Kip, my roommate from graduate school, called. In his ebullient have-I-got-a-deal-for-you style, he asked if I would like to join him and an Ormond Beach friend, Tom, to fish for snook in the Everglades National Park for a couple days. Kip and Tom are hard core fishermen. We would not be resting on a Barcalounger bolted to the deck, soaking bait, glancing occasionally at a bobber while sucking on a Bud. Kip and Tom would be furiously chucking artificial lures at mangrove shorelines, only occasionally stopping to pee, if a hand could be freed. Of course, my response to Kip was yes. My genes doom me. My grandfather, John “Honus” Craig, died on a Tennessee trout stream with a fly rod in his hands. My father would have had a hard time deciding between going out with a seven-iron or a fishing rod.
The Everglades National Park is a vast expanse of tannin-tinted water and green mangroves. Wherever you go, it looks like where you just left. There are no “This Way to the Exit” signs. Kip’s MBA program was in Operations Research – numbers requiring computations (mine was in Marketing – words, with crayons optional.) His smarts and the fact that he grew up in Miami and has logged over 50 years fishing out of Flamingo, make him the guy to be with. That said, he does not have a GPS tracker on the boat. When he coughs or teeters while at the helm, I flinch.
A fishing trip is like a picaresque novel, think Huckleberry Finn or Don Quixote, a journey with a series of adventures, the journey objective being beside the point. Adventures in a typical fishing trip involve injuries with blood, injuries without blood, lost items, broken items, running aground and the like. Broken items in the past have included motor mounts, push poles and, of course, fishing rods. On a prior trip Tom had reached to land a big snook and been slashed by razor-sharp gill covers. In seconds, the boat resembled a MASH unit operating room, awash in gore. Kip rummaged in a compartment and came out with a first aid package last used at the Battle of Balaclava. We made do, binding the injured warrior with torn strips of cloth.
For me, fish catching is incidental to the experience of sharing adventures with guys. I have been in the company of males since my parents sent me off to an all-male boarding school at age 15. From there it was off to an all-male college. Graduate school was largely an all-male proposition. Guys tend to be non-judgmental, lest they be judged. No one cares if you leave your u-trou on the cabin floor, leave the toilet seat up or drink directly from the milk container (OK, delete that last.) Guys aren’t concerned about couture, although I note that of the three of us, Tom is the best-dressed, in the boat or off. His stuff mostly matches, and his shirt tail doesn’t hang out. He wears a belt. A boat is a judgment-free zone.
This trip’s adventures began with provisioning. Like Sancho Panza in Don Quixote loading up his donkey with loaves of bread and a bota of wine, we stopped at Dion’s Quick Mart in Florida City for fried chicken – the gold standard for a fishing trip – and empanadas, and gasoline for Kip’s fifteen-year-old boat engine. We paired the fried chicken with Heineken beer.
The boat ramp at Flamingo was quieter than a church under COVID lockdown. Two empty boat trailers were in the parking lot, watched over by a resident croc at one of the ramps and a flutter of black vultures. I was given a line to hold and struck a “been there, done that” pose as Kip and Tom launched. On the few occasions I have been allowed to back a trailer down a boat ramp, Daytona 500 fans relishing bent metal come from miles around to view the carnage. As we motored down the canal leading out to Coot Bay, clouds of ibis flew at us down the mangrove tunnel, white “v”s that burst aside to pass over the boat. We grinned as we turned our necks to watch them whoosh by.
The first run of any fishing day is exhilarating. We sliced over the slight chop, dark water creaming away from the bow. Tom was hunched over the console, me beside him on the bench seat, and Kip in front of the console. We shivered under three layers, bouncing, blasted by the wind, eyes tearing. All in a bubble of anticipation and excitement. As with a first date or a job interview, we were prepared, had a fundamental understanding of the process, and knew things could get interesting.
I have fished through a lifetime of “you should have been here yesterday/last week/last century” comments by a fishing partner when our fishing results were on the skinny side. But on this first week of December, we had to fend off snook. They gobbled. They smashed. Fishing rods got a permanent bend as we tiptoed from bow to stern along the 13” gunwales or stepped from cooler to bench seat to motor mount, keeping a surly snook away from obstacles. “Take in your line!” “Get out of the way, damn it!” “Watch the freaking rod tip!” and some comments unsuitable for a family blog post polluted the air. On guy fishing trips those with sensitive feelings can suffer; those with a low EQ survive unscathed.
Each day finished with a post-action debriefing at the ramp. For an entire day we had avoided thinking about anything that would tax our minds, like the national debt or an upcoming visit to the proctologist. Sipping a few fingers of Jameson’s on the rocks and noshing on slices of Manchego and sausage on a cracker, we reviewed our brilliant moments, with only the croc and the vultures there to contradict us.
The Old Road Peddler
It is a rite of suburban passage that a beginner family, after stocking up on kids, decides to do the dog thing. Picture a toasty, happy, Christmas-card family smiling in their matching jammies with a dog appended. The presence of a dog squares the circle, certifies familyness.
The Craig family was no exception. When Hutch was two years old, My Life’s Editor and I went to the pound in Deerfield, IL and came home with Montmorency, named for a character in our beloved book “Three Men in a Boat.” Montmorency was fully grown – good-sized, fluffy and given to random pooping. But more significantly, he bounded. After the fourth time he took out Hutch like a Brunswick bowling ball sending a pin flying, we decided, teary-eyed, that he (the dog, not Hutch) had to go. We would wait to grow the family via the canine route.
Fast forward a couple years. I had taken up hunting. At 5 AM some weekends I drove with two pals in 25-degree cold to West Brooklyn, IL to eat a big breakfast and tromp around in corn stubble, slinging lead at pheasants. We did well with the breakfast bit, not so much with the pheasant bit. My Life’s Editor sensed the time was right and presented me with a Brittany Spaniel puppy. “Brits” are prized in the hunting world because they are “pocket pointers,” more compact than an English Setter or a German Shorthair, thus more portable, but they do the same things, plus they are homebodies. His AKC handle was “Gorgeous George IV.” He was a handsome dude. Hutch took on the assignment of naming him and Gorgeous George became plain “Bingo,” after Hutch’s favorite childhood song.
After I had spent months in the back yard training Bingo to retrieve, my friend Glen and I determined it was time to introduce him to the noisy shotgun and possibly the wily cock pheasant. We repaired to another friend’s field in nearby St. Charles on a 30-degree morning with a dusting of snow. We exited the station wagon, shrugged into our hunting jackets, orange caps and vests, plopped Bingo on the ground and trudged off, cradling our shotguns. At some distance from the car, I chambered a shell. Bingo looked up. Bang! The dog did not flinch. This brought nods of approbation from Glen and our friend Rick. Bingo had the “gun” part of the “gun dog” label down pat.
When I made the sweeping “fetch” gesture indicating to Bingo that he was to fan out in front of us and quarter the field, the wheels came off. He declined to advance, judging it safer to stay with us, out of the line of fire. Glen observed that we were now in danger of tripping over Bingo and shooting each other. The thermometer dropped; snow floated down. Bingo sat. He looked up at me woeful-eyed, shuddering like a bowl of Jell-O. He finished the rest of the morning under my hunting jacket, nose out.
Our move to Florida ended Bingo’s bird hunting career. He did develop one hunting skill though. Before the solons of St. Pete decried that dogs should be leashed, I would take Bingo to North Shore Beach. He would vault over the sea wall and sprint across the sand, nostrils flared. Gathering in the scent of prey, he would accelerate, then leap upon his target: a well-aged mullet, ripened to such a state of putrefaction that gulls turned up their noses at it. He would roll in it, legs churning, then scramble up and look at me, panting, tongue lolling. I knew he was thinking “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Our next dog was Molly, also a Brit. Molly came home with me from her breeder in Deland, nestled in the foot well of the front passenger seat. She was a Florida Brit, shorter haired and blockier than Bingo. She was as frumpy as Bingo was handsome. Looking back, I cannot remember why we wanted to become a two-dog household; maybe because with Peyton we had become a two-child household. We came to learn that whereas Bingo exhibited the intellect of a block of cheese, Molly was clever. She also was the better bird dog. She appeared at the back door one day, exultant, the legs of a blue jay sticking out of her mouth. She had nailed it in mid-flight.
Molly was the Alpha dog. She defended our home, barking ferociously from the inside of the fence at innocent passers-by. My Life’s Editor was mortified by the harassment of little old ladies and young mothers with babes in arms. Molly also defended us against creditors by chewing up power bills as the postman pushed them through the front door mail slot. In the crunch, Molly and Bingo both fell down miserably in their Home Security role. Two delinquent neighborhood youths entered our house via the cracked-open window of our laundry room, where Molly and Bingo were incarcerated while the family was out. The youths burglarized us as the dogs reveled in the freedom of the house. An upshot of this was the arrival of a petite female cop who brandished a humongous gun, advancing to the second floor, warning she would not hesitate to blast “any m…..f….r” she found upstairs. My Life’s Editor and the kids watched from below, eyes agog.
Bingo was the master of escape. I wound my way home through the neighborhood one evening. Bingo was in the back seat, head out the open window, drooling, ears flapping, paws on the window frame. I took a left turn at an intersection, straightened out the car and happened to glance in the rear view mirror. Bingo, no longer a passenger, was standing in the middle of the intersection behind me. He viewed any open door as God’s gift to dogs. The question of “Where’s Bingo?” would lead to a search, as we drove block to block in the Old Northeast, shouting his name. One weekend he showed up hours later limping and bruised, dirty and smelly, hyperventilating, likely hit by a car. Hutch and Peyton in tears beside me, I drove him to the only open vet I could find. As I drove, I reviewed Bingo’s ledger of good works and misdeeds. I found him wanting. I considered the family exchequer and since we were in hard times, put $250 on his head. Any more than that and he was going to the kennel in the sky. The bill was $175.
For many families, the end of their dog’s life is their first experience with mortality up close. It provides a glimpse of bigger things to come. So it was for us. Bingo, as senior dog, was the first to slip the mortal coil. On the day of reckoning, I helped him into the back seat of our car, carefully lifting his haunches. I drove to My Life’s Editor’s office, where I found word had spread and she and her office mates were sobbing. She joined me and Bingo for the short tearful drive to the vet. Once there, we held him while he shuddered and left us. A few years later, Molly joined us for a similar trip to the vet. Knowing her, she had a good idea of what was up.
From time to time. as the sand runs out in my personal hourglass, I picture Hutch and Peyton driving up to the Shady Nook Retirement Home. They will help me into the back seat of the car. It is only a short drive to the vet.
In couch potato mode, trail mix bowl in my lap, I watched the Rays’ keystone combo, shortstop Willy Adames and second baseman Brandon Lowe, turn a double play. Willy dove for a grounder to his right, caught the ball in the webbing of his glove, braked, planted his right foot and slung the ball to Brandon who caught it in mid-stride, pivoted and fired to Ji-Man Choi. Other than maybe an alley-oop pass from the high post to a flying center who slam dunks, a double play is the epitome of team effort. I racked my brain for team play artistry from my own life. As my brain has as much random clutter as a neighborhood yard sale, this task took a while. An image came to me.
Meet Captain Marvin Miller of Mangrove Key, Andros, the Bahamas (email@example.com). He is of modest height, a lithe but strong guy, affable, with a ready smile. On the job, he dresses in the latest fishing-tech gear with a Buff up over his nose, fishing pliers and a two-way radio clipped to his belt. He is forty-four years old, was delivered by a Mangrove Cay midwife in a building near the downtown waterfront. He reminds us Shine’s Conch Shack is located there now, owned by his fellow guide pal Shine, aka Arnold Green, an excellent place for conch fritters and a cool Kalik. At age eighteen, he got a call from Moxey’s Bonefish Lodge that a guide had celebrated too much the night before and was a no show. Marvin hustled over and had his first paying gig.
This is where Marvin plies his trade as bonefish guide. Andros is the largest island in the Bahamas, running north-south one hundred miles and forty miles east-west. It is pinched at the waist like an old-fashioned Coke bottle, by three bights, estuaries that divide the island into North Andros, Mangrove Cay and South Andros. Eight thousand people live on Andros, clustered along a coral ridge with a single road threading down the east side of the island, interrupted by the bights and tidal creeks. From this ridge the island falls away to the west, eliding from scrub pine flats to, eventually, mangrove swamps on the west. Nothing on the island aspires to be the tallest kid on the block. Hurricanes have that effect
Outside of government employment and a US naval installation, cash flow on Andros comes courtesy of the wad of greenbacks fly fishermen bring in their duffel bags as they arrive to stay at one of the many lodges on the east side, from Nicholls Town to Mars Bay. The object of their interest is the grey ghost of the flats – the bonefish. Has it occurred to you, as you examine the menu at Bonefish Grill, sipping one of their excellent Manhattans, that you do not see a bonefish on the menu? There are several reasons: the bonefish is very bony, like the logo implies; commercial netting of bonefish is not allowed; and if it were caught by a fly fisherman in the Bahamas and he transported it to your plate, it would cost about $150 per, filleting extra. In sum, the fish is not great eating and you must lay out many Ben Franklins to catch them if you are not a Bahamian.
The bonefish is silver, shaped like a broad-shouldered torpedo terminating in a strong V-shaped tail, capable of generating 40 mph, placing it among the top ten fastest fish in the ocean. Its snout has a pinkish color derived from digging nose-down on the sandy bottom, noshing on shrimp and other crustaceans. Big bones tend to cruise singly or in small pods, little guys prefer the comfort of a school. Lemon sharks and barracuda hang out on the periphery of a school, a fish version of an apartment building with serial killers lurking outside the front door. The bones move across the Andros flats with the tides. Wherever they are, Captain Marvin finds them.
Marvin operates from a poling platform mounted on a boat designed for skinny water – a flats boat. For the cognoscenti, his flats boat is a seventeen-foot Hell’s Bay Professional with a 70 hp motor. Balancing six feet above water level, wielding a sixteen-foot push pole, he surveys his kingdom. To find bones, he poles quietly along the flats shoreline of stunted mangroves. He must spot them far ahead and instruct his fisherman as to where they are and what they are doing. Cloud cover is Marvin’s enemy, reducing contrast. Eighty feet away, a cruising bone is but a grey shadow on a light tan-colored bottom. His second enemy is wind. The profile of himself on the platform, the boat hull and his paying cargo makes for significant sail area. Poling to control the boat in hefty wind becomes a sweat job. Add to Marvin’s woes wind-driven waves concealing the oncoming bones.
But Marvin’s biggest problem is the fly fisherman poised on the bow, fly rod in one hand, loops of fly line at his feet and fly held pinched between the fingers of his other hand, ready to make a cast when he hears the magic words: “Bonefish at eleven o’clock, off the shore twenty feet, sixty feet away.” Adrenaline rushes through the fisherman; his eyes swing back and forth. Where is it? Where is it? This is a man or woman whose most significant visual task this past year has been to follow the flight of a Titleist golf ball as it slices off the first tee.
On to the actual cast. Marvin has positioned the boat as it moves along the shoreline so that a right-handed fly fisherman has the wind coming over his left shoulder. The fisherman must finally see the bonefish, avoid stepping on the line under his feet, avoid hooking the fly on his pants, avoid hooking Marvin on the back cast, and get out a forty foot cast that lands six feet in front of the cruising bone, all the while heart beating like the hammers of hell.
On a beautiful Bahamas day, fishing out of Swain’s Cay Lodge a number of years ago, I stood on the deck of Marvin’s boat, my “Gotcha” fly pinched between my fingers, and blinked through my Polaroids. Marvin spoke softly from the poling platform, “Ten o’clock. Fish coming out.” We had hunted bones coming out of the mangroves as the water dropped, skinnier and skinnier with the falling tide. I saw the fish, loitering about the roots, getting ready to move. Heart pumped, adrenaline flowed, hands tingled. I breathed deeply. Slowly, they glided out, a few small ones at first. Urgent voice from above: “Give me a cast, fifty feet, drop it on the sand.” I did not step on the line. I did not hook my pants or Marvin. The Gotcha landed on a patch of sand in front of the oncoming fish. “Don’t move the fly!” What? There are fish there, one pull of the line to move the fly and I’ve got one. “Wait, wait … big one coming. OK … now strip!” The first run of the bone was half a football field long. I held the rod as high as I could to lift the line above conchs, coral, weed and whatever else was on the bottom. The reel screamed. I screamed.
Study the photo above and then take a gander at the preceding photo of Marvin in poling position. He looks like he stepped from the pages of the Orvis catalog. The guy with the fish attached, not so much. It looks like he accoutered himself at the Goodwill store and thought he’d take a whack at fly fishing. Team Bonefish did land the bone. Of course, the fisherman’s role was that of a boy with a stick who jumps out in front of the Independence Day parade and thinks he’s leading it. The bone is pictured below with the guy who really caught it.
Most days of COVID-19 I hang out in my pajamas until late morning. I slurp coffee, and scan the paper, looking for warm-hearted stories about siblings separated at birth, reunited at a smoked mullet festival. Monday mornings, however, I put on my long pants and drive to the Sunshine Senior Center, next to the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club. The official name is the Multi-Service Senior Center, Office on Aging, a moniker short on drama and passion. I go there not to participate in consumer awareness programs, take line dancing lessons or check out the Senior Hall of Fame to see if I have been voted in. I go there because I am a Meals on Wheels volunteer.
Every weekday a squad of volunteers motors forth from the Sunshine Center to deliver free or low-cost meals to home bound seniors. My gig starts at 10:30 AM when I gather up two black insulated bags and a clipboard in the Center’s dining room. Pre-COVID, folks on the margins of society would gather there for a cuppa and a cookie, the gals in their housecoats, dragging wire carts behind them, and the guys in vests with VFW patches and ball caps that read “US Army Ret.” Nowadays, they are exiled to the back door, and come, one by one, to pick up something to eat.
My clipboard contains dog-eared pages of instructions, last read during the Nixon administration; menus for the month; and a list of my calls for the day with names, addresses, and phone numbers. There are notations on the call sheet: “Ring bell and knock loudly, client hard of hearing” or “Disregard pit bull, it is considered friendly.” My hot insulated bag contains two types of meals: “Restaurant” and “Hot Lunch Regular.” Local restaurants are being paid to provide MOW meals during the pandemic, when normal business is slim for them, hence “Restaurant” meals. Be assured we are not talking about lobster on a bed of artisanal pasta, with a side of broccolini. “Hot Lunch Regular” meals are the standard, provided by a commercial kitchen. The “Hot Lunch Regular” comes in a black plastic tray with three segments covered by clear plastic so you can gaze on the goodies. From the September 28 menu entry: 3 oz. Meatballs in Swedish Sauce, ½ cup Rotini Noodles, ½ cup Green Beans. The cold insulated bag contains shrink- wrapped trays with juice, a slice of bread, butter, and a carton of 1% milk. Likely, ninety percent of the world’s population would consider that meal an inconceivable feast.
Each time I slip a “Hot Lunch Regular” into a plastic bag for delivery, I think of Swanson’s TV Dinners. In my childhood, when my parents went to an evening soiree my sisters and I would pull out these delicacies from the freezer, heat them in the oven (folding back one corner of the aluminum as indicated), march them to the den and plop them on a folding tray. We noshed, watching Ozzie and Harriet. My fave was the Swanson’s fried chicken dinner with peas and mashed potatoes. Yum.
There are ten seniors on my route, with varying levels of ability to motate. With most, I knock briskly on the door or ring the bell, then wait patiently for the client to come to the door, unlock it, and take the bag with a grateful “Thank you.” For the least mobile, my protocol is to knock, wait for a response and enter, heading for the kitchen, offering small talk but feeling intrusive, as if I had stepped into her bedroom. I have not yet seen a call sheet notation saying, “Caution, client overdosed on cable news, is licensed to carry.” Since my customers are often hearing deficient, weaponry could create a problem.
Reporter at scene of shooting:
“What happened, Mrs. Winchester?”
“He came right through the door! I never heard a knock, thought he was one of them Antifas. So I pulled out my Glock from under the Afghan and wasted him…. Too bad, though.”
“What’s too bad, Mrs. Winchester?”
“Ruined the Swedish meatballs.”
Ellen is my oldest. On a recent day, she beamed as she pointed to a vase of flowers for her 96th birthday. Next to the flowers was a single potted tomato plant, held tenuously erect by a wire support. She announced that this fall she was going to eat a tomato from the plant.
Carlos is my lone male client. He is a Yankees fan, so I let him know that the Rays beat the Yankees like a rug. When the Rays do beat the Yankees in the playoffs, I am mum. The TV flickers with old black and white westerns and TMC classics.
Pat greets me at the front door in a red flowered housecoat, two dogs barking chaotically behind her. In front of her house, on the walkway, sits a black metal silhouette of a dachshund next to a water bowl for passing dogs.
Helen is from Brooklyn. From her Barcalounger, wrapped in a terrycloth robe, she watches Fox and opines. “New Yorkers are tough. We tell it like it is. That’s why I like Trump. And that Biden! Can’t stand him!” I say nothing.
When I signed up for MOW, my friend John became my wingman. I would make the deliveries and he would drive the getaway car. Our first customer of the day was Glenna. White-haired, stooped and petite, but bright-eyed, she was hard of hearing (an affliction John and I shared with her). Getting her attention required a lot of banging and pressing an ear close to the door to suss out a muttered “I’m coming” or “Leave it on the counter.” After John left town, I kept him updated on our customers. One day Glenna’s name disappeared from the clipboard list. I texted John: “Maybe Glenna came into a fortune and can pop for real restaurant meals!” But we knew the bell had tolled.
I was reading an opinion piece in the Tampa Bay Times when my eye glanced over to the obits, and there, hidden among more grand obituaries, were three small lines: Sanders, Glenna of Blacksburg, VA and St. Petersburg died on August 31, 2020. Full obit at … I immediately texted John and we each read the obituary. My jaw dropped as I read about her background and accomplishments. She was fluent in French, taught in US Army Base Schools in Germany (where I spent my elementary school years), and played the piano and sang, financing her travels in Europe. She got a master’s degree in art education at Virginia Tech, founded an art gallery and supported the Virginia Tech Chamber Music Orchestra where her husband was a public relations director for the university. Like my mother, she drank martinis and was a member of Colonial Dames of America. I had not stopped reading the obit when John texted that Glenna’s then-husband, Howard, had been his customer for many years when John provided printing service for the university.
There are many conversations in our lives that should have been. If only I had knocked, brought in the meal, and said, “Can we chat?”
“Sounds pretty good,” said my crack guitar teacher, Douglas L. He was zooming me from two feet away, his angular face with soul patch framed in my laptop. I basked in his praise. If I were a dog my tail would have been wagging. It had taken me two months to subdue sixteen bars of “Casey Jones” by Mississippi John Hurt, a famed acoustic blues man born in 1892. Like many in my cohort, four years of college had passed with an acoustic guitar nearby. A folk song was “three chords and the truth.” Those three chords were C, F and G. You could add G7 for variety, maybe Am if you wanted pathos. Prior to college, when I was a pre-teen, my parents thought I should learn a musical instrument. They conducted an extensive search to determine the instrument best suited to my talents and hit on (insert long drawn out crescendo here), you guessed it … the accordion. This was pre-Lawrence Welk, so my future was not assured. My parents theorized that though I might not make it on the Elk Lodge circuit, I could always be the hit of any party, bringing along my 120-base red Hohner. (Oh look, here comes Marshall with his fabulous accordion! I hope he plays ‘‘Lady of Spain.’’) My accordion career crumpled when my high school music teacher found strapping on the accordion to be a struggle, what with his wooden leg and all. I wound up playing third trumpet in the school band, blatting out four-beat measures in “Pomp and Circumstance.” I simply killed quarter notes.
Fast forward to retirement. I brought out the old guitar that My Life’s Editor had bought me some years prior and eyed it speculatively. Could I advance beyond C, F, G and occasionally G7? The purchase of an upscale Taylor acoustic committed me, and I started lessons with the ever-patient Douglas. I was not in Kansas anymore. I had entered the world of finger picking, the pentatonic scale and the seven modes. I left “This Land is Your Land” and “Blowin’ In the Wind” in the rear view mirror. By my sixth year I advanced to the point that I was the seventh performer in Douglas’ “Spring Jam” for his students, wedged in between an eight-year old performing the “Stairway to Heaven” guitar riff and a twelve-year old, wowing an audience of adoring parents. There were free hot dogs.
Today I enjoy sitting down of an evening and working on my repertoire at home. I am not ready to set up shop on tony Beach Drive in downtown St. Pete, my guitar case open for folks to flutter in fivers. There is the little issue of my producing the same number of beats in each measure I play. My singing is exploratory in nature. I warily approach a musical note from below, grab it for a moment, then slide down the other side. My fingers get an attitude on occasion and sulk. I do take pride in those 16 bars of “Casey Jones.” On the day they came together I was elated. There is magic in challenging yourself and developing a skill when you trundle beyond gainful employment, whether it be using chopsticks or riding sidesaddle. The more difficult, the better. This brings me to Dame Juliana Bernes, a nun, who wrote a Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle in the 15th century. She is to blame for a legion of frustrated fly fishermen right up to this century who have shivered in frigid trout streams as a leak in their waders trickles down their leg and a creature with a brain the size of a pencil eraser sneers at their fly.
It is difficult to explain to people why a person would fly fish. It is not socially acceptable to collar someone and expound on why you fly fish. Under the terms of the Geneva Convention this is considered torturing civilians. Furthermore, fly fishing is not generally a very productive way to catch fish. Maimonides is thought to have said “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.” He was not talking about fly fishing.
Like playing the blues on a guitar, fly fishing is both a skill and an art form. Learning to fly cast contradicts everything your Uncle Bud taught you when he put a spinning rod and reel in your hands at his pond, hooked up a worm and had you chuck it in the water with one simple motion. In fly fishing, the weight of the fly line is what carries the lure – feathers and a hook – out over the water. The fly connects to the fly line with ten feet of clear monofilament. The magic lies in the flexing of the eight-foot rod and the pull of the heavy fly line, streaming out some thirty feet behind as it loads on the back cast with the cocking of your forearm and then releases as your forearm snaps down, like hammering a nail. The objective is to deliver a fly to the water’s surface as gently as a lover’s kiss, the fly line carrying the fly out with minimal fuss. Piece of cake.
There are two places where fly fishing particularly comes into its own. One is where the fish’s diet consists of small, crunchy insects, and the other is where the water is very shallow and the splash of a large lure would cause every fish within a quarter mile to vamoose. In both cases a carefully presented fly fits the bill. It is a benediction on the lives of fly fishermen that these locales are trout streams and Bahamian bonefish flats. Fly fishermen can exercise their skill in gobsmackingly beautiful surroundings.
Fly fishing is one sport where you get better as you get older. Like learning to play guitar, it requires practice. One afternoon I was out casting on the lawn bordering Pioneer Park in downtown St. Pete, careful to avoid stepping in dog poop. A patron of our local saloon, Courigan’s, spotted me and hustled over, crossing the street, careful not to spill his beer. He came up alongside and said “Hey, fly fishing huh? Pretty cool!”
I said, “Yeah, it is cool.” I thought, you should hear me play the guitar.