Christmas Eve

DIY Bonefish, Cayman Style

December 24, 2011

Head east, past the cruise ships, tourist traps, and taxis, past the miles of coastline, muddied by the winds of the last fortnight. Small bays open unexpectedly around corners glimmering blue through vignettes of seagrape groves, crowned by black and white reefs. Spindrift mists the windscreen, blurring details. The horizon seems impossibly far off.

Each flat is a washout: muddy sloshing waves. Like seeing an old friend drunk and angry, you recognize nothing. Drive on. Eventually you’ll run out of land and find yourself on the edge, the uttermost east with nothing but water between you and the Continent where this merciless wind was born. The past few days have been an exercise in futility, and always the sound of the wind, searching, feeling, testing. You hear words in it, half-caught mocking phrases. You suspect you might be going slightly mad.

Standing on that edge you find a surprise: the water here is clear. For the first time in days you actually see the grassy banks, sandy spits, and blue holes that comprise the marine terrain your putative quarry inhabits. Your spirits rise as you string your rod, test knots, tighten various straps and begin to walk. Almost immediately there are signs: a boil and a push in a familiar place. The tide feels right.

A constant sea crests the reef to the windward, and, robbed of it’s ocean-going energy, it crosses the bay to surge almost lanquidly against the shore. A wave breaks, retreats, and there they are: two translucent blue-grey dorsals knifing toward deeper water. Bonefish.

Your first cast is on target but the current sweeps the fly toward the fish. They spook instantly. You recast to intercept their half-guessed retreating shapes, more out of habit than hope. The result is expected: nothing.

Almost immediately you spot another shape cruising the foamline of a retreating wave. A big single. The cast is almost reflexive, dropping the fly two feet ahead and slightly left. The fish reacts immediately. You strip and feel resistance: fish on! It glides forward, shaking it’s head as if puzzled; the fly—a laughably simple thing—is clearly visible on the starboard side of its face as you keep stripping line, trying frantically to keep tight. Big fish. Twenty-eight inches? Twenty-nine?

The fish sees you and vanishes in an impossible burst of acceleration. Line is dancing everywhere and you suffer that habitual momentary panic where you’re certain you’re standing on it. You look down, but no, it’s clear. Then you sense rather than see the knot form, feel it slip through your fingers and slap against the first guide of your rod with an oddly metallic sound, like a machete buried with force into a coconut. The rod buckles and in a desperate defiant gesture you lunge forward, throwing slack in the line. The fish slows. You reach up, grab the snarl of line, and give it one futile shake before  it’s jerked from your trembling fingers. The rod bends, straightens. The fish is gone.

It takes five minutes to clear the tangle. You tie on another fly and keep walking, catching a few schoolies before the tide is gone and you have to admit that you must leave now if you’re to get any Christmas shopping done. Before reeling in you stand on that first flat once more, hoping. The fishing was good today, especially considering the dismal results of the last week. You even got a five-pounder there at the end, but that fish, that first fish keeps coming back to ruin it all. Thirty inches?

The sun is low. Your shadow stretches out, straining for the horizon even as you turn away. You put the wind at your back and head for home. It’s Christmas Eve.

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