“Virgil, what is the name of the fish eating predator bird?” The 67-year-old entrepreneurial cabbie could have said “Mu’ad Dib” and I’d have half believed him but it was simply a fish hawk. The nice man, or mon, had delivered me to an inlet lake where bonefish prowled for crab at high tide. I’m staying at some all-inclusive resort at Turks and Caicos. It’s free for me and enjoyable despite being canned like a cruise ship.
I came to this muddy mangrove lined lake with my 14-year-old a couple days ago and found only one bonefish which we spooked. I shared a beer with him too and I’d do it again as it’s a ritual of manhood. He needs to learn rituals are important, telling him so pales to showing him. I taught him about flycasting in the wind and lessons about stalking prey. We had a great time. Sadly I only caught one little pompano and to post that pic is the equivalent of showing a photo to your buddies of the 4 a.m. gal you intoxicatingly kissed.
I returned today with vigor but had the same result. I was hoping to see tailing fish along the shore but did not. I don’t go fishing with guys who look for the other kind of tail. I have enough problems in life without giving or inviting too much trouble.
Virgil dropped me at a deep channel spot. I exited his cab and made my way through some polluted shoreline. I’m sure the flotsam and jetsam all have stories, not all of them bad despite the defiling of nature.
The water was a bit muddy. Enough to obscure skittish fish from seeing me but not enough to hide my fly. I tried some blind casting for an hour. At first I pridefully cast normally until I hooked my back but I go barbless so it came out easy. After that I used a cross-sided cast and the usual slow strip twitch. An odd colorful jellyfish surfaced near me and my first split second instinct was to swat it but I backed up and let it be while it pulsated away harmlessly.
A pair of pelagic raptors shrieked to one another above me. One swooped down and missed its quarry, shaking itself free of water as it flew up to hover for another pass. It’s mate struck home and procured a small fish but instead of gulping it the bird headed to a little island where shrieks erupted. Baby birds. I wandered over to the island and got about 30 feet from the nest but the parents were very upset. I love birds. I never kill anything I’m not going to eat and I have a respect for nature. I think about my mom when I’m outdoors and she was fond of teaching me that we are not apart from nature but a part of it. As much as I wanted to see the baby fish hawks I backed away through the muddy mangroves.
Fishing, especially flyfishing, is an art. I’m very good compared to most but I know lots better. My great friend Alan reintroduced me to it 20 years ago and I’ve been around the world with him stalking tarpon, bonefish, permit, trevally, trout, steelhead, salmon, and shad. He owes me his life and in a way I owe him mine. He was a Purdue QB in 44 and a tailgunner over the Pacific in 45. He is the finest fisherman I know and that’s saying a lot. He ends his invites with “tight lines.” Tight lines means something deeper and deeper as I get older. Be squared away with your gear. Know your terrain. Know your prey. Respect your prey. Be observant of your surroundings. Make your best casts but fish a bad cast if that’s all you got. Rod tip down and tight line for when the strike comes your opportunity fails you if you’re not ready. Everything one needs to know about life is in the phrase “tight lines” if one extrapolates properly. Tight lines to me means being in tune with God at times also.
I walk along the shoreline and see a feeding crane. I almost stumble over a banana spider. The dappled sunlight hits a little creek just right and I see the face of God. I wonder how the great scorer will judge me when it’s time. As the great philosopher Rutger Hauer said, "I’ve done questionable things." I’ve also shown the kindnesses and tender mercies that exemplify the glue that holds humanity together.
I remember forgetting my fly box as a 13-year-old on a trout stream in New England. I amused myself by catching insects and using spider web to attach them to a loop in my monofilament tippet and getting brookies to rise and feed. A nice older man came along and gave me a couple streamers. I haven’t forgotten the kindness that allowed a young boy to catch some fish and feel proud of himself despite the mistake of not being squared away.
I walked a lot of flats today and casted to plenty of shadows. No fish. I went to the appointed place and cleaned my boots, socks and stored my gear just as Virgil arrived on time. I will try some sandy flats on the south shore of Turks and Caicos Saturday. In my mind it’s sunny and I can see the bonefish. The casts are accurate, the fly presentation good, and my line is tight and ready. Whatever happens I can handle it.