game, so my buddy and I decided to do an afternoon wreck dive. Having learned to scuba when we were sixteen, the dive master wanted us to pair up with some newbies who would be there shortly.

“Mike,” he asked me as I bent over my equipment, “I want you to meet someone.”

I looked up into the eyes of a drop-dead gorgeous woman. Turns out, she was in Baja for an Elle magazine photo shoot and was the girl being featured in blue jean ads that were constantly running on television. For a few hours, I was her hand-holding dive buddy and I never took my eyes off her. Now that’s mindfulness.

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