Fishing is a popular pastime among Caymanians. It is one of the oldest and traditional ways of earning a livelihood and while some Caymanians are still fishing for a living today, it is common to see locals, young and old, heading out on their boats or standing on shore with rods to catch fish for fun – and to eat later.
My grandfather was born in Little Cayman and has been a fisherman all his life. My grandparents own a small store in Cayman Brac that sells fishing supplies and on a good day, fresh fish. Growing up, I would take frequent trips to the Sister Islands. There was never a visit where my grandfather wouldn’t take me out fishing. It was always exciting when we would catch a big fish, and Papa was convinced that I was a lucky charm.
One year my cousin Brian and I went out on the water with Papa. We were young, nine and 10, but eagerly rose bright and early for our fishing day. My grandmother was a bit anxious because I’d broken my arm that year and was still wearing a cast. I couldn’t get wet and I had only one good arm to reel. I assured them that I would be all right and that I wanted to go, so off we went.
It was a bit quiet at first once we were out on the water, the sun beating down on us. Brian and I sat at the back of the boat, rods leaning to either side so as to not get them tangled together. Papa was still driving, but we had slowed down, gliding.
“Any minute now,” he said. “Oh yeah, we’re gonna get them.”
He was right. Suddenly, Brian yelled beside me. “I think I got one!”
My grandfather moved over to help him and confirmed that he had in fact got one.
“Great, now reel him in,” Papa told him.
As Brian began to pull the fish in, I felt a strong tug on my line.
“I got one, too!” I said, pride rising in me. I balanced the rod with my broken arm and used my free hand to reel in the fish. They were jacks, both decent in size, a common fish, but delicious when fried.
This back and forth between my cousin and me went on for the entire morning. He would catch one, then I would, then he would, and so on, all the while my grandfather helping me pull, leaving the boat to glide on its own.
Then I hooked the big one.
“Grannie not gonna believe this,” he said, taking my rod from me and reeling in the most massive fish I’d seen at this point in my life.
“A kingfish! Oh boy!” he said.
As he unhooked the fish and wrapped it up in towels – it was too big to fit in the cooler with the jacks – Brian called out.
“I got another one!” He looked to be struggling, but kept reeling regardless.
Papa reached over to help him only to realize that it wasn’t a fish he’d caught, but a bird. The bird had eaten his fish and was now caught in the hook. The bird hovered close to us, hook in his mouth as my grandfather bravely grabbed him, using his large, rough fingers to gently unhook the bird and set him free.
The fish flopped around on the floor of the boat and the strong fishy scent mixed with blood was enough to make me wish were back on land. But I’ve never forgotten the day we caught a fish half the size of me … and a bird.