My First Bonefish… Blue Fins and All (Pt. I)
December 28, 2000
The year is almost out and I’m faced with the very real prospect of having fished nearly all of it without catching a single one. And I mean fished, seriously fished. This year has been an almost single minded pursuit of a frustratingly elusive creature: the bonefish.
It wasn’t just a weekend thing either—though I can’t think of single one that didn’t find me on the water—no, there were the mornings before work, frustrating mornings when I’d clock in late, legs crusted with salt and sand. Then I’d stand and dream about bonefish while mindlessly performing the task that provided enough gas money to allow me to indulge in my obsession. If the level of frustration was deep enough I’d take my lunch hour at the end of the day so I could drive like hell back to the flats to fish the last few minutes before dark. It was all to no avail.
The worst part is I’ve had just enough success to keep me going, to keep me coming back for more punishment. Like the afternoon when I emerged from the mangroves to find the perfect tide and a school of bones feeding directly toward me. I flipped my fly out—a ghastly, bushy thing tied on a #2 bendback hook—and a moment later was tight, gloriously, finally tight to my first bonefish.
I remember thinking, yeah, got you now you bastard, a split second before the fish bolted and my leader snapped. I was beside myself, ready for a straight-jacket and a handful of Xanax. But the school hadn’t spooked. Feverishly I dug through my flybox to find another of those gawd-awful flies, and tried to tie it while watching where the school was heading. Fate, it seemed, was on my side that day; the school circled around and began swimming back just as I finished my knot. Without waiting to even clip the tag I tossed it out there and waited for the fish to reach it. When they did I tentatively stripped my line, praying for the resistance that I instantly felt. I was determined not to reproduce my last disaster, so I gently came tight and waited for the fish to bolt. I wasn’t going to break this one off. After a second or two of confusion the school blew out, and I watched my line disappear faster than I’d ever imagined—and trust me, I’d imagined this moment pretty much constantly for the last six months. For the first time in my life I heard my reel making that bonefish sound, a sound which lasted maybe a second and a half before my line, once again, went suddenly slack.
No! What happened. It’s not fair! I did everything right. Everything. How can I have lost two bonefish in two minutes?
I reeled in to find the hook was there; no break off this time. No, I realized that this time I’d failed to set the hook. Somewhere between holding on for dear life and simply coming tight was that perfect magic blend of hook-set and delicacy that would allow me to catch a bonefish, but I had no idea how to perform such a feat. My drive home was a roller coaster of elation and dejection.