In black glasses, wagging a long thin white cane, Scotty Jackson shuffled along Paris’ fashionable Champs Elysees. He confidently navigated the humped cobblestones, unable to see the beggars whose dirty hands silently swiped leftover bread. Instead he heard only the lively French conversation, the bustling table service and the jingling of bottles in tin buckets of ice. The air was rich with wine and warm brie cheese and Scotty smiled thankfully for the perfect images filling his mind’s eye.
When Paris was replaced by the shrill bleating of his alarm clock, Scotty opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling of his Miami studio. Making a pot of coffee, he replayed the dream and the contentment he’d felt. How could it be, the less he saw the more he experienced?
He dressed and collected his fly gear. The rod felt like a magic wand and he smiled as he waved it slowly back and forth. He thought only of catching his first bonefish. Scotty conjured the triumph of his recent first fish on fly, collected his confidence and took a long, deep breath.
The new sun glowed pink on the rough trunks of the coconut palms as he approached the beach, eyes fixed on the glittering ocean. The morning sun filtered through the fronds, casting shadowed cross-hatching on the cool white sand, but Scotty didn’t notice. His thoughts frantically looped facts and tips from a dozen bonefish articles. Seeing no signs, his mind wandered back to Paris as he subconsciously followed a cormorant’s low flight. At that instant, he was rewarded with a powerful lesson. Bonefish spooked, revealing themselves with frantic torpedo wakes under the passing sea bird.
Scotty’s hands shook, and his tight neck ached as he made his first cast. Just as his tan shrimp pattern dipped below the surface, the line went taught. Unprepared for the quick strike, he clumsily lifted the rod instead of strip setting and the second he felt weight, it was gone. Rookie mistake.
The school regrouped further offshore, easily located by their telltale swirls and tails tipping above the surface. Scotty licked his dry lips and waded their direction but before he was in range, they were gone. He peppered the area with a dozen casts. His shrimp pattern repeatedly slipped into the water and scurried along the bottom, untouched. When he reached the nearby turtle grass, Scotty stopped to change to an olive-colored shrimp pattern. Just as he finished, a huge forked tail rose from the water ten yards ahead. His eyes widened, jaw clenched and holding his breath, he started a back cast. Instantly the water around him erupted. A school of big bones had stealthily moved in but was gone in a flash. How did he not see them? Concentrate.
He waded all morning, silently shuffling through the grass. The sun was higher now and sweat burned the corners of his eyes. Though lucky enough to throw to a few more tailing fish, Scotty’s intense concentration had taken its toll. His eyes ached, and his neck and shoulders throbbed with exhaustion. The beach would soon fill with splashing toddlers and well-oiled sunbathers, the shallows would warm, and the fish would disappear. He resigned to call it a morning.
As he fished his way to shore, he finally stopped thinking. His casts became as rhythmic and natural as his deep, calm breaths. He basked in the sheer beauty of the moment as he cast poetic, nearly perfect loops that rolled gracefully through the warm, salty breeze. Suddenly the line went taught.
Scotty jerked a perfect strip set before lifting his rod high. He felt the pulsing weight of a heavy fish as the hook made solid purchase, then let the slack slip through his fingers until the fish was safely on the reel. The first two runs were powerful but short, and he feared it wasn’t a bonefish. When the fish showed silver, its size further dashed his hopes; far too big to be a bonefish and a bone half this size would have sent a hundred yards of line whistling through the guides.
But as it came closer, Scotty gasped. It was a huge bonefish all right, the biggest he’d ever seen. The fish suddenly turned and exploded to the north, disappearing in seconds. The reel screamed and the deeply bowed rod pulsed up and down in unison with the volume of the whining drag.
After an epic fight, Scotty gently lifted him from the water, gripped his lower lip with the clamp of his hand-scale and snapped a quick picture. His first bonefish on fly weighed 14.1 pounds, a monster by any standards and a potential record. The lesson learned from Scotty’s blissful trance being rewarded with the fish of a lifetime was far from lost on him.
After kissing the top of its broad head, he gently returned the beautiful fish to the sea. As he rocked it back to life, Scotty was certain absolutely no one would believe him. But as he watched the fish swim away unharmed, he was even more certain he didn’t care.
~ Michael Walrath