The story of my first catch

Ernest Hemingway once wrote that “somebody just back of you while you are fishing is as bad as someone looking over your shoulder while you write a letter to your girl.” While the Pulitzer Prize winning author may have known a few things about both wooing the ladies (he had four wives in his lifetime, after all) and fishing, I know very little about either.

But I am familiar with fishing in the Florida Keys, the tiny stretch of islands south of Miami that Hemingway himself called home during the most prolific writing period of his life. He found solace and inspiration in the sport. But he also excelled at it. In 1938, he caught a world-record seven marlin in one day; another time, he landed a giant 468-pound marlin in just 65 minutes. In fact, his sport-fishing escapades inspired one of his most famous works: The Old Man and the Sea.

My husband has been going to the Keys since he was a child, his father before him, and his grandfather before that. My own dad is a sailor, but this is different. It’s hot. The humidity is so thick it’s almost oppressing. It’s tiring. It’s salty—so much so that an hour on the sea leaves a layer of thin yet impenetrable crust on every surface. My fishing shirts soak up the smell of the ocean in minutes, never to recover, no matter how many times I wash them. My relationship with fishing is, to put it diplomatically, a tumultuous one.

But there’s something that infiltrates your spirit when you’re out on the ocean. Marlin, Tarpon, Sailfish, Hammerheads, Bull sharks, Yellowtail, Mahi-Mahi, Goliath grouper so gargantuan they can dwarf a VW van.  Trolling through the turquoise waters, life teaming just below the surface, your line in the water—the simplicity of the catch is suddenly so clear, like it’s the only thing that really makes sense. Catch, reel, clean, eat, repeat. It’s some salt-encrusted front row seat to the circle of life. Or something like that.

So this year, I put in the effort to become part of the tradition. I baited my own hooks, reeled in my own fish (and released my marine friend more often than not), cleaned the meat, cooked the fish. I snorkeled through living-coral reefs, and jumped off the bow of the boat. Not only did I catch a few keepers—I caught the boating bug, too. 

If all of this feels inaccessible to you, like some far-off adventure only people brought up with the tradition can experience, consider this: Did you know you can charter a boat with your friends for less than you think. I’m partnering with TakeMeFishing.org to help spread the word about fishing and boating because, guess what? Girls fish, too! Maybe this time next year, it’ll be you reeling in the big one. 

You never forget your #FirstCatch. One minute. All the feels: Watch for yourself and leave a comment below telling me about your experience with fishing and boating (or the one you want to have!). 

Don't forget to purchase your fishing license before planning your next fishing trip.

Thanks to our partners Take Me Fishing™ campaign for helping to support Dirtbag Darling. 
 
Johnie Gall

Johnie Gall

The former senior editor of a women’s surf magazine, Johnie Gall is a full-time writer and editor working with brands like Stance Socks, Teva, and Huckberry. She’s the founder of the women’s outdoor blog Dirtbag Darling and splits her time between both coasts, her favorite coffices (that’s coffee shop offices), and the back of "Sasquatch," a Sprinter van she rebuilt with her husband to travel the country in. From fishing off the Florida Keys to ice climbing in the Adirondacks, free-rappelling through arches in the Utah desert to surfing in Hawaii, she is fueled by adventure, wild places, and discovering new stories.