Rodney E.J. Chang of
Truly Virtual Web Art Museum
a trim, sixteen-year old Hawaiian boy, was back at his favorite spot in the
world. Summer vacation had arrived, finally releasing him from classes in high
school, which for him was pent up detention. School to Billy was a waste of
time, time that he could spend more productively by – going fishing! The
introvert had spent much of his youth wadding alone along the same reef, just
fifty yards from the shoreline that was convenient from his house. In Hawaii the
seawater is clear and blue, the ocean breeze upon one’s face vitalizing, not
like those insufferable stuffy and hot public school classrooms with no fans or
boy was standing in waist high water on Wailupe reef, off shore from Wailupe
valley with its cluster of suburban houses. The small valley is between Kahala
Mall of Honolulu and the Aina Haina strip mall, with Hanauma Bay- where all the
tourists go, just a couple miles further east. Here, out on the neighboring
reef, Billy was unaccompanied with just the surf and sun, the only companions
that he needed. Here, there was no crowded beach of tourists or annoying surfers
on waves to interfere with his fishing. Lucky
to live in Hawaii,
he so many times before thought, while out here at his favorite fishing spot.
outing was special. During Christmas break he had joined his family and visited
Las Vegas. It was his grandmother’s 75th
birthday and she lived there with a daughter and her family. Relatives also came
from Los Angeles and Georgia to wish the elderly woman a Happy Birthday. Still
under the age of twenty-one, Billy didn’t much care for Vegas. But a highlight
of the trip came about for the boy when his family visited Outdoors Games, a
casino/hotel with the theme of hunting, boating and fishing.
tourists and guests were impressed with the “mermaid” who swam in the
twenty-five feet deep, indoor glass tank along with a potpourri of marine fish.
The shapely employee with a fishy costume consisting of large plastic shells for
a bra and a glistening, synthetic waistline-to-feet fish body and tail, waved at
visitors outside the tank as bubbles streamed upwards from her facemask.
Visitors outside the circular, aquatic enclosure took photos with the mermaid by
standing outside the glass, next to her on the inside. It all seemed so ironic
to Billy, aware that he was in arid Nevada. He could never see himself living in
Vegas, a desert with no body of water to fish.
what got Billy’s excitement was discovering a fishing lure in the vast
sporting goods shop. The promotional video caught his attention as he walked in
the aisles displaying the largest array of fishing supplies he had ever seen in
his life. In the video, the promoted lure did
like a real fish, all glittery, shimmering, and appeared to swim like an injured
minnow when trolled by a fisherman’s line. Billy was impressed how bass found
the imitation irresistible and bit heartily at the passing lure.
it was recommended only for freshwater. Billy fished in the salty ocean. So it
wouldn’t work for his needs.
it was only $1.49.
it was too pretty to resist.
had been baited by the video and was now hopelessly hooked as a consumer. So the
sale was consummated, after Billy convinced himself that trying it out on his
reef would be just an experiment. Some fish out there, such as the papio
fish) and the akule
scad), are aggressive predators. The boy theorized they wouldn’t be picky if
something small flashed, looking yummy, passed in front of their eyes, and even
if never seen before, that they might strike.
Billy bought four,
all the different colors –he couldn’t decide; they were all so beautiful,
and all armed with the same, menacing, sharp hooks.
he was back home in Hawaii and had made his way out to the reef, standing in
rising water, almost reaching his waist. The tide was coming in, a good time to
fish. When shoreline depths rose, larger fish swam in to feed upon smaller fish,
residents of the reef. Billy made his decision, thinking,
brilliant sun and clear water is right for this lure, and so is the time of the
tide. I’ll give it a try. I know this is made for mainland freshwater bass,
but heck, who knows? If it works, I’ll have a new lure nobody else has here on
the island. I’ll have a secret weapon!
slender and darkly tanned teenager, wearing a white tank-shirt and brown shorts,
had his fishing bag with pockets for gear and bait slung over a shoulder. He
carefully affixed a lure to his wire leader line. Then he lifted the
shore-casting fiberglass pole gingerly over his shoulders until the line, sinker
and lure were in proper dangling position behind him. Billy knew where he wanted
to cast it. He discerned where the fish tended to lurk. It was out where the
water was a little deeper than the rest of the channel of water that streamed
out from the valley’s creek; the spot that he had been lucky many times
taken into account the wind strength and direction, with a mighty swing, Billy
flung the pole forward with the reel’s line guide open. The spinner reel
whined with a high shrill as the almost transparent line flew fast and far
behind the weighted leader line and untested lure. There was a visual splash a
good forty yards into the brink, right into the targeted darker blue area,
followed by a “plunk” before disappearing below. Then Billy started reeling
it in, like it was demonstrated in the video, to make it best imitate the
swimming motion of a wounded minnow. Here in the saltwater, Billy imagined
making the lure swim like a hurt sardine in distress.
repetitively retrieved the line and lure over a dozen times with no luck, Billy
finally decided that he had the wrong attachment at the end of the line.
they’re not stupid and know it’s a fake. Guess this lure is really only for
freshwater fishing. What was I thinking? I’m fishing in the ocean in Hawaii,
not some riverbed in Montana.
conceded defeat, Billy reeled the lure in faster than prior attempts to just get
the damn thing off, and instead attach the usual no-frills fishhook, baited with
a chunk of fresh, raw shrimp. He didn’t want to waste any more time with the
Vegas glitzy gizmo.
the boy cranked to just expediently retrieve the lure, something unexpectedly
jolted the line tight!
whatever that is, it’s huge! he
thought, seeing the rod arch with tremendous strain from the sudden pulling
force at the other end.
can’t believe it; this lure works! I got lucky going to Las Vegas, after all!
he fought the fish, he thought,
I used a stainless steel leader and stronger line than usual,
the strength of the pull, for sure my usual line would have broken by now!
it was man against beast, two opposing forces stuck between a transparent
filament of nylon. The lure had done its job. It held prisoner some creature of
the deep, painfully piercing its mouthparts with barbed talons sharper than that
of an eagle.
it was two opponents pulling on the opposite sides of a line, just like in a
game of tugof- war. But for the fish it wasn’t a game. It was a matter of life
or death. For the fisherman too, although at the moment the boy did not realize
took fifteen long minutes before Billy had the potential catch within viewing
distance. What did his surprise prize look like?
wasn’t what he had hoped for. It wasn’t good eating. It wasn’t ulua,
a large-size, adult papio,
(milk fish), or
It was a large two-and-a-half-foot barracuda. It is bitter tasting and the flesh
has many tiny bones that make it difficult to eat.
crap, a barracuda. I’d usually cut the line and sacrifice the hook, but not
this time. I want to get back my precious Vegas lure. It works! But I better be
careful with those sharp teeth. This monster is huge!
continued effort – the fish was fatigued after all the struggling to not be
pulled where it didn’t want to go – Billy had it close to him and had his
landing net at the ready. The boy had a plan. He would scoop it up in the
landing net from the tail, so that the head, with his precious lure attached to
the jaws, would be positioned at the opening of the net and could be retrieved.
Usually this meant holding the fish by the gills with one hand, while the other
hand attempted to disengage the hook from the fleshy jaws. But this was a nasty
barracuda with a mouth snapping open and shut, filled with rows of razor-sharp
get close to those jaws? I’ll just cut off its head and remove my lure later
when I get back to the beach.
boy got his sharp bait knife out from the bag and was about to decapitate the
beast. Maybe the fish knew what was coming next, even as it laid exhausted in
the net tail first. Billy had to get a grip on the large fish, to resist the
knife’s forces as it contacted the head and initiated the back and forth
slicing motion. He grasped it outside the net (the netting helped to grip the
slippery skin), on the torso at a safe distance from its pointed teeth, the only
weapon the predatory fish possessed.
then forcefully tightened his grip around the torpedo-shaped body, to secure and
stabilize it for a forceful slash with his knife through the back of its head,
now protruding beyond the metal rim of the net. He raised his knife to start his
it was the bright flash of light from the upheld blade - the reflection of the
sun, or the increased pressure of his grip right before the slash, which
stimulated the fish into action. The slippery barracuda squirmed with a mighty
twist to attempt its escape. The sudden jerk caught Billy by surprise. He lost
his hold around the slimy torso and the head lunged forward, hitting the hand
with the knife. That knocked the blade out of boy’s hand and it fell
harmlessly into the water. Worse than losing his knife, Billy looked down and
realized that as the fish’s head hit his hand, its mouth had been open. And
with that lunge, other large hooks of the 4-pronged lure were now impaled into
saw blood streaming out around the embedded barbs, dripping into the water. It
happened so fast the boy felt nothing at first. Then Billy screamed in pain as
the fish continued to trash about, twisting the lure’s hooks deeper into his
flesh, close to the base of the boy’s thumb. So stricken, Billy lost his grip
and the fish went belly up back into the water with a big splash. Feeling the
water, the barracuda then pulled hard in the effort to dive to safety.
Reflexively, Billy lurched forward and bolted his attached hand into the water
to follow the fish (he also dropped his rod and reel), hoping to reduce the pull
that would drive the barbs even deeper into his palm and thumb. The fish, like a
wild horse in a rodeo, twisted its head back and forth in the attempt to break
free of the lure – and now the hand.
hooks in its mouth and in the fisherman’s palm did not tear away from these
attached body parts. For only $1.49, the lure turned out to be of pretty good
quality. The video said it was made in the U.S.A. It remained affixed to its
captives, now both the fish’s mouth and the boy’s hand.
fish and boy wanted out, but remained hostages of the unrelenting lure.
the large fish continued to pull away, the boy heard a bone snap. The sound came
from a joint in his thumb. It hurt badly, blood continued to stream into the
water, from both the fish’s shredded mouth and Billy’s pierced and torn
good, if there where sharks about.
he had never seen any in his fishing spot, there was always a rare chance they could
around, with the tide still coming in.
was now waist high in water and dripping blood. He had to do something fast.
Luckily, the fish appeared partially asphyxiated from having been held out of
water for as long as it had been. It was presently slowly sinking, taking a
moment to rest, before attempting another lunge for deeper water. Billy now
almost in chest-high water, spotted the knife lying below him, gleaning on the
white coral reef. Quickly, Billy plunged his upper body and head into the water
to retrieved it with his good hand.
there was no other way to do this, despite the severe pain and further mauling
of his palm and broken thumb as the fish once again began to trash against the
restricting line, Billy used his remaining fingers of the impaled hand to grasp
the fish by the head. The clenching digits provided a new target, now close to
its mouth. The fish bit down hard and teeth pierced some of the fingers, making
his whole hand one big bloody mess. But, despite the spike in acute pain and
increased outpouring of red, Billy had the fish secured in a headlock for the
moment, and didn’t waste any time.
a forceful slicing motion, the knife entered one side of the head. Billy rapidly
initiated sawing motions until the blade came out the other side, freeing the
head from the rest of the body.
decapitation caused the spurting of massive blood from the body’s severed main
arteries. Standing in crimson red water, Billy watched with relief as the body
sunk, then slowly was dragged along the bottom by the current. A large plume of
red trailed behind as the headless body drifted away. Then Billy dared to look
at the hand with the lure attached to torn flesh – some naked bone could now
be seen – as well as to the dangling large fish head that was still partnered
with his hand.
barracuda’s eyes were still gelatin-clear, not yet clouded by death. The large
round eyes seemed to glare up at him, as if the head wanted to continue to snap
at his hand with its columns of razor-sharp teeth. He almost gagged, seeing
shreds of his own flesh stuck among the mouth’s rows of pointed blades.
continued to spill from the severed head as well as from the boy’s unnaturally
repositioned thumb. Human and fish blood mixed, becoming one – as an inky red
spill that slowly started to spread throughout the channel. Research reveals
that sharks can smell blood from miles away.
while experiencing horrible pain from the multiple flesh wounds inflicted by the
slicing teeth, Billy knew it was time to get the heck out of there.
much blood in the water, and I can’t stop the hemorrhaging from my hand. I’d
better head back to shore as fast as I can. I’m losing blood.
bothering to retrieve his rod, reel, net, and discarded cutting utensil, Billy
turned to head back to shore to get help with his injury. Billy did salvage the
lure. He couldn’t help not to, as it was still intermeshed with his damaged
hand and with the severed fish head in tow.
Billy headed back to shore, just fifty yards to cover, a dark cloud blanketed
the deep blue skies with a menacing overcast. Outgoing gusts from the valley
repelled against the head and chest of the fisherman, impeding his retreat from
the reef. Progress back to shore was further hindered as Billy carefully made
his way around deep crevices in the corral heads of the patchy reef surface. At
times he also had to drop into deeper than chest level water to walk back to
shore. This further hampered making headway to shore because Billy had to lift
his neck upwards to keep his head above water, more resistant because of the
added depth, and then intermittently step back up onto the next available corral
head to get back up to the safer waist-to-chest depth. The tide had come in that
much since he had gone out to the reef. Fishermen know ocean conditions never
remain the same.
Billy continued his way back to shore, the sky remained darken, partially
concealing the huge black fin that was closing upon the teenager, still leaving
a trail of crimson color that pointed the way towards him.
only the reef was twenty yards closer to the shore.
the end, the lure that Billy bought cost more than he had bargained for. He
purchased it for only a dollar and forty-nine cents. But he ended up paying much
more. Poor Billy paid with his life.