July 24, 2001
So pass the days. I hope I shall always remember summers here like this. The flats, though small, seem to stretch for an eternity, and I am always there with the sun at my back, searching. For what, I cannot say, but at the very least I have found memories. To really know such places requires time, and memory is built slowly, in layers. It is accreted, like the new sand of a high tide or the detritus of a storm. There is meaning there somewhere.
Stories, too, are found… or made. It was not a month ago now that I was stalking the mangrove fringe at dusk. The sun had set and I came there to see if the snook I knew lived there fed easier at night. Apparently they did, for a few minutes before full dark I heard a flounce under the mangroves. Their foliage is impenetrable, but I recalled a space between the main growth and a small outcropping that had held snook during the day. Getting a fly in there would not be easy, especially in the dark with the mangroves looking like a solid black wall against the charcoal sky. Still, my second cast somehow made it in and two short strips later I set up on what could only be a snook or a mangrove root… but mangrove roots don’t jump.
I proceeded, with building glee, to hand-line this snook out of the tangle of roots, through the small forest of young shoots, not giving an inch until the fish was onto the generally open water of the flat where it promptly snapped my ten-pound tippet. I stood cursing at the empty flat.
The stars spun overhead, dancing their celestial solea as a satellite glided across the night, its electronic eye mercifully occupied with greater matters.
Beneath heaven a small creature danced on the edge of a rock in the Caribbean. There, on a ragged corner of nowhere, I had stalked the crafty snook—a creature of the wild, lonely places—and touched it but briefly. I had seen its jumps, its outline distinct against the pewter water, but had lost him to my own shortcomings. Why? I gazed up at heaven with my question, but only received the usual answer. Heaven was as quiet as a conch.
The stars danced on.
July 24, 2001
The days are long now, and the evenings still. Deep summer brings the time of the south winds, and on days around the young moon the water flows well. Fish can then be found cruising the ankle deep water near shore and I go to hunt them in the fading light.
Dusk is peaceful on the flats: conducive to stillness and reflection—in the water, mind and soul. Mornings are fine, but then things are gearing up for the day’s work. The breeze grows and sounds of a new day begin. Evenings are just the opposite. The breeze dies and the seas lie down. Boats can easily be heard wending their way home far across the sound. The night birds take flight and the luff of their wings is distinct as they ride the damp air over the mangroves. On the far edge of the flat mullet make telltale jumps and glitter dully in the fading light. Much nearer the tail and dorsal of a bonefish ghost through water barely feet from the pale shore. At whiles it arcs its back to nose through the soft sand, hunting crabs maybe.
I begin the now familiar motions of presenting my fly. Three false casts and I lead the fish by a meter or more. Slowly it approaches the fly’s resting place. I strip the line every so slightly and my quarry’s pace quickens. There! It tails on my offering, the dorsal taught as a sail and the tail quivering. I strike, but too soon and all I feel is a momentary weight as the fly pulls free. Instantly the water explodes as it is pushed aside by a bonefish heading north. My offering sits forsaken, rocking gently in its wake.
As I retrieve my line, it completely fails to occur to me how lovely the evening is. I can’t see how the sea to the westward glimmers like old gold and the reflected clouds ripple and crease as the V-shaped wake of the fleeing bonefish spreads across the glassy flat. Or, rather, I only notice those things after reminding myself that beauty and stillness are why I’m out here in the first place. Catching fish is only an excuse. Right?
April 25, 2012, 5:25 pm
BarJack: [On poling platform, back to sun straining against the 12 knot ESE breeze.] Ok, he’s facing away from you.
WindKnot: [Searching for fish shape in the glare.] Away? You sure?
[Recast. Slooow strip. The tarpon materializes as it turns.]
WindKnot: Got some kinda reaction from ‘im… oh, dude, that could be really good dude.
[Strip, wiggle, wiggle, pause… line jumps tight, rod bends, rod straightens, line slides back slack.]
WindKnot: Ugh! F***! F******!
BarJack: WindKnot, WindKnot, WindKnot, WindKnot...
WK: [Pulling in fly line and leader.] Aaaah, duuude. F***! Alright. Your turn… Guarantee you I popped that 20-pound. I knew I was holding on a little too tight. That was an awesome eat… oh, noooo!
WK: [Fingering the leader in disbelief.] You’re not going to believe where it broke.
WK: In the F***ing 40!
BJ: And why would it broke in the 40, WindKnot? Can you explain that to me?
BJ: Cause you told me that would never break in the 40. Never break. Never! Forget Wind Knot, your name is now Forty.
Roughly 26 minutes earlier:
BJ: Leader looks a little frayed there. I’d retie, but that’s just me.
WK: Dude, that’s in the 40. [pull hard on line] That’ll never break.
BJ: Ok, man, you say so. I’m just sayin’, I would change it. I dealt with a lot of frayed leaders on Diego and I’d change it.
WK: Bro, look, I retied the 20-pound. I’m telling you, that will break way before the 40.
BJ: Ok, man. You say so… it’s your fish.
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.
So appropriately I’m regifting the above post to you all. I do have several other Christmas related posts, published and not, but I like this the best (and am too lazy to edit the unpublished stuff right at this moment). Don’t think there’s anything wrong with a blast from Christmas past from time to time.
Merry Christmas, and tight lines to you all!
WindKnot the Angler
May 5, 2004
Went fishing today, walked a country mile to catch a bonefish… but catch one I did.
The tide was dead low, and half the bay was uncovered. I saw a flat I’d never walked before, only barely suspected was there. I walked through mud and soggy turtle grass, around mangroves and across shallow pools where snappers darted beneath my feet and stood out there with nothing but the wind in my ears and not a fish to be seen. Yet, it was beautiful: light northeast breeze, clear skies, and birds resting on the dry flats. I thanked God for it all.
It was the birds that did it, flying off like they do. They flew over a school of bonefish that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. I heard the splash when they spooked and turned to see the wake as they swirled around before settling down again. I trudged through the muddy grass to reach them.
I fished them well, I thought, but they wouldn’t eat. I had on a chartreuse fly, which may have been a mistake. Certainly they saw it, but it just seemed to make them nervous. If they’d been feeding they may have eaten it, but these were laid-up fish, resting in the shallows on a slack tide. I changed flies. Still nothing, and by then the fish had moved so that I had to cast with the wind over my right shoulder. Not good. And the new fly also seemed to make them uneasy. Must not look like food, I guess.
I waded out to get a better casting angle and changed flies again. This time I tied on an old, beat-up shrimp fly. It was missing one eye and of its original four legs had only two, both on the same side. I had good versions, but I refused to use a fresh one for myself—I needed those for my clients. This was partly laziness—they’re a pain in the ass to tie—but also a move to keep the odds against me. More and more that’s how I like my own fishing. Just the fact I was here, in a place I’d never fished before when I knew there would be fish on other flats—less muddy, easier to reach flats, where I know what the fish wanted to eat—well, that sort of says it all.
I worked out a cast and let the fly sink. The school approached and I gave it a slow strip. There! A wake followed. Suddenly I came tight and my leader went sheering through the water. Bonefish scattered like birds.
Within minutes I removed the hook and gently rubbed the head of a bonefish I’d never seen before. It swam away and I checked my beat-up fly. I sure wish there was another pattern that worked so well.
The fish were gone I didn’t feel the need to find more. Time to head home, back over the miles of grass and mud; I would walk and think about shrimp flies, birds, and bonefish and how sometimes you have to walk a bloody country mile to learn something you already knew.
August 5, 2005
The next fish is altogether different. I’ve switched to a little bunny number that almost suspends and I’m systematically tossing it out into the shadows and twitching it slowly back. Somewhere out there the line stops cold and a split second later a fish is in the air. At night, the sound of a tarpon jumping is almost musical, the gill-rattling head-shakes like castanets as the fish dances across the water.
This tarpon won’t stay down; jump after end-swapping jump punches holes in the glassy harbor. This is fine by me—the more they jump the easier they are to land. It’s a smaller fish this time and as soon as the jumping stops I pile on the pressure and try to turn its head. After a high, end-over-end jump a tarpon often ends up facing back toward you. Coming tight at this point means that you stand an even chance of keeping it pointed at you and greatly increases the odds you’ll at least gain a few yards of line.
Not that we planned to actually land any. Dragging a fish up the side of the seawall or onto the rocks below is cruelty no matter how you cut it. We just use barbless, galvanized hooks and once we get the flyline back we simply pop them off. Sometimes the hook opens, which is better.
No, the strikes and the jumps are what bring us here to stand in the heat of an August night and cast until the sweat stings our eyes. Sometimes that’s all we get—sweat and the taste of salt as we throw long lines at almost invisible shadows—but some nights the fish bite our flies and we watch them jump as the town sleeps behind us.
And after a while we join them, but I’m still casting in my dreams.
Casting at Shadows,
August 5th, 2005
George Town, Grand Cayman
“Chance is always powerful.
Let your line be always cast;
in the pool where you least expect it,
there will be a fish.”
August 5, 2005
Light East wind, 5-8 knots; high falling tide. Young moon and 86 degrees.
We hit the harbor to fish under the lights. Sometimes tarpon lay along the edges of the shadows and if you look carefully you can just make out their dark backs as they float in the clear water. You”ve got to pick your targets here, though blind casting works too. Sometimes the tarpon hunker down along the bottom and silhouette bait-fish on the surface. A slowly twitched Muddler can draw explosive strikes even if you don”t see the floaters.
That”s what we start off with, but I only get one half-hearted strike (a “blow job”, as one Keys guide calls it). I run my fingers along the shock tippet. It”s not even scratched; fish never touched the fly. I show it to maybe half-dozen other fish, picking my shots so that the fly swims close enough for them to see. A couple follows, but no dice.
Ok, Plan B: I tie on a sinking fly – yarn head, bead eyes and short splayed tail. All gray and brown. Maybe another half dozen tarpon see this one, but again, no dice.
Then I see a big fish hunkered down along a shadow line, barely moving. I lead it by a couple feet and get no response with the standard retrieve. Ok, let”s try a little teasing, you lazy ba$t@rd. This time the fly sinks about 5 feet in front of its nose and I twitch it, just a bump, maybe an inch or two. The fish comes to the fly in a wide swirl, the line simply jumping tight and it’s on: a big fish by the long, line eating run it makes—maybe a female, (since I heard somewhere they’re bigger).
Finally she slows about a hundred and fifty yards out. I hold for a few moments, palming the reel to pressure her. Hoping she’ll jump. When she moves again I barely move my fingers in time. The tarpon is airborne in a sweeping, greyhound leap that clears 20 feet and leaves the line no longer pointing in even the same general direction as the fish. The reel sounds like someone redlining one of those little four-cylinder Hondas and I pray it will hold together and not simply fly apart from the G”s.
That run stops maybe two hundred yards out and then the fish starts digging—a down and dirty tactic employed by big, smart fish. After maybe a minute of this I feel the tarpon speed for a jump, this time so far away that it seems like maybe another fish free jumping. I get to worrying that maybe I’ll have to reel her back from out there. Not a problem, since about three seconds later the line goes slack.
It takes another minute or two just to reel in to see what knot broke. The shock tippet’s gone. The Albright gave out.
Time to retie.