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WHEN HARRY MET SAL

This was certainly one of the craziest fishing stories of all time and Sal was dead serious about the entire matter. His steel blue eyes, as deep and as impenetrable as the cold waters of Lake Baikal in his native homeland of Russia, had the faraway look of someone who had stared into the abyss of insanity and returned to tell the tale. Their cold matter-of-factness seemed to confirm the veracity behind the strange and incredible tale he had just related about how, both literally and figuratively, he had fed his best friend Harry to a giant yellow fin tuna.

The story began over twenty-years ago in San Diego when they met for the first time on the decks of the Royal Polaris, the legendary long range tuna charter operated by Frank LoPreste that ran over six hundred miles offshore to the Clarion Islands, fishing for all types of pelagics, particularly yellow fin tuna. Sal was new to the sport of salt water fishing and Harry took him under his wing during the three day crossing and explained to him what to expect when a fish was hooked, the protocol on deck when several fisherman were fighting fish at the same time and what to do when lines got crossed, and how fish were landed and tagged and processed during the ten day voyage. He also helped him prepare his terminal tackle, meticulously tying and testing the knots on his leaders and setting the drags on his reels with a scale to exactly a third of the lines tensile strength.

They quickly became close friends on this trip and for many years thereafter shared great fishing experiences together in the Clarions where they battled enormous yellowfins that sometimes tipped the scales at around three hundred pounds. Both of them had often won the betting pool for largest fish caught during the expedition. Sal had pictures of many of these trips that invariably showed them on a bloodied deck, cigars hanging out of their smiling mouths, kneeling with rod behind leviathan tunas. It had become an annual ritual in September for both of them until a few years ago, when Harry dropped dead of a heart attack while picking up a quart of milk in a grocery store.

It was a few weeks after the funeral when Sal received a call from Harry’s widow. It seemed that his one of his last wishes was that the ashes of his cremated remains be spread out over the ocean, near one of his favourite places, which everyone knew had been the waters surrounding the Clarion islands. Because of their close friendship she insisted that he undertake the task during his next trip which had been planned in a few months time. Sal agreed to her request and a week before his scheduled departure date he drove the two hours to her house to pick up the urn and it was during the long drive back, with his best friend in a glorified ashtray in the passenger seat, that he concocted a crazy plan to pay final homage to his friend.

It was not enough of a grandiose gesture, in his estimation, to simply deposit his remains randomly into the water where they would be dispersed by the currents and all trace of him would quickly vanish into the sea. An eloquent statement needed to be made to immortalize the life of his friend and by the time he arrived back in San Francisco he had devised the perfect scheme to dispose of his remains in a manner befitting of his friends piscatorial lifestyle. He contacted an independant lure craftsman he knew that had molds for tuna baits and he pitched the owner his strange request. He wanted to know the feasability of having his friend’s ashes incorporated into one of his  metal lures which he then intended to go out and use to catch a tuna. The owner agreed to the bizarre request and a week later Sal found himself back on the Polaris heading back out towards the Clarions with his new Harry Lure stowed away in his tackle box.

On the morning of the first day they arrived it seemed that on his second or third cast into a school of fish , Sal couldn’t remember which, his rod doubled over and he was locked into a giant fish that headed straight down for the mid-oceanic trench. The moment he felt its powerful surge  he knew it was a good fish and that he would be in for a long struggle. For the next hour and a half he strained to regain line back onto the reel only to lose it again with yet another of several powerful runs until the exhausted fish finally surfaced next to the boat and was gaffed and hauled onboard. On the scales it weighed three hundred and six pounds and was the largest fish of the season. It was also Sal’s lifetime personal best yellow fin.

When the initial excitement of the superlative catch had subsided and both crew and fisherman stowed their cameras back in their bags and went back to the business of fishing, Sal collected his rod and moved off to a quiet corner of the deck where he could be alone with his thoughts. He then carefully clipped the lure off the swivel, and with closed eyes and clenched fists held it to his forehead for a moment in silent prayer before he retired it to a special corner in his tackle box, where it still remains to this day.

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One Comment

  1. Jack Horowitz
    Posted March 1, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    This is simply a great story that exemplifies the true friendship that fishing can forge between men who fish together for any period of time.

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