Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Red (10/01/09)
TITLE: Sciaenops Ocellatus
By Virgil Youngblood
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Chloe eased the rental jeep into the last parking space on Bailey’s oyster-shell lot and killed the motor. The message left with her secretary yesterday by her uncle sounded more ultimatum than request. After rescheduling a deposition, packing a bag and telling Kevin to give the kids a kiss, she caught the night-flight to Corpus Christi. Her watch said it was nine-twenty in the morning. She was ten minutes early.
Overhead, two Laughing Gulls swooped screaming, fighting over a piece of fish-carcass discarded by a pimple-faced kid gutting speckled trout at the cleaning table. Judging by the empty boat trailers behind vehicles, fishermen were on the water. The soft humid breeze carried a mixture of seashore odors, loved by the natives, tolerated by others. Chloe felt at home.
Stepping inside the bait-stand she saw her uncle seated at a scarred table, a Styrofoam cup of coffee in front of him. Seeing her he pushed his left leg off an adjacent chair and stood, opening his arms in a welcoming embrace. “Got fishing clothes?” Harvey asked. “You can change in there” he said pointing. “Get a move on.”
“Wait. What’s this …”
“Later. Get moving! Meet me on the dock.” Harvey turned and strode past the bait-tanks of piggy-perch, shrimp and croakers and out the back door.
Chloe quickly changed into tan shorts and a yellow Bison Elementary tee-shirt and headed for the dock. Harvey was at the far end, sitting in the front bucket of a two-person kayak. He was holding a dock-cleat to steady it.
“Let’s go” he said. “Time’s wasting.”
Seating herself, Chloe accepted a paddle and they were off, gliding swiftly across the choppy water of Lydia Ann Channel towards the Lighthouse Lakes paddling trails, a warren of shallow channels and small lakes accessible only to paddled water-craft. Chloe maneuvered the kayak in the direction Harvey pointed, gliding down first this channel, then another, making u-turns around oyster beds, and clumps of black-mangrove shrubbery. They wound through a maze Harvey knew like the back of his hand.
When they came to a small lake Harvey held his hand up to stop. “What’s this all about Harvey?” Chloe asked. “What’s on your mind?”
“You always said you would rather be a fishing guide than an attorney” Harvey replied. “We’re after Sciaenops Ocellatus.” He handed Chloe a fishing rod and a small case of soft plastic fishing lures.
“Red drum or Reds, the locals would say.” Chloe took a practice cast and adjusted the reel to her liking. “Let the fun begin. But this isn’t about reds, is it? Why did you insist I drop everything and come here today?”
“It’s a perfect day. The high tide will start ebbing any minute. When it does, the bait fish flushing out of these lakes will send reds into a feeding frenzy. But you know that Chloe.”
“So, Kevin tells me all you do is work. Work is important but don’t neglect your family, Chloe. You only get one shot.”
“That’s what you wanted to tell me?” Chloe huffed. “Mother died, dad disappeared and you raised me. But gee! Harvey, use the telephone.”
“Look! A red at two o’clock. He’s tailing next to the bank. Get him, Chloe!”
Years of practice were evident as Chloe grabbed a rod, tied on a white lure with a chartreuse wiggly-tail, and lightly dropped the lure in front of the feeding fish. The red spurted forward, inhaling the lure in a swirl of water. The fight was on.
The rod arched double as line ripped off the reel and the drag screamed in protest. With consummate skill, Chloe rebuffed every powerful dart for freedom. Ten minutes later a tired red was led to the boat. Stroking the reddish-bronze back, Chloe pointed to two black spots near the tail.
As she carefully released the fish, setting it free, Harvey gave a thumbs-up. “That’s what I wanted to see Chloe, you in action and a beautiful red fish. Thank you for making an old man happy.”
“What are you telling me, Harvey? We will catch a ton of reds before your sun sets. I’ll be back this fall with Kevin and the girls.”
Harvey swung his left leg up on the kayak and patted it. “Melanoma. Next week it comes off. I wanted to fish one more time with my favorite guide. Now, I’m ready for those doctors.”
A tear escaped down Harvey’s leathery cheek, glistening in the morning sun.
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