Day II November 30, 2013 In Transit, Bahamas
Dawn is a grey and drizzly affair, but calm. Perhaps our luck is turning.
Aside from the typical incompetence by the local airline (SOP), the transfer goes smoothly. Even though my companions have been to Acklins before their excitement is palpable. Watching the panorama of the Exuma keys extending to the horizon a few thousand feet below our fuselage does little to alleviate that. After nearly two solid days of traveling, there is only one thing on our mind: bonefish.
Strangely, my own emotions are subdued, even calm. Traveling does that to me, no matter how exciting the destination. I think travel is a kind of mobile meditation—removed from the quiet room and the silent garden—an opportunity to practice awarenessing.
I have plenty of time to practice. After touch-down and collecting our bags, we head for the lodge, which I’m now informed has excellent flats out the back door. But, instead of squealing tired to get there—rigging our fly rods en route—we stop for fuel, to grab a few cold beers (which I slug guiltily in the back of the rental car) and just to pass the time of day with a few of the locals. The upshot is we’re on the water about an hour later than feels reasonable. But never mind; we’re here and safe and there are indeed bonefish. The tide low and starting to rise, ideal to find bones pushing past into the creek system behind us.
My first shots are bold, aggressive. I’m using a fairly heavy crab pattern, because it’s the Bahamas and the fish here are idiots. Plus, I’m me; I got this. But, staggeringly, in the quiet of the slack tide my fly lands heavily enough to spook the few fish I see. Perplexing. I switch patterns for something lighter—a Gotha-like thing with bead-chain eyes—and connect with the next fish I see. The take is gentle, nervous even and I respond by hammering home the fly and attempting to horse the fish in. This results in a pulled hook and lost fish. Brilliant.
The clouds of the past few days still haven’t fully clear out, so visibility comes and goes. The westering sun doesn’t help. I finally land a couple, but all the fish I’ve seen have been smallish—1½-2 pounds—so I wade deeper, looking for their bigger cousins. Behind me the newbie Bob is working the shoreline, and I can’t help but notice that every time I turn around he’s casting at something. Schools of baby bones in shallow water? Must be. Right?
Right. I keep wading down the main channel, scanning for grey shapes in the failing light. Even if I don’t spot them in time, spooking a few would at least tell me they’re there, but no, nothing. Not a needlefish.
Bob is still casting and the light is failing fast so I wade toward shore. Maybe I’ll pick up a tailer on the way. I’m still fixated on spotting bigger fish in the channels when a disturbance near shore catches my eye: tails! Big ones. I wade into position and realize this fly won’t do; it’s much too heavy. I retie and also lengthen the leader a bit. It’s probably unnecessary but I’m running out of chances and want to actually land a decent fish. With the new fly on I wade in close, searching for signs of life in the glare. Suddenly I see a swirl and a push headed my way. My cast snakes out to intercept, but drops to far ahead. I let the fly sit rather than recast. Dusk has come and the glassy water belies the slightest movement on my part. There! I see a movement toward my fly, I think. I begin a halting, gentle retrieve, feeling for the take and then there’s that moment, that almost imperceptible feeling that something is going to happen.
A few hours later I hold a sweating drink as the crew discusses plans for tomorrow. I listen smugly with half an ear and no opinion. Wherever we go will be fine, I’m sure—interesting anyways. Besides, I’ve already got a 5-pounder under my belt, dinner smells good and tomorrow is the first full day in a full week of fishing. It’s a good day to be alive.
Day I November 29, 2013 Orange Hill Hotel, Nassau, Bahamas
The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli.
I watch squalls pass to the north, unless that’s south. The overcast is so complete that I really can’t tell, but it feels north. Spindrift mists my glasses, blurring the horizon further.
I cross back over the low berm of sand and climb the concrete steps of Orange Hill. Tomorrow we’ll board a small prop plane and fly an hour and a half eastward in this crap. Our destination: a tiny island somewhere east of Bimini and north of Cuba. There, I’m told, we’ll find bonefish—lots of them and dumb as rocks (or rockets, which is a more apt description of that particular species).
This is a fish that, based on current evidence, will drive sane people from the comfort of their home to fly thousands of miles, endure strange food, stranger landscapes and bloodsucking creatures in their millions just for the opportunity to catch one, and then gently let it go again. What a weird and wonderful little world we live in.
I reach the hotel bar: dry, plainly furnished, with a quartet of anglers drinking in the corner. In place of a bartender there’s a ledger with a number of hash marks. Ah. The honor system. There’s a picnic cooler with an assortment of beer. A little digging surfaces a Kalik and after the first swig I feel my hopes rising. Surely the weather will clear to the east, right? Bound to. Surely.
I wonder if the cracked conch is any good here.