Sometimes you have to go.
Not because something is chasing you, but maybe because you are chasing it too much. The world has a strange way of falling at your feet when you deny it. When you put it in its place and get back to basics, that’s a good thing. And in my forty-six laps around the sun, I have always found this kind of reset refreshing and necessary.
A review of priorities. Reset on goals. One way to block out noise. And when it comes to fly fishing, the opportunity to invent a new dynamic in a sport that is well established and rich in history. It’s inspiring.
I called Rico in Texas early Monday morning. “Hey, how are you? I’m looking for a 16ft panga. Do you have one?”
He did not do it. And what was a Michigan Yankee with all that snow six months a year going to do with a panga, anyway? He gave me a lead, however. A guy in the Alabama Cypress Swamps outside of Mobile might have one. Three days later, I got out, hitched her to the truck, and drove her home.
Wait. I’m getting ahead. Back to disappearance.
When you’re in a cartel, you move around a lot – name changes, aliases, ocelot lines of credit at wig stores. Everything to avoid contempt, humiliation and potential prosecution of a respectable community, the norms of society. Conventional wisdom in fly fishing has always been surrounded by targeting “worthy” game fish, and we are in a cartel of drums.
Now, to really understand the seriousness of what I just said, you have to know the gravity contraband. We are talking about a fish called the freshwater drum – not a redfish. AKA the dreaded Sheephead. The Gaspergou. The Crooker. It is one of the most despised species of fish in all of freshwater. A fish that makes walleye fishermen wince and swear like drunken sailors at its mere mention. And here we throw at them, intentionally.
Our leader founded this network and runs it like Tony Montana. It is called “El Gaspo”. At the beginning, the texts of El Gaspo arrived almost every day: “My house at 6 am in the morning. “,” I have new material. “,” Leave it quickly, then check the bottom. “,” I have to keep moving forward, keep them engaged! “
Photo: Ryan Fries
As more and more encrypted messages rang out, the brides began to wonder if we were really fishing or if we were involved in some sort of illicit activity. Boaters looked at our platforms and push poles – alien appendages in the Great Lakes – in utter confusion. Looks that later turned to disgust when questions like “What are you looking for?” Were met, “Drum of fresh water!”.
But we couldn’t stop.
On the freshwater plains, we’ve shifted the drum to the kilo – releasing articulated models, built with hydrodynamic depth loading and stealth in mind. We collected the barrels by net, exporting our product locally and eventually to the coast. Pure white uncut strain from the Great Lakes. A native fish, with silvery, translucent and golden reflections. Native Americans and early settlers dismembered them for pearl-colored otolith jewelry. Their bellies epitomized how far we’ve gone from dry fly fishing for trout in legendary waterways to the dark and dingy regions of filth fishing. Sometimes when you fall too far, you never find a way out. Fortunately, we never did.
Word was also starting to come out across the interwebs. DMs were hitting The Gram. “I really appreciate what you are doing there”, “So cool”, “Carry on! Rival cartels scanned image backgrounds for data. Blinded by the platinum bling of the drum backs and golden sides, they saw only the product, ignoring the demeaning dance we had to do to bring it to the streets. Most would never admit to another fisherman that they too might consider fishing for sheep’s head. And how could they? How could they live with the stigma and still come home to a loving family with some sense of decency? How could they look in the mirror at a man who, to the rest of the world, had become a monster with the head of a sheep?
I’ll tell you how.
Photo: Ryan Fries
Locate a cruising drum on an ultra-clear dish 20 yards with its nose down and throw a plaster cast at it. Then watch it get off the fly, sniff, and then spin. Puzzled, you undress a few more times and he comes back dancing with the recovery, on the fly and on the fly, to the boat. What will he do first, eat him or scare him? Her mouth widens, you undress, lift and squeeze. Stem bent, it runs for the reeds.
When I got the panga, I knew it had a reputation for being a contraband ship. I knew this wasn’t your Four Winns water ski style boat. The kind you see in the 4th of July photos with bright, happy faces. But I had no choice. El Gaspo has spread the word. We needed more transportation. Some of the waters we had to cross were too turbulent and there was some fresh produce. The fleet had to be diversified. Drum racers don’t take vacations.
As soon as I brought her home, the mailings started arriving at the door. Unmarked boxes filled with fiberglass and aluminum. I called Alex at an off-grid aluminum cutting store just outside of Flint. I needed a survey platform – cash payments only. I built in-hull storage ports for commodities, drum guns, and ammo. CO patrols are all over this water.
Photo: Ryan Fries
Three weeks later, she was up and operational. Our territory has grown. We had captured the lion’s share of the drum market. Entire segments of the largest delta north of the Mississippi were now in the hands of a few key players. And as we walked through the transparent and turquoise freshwater plains, the fishermen looked away, the friends didn’t call back the phone calls, the mothers covered the children’s eyes. But these real fanatic fin junkies, who like us think of every fish in the sport (except rock bass) as a game fish, have quietly let us know they’re on our side. A glance. A nod of the head. A DM. Especially those of salt. Ah yes, they were familiar with the hustle and bustle. Cartels have run apartments there for decades.
Now it’s the turn of fresh water. No pretext. No “golden bonefish”. No “freshwater barracuda”. No riding. We’re not trying to be cute. It’s a fucking sheep’s head.
Photo: Ryan Fries
Detroit is our home port. Home of the slum village of J Dilla. But we are growing now. No more discreet slums in Drum Village. We did that, then we disappeared. We lived in the shadows to learn the trade – to invent a whole new niche. Now is the time to go up the north coast. More products, more customers.
Tony Montana once said, “You need people like us … You need people like us to be able to point fingers and say there are bad guys.”
The 3rd Coast Drum Cartel is here and booming. Say goodnight to the bad guys.