Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bonefish by Bike 
Taylor Streit

I cock my head off the pillow and stretch my senses to figure out what is different about this morning; the 'Trusher’s" splendidly complicated singing seems more cheerful then normal; the light seems sharper. And then I realize the big change; the crashing and bashing of the surf is gone, replaced by the gentle lapping of low waves. An easy breeze carries the scent of turquoise seas and blue skies.  The next picture naturally appearing in my gloriously vacant mind is one of bonefish drifting over sun-drenched white sand. The week-long storm is over and its time to fish! No flies to tie today. No cramped writing. Its out'a bed, quick to coffee and slap some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches together. I grab the machete on my way out the backdoor and hunt up a coconut to half. After I gouge out some of the meat I throw the food in the pack, lash the rod onto the bike and go, go, go—it’s been a long storm.

 I wave to Mrs. Rolle as she drags the endless coconut frams from her yard and then proceed to pedal like a madman. But I’m a walker not a biker and once I hit the least suggestion of a hillyes there are hills in the Bahamas--I loose steam. Fortunately there are some mango trees half way up the incline and they present a suitable excuse to stop. I find only one small ripe one but add it to the lunch collection. I continue on, passing a tiny blue house with thatched roof where a white-haired black man is sitting on his haunches patiently hammering coral. The scene is obscured by the smoke from a coconut husk fire that he tends for skitters. There is a pile of the big chunks on one side of him and a pile of little chucks on the other. I assume that bigger chunks turn into the smaller chunks, and having nothing more troublesome to concern me, I ponder—as I peddle for the next half a mile--what he does with them? Everytime I come by he is hard at it—looks similar to commercial fly tying actually.

The road travels a bit inland but I stop and walk over to a little hill that looks down on Deep Creek. That’s the name of this saltwater river and it is indeed deep; as it drains miles of inland waterways. The tides are hard to figure back here, a couple miles from the sea, but from this spot I can tell that the flood is coming strong up the creek. The set-up for the flats looks perfect; with blues skies, light winds and rising tide all converging midday. (Bonefishing is a done by sight and the best light is noonish; and the best wind is slow--no wind makes the fish easy to see but also makes them nervous.)

When I arrive at my destination I stash the bike in the bushes so nobody “tief it” and start my long walk.  I wade on a course that will keep me calf-deep and about 100 feet from the bank. I see a blue crab and I ease up as close as possible to it. Then when it takes fright I raise up my foot. The crab finds the shaded territory under said foot appealing; which is not a wise move on its part, and the delicious morsel is put in a sack to later be added to the collection already in the freezer.

Soon I see the first bone of the day, and he’s heading away. I start to wade after it but realize that I’ll spook the animal before I get in range because I’ll make too much commotion if I try and overtake it from behind. So I wade over to the shore and jog down through the mangroves to get ahead of him. I angle around back from the beach so that he doesn’t see me and when I’m well ahead of him, I ease around back to the shore. He’s moved in very close to the bank and comes wallowing through water barely deep enough to cover his back. His field of vision is very small in such thin water and the fly will have to be very close for him to see it. A regular bonefish fly is too heavy for such a situation so I switch to a Plueger deer hair fly that will land softly and swim shallow. But I’ve got to do it quickly. And so I don’t loose sight of the fish I tie on the fly by holding it in front of me—thus putting the fish in the background. Its makes me go cross-eyed; what with one eye on the fly up close, and the other trying to focus on the fish out yonder. The operation is preformed successfully but when I finish the line has found itself knotted around my feet to. I can’t very well put one eye on the fish out in front of me and one on the foot—they don’t spread that far--so I have to take both eyes off the quarry and place them downward. Sure enough when I finish the little chore and look back the rascal has disappeared and although I look all over for him he has simply vanished. He must have swum away faster then I expected so I decide to walk the bank and see if I can find him again. Before I take half a step there is a big explosion of water about 15 feet away as the motionless fish blast off. If they don’t move it is easy to miss them; as the “ghost of the flats” coloration changes to match the shade of the bottom, making them appear, and then magically disappear.

But a glance down the bank lifts my spirits because there is a silver fin flashing in the sun about a 100 yards away. And I’m ready with the right fly on now. That fish tail’s is waving around in the air like a flag. So as not to frighten him by casting too close I go for the conservative approach and drop the fly several feet away from him--hoping that his rambling will send him in that direction. I wait impatiently while he swims one way, and then the other. He dips down and “tails” again and heads away from the fly. So I retrieve it in slowly and then gently lift it out of the water. He’s moving away now so I have to get more aggressive and I put the fly closer. Just an instant before the fly lands the fish changes course and the fly smacks down on its head, sending him off towards the deep blue sea. Oh well--such is life.

I’ve walked these flats many-a- times and, as would be the case in any body of water, you learn what places the fish prefer. It all looked the same to my untrained eye at first but the subtle differences in character have revealed themselves overtime. The tides confuse the issue because the bones like certain places only under certain tides. And the next place I come to is often preferred by large single bonefish, when the tide is starting to flood. It is a sheltered bay with a pewter colored muddy bottom. Sure enough when I reach the place there is a good-sized bone patrolling—actually I see there are two of them—one at either end of the bay. I break the bad luck when the first fish eats my brown Crazy Charlie. When I hook him he makes the wild high-speed run that bones are famous for. But I’ve been sloppy with my fly line again and have a loop between my feet. The line is going out real fast and I try to jump out of the loop but the line is quickly headed up the inside of my leg. It is on a course towards the family jewels, and just before the string is about to castrate me I snub down on the line with my hand and it breaks. This all happens very very fast and my brain thanks my hand for such quick thinking. (I should say that the brain thanks the hands on behalf of the family jewels--which are basically helpless and have proven to have little or no thinking power.)

Believe it or not I do actually land several bonefish that day. But bonefishing is more then catching; its eventful and exciting and top shelf for a real fisherman because you get to see the fish actually eat the fly. The take is everything. The fight is OK but after you have landed a bunch of them that event is predictable and anticlimactic. The best fishing of the day happens late in the afternoon at a flat called “White bank”. The fish like it on a falling tide. And it’s lovely place because the white sand turns to green and then blue as it fades off into deep water. The sun is over my shoulder and the fish are visible from far off. I see two different schools of fish coming my way and I take one from the first school and another from the second.

When I head back towards shore I see what looks like a very large fish cruising some coral outcropping near shore. It sticks its tail above the water for an instant and the yellowish color make me think that it is a mutton snapper. This is a highly prized fish of the flats and a rare catch. But they are ultra wary so I plan a stalk that will keep me on shore. That way I can move around without making a disturbance, and present the fly with my line lying on the land. I crouch down low to approach the fish. When I get a really good look I’m stunned because it must be over 10 pounds. I’m very close to it now and the big snapper is hunting along the edge of the coral. I carefully drop the fly a dozen feet in front of the fish. The instant the fly touches down the fish makes a mad dash for the deep blue sea—and is gone in a wink.

While on the last leg of my journey I find a quarry that is much easier to catch, conch. I. didn’t see them on the way out in the morning. And I swear that I passed by this same place. Could these big pink snails have crawled in here in the meantime? It’s a school of them no less.  I punch a little hole in the shells of each—run a cord through the holes and strap the cargo around my neck. I could buy em cheap enough but I like being a part of the whole process, collect it, prepare it and eat it. Now that’s a full life. (For those uneducated in the processing of conch, you have to get it out of it’s shell and then “tenderize it” it with a hammer.)

I’m not looking forward to the long bike ride home after wading for miles. I reflect that I could have been riding in a nice new skiff instead of doing all this hoofing and peddling--on an old borrowed bike no less. And managing a bonefish lodge instead of tying flies for a living. But my big mouth and me blew that one. Why couldn’t I just be ‘nice’? I was managing the lodge but the owner and I had a parting of the ways. He was the kind of white man who is common to the Caribbean; brash and boastful to cover up the fact that he is essentially boring. When that type of cat realizes that your on to him, the fur is gonna fly, and ole big mouth is gonna be out of a job.

And I knew too much, and saw the scoundrelus way that the boss accomplished his ‘goals’ here the Bahamas: bribes, the scheming and other such dirty business. Admittedly, my motivation went to hell and I became a lousy hand. I got fired shortly thereafter.

I ran into one of the clients from the lodge on the beach and he suggested that I just hadn’t compromised enough. I told him I just got too low a dose of compromise when they put me together and that misfortune has kept me improvised all my life.

I had to find my own place and make my way in this foreign country with just a few hundred dollars in hand. I got a little yellow house and borrowed some household gear--and the bike in question. I had been driving the wealthy clients by this same neighborhood only a few days before; we were all nattily draped in pastel fishing attire. And these local folks didn’t know what to make of me--having been so quickly demoted from upper class to no class. But I fit so comfortably into the latter classification that the regular folks quickly took me in as the token white man of the neighborhood. It was nice to be alone again and unencumbered. I remember walking down the road and seeing a ‘trusher’ fly up in front of me. I could just feel the little fellow’s wing beats as if they were my own. “Free as a bird” was I, in my little yellow house, freezer slowly filling with crabs, with borrowed bike--at the ready for the next blue day.




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