The first time I saw Greg Ryan he was being his usual douchebag self on the promenade, sinking beers and laughing way too loudly.
I would see him a hundred times or so after that. My opinion of the man never changed, nor did my appreciation of the fisherman. He had strength, but no patience; timing, but little knowledge; courage, but no care. And what a braggart! Listening to him, you’d think he was Quint reincarnate. But some people seem to get by just fine on strength, timing and courage alone.
So here we are, me and Greg, out here on this 30-footer in 150 feet of water, waiting for just the right shark. And he keeps running his mouth off, talking smack.
I pretend not to listen as I bait my hook, ready to cast off again into the black. Not much of a moon tonight, and sixteen nautical miles out, there aren’t any lights except for those on this boat, and I’ve turned them all off. The heave is gentle and rhythmic, and I could almost fall asleep to the sea’s lullaby. I certainly would if it weren’t for this jackass and his motor mouth. I’m surprised he ever managed to catch anything, he makes so much noise.
But catch he did. Greg is, after all, a record holder. And he makes sure everybody knows it. In fact, it’s because of that record that we’re out here tonight. About a month ago, during a shark tournament, I watched from another boat as Greg and three wingmen—identikit douchebags—hauled a 394.5 kg tiger shark into the back of a 20-foot cabin cruiser. The shark itself must have been at least 14 feet long.
She, as it turns out, was probably around thirty years old. Thirty. Nearly the same age as Greg. I thought to myself, ‘No, they can’t possibly plan to keep it?!’. Release it, Greg. Release it. But no. Greg saw a record, and for that you’ve got to take it back to the harbor and string it up on the yardarm. The shark had fought for the guts of an hour by then, and she was exhausted. I watched as they gaffed her and another bare-chested minion roped her tail. I remember thinking how absolutely majestic she was. The girth was astounding, and the fin gleamed in the light. When they hauled her aboard, the head was hanging over the rear. I swear she looked baffled. I know that’s projection, but she didn’t seem to understand what was going on—Where am I? What the fuck is this thing under me? She was tired and confused and silently in pain. Let her go, Greg. Catch and release! But no. Greg wasn’t going to pass up the chance to have his name on the chalkboard beside a whopping big weight like that.
Watching him now, as the boat sways and the wind rustles, it looks impossible. How could something like this take out one of the largest predators in the sea? It seemed unnatural. It is unnatural, because there are maybe three things on the planet that could kill a shark that size: orcas, great whites, and douches like Greg. It was like burning one of the remaining copies of an illuminated manuscript. She was a towering specimen of her kind, but Greg…well, you could swing a cat on the boardwalk and hit fifty Greg Ryans, and that’s on a slow Monday. But facts are facts, and I watched that day as he took an eight-inch boning knife and drove it into the back to cut the spinal cord. It must have worked, because she stopped thrashing. She was still alive though. It would take a long time for her to die. She probably stared into the wake of that boat for quite some miles as it chugged back to shore.
So, over beers one night, I said to Greg: “Greg, did you know that the soil in the Amazon Rainforest is nutrient-poor? The forest is lush, but the soil is poor”. He grunted and said the monkeys ought to shit more, that’d do the trick. So I said: “Greg, do you know where the Amazon gets its nutrients from?” He took a swig of beer and said: “Home Depot?”. No Greg, no. The nutrients that make the Amazon so lush come all the way from a dried-up lakebed in Chad. That’s Chad, Africa, Greg. See there was once a mega freshwater lake there, the size of an inland sea, but it dried up, and now great big plumes of dust rich in nutrients from the shells of microscopic diatoms blow across the Atlantic and nourish that poor Amazonian soil. “Well I’ll be…”, said Greg. “Yes, Greg”, I said. “So if the wind changes direction, and that dust stops landing there, the Amazon will die”. “OK”, said Greg, “and I’m supposed to give a rat’s ass because…?”. Well, it was then I decided we had to take this fishing trip.
Greg has been dangling in the water for maybe an hour now, waist-deep. Hanging from the creaky-old deck crane. It’s been forty-five minutes since I—touché—sliced his leg with an eight-inch boning knife. I figure tonight Greg is going to catch his last shark, and I’m hoping it breaks his record. I truly am.
And it truly did! Spectacular swirl. I shone my spotlight when the squealing started. Shark attack survivors will often say “it was just like Jaws”. Well, it actually was. The bobbing up and down, the careering around, the flailing and the frothing, followed by the silence, as the surface recomposes itself like nothing has happened. Nothing at all.
Now I must be categorically clear that this is a once-off for me. A one-time thing. I don’t care who catches what, I’m not doing this again. But it’s like I said to Greg that time, I said, “Greg, all it ever takes is one little change in the wind.”