My First Bonefish… Blue Fins and All (Pt. II)
December 28, 2000
Today I’ve decided not to go fishing. Instead thought I’d merely practice casting. There is a small flat a few minutes from home that’s perfect for this—shallow water, wide open spaces, and no mangroves to grab errant back-casts. I’d even occasionally seen bonefish there, but not today; today, it was just practice. Afterwards my walk back to the car passed a thirty-yard stretch of shoreline where a waterfront homeowner had removed all of the turtle grass so they could have a sandy beach right out their back door .
Apparently they were ignorant of the fact that the turtle grass is what actually holds the sand in place. It dissipates wave action, slowing the progress of the incessant waves on windward shorelines. Turtle grass is scarcely seen on leeward shores. In essence it keeps beaches from eroding in those places where they are in danger of doing so. With its removal the high-tide line was soon at the back door of the landowners in question and—spurred on by alarmed homeowners on either side who thought their beaches and (property values) might be the next to go—the government demanded they replace the beach and construct a breakwater to prevent further erosion. This saved their house, but the water right beyond those rocks is now a foot or two deeper than the surrounding flats. What’s left is a large, rectangular hole—perhaps a hundred foot square—with a mostly sandy bottom surrounded on three sides by grassy flats, flats that were now exposed by low tide.
I was walking along the boulders of the breakwater and wondering (as I always did) why I never saw fish in that deeper water when suddenly something caught my eye. A shadow in the middle of the hole seemed to move and when it did I noticed it had edges of fish shapes—a tail here, a nose there, a fin there. As my eyes adjusted I could see that it was in fact a school.
Mullets? No, I was fairly certain these were real fish . Snook? The school was in silhouette and I couldn’t make out the distinctive lateral stripes of snook, and the fish were almost the right shape, but not quite. Could they actually be—please, heaven grant it—a whole school of bonefish? They must be. I quickly formed a plan. I would wade in well to the east (and upwind) of the fish and, standing far back from the edge, shoot my farthest cast to the outside of the school. Of course the novice’s first impulse is to lob his bait directly into the center of the fish, but at least I knew better than that. For one thing, I still wasn’t one hundred percent sure what species they were, and while tarpon or jacks may tolerate such direct tactics, bonefish or snook would certainly bolt with fright. No, better assume this was the jumpiest school of bones I’d yet run across and act accordingly.
Wading into position I was all nerves. Could this be it: the moment I’d been waiting on for a year? On my first cast I let the fly sink to the bottom, twitched it once and was tight to a fish. Just like that. In an instant it began burning off line and like a fool I broke it off. Stupid, stupid, stupid. That’s what comes of trying to be slick and palm the reel instead of using the drag like you know you should. With a background of pretty heavy self-abuse I reeled in to find my fly gone.
1I assume they’d bribed local officials for this, since the DOE (Dept. of Environment) requires environmental impact studies the installation of a simple dock. Of course, it could be that since no one had ever dreamed anyone would want to actually remove turtle grass from the sea floor, there were no regulations against it and the DOE had to make up something on the spot. I expect they regretted that later on. [back]
2Not tiny-mouthed, spooky, vegetarian, wannabe fish. [back]