I smell fried fish.
May 25, 2000
My car has ceased to operate. Or more precisely, the steering has. I am now reduced to biking everywhere, which is ridiculous since it’s already in the mid-eighty’s out there. I hate to begin a day at work by soaking myself in sweat and sending my pulse to levels that, honestly, just can’t be healthy. I haven’t purposefully sat astride a bicycle since I was sixteen, maybe seventeen – come to think of it since I first acquired motorized transport and a license to operate it. Now I’m joining the Canadian and South African dive masters in risking my life on the roads here, with nothing but fabric between my person and what I’ll generously describe as the third-world driving habits of the inhabitants. When you’re out there, in the beeping, honking heat, dodging chickens, scooters, and the ubiquitous tourist, expecting any moment to get crushed flat by an indifferent bus driver, you think certainly there are saner ways to get the blood pumping: amphetamines, maybe, or cliff jumping.
It was late evening and the sun had nearly set. After driving down the pothole-ridden excuse for a road at my habitual breakneck speed (which, upon consideration may have something to do with the busted steering), I hastily strung my rod and waded out to fish Sand Hole Flat. In the fading light I could make out what appeared to be a scattered school of bonefish. I began casting, hopeful, but expecting the usual results. I was not disappointed. No fish ate my fly.
After the sun went down I kept casting to what I’m still convinced were tailing bonefish. Whatever they were, I had no luck, other than a tense moment when I think a fish followed my fly. But, there was no take and with the low light I couldn’t be sure.
Finally I hooked something, something I was sure was no bonefish. For one thing it didn’t bolt for the horizon — as I’ve heard bonefish do — nor had I seen any of the tailing fish follow my fly’s gallant retreat across the flat. It turned out to be a baby grunt barely five inches long. I laughed heartily at the little fellow and promptly released him. I thought this a fluke and joked about it to some nearby baitfishers who had watched me land it.
“Geh’ sumting?” They asked.
“Yea, I had a li’l grunt deh dat t’aut he wa a boonfish. Man, wa’ a monsta’; ya cou’d jus’ bayrli see ‘im.”
They laughed, but seemed just as surprised as I that it had taken a fly. I’d always thought of grunts as scavengers, bottom feeders, certainly not the type to chase down prey. I could be wrong about that.
Fish were still moving — every so often I’d see a swirl or short push of water — so I kept casting and soon hooked another fish. This was much bigger, but though I gave it every opportunity it didn’t fight hard enough to get on the reel. At least I now understand what it means to hand-line a fish on a fly rod. This was another grunt, about twelve inches this time, and it too apparently thought my fly appetizing.
Grunts are actually a lovely fish  (pan-fried in coconut oil), so I gave it to the bait-fishers who were having a bad time of it. I wasn’t in the mood to clean fish myself.
I must admit that before catching these two fish I’d begun to think fly-fishing some elaborate hoax designed to swindle gullible fishermen into parting with large sums of their money. The pictures of old-timers standing beside a one hundred and eighty-plus pound tarpon or holding up a three-foot striper just proved that the whole thing was a great lie, perhaps concocted using computers or careful dark-room manipulation. Admittedly these artifacts weren’t nearly as crude as the postcard of the gang of fishermen heaving ashore the ten-foot trout, but doubtless the same principle applied. Neither fish could ever be caught on something as ridiculous as a fly rod.
Now I’m not so sure. Two grunts may not be a particularly auspicious way to begin a fly fishing career, but at least I now had evidence that the whole thing actually worked… at least it can work.
It was completely dark by this time and the mosquitoes were beginning to swarm, but with renewed hope I reeled in, determined to head home and crank out at least a half dozen flies of the same glorious pattern in various sizes and colors. Then, on the way home, the car broke down. For a brief period I could only turn the steering wheel to the left, which turned out to be fortunate since it allowed me to pull safely off the road . Turned out to be a faulty rack’n’pinion steering thingy, or something. The mechanic says it’s going to cost a hell of a lot anyways. All I know is it’s going to make getting to and from work a perfect nuisance, and going fly fishing practically impossible. It has left me with lots of time on my hands, but since there’s no pressure to rush off fishing soon, only one fly has been spun from my vise. Perhaps more shall follow, but with the resurrection of my aged auto sure take longer than the three days allotted Christ, I have slipped into a state of despondency which only the imminence of fishing can likely banish. My best hope for absolution is that the car shall be ready in time for the young moon and the next good set of fishing tides.
1 To this day every time I see a grunt I smell fried fish… sizzling in coconut oil and heavy on the pepper, just like grandma used to cook ’em. [back]
2 This particular Caribbean island, like much of the third world, has adopted the British habit of driving on the left. Had I been in the U.S. I don’t like to think what might have happened. It would certainly have been far more interesting… but probably only for the “onlookers”. [back]