By Hal Herring
It was the winter of 1984, and we were running long lines for grouper and tilefish in the Gulf. 18 miles of gear, a hook every thirty feet or so, anchors clipped every so often to take the alewife baits to the bottom in maybe 600 feet of water.
Run nine miles, cut the line, attach a buoy, start baiting the leaders on the big cart for the other nine miles of line on the spool. Pulling gear, mid-afternoon on day three or four, the kill boxes half full of grouper, the spool began to slowly reverse. We knew the signs of truly big fish – the groaning of the gear, the singing of the monofilament under tension, the great bubbles of air exploding on the surface when a warsaw grouper was being hauled up from the pitch black world of canyons and cliffs and reefs that yawned below the thin skin of our hull.
But this was something very different. I remember the first mate, a good friend and a top hand, grabbing the flying gaff and telling me to hold on to the rope that was tied to the huge head of the gaff. A warning bell went off in my head, and I hitched the rope around a cleat on the gunwale instead. The fish, worn down by the miles of line and weights and fish hanging below it, and by the tension of the spool above it, eventually began coming up.