Decades ago, when I was in my salad years, a psychologist studied his summary report on me, looked up from his desk and said, “You should never be a watch repairman.” A watch repairman, bent over a watch case, tweezers in hand, would try to insert a tiny screw or a coil. It would drop into the mechanism and he would say something fierce like, “Oh rats,” retrieve it and repeat the effort to insert the part. He would drop it again, say “Double rats,” rinse and repeat. At the second drop, I would have blown out an expletive unsuitable for a family blog and launched the offending part into orbit. My customers would take their trade to another watch repairman with better skills and a PG-rated vocabulary. I am not proud of this trait. Friends would be surprised to hear that I am not a patient person at core. They see a genial, sociable type guy, cruising along life’s waters with steady sails, no luffing allowed. My Life’s Editor, of course, knows different. It has taken some work to create this fiction.
The work started on a seawall of the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. back in my tadpole stage. Sitting in my shorts, chubby legs against the concrete, basking in the sun and my father’s presence, I was oblivious to the detritus that slid along on the river’s surface back in the 1950s: beer cans, discarded paper cups and the occasional drowned rat. A bamboo rod, a direct wind bait casting reel and cotton-braided line completed my gear, passed down by my grandfather to my six-year-old self. I waited for an eternity, possibly five minutes, assured by my father that patience would be rewarded. Tap, tap. Something down in the murky water was interested in my bait. The tap, tap became a tug, the rod bounced up and down, and my Dad shouted, “Marshall, Marshall! You’ve got a fish on!” Huh, a fish? What?
I declined to make use of the crank handle thoughtfully provided by the manufacturer. Instead, I clutched the rod, stood up and ran back across the grass field behind us. The catfish, launched out of the friendly Potomac, banged against the seawall and landed flopping on the grass. I threw down the rod and pounced on it. In the ensuing years, my landing technique hasn’t greatly improved. But it was a starting point for exercising patience. The life lesson being if you hang around long enough, you might get lucky.
I put this into practice in college in pursuit of My Life’s Editor. A junior, she was overseeing a “mixer” her college put on for freshpersons. For readers younger than my dirty buck shoes, a “mixer” was a dance at an all-women school to which guys from a particular all-male college were invited. This mating ritual is now extinct. Likewise a junior, but from an uninvited all-male college, I had arrived with a roommate to check out the new crop of freshperson talent. My Life’s Editor-to-Be was looking extremely good, so I stopped at the entrance where she was checking IDs and threw moves at her: “Hi, what’s your name? Would you like to dance?” Though I was not from the approved college, she allowed me in, looking at my regulation red crewneck sweater and khakis, no doubt thinking “Why not? He’s clueless, what harm could he do?” I got a whiff of her perfume (Jungle Gardenia) and was poleaxed. She tried to shoo me away, but I hung in all evening, getting enough demographic data on her to mount a long-term campaign. It took me five years to convince her to accept the My Life’s Editor position, further proof that if you hang around you might get lucky.
The wage-earning/family-forming stage of life presented me a tsunami of patience-testing opportunities from major to minor: obstinate teenage children; unending introductory speeches at charity events; embarrassing drunken toasts by groomsmen at weddings; slow talkers who crank back up just when you think they had ground to a stop; and the lady in bifocals and Birkenstocks in front of me at the express checkout lane, counting out change from her coin purse. But when I took up fly fishing those tests of patience were all dwarfed by comparison. A fly fisherman is condemned to suffer travails that make Job look like a party animal. I offer a day on the river as proof.
I approach Michigan’s Au Sable River in my waders, edge down the bank, catch on a root, and fall forward on my hands and knees into the river. Whew, didn’t break my fly rod. But wait, I take in a gallon of 60-degree water through the top of my waders. It now runs down my crotch into my booties, soaking my socks. I slosh out to where the stream burbles along, rocks glistening, wildflowers lining the opposite bank. I start to tie a dry fly onto monofilament tippet the diameter of one of Albert Einstein’s eyebrow hairs. The fly being the size of the nail on my little finger, the hook eye the size of a gnat, I need to use the bifocals hinged to my cap bill. I reach up to flip them down, knock the lens askew. Bad words. I adjust the bifocals but drop the unattached fly into the water, where it floats downstream, promptly snapped up by a ravenous brook trout. More bad words. I fetch a second fly from my fly box, prodding among the feathered goodies. Finally, I advance to cast the fly lightly as a lover’s kiss on the water. Brook trout, native to North America, are not particularly difficult to catch, unlike, say, the clever brown trout, a German import. This is not much comfort. All around my fly, as it drifts, brook trout nosh on floating insect life with shameless gluttony. They laugh derisively at my offering. When I fetch my fly box out of my vest to dig for a different fly, my cold fingers fumble the box. It tumbles into the Au Sable, bobbing away on the current. Exceptionally bad words.
Prayer does not help. Competing with me for God’s attention on this Saturday in the fall are millions of college football fans who are praying that their team will totally crush the other team, albeit in a Christian way. Since there are too many requests for God’s services to deal with, She tends to other things like tectonic plate drift and the decline in butterflies in the Amazon.
I sigh. I check my fly, make another cast. I am patient. I just might get lucky.
Henry Adams (1838 – 1918), Harvard graduate and pedigreed Boston Brahmin, was a great-grandson of John Adams, the 2nd President, and a grandson of John Quincy Adams, the 6th President. American Studies majors are not permitted to receive their college diploma until they have read The Education of Henry Adams, his autobiography. The CliffsNotes version of Education is that Henry Adams was educated and culturally formed to be an inheritor of what an Adams was rightly due – a role among America’s good and great. To his chagrin, he never got the shot. The bustling, industrious, make-a-buck train of railroad barons, oil magnates and engineers roared towards the end of the 19th century and left elegant, moral Henry standing on the platform, his world invalidated.
A recent media image made me think of Henry Adams and the idea that treasured beliefs may be trashed by events. That image was the Confederate battle flag waving in a portico of the Capitol as rioters crushed against the out-manned Capitol Police and poured into the Rotunda on January 6. My ancestors wore Confederate grey. They fought and died behind that flag. Wherever during my “army brat” childhood my family lived, I pinned to my bedroom wall the iconic photo of Robert E. Lee framed in a doorway at Appomattox, in his Confederate uniform. “Marse Robert,” as his troops called him, stood for integrity, courage, loyalty, and chivalry. I knew that the Battle of Bull Run was properly called the Battle of First Manassas. I had read Lee’s Lieutenants. I knew that Stonewall Jackson, as he lay dying, had said “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” I knew, as one of my ancestors said, “one Confederate could whip five Yankees.” I was marinated in the Lost Cause.
Cultural clues reinforced my bond to the south in my childhood. The US Army was chockablock with southerners. Army brats played “Civil War,” no one volunteering be a Yankee. When my army post Boy Scout troop marched, we sang “Dixie.” There followed “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” and then “Mountain Dew” (“My Uncle Bill owns a still on the hill . . .”) No one saw a thing amiss with ten-to-twelve-year-old boys singing about liquor. My father’s family in Nashville were unregenerate southerners. Minnie Pearl of Grand Ole Opry was my aunt’s next-door neighbor. At age ten, I was shocked to see up close that Minnie had all her teeth. When my father was a cadet at West Point, he was given the privilege of escorting Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, meeting her at the Thayer Hotel. He wrote to his mother afterwards, “Mrs. Coolidge was a very nice lady.” His mother reposted, “There are no ladies north of the Mason-Dixon line.” There was fear about my father’s going north to school and meeting Yankee women, but the US Military Academy trumped everything. In the hierarchy of acceptable professions in the south, not much tops being an officer in the military.
My Life’s Editor is a Yankee, by way of Cleveland, Ohio. Her first and only encounter with my Nashville relations was at the celebration of my father’s retirement. My Uncle Johnnie’s eyes lit up at the sight of My Life’s Editor. Like my father, Uncle Johnnie appreciated an attractive woman. Sidling up, oozing southern charm, he addressed her as “you sweet tomato.” Her glare could have frozen a Bessemer furnace.
Along the secondary roads of the south in the 1950s, interspersed between Burma Shave signs, there were “Impeach Earl Warren” signs. Further down the road there would likely be an al fresco roadside stand selling quaint tourist goods like dish towels decorated with a fat, bearded confederate, wielding crossed swords and the legend: “Forget, Hell!”
In my youth and early adulthood, I mentally walled off my cherished noble south from slavery and racism. Search the preceding paragraphs for the terms “Black,” “African-American,” or “slave” and you will not be rewarded. I never met a Black officer in my childhood. They were soldiers or non-commissioned officers. On one occasion, when my family visited relatives in Nashville, my father sought out an elderly Black gentleman named Chad, who had been his aunt’s driver. My father brought him a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Over time, two silos developed in my mind. One silo contained the south of my childhood, full of Marse Robert’s virtues. In the other, the south was morphing into something much less attractive. My “Henry Adam’s moment” is seared into my mind. In the seventh grade I wrote an essay on Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. I took it to my father and stood proudly aside as he read it. His explosion of wrath sucked the air out of the room. “Goddamnit! Who is teaching our kids? What are they teaching them?” Lincoln was no hero to him. Slavery was insignificant against his resentment at the grievous wound the south had suffered. I realized my concept of the noble, glorious south and its legacy of rebellion, slavery, and racism could not coexist. Statues honoring Confederates speak to the problem. Can a sculptor conjure up a memorial celebrating solely Marse Robert’s virtues, separating out his roles as slaveholder and insurrectionist? It would be like unscrambling an egg. Does another country in the world celebrate the rebels and insurrectionists who sought to dismember the country?
The image of the Confederate battle flag being waved by a scruffy hooligan at the Capitol stirred up my childhood beliefs. Some guy from Michigan had stolen my symbol, Marse Robert’s flag. The flag waver put the best values it stood for in my youth to the lie. My vision of my southern heritage is tattered like an old battle flag. “Dixie” needs a revision: “Old times there are best forgotten.”
The Old Road Peddler
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.