The Bonefish Moon
March 6, 2011
…the good ol’ Midwest, the heartland of America: as far from a bonefish flat as a human can get without considerable expense and planning. Even California is closer, I think. I mean, geography isn’t my strong suit, but Mexico’s right there, and they have bones. I remember fishing for them once, but that’s another story.
It snowed again this morning, or last night. The first blush of spring has been erased by a white coverlet—no more than a powdering to cool a bunny’s toes—but damned cold to an island boy. It’s pretty, and not only from this side of the window, but too much of it can give you the winter madness, or, as it’s known to medical science, SAD.
My endless numbered days are punctuated by the odd rain instead of snow, and the nights differ by the light of the moon. It takes a bright moon to be noticed here, and a clear night. Up near the lakes you get a lot of clouds, they roll in with such regularity, such persistence that after a while you forget to look up… you know what’s up there. On the rare days that are sunny you squint and cower in the heat and light, like some shameful, nocturnal creature, forgetting the land of endless summer where you were born.
On full moon nights, though, you remember. You remember fishing with poor ol’ Vinny on the wine dark sea—a perfect silver orb above—catching yellow tails and jacks till the morning, slapping mosquitoes as you cleaned fish on the hard shore. You remember hauling the killick countless times as the current switched points like a drunk on the road, swinging you away from the bite time and again. At least, I do.
I also remember that Blue Moon so long ago when the flats were covered in tails, glittering like diamonds in the sinking sun, and the rooster-tail from my leader as it sheared off the flat attached to a very surprised bonefish. I remember BarJack hooking that snook no more than a foot—twelve inches—from shore the morning we caught all those bones and plain lost count of the double-headers. Good fishing. But I also remember the next day, the full moon proper, when the fishing plain sucked and, although we caught a couple, it was such a deflation from the previous day that we considered it a bust.
The moon, even more than the stars or sun, get me thinking about the space between places on this earth. And, in the immortal words of Tom Waits, I wonder how “this same moon outside over this Chinatown fair/ Could look down on Illinois, and find you there”… metaphorically speaking, of course. I think how the fishing should be good on this moon, small and waxing: good dark nights and regular tides. In a couple weeks the tides will be off, with six hours slack during the day: poor fishing. You can make sense of something like that; there’s a logic there. If the water is moving so are the fish, and if they’re moving they’ll be feeding and you can get them to bite, probably. If the tide is slack nothing’s moving, so you either grind it out for lack of anything better to do (and because you never really know, something could happen), or you try to find an early happy hour somewhere, watching the water as you finger the flies in your box, wishing for a better tide, a different tide.
Full moons are different, mysterious. It’s hit or miss, boom or bust, and it’s far beyond me to predict which. I’ve got to believe it makes a difference, though. I mean, the old folks claim that you do everything by the tides and moon. If you want to plant certain crops, they’ll do better on a certain moon. If you need to cut lumber for a boat and let it lie to season a while, you’d best cut it on the right moon or it will rot away. If you want sound planking, cut it on the right moon or it will split. Used to be all our lives were ruled by such things as seasons, moons, and tides, signals of our passing life here on this blue planet.
It stands to reason that the full moon would have a noticeable effect on fish. But, the same folks that fully admit to tides effecting the fishing say the full moon itself has nothing to do with it. Really? Doesn’t the full moon draw more water, bigger tides, pushing more air over the flats as they flood with fresh, ocean water. How can something so dramatic have no effect? Why that should make the fish either more or less cooperative is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, but it should be based on experience, and last I checked experience requires actually being on the water (not reading, or writing a stupid blog).
I think I’ll sign off and book a ticket home; if I hurry it looks like I can be there just in time for the next full moon.