Friday, September 24, 2010

The Incident.


The Worst First Bonefish in History.

There we are, standing silently amongst dozens of tourists awaiting the ferry at the dock. We look completely out of place dressed in fishing gear, carrying rod tubes, several loaded packs, and a few gallons of water. Pretty much everything we brought on our three week sojourn. All three of us are disheveled and smell of crusty tarpon slime and wet clothing that hasn't been taken off or allowed to dry in over a week. We get a few sideways glances and some questions about our gear but otherwise, are ignored. The ferry ride takes a little while, long enough to get some much needed shut eye as Charlie's Angels plays on the way to our destination. The plan is for three days of camping and fly fishing for bonefish, permit, and tarpon. Pretty much what we have been doing for the past week except this time, the locale is much more pristine and untouched by the hand of man.

Unloading, we waste little time heading out to the nearest flat. It is somewhat awkward stepping into the rental car, since it is clean and completely void of a cockroach infestation. Dodging some cows on our way, we pull off and step into the largest flat my eyes have yet to see. After a few hours of getting schooled by large bones and heavy winds, we pack it in and change flats. At the new destination, we rummage through a fisherman's graveyard of decaying sea turtle shells, shark fins, and a million conch shells before deciding that it is not an ideal place to start. After walking several hundred yards through a salt marsh we step into paradise.

The first ten minutes on a flat is usually spent jostling for position. This is awkward. Three guys who all want the first bone and a prime run that has the best viewpoint, angle of sun, and the wind positioning. I make my way to the inner lane closest to the mangroves but Adam beats me to it. Ten minutes later, he is casting to two large bones tailing on a tiny sand flat amongst the mangroves. Matt and I glance at each other because we both know exactly what is about to happen. On the first cast, Adam's Merkin drops in front of the two bones and as predicted, they strike. Adam's second bonefish is on tight and is blitzkrieging across the flat. Adam lets out his traditional whooping and hollering coming straight from his diseased soul. After a few fist pumps and holy mother of gods, Adam is cradling and releasing another great bone.

Honestly, I am deeply jealous. I have yet to catch a bonefish and it seems like everyone in the world already has. For the past six months, my little sister has been letting me know that she has caught a bonefish and I have not. Payback for me letting her know (all the time) that I once kicked her butt in Harry Potter Scene It and therefore know more than she does about Harry Potter. I am probably even more than jealous. I am enraged. My soul is enflamed by buck fever and my inability to hook into a bone after countless chances a few days prior. Normally I could care less about not catching fish but this is the type of trip that doesn't happen often. I feel like I am fishing against a clock that is constantly getting closer to zero and this is my only chance left to seal the deal. All of this is going through my head, as the shutter comes closed on my DSLR for the last time as Adam's bonefish swims away.

After some bickering, it was decided that I should take the spot closest to the shore, even though I didn't want it anymore. I accepted and for the next hour watched as Adam and Matt had several more chances at bonefish while I waded through a mixed consistency of shin deep mud and stinging sea anemones. After an hour of hell, I finally see my first bonefish. It is tailing in shallows surrounded by mangroves but yet I give chase. I have several chances at this fish and he never really spooks because of the surrounding mangroves. After the bonefish disappears for awhile I spot Matt and Adam out a ways stalking a bonefish together. Based on their body language I can tell that they have an ideal situation before them and I begin taking some pictures. I place my DSLR back into my waterproof Sage Typhoon pack as the tailing bonefish re-emerges to my right seemingly beckoning me in for another go around.

Already locked into mortal kombat, I give chase despite the scale tipping mightily in the bonefish's favor. I work my way close and use the small mangroves dotting the landscape as cover. Only fifteen feet away, I drop the merkin a foot in front of the bonefish simulating a crab dropping into the water from a mangrove root. The bonefish pounces and goes berserk. The fish using its entire capability to travel thirty miles/hour careens, crisscrosses, and wraps around tiny mangroves before I can even take a single step. Reacting on pure adrenaline, instinct, and crazed buck fever I give chase in dead sprint following her path and simultaneously unwrap her work. She acts on instinct as well as she heads into an actual mangrove bush stitching my line through a dozen roots like an Olympic slalom skier winning the gold medal. I actually attempt to follow and then something happens that just snaps me out of my crazed state.

My foot catches a root and I slide down crashing into the water. The water wakes me up and before I even think about the bonefish on the end of my line and the backing spinning off of my reel, I think of my mistake. My stupid negligent, lackadaisical, heedless mistake. I never closed my waterproof zipper. I stare down into my pack at my DSLR, second lens, and my cell phone under six inches of salt. The rod drops into the water as I solemnly take them from their grave and hang them in the mangroves (in the distance somewhere a five gun salute is heard). No sounds are made and I am moving in slow motion seemingly in disbelief. A complete 180 from ten seconds earlier. I feel like the old man in a Christmas story after his major award shattered into pieces or when the Bumpus's hounds destroy the Christmas turkey. Except this is much worse. After a careful burial, my thoughts return to what potentially could be at the end of my line.

Gathering up my fly line, I hand lined my first bonefish. Cradling the fish, his eyes are bright orange probably from swimming and weaving so close to the mangroves. I take the hook off and for some reason pictures are taken. After the release I head back to survey the damage. To add icing onto the cake the fly rod is broken as well. Adam and Matt do not say a word and I just gather up the remaining evidence and we start our hike back to the ride.

Along the way, an entire life is being recalled, half of which has been spent with a fly rod in tow. Twelve years of dedication teaching myself everything I know and love. Twelve years of fishing excursions, money, and girls left shaking their heads. Was it really all worth it? Was this fish really worth all that was just lost? I think about the lack of camera to document what was to come and the lack of communication after my 14th phone fell victim to yet another fly fishing related death. After all, it is only halfway through the trip and I would surely have more chances. Yet, I gave chase, refusing to let a fish beat me. In doing so I lost more than my honor, I lost a grand and I was left with the fact that I hand lined my first bonefish. It can't count.

Emotionally, I am distraught and really don't want to talk to anyone but after awhile we are heading to another flat. After an hour break I am convinced back into the fray. This time, I am just going through the motions. An errant cast brings my first shark to hand, and after a few more sharks, and some lady fish all my worries and thoughts are swept away. My brother jokes that I have redeemed myself but I tell him I have a long way to go. Something special is going to have to happen in order for me to top this incident. Something special indeed.

Looking back on this disaster, I can't help but laugh about it. When I told my sister about my first bonefish and what ensued she only had one word for me.



Adam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Good story, bad luck.

You will probably remember to check that zipper for a long time to come.


Bjornorama said...

That counts... you better believe it!

All about the grab said...

Its always a pleasure coming back to "This river is wild" purely because of the entertainment value on offer.
Just another top post.

ShesaManiYak (Pamela Funk) said...

Excellent post, but I'm so sorry about the DSLR, phone, etc. I can definitely relate to getting consumed in that chase though! And yes, it counts.