Sometime in the Summer of 1977
by Blake Starkey


Dad took me night fishing for corbina with Manuel Kanino and some of his Army buddies.  Itís way past bed time, and I am so excited to be out at this hour doing something so different with the grown-up men.  I love dad for bringing me along.  They fish in a spot close to the Locks.  I am drinking Cokes and they are drinking beer.  Itís fun.  The men wade out to their hips and start casting their big rods.  This goes on for a long time.  Iím young, so them being up to their hips is me up to my shoulders and chin.  I am so excited and I hop with each wave.  At my ankles, I can feel the suck, push and pull of the tide.  I often feel other things swish by my feet down there and wonder what they are.  But dad is right next to me, so I donít worry.  Panama is in the six month sunny season, so itís always hot during the day.  Itís night though, and Iím wet standing there in water up to my shoulders.  After a while, I actually get a little cold, which was rare in Panama.  Itís very dark.  The sky and stars are crystal clear.  The moon is full, silhouetting scattered low calm clouds.  Way back on the beach, there is gear, a big bucket of bait, a few coolers, and a battery powered radio.  Each time someone catches something, they trudge back to shore, put it in the big red cooler, and then re-bait the hook.  The hooks are big.  The bait is big.  The rods are big.  The fish they are catching are big.

The fish I remember most from that night was a fish I never saw.  The man next to dad hooks something large.  I know it is big because he cusses as he fights it hard.  Heís leaning back, and his forearm muscles are tense as he works the fish.  He kept yelling, ďCímon!Ē  Everyone is excited and wondering what heís got.  It seems heís hooked a whale.  Suddenly, his line goes limp, and he cusses loudly when he realizes heís lost the biggest fish of the night.  He reels in to put on a new hook.  But the hook is still there.  There is also a very large snook head (about the same size as my head) on the hook.  But the rest of the large fish has literally been ripped off.  They explain the big snook ate the big bait, and then, something bigger ate the big snook.  Someone starts talking with authority about bull sharks and tiger sharks.

I look out at the dark oily ocean and wonder if maybe the shark is close.  In a blink, Iíve gone from excited to terrified.  Dad tells me to go sit on the shore by the bait box and the red cooler.  I donít argue.  I start back, but stop a few feet from him.  Shore is only about fifteen yards away.  But there is no doubt in my mind the big bull shark has swam behind and is between me and the shore.  Heís hoping Iíll walk right towards him.  Heís still hungry.  I remember the one time I saw a bull shark that had been caught.  It was longer than our Volkswagon.  It had all the teeth that had ever been.  I feel like a sissy standing there.  I canít move.  Then I feel dadís hand on my shoulder.  He walks me to the sandy shore.  I never said a word, never said I was scared.  He never said a word to me, and never said he understood.  He never embarrassed me in front of the men which I really appreciated.  He just knew I was scared.  Fishing and standing in the water up to my shoulders is over for me for the night.  And Iím fine with that.


January 28, 2010