Kings of the River


Years ago, when I was a child, there was a daytime television show directed at the average American housewife called “Queen for a Day”. It aired each afternoon just as I was arriving home from school. My Mom usually had the TV tuned in to that station, though she was busily ironing, cleaning, or carrying out some other domestic duty. Hosted by Jack Bailey, the program introduced Americans to the concept of the big money giveaway show. The winner was decided by the volume of audience applause after each contestant had spun her particular tale of woe to the drama loving crowd. Prizes were often extravagant and the object of every woman’s desire. It was so successful that advertising cost $4000 per minute in the fifties!

My friend George and I recently ventured north to Virginia to spend a day fishing the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia. Under the expert tutelage of our guide Matt, we became Kings for a Day on the James River- King George and King James, as it were. Our quest that day was the smallmouth bass, though the James is replete with other gamefish, notably the carp and the Mighty Musky. Yes, the Fish of Ten Thousand casts resides in these waters and Matt frequently seeks these fish exclusively for anglers with endless patience and equally tireless casting arms. King George and I however, were more easily satisfied. We had come to the Colonies in search of the more easily fooled smallmouth.

We set forth from a downtown ramp, to my dismay. I imagined spending our day drifting past factories, courthouses, and high end retail shops, but was very soon delighted to see all vestiges of civilization fade into the rearview mirror as we rounded the first bend in the broad expanse of the James. The James is a couple hundred yards wide. It’s clear waters are often quite shallow and peppered with boulders and rock outcroppings that keep most watercraft safely on its banks. Our polypropylene drift boat was impervious to these dangers and had been designed for use on the wild and bumpy waters of western trout rivers. No other boats incroached upon our watery kingdom that day.  Matt’s intimate knowledge of the river coupled with his impressive boat handling skills quickly put us on the most fish dense areas of the river, without wasting time in search mode.

The morning saw King James manning the bow, six weight in hand. King George took the after station, ready to pick off all the fish missed by the bow man. George drew first blood, landing a nice smallie on a surface fly. In fact, he brought several nice smallmouth to the boat, while I dredged the deeper waters with a larger minnow imitation. After some frustration, Matt switched my fly to highly impressionistic subsurface fly called a Tequeely. This copper colored flashy fly with three pairs of seductive undulating legs proved irresistible to the smallie. Soon, I had landed several lovely fish. I was particularly pleased as I had encountered but a single specimen of this gamefish prior to this outing. That one was accidentally caught while steelheading the Snake River in Idaho.


One of my captures had taken the fly unusually deeply, resulting in significant bleeding. To my shock, Matt demanded I relinquish the Coca Cola I was imbibing. He held the hemorrhaging fish by the lip and quickly poured the Coke down its open gullet. Naturally, I was quite amazed at this type of resuscitation. Matt informed me that pouring Coke over the gills and throat both aid in stopping the bleeding and also raises the fish’s oxygen level. I had no idea. Perhaps Coke’s 1906 slogan was accurate- “Coca Cola revives and sustains”.

smallmouth likes coke

George and I continued to work the overhangs and downed trees along the river, periodically switching to the opposite side as Matt’s experience dictated. We caught goodly numbers of smallmouth and a couple of larger ones. In Virginia, the angler who lands a 20 inch smallmouth gets a plaque and commendation letter from the Virginia DNR. George and I each came close to award size, but fell slightly short. George’s fish was 18 inches. Matt measured mine at 19 inches, but in the King James Version, it was really 20 ½ inches!

Soon, the day was ready to come to a close. As we approached the take out ramp, Matt commented that we could be lucky enough to catch one last smallmouth right at the ramp. As we neared the concrete pad, George threw his fly 2 or 3 feet short of it. Bam! He was rewarded with the final fish of the trip- a solid smallie of some 15 inches. As Matt loaded the boat for the trip back to town, George and I joined in a royal handshake and congratulated ourselves on our crowning achievement on the James- more smallmouth than either of us had ever caught.

( To enjoy a regal day of your own fishing for smallmouth or musky on the James, contact Matt Miles at Matt is an Orvis endorsed guide)




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Two Gentlemen of Murrell’s Inlet

redfish double

Credit- Used with permission.

Adam and Val grew up fishing the Inlet together. They were nearly the same age and both had been born to families who had lived in the Murrell’s Inlet area for many generations. Using a spinning rod had come naturally to each boy and they reveled in the bounty to be found in the marshes and around the jetties . On the occasion of their graduation from the local high school, each was gifted a fifteen foot aluminum johnboat and an accompanying outboard motor. Of course, being teenage boys heavily under the influence of a burgeoning supply of testosterone, competition was unavoidable. Each relished making the bigger catch, giving him the right to unmercifully lord it over the other until the next trip.

“Val,” began Adam. “Let’s work the rocks along the south side of the jetty today. I just know the big reds will be there today.” “No, I think they will be over on the north side, so I’ll fish there. You try the south side and we’ll see who has better fish sense,” replied Val. The two buddies departed the ramp and snaked their way through the marsh, bound for the jetties. Val’s faithful Boykin Spaniel, Bluecrab, sat up front, her brown curly ears flapping against the passing air. The warm June sun had no clouds to hide behind that day, and the winds which had kept the pair shore bound last week had disappeared. Conditions were perfect.

In a few minutes, each young man had set up on his preferred spot. Each selected a live mud minnow from a bucket and dropped the baits to the bottom. An hour and a half passed. Val dialed his friend’s cell phone. “Adam, you having any luck?’ “Who need luck when you got skill?” his buddy replied with a laugh. “We both do today. It’s slower than molasses out here today.” They persisted for some three hours and tried every artificial bait they had in addition to the usually dependable minnows. Adam’s phone rang. “Looks like they beat us both today, man” admitted Val. Even Bluecrab seemed despondent, hanging her frizzy head down in doggie despair.

They met at the ramp and loaded their vessels onto their trailers. “You know, Adam, I was thinking.” “Oh that’s where all the smoke behind your boat came from. I thought maybe your engine was on fire!” laughed Adam. “Very funny, wiseass” was the response from Val. “Since we got totally skunked today, I am thinking of driving down to McClellanville tomorrow and giving it a whirl. You in?” “Sure, why not? Can’t do any worse there than we did here.”

Bluecrab, who had been wandering around the ramp as the guys talked, spotted a fisherman unloading his boat. Like a flash, the playful dog had seized the man’s rod by its handle and was rapidly dragging it up the ramp. “Bluecrab! Come back here and give me that rod! “commanded Val. Bluecrab slowed sufficiently to allow Val to grab the rod. After a brief, but intense struggle, Val gained possession of the rod and handed it to its rightful owner. “Sorry about that, Sir” said Val, apologizing for his dog’s boorish behavior. “I will get the cork replaced for you. My dog did put a few bite marks on it. “Naw, it’s OK. I have a lab at home and he has already gotten a hold of the rod and gnawed on it. Don’t worry about it”.  “I appreciate that,” responded Val, casting a disapproving  glare in Bluecrab’s direction.

The next morning, the boys made their way down Highway 17 to the quaint fishing village at McClellanville. Neither had ever tried the labyrinth of low lying flats that dot the landscape between the village and the Atlantic. They reached the ramp after an hour of driving and backed their boats down the dual lane facility. Adam was especially anxious, clicking on his GPS as soon as he was in the water and the little Yamaha was purring. Val, meanwhile, had starting issues with his Mercury. He tried everything from altering the choke, to squeezing the filling bulb for a second time, to just cursing at the motor.


Val, knowing that his friend’s motor was sometimes cantankerous, shouted “I am going on ahead. Just meet me at the GPS numbers I gave you.” He knew he should wait and help Adam, but the idea of catching the first McClellanville red overpowered him. How great it would be to get there first and land a thirty inch fish by the time Adam got there. Off he sped to the numbers the tackle store owner had given him.



Val’s GPS guided him directly to the location that was promised to be carpeted with shiny red tails on this morning’s flood tide. He quickly shut off the motor and picked up the nine foot eight weight fly rod his father has loaned him.  He stood on the back bench and scanned around him. For fifteen minutes he saw nothing but the semi-clear waters of the flooded flat. Then, a faint glint of light caught his eye. It was a smallish redfish, happily tailing while chasing a frightened crab. The rod began a much too rapid motion, arcing through some two hundred degrees of travel, far too much to be effective. Though the fish lay a mere thirty feet away, the extra wide loop formed in the fly line by the excessive motion resulted in a cast that travelled perhaps ten feet before the line suddenly stopped and crashed in a pile on the water’s surface. Dejected, Val sat down. He attempted to analyze his failure as his eyes followed the redfish swimming away. “I should go help Adam” he realized. Even if he had indeed caught the first redfish, and that one on a fly, he began to feel that it would be a hollow victory. Fifteen minutes later, he rounded the corner and the ramp came into view.

Bluecrab stood on the front of Adam’s john boat, tail wagging and barking at Val’s approach. “Hmm.. “ Val thought. “A bow wow on the bow!” as he chuckled at his own cleverness. It would definitely be more fun to fish with his friend.  Adam’s boat lay tied fast to the dock while he rummaged through his less than complete tool box in a last gasp effort to get the motor running. “Adam, let’s load your boat and just both fish from mine.” Said Val. “The redfish are there!” he added.

The tide was beginning to fall when the boys and Bluecrab returned to the flat. The forecast had predicted a big tide, nearly seven feet, for that day, so they had plenty of time to fish the tide down.  Val displaced Bluecrab from the bow, while Adam took the after position. Adam suddenly said “Whoa! Look at that! A monster tail sticking up out of the water. Check out that blue tinge on the tip!!!’

“I see another one over there!” exclaimed Val, as he excitedly pointed out to eleven o’clock. Each young man cast, Val with the fly rod and Adam with a spinner bearing a gold spoon. This time, both lure and fly gently dropped a foot from their respective targets. The water boiled around each fish and just like that they had a double. Val and Adam looked at each other, eyes wide open, and began the celebratory whoops. Val watched his buddy land a gorgeous redfish of some twenty inches and thought “New places can be great, but old friendships can be even greater.” Aroused by all the shouting, Bluecrab grabbed a spare spinning rod by the cork and swung it around as if she were casting it. Adam and Val laughed so loud, they swore they could hear the sound echoing off the old lighthouse.

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Tangled Up in Red

redfish driftwood 2 James Sept 2012Early one spring the sun was shining

I was lying in bed

Wondering if she had changed at all,

If her scales were still red.


My wife said our life together

Sure was going to be rough

She never did like

My new flats boat

Our bank book wasn’t big enough.


I was standing in the yard

Rain falling on my shoes

I was heading out to McClellanville

Lord knows, I’ve paid my dues

Now that winter’s dead

Tangled up in red


She was tailing when we first met

Trying to catch a crab

I helped her out by throwing a fly

Made from deer hair so drab

It fell in the water by an oyster shell

So I moved to the right,

Over the muddy seabed

Till it was just where I liked

Six inches from her head

Tangled up in red


She turned her head to look at it

And then glanced up at me

Thought you’d never cast my way she said

You look like a big dummy

Standing on your fiberglass sled

Tangled up in red


She opened up a book of tips

And handed it to me

Written by an American angler

From the nineteenth century

Every one of those words rang true

And glowed like burning coals

Pouring off of every page

Till they were written on my soul

And filled my head

Tangled up in red


I cast again with different flies

I got to get to her somehow

All the sliders and poppers that I tied

They’re an illusion to me now

I even thought about using live bait

But something inside of me died

I looked down at my casting rod

And froze up inside

When she refused every fly I cast

I became withdrawn

The only thing I knew how to do

Was to keep on casting on

Till fish and fly were wed

Tangled up in red


So now I’m going back again

Got to get to her somehow

All the fish I’ve caught before

Don’t seem to matter now

Some are giant tuna fish

Some are really big bones

Don’t know how this all got started

She has left me all alone

But me, I’m still in my boat

Searching all over this flat

Hoping I wouldn’t have to look too far

For a redfish so fat

Feeling like I have bled

Tangled up in red

( My apologies to Mr. Bob Dylan)

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Redfish Fortune

It was the sun glinting off its coppery surface that caught my eye. I stood fueling my flats boat and daydreaming about catching a big redfish when the brightness focused my gaze to the object lying on the asphalt of the convenience store lot. I leaned over despite fears of reawakening the back pain that plagues me to retrieve it. “How can a penny be worth stirring up the pain that could result in a premature finish to my fishing trip?” I asked myself. I examined the coin, rough and well worn, before deciding it could be an omen, a sign of good things to come on the flats, a lucky penny bearing the same coppery color of the fish I planned to pursue that day. I placed it in the depths of a wading pant pocket and tightly secured the Velcro fastener.

Three hours later, I stood on a flat near McClellanville, eyes scanning the surface for blue tipped tails exposed to the sunlight. Mike, my longtime friend and fishing mentor, had dropped me at this lonely spot before speeding away to a flat of his own. Back over the village, a heavy thunderstorm growled and barked, its darkening clouds occasionally glowing from massive cloud to cloud lightning.  We had consulted the Weather Channel on my iPhone only minutes before leaving the safety of the dock.  The radar imagery had suggested that the storm was heading off to the northeast, but I was not so sure now as I stood exposed holding a nine and a half foot graphite lightning rod in my hand. As I slowly ambled towards what seemed to be a slightly higher spot, I carefully reconnoitered the area, while silently appealing to the Ultimate Weatherman to direct the clouds anywhere but where I stood.

Within minutes, the first redfish appeared. It was not an especially large specimen, but it was the first red I had seen this season. I approached as stealthily as a two hundred and fifty pound man can and amazingly reached casting range without disturbing the merrily dining fish. My old standby redfish fly had been affixed to the tippet and after two false casts, it gently entered the muddy water about a foot from the fish. The fish pounced to the fly, and in my haste to catch my first redfish of the season, I overreacted and pulled the fly away from the fish’s mouth. He then departed, seeking sustenance elsewhere.

I plodded on, my neoprene shod feet sinking under their heavy burden into the soft plough mud.   Soon, a second fish made its presence known. This one was already within my casting range. “Stay calm,” I told myself. “Don’t blow it. Let the fish eat. THEN set the hook.”  I waved the rod a couple of times and let the fly seek out its target. Once more, all seemed well, the fish continued its search for food as I stripped the fly to make it look alive for the hungry redfish. On the second strip of the line, the fly’s hook dug deeply into a clump of spartina grass. The vibration caused by my efforts to free it resulted in the fish fleeing to an alternate area. I watched it as I worked the fly loose, entirely too late to make another presentation. I reached into my pocket and rubbed the penny.

Sweat was now turning my technical casting shirt several shades darker as I worked my way across the flat and through the mud. Furtive glances behind me confirmed that my earlier supplications had kept the thunder at bay. Over the next hour, I saw three more redfish, but had no chance to cast to them. The tide, as I had been warned, was running a foot to a foot and a half higher than predicted. The island on which I walked had been transformed into an almost uninterrupted expanse of water now, with only the odd grass clump or old tree stump protruding above the water. I reached for my radio to call Mike, hoping I had not somehow unintentionally offended him. Suddenly, I felt very lonesome. Should he elect to leave me here, I would be in serious trouble. The radio crackled on, and Mike announced he was making his way to my position. Relieved, I stood still, hoping my legs would not sink further until he could rescue me. The water was now groin deep and still rising. I scanned for fins as I waited.

After boarding the boat, Mike sped us to a very fishy location we discovered a couple of years ago that we were calling our “Double Secret Spot”. When we arrived, we were shocked to find two boats already poling along and looking for fish. The tide was nearly at its zenith, making locating tailing fish virtually impossible. After thirty minutes, the other anglers appeared to be sufficiently discouraged to stow their push poles and head for the barn. We then proceeded to our “Triple Secret Spot’ as we waited on the tide to fall off the flat enough for us to locate fish tails. After a while, our patient strategy was rewarded by the sight of a number of those oh so lovely redfish tails slowly undulating in the late afternoon air.  Mike, self sacrificing friend that he is, insisted on poling my excessively heavy boat while I manned the bow, fly rod in hand. His high tech composite flats boat that we usually fish had been sidelined by mechanical woes. He verbalized his love for his easy to pole boat, wishing it, like a long lost love, would magically appear. “Well, you know a heavy guy needs a heavy boat” was the best response I could mount.  “Straight ahead!” he exclaimed quietly. “There’s a nice redfish tailing.” I quickly began the familiar casting motion as my eyes locked onto the redfish.  The fish was coming straight at us- a perfect situation for a fly caster, especially with no discernible wind. A new fly had been substituted for the one that hung in the grass, a homemade pattern I had tied with a weed guard. It was a new design, about to undergo trial by fire. It fell two feet from the fish’s nose. A single short strip and my line came tight. The line shot up into the guides and I saw with a sickening feeling a large knot in the fly line coming up off the deck into the guides. “Oh NOOOO!” I said. “That knot will hang in the tip top and then the tippet will break and this fish will be gone.” Mike was now working like a galley slave, pushing mightily in an attempt to maintain pace with the large redfish fast to my line. For my part, I did my best to hold the line firmly against the rod with one hand, while trying to untie the Gordian Knot of fly line with the other, letting go as necessary to manage the fish. My anxiety meter was pushed to the stops when I got a good look at this fish. It was a very nice red, one of the largest I have hooked.  The struggle went on for some fifteen minutes, but ultimately, the knot came undone and I had the fish on the reel. Mike brought it aboard, and soon I was posing for a hero photo. I looked back towards McCllellanville and saw the storm slowly pushing south. We released the fish after measuring it at thirty inches.  As it swam away, I rubbed the penny again.

James big red June 2016


“Mike, I cannot adequately express my gratitude. That was truly a team fish. Let me pole the boat now so you can get one”.’ He demurred, but agreed to stop the boat and wade for the next fish we saw. I reluctantly concurred, recognizing that I probably would not be physically capable of pushing the boat properly.  “I see one!”Mike said. Quickly, he came off the platform, grabbed his rod and slipped over the side. The redfish tail disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. Mike made a blind cast to its last known location. After a few strips, his fly line came tight. I literally jumped for joy. Now we had each caught a redfish, his Herculean efforts coming full circle. I pulled out my camera as he reached for the fish. Suddenly he burst out laughing. “What’s so funny?” I inquired. “It’s a mullet!” he said “A mullet?? You caught a mullet on a fly?” I responded. Mullet are algae eaters and will not normally take a fly or anything else for that matter. “I fouled hooked him in head just above the mouth. If you didn’t look closely, you would think this fish ate that fly.”  We shared a huge laugh and then realized that we would have to leave the flat right away, as the tide had fallen dangerously low.  Another ten minutes, and we would be stuck here, unable to reach deep enough water to make our way back to the ramp.

mullet man with fish

“I am sorry you didn’t get a redfish today, Mike, but consider this. Anybody can catch a redfish, a bonefish, or even a sailfish on fly, but you are such an expert fisherman that you have done the impossible and caught a mullet on fly!”  We chuckled as I exited the boat. Together we pushed the stern to the edge of a small creek. It had been a wonderful day after all.


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Spring Fever

“The pond we will be fishing today is overstocked” my friend told me as we motored down the two lane asphalt road towards our destination. “The owner insists that we keep every fish we can catch. I promised him we would do just that”. The pines and scrub oaks flashed past the rolled up windows of my SUV, now laden with a thick layer of that yellow-green airborne  gift we southerners are accustomed to receiving each spring.  “Will it be mostly bass in this pond?” I inquired. “No, there is a mixed bag of bass, crappie, and bluegill in it’ he responded. “You know, it has been a long winter and I really don’t care what kind of fish we catch. I just want to get hooked up to a few feisty fish today” I replied.  “Well, you know what they say ‘The tug is the drug’ “was my buddies’ response.

“Turn left at that dirt road just ahead’ I was instructed. The trip had been relatively short and that suited me just fine. Fish Fever had me in its grips and the sooner I could get a lure in the water the better. About a mile into the dusty old road, a small pond came into view. It was not large and appeared to have been manmade and quite old. “Do you know how long this pond has been here?”  I asked. “Not entirely certain, but more than a hundred years.  So, the fish have had lots of time to grow old and fat”. “Just like me!” I said. We both laughed at that one.

I pulled my truck up to pond’s edge and opened the driver’s door. It creaked and groaned just like my worn out old knees.  George had already exited the vehicle, bouncing merrily towards the back liftgate. I sometimes think he just enjoys showing off his amazing level of fitness. I never know whether to be dumbfounded at his agility or jealous since we are exactly the same age. “Hurry up and get this open so we can get after those bass” George said impatiently. The tailgate at last opened and George collected his tackle box and headed down to the small aluminum boat tied off on a scrub oak at the water’s edge. Meanwhile, I rummaged around and found the smallish bag with my gear in it. “Damnation!” I muttered. “What’s the matter?” George asked. “I forgot my big tackle box! Left it on the shelf in the garage. Just in too much of a rush to get back on the water.” “Well, don’t fret” said George. “I have plenty of lures and rigging stuff. Of course, tackle is never cheap on the water!” He laughed out loud, and was so amused at his own wittiness that he continued to chuckle as I walked to the boat, my pitifully small bag in one hand and my favorite bass rod and spinning reel combo in the other. “At least I did remember my fishing rod” I added, frustration showing on my face.

We loaded our stuff into the boat and assumed our fishing positions. I took the bow, George seated comfortably in the stern. We donned the inflatable lift vests we found onboard, and I picked up the broad wooden paddle that had been lying on the deck. “Where should we start, George?” I wondered, deferring to my friend’s greater fishing experience and knowledge. “That blowdown on the far bank looks good to me” he snorted, knowing it lay at the far end of the pond. “Are you serious?” I asked. “Well, actually, yes. I have fished this pond a couple of times and those submerged branches hold lots of bass waiting to ambush baitfish. Sorry it is so far away.” In a display of false bravado, I replied “Hey, not a problem. I have been working out hard on a rowing machine. No sweat. I got this”. We both knew I was lying.

We eventually made it. George even claimed to be willing to do some of the paddling, but I insisted on preserving my male ego by doggedly keeping at it. Once we were at a proper casting distance from the tree, George rifled through his box. “I think I’ll start with a green lizard rigged Carolina style. He was ready in record time and began a series of skillful casts, dragging the plastic lizard past the length of the tree. No takers. Meanwhile, I realized that I had but three lures with me. My bag contained a pumpkin colored plastic worm, a medium square billed crankbait in shad colors, and a white buzzbait. I considered asking George for something else, but decided against it. “George,” I am such a good fisherman that I bet you a Coke that I will outfish you with just these baits”. “OK. You’re on, my friend”. I tied on the crankbait since George was using a plastic bait on the bottom. I like those square bills since they usually will bump up against underwater wood and just pop over the obstruction rather than hanging up. PLOP! Into the water it went on the opposite side of the tree. I worked the bait back but again, no response. George and I worked that tree for maybe fifteen minutes before deciding to make a move. I paddled us to a group of promising looking stumps  and we began casting. George casted left and I went right. We fished in silence for a few minutes before George said “ No hits yet, so I am changing”. He cut off the lizard and put on jerk bait. “ Hmmm, I said, kidding my good friend, “ That seems appropriate!” We shared a laugh and George cast again. He worked that bait close to an old cypress stump and WHAM! A huge strike. “Looks like you got a nibble there, George”, I said as he set the hook and tightened his drag slightly. “Yeah, I think so too” he said, turning his reel handle in intermittent circling motions. We peered into the dark waters straining to see the fish. The bass leaped into the air writhing in midair and fell back to the water. “HOOWEE!!” exclaimed George. “That’s a good one, George” I said. “Be careful with him”. “Oh I got him, don’t you worry” George said, reaching towards the bass with a landing net. He soon held the fish by the lip posing for a hero shot. “George, I hate to tell you this, but I forgot my camera too!” “Well, no problem. I am just happy to have caught this guy. Maybe I’ll get a quick photo at home before he goes into my frying pan”. The fish suddenly wiggled and jumped out of George’s hand and back into the water. “Guess we won’t be taking that one home!” he said.

I made numerous casts but without success. I too decided to change lures. I went with my plastic worm and soon resumed casting. After twenty minutes of effort, I suggested we try another spot. We moved to a shallow flat type area with aquatic grass along the bank. I tried my worm what seemed like a thousand times but not even a bump. George was not having any better luck, so once more we made a move. A brush pile in the middle of the pond held promise, and we set up near it. George exchanged his lure once more for a spinnerbait. He offered one to me, but of course, I demurred, having bet I could outfish him with my meager gear. We made multiple presentations around the brush and were once more disappointed. It seemed neither George nor I could even buy a fish.

By now we had been on the water for nearly three hours, with only a single bass for our efforts, and that one had escaped. “All right, George. It’s crunch time. I am going to my last lure- a buzzbait. If this doesn’t work, I’ll say uncle”. I have had good success with buzzbaits in the past and seeing a surface strike on one is always thrilling. George also changed, now going to a broken back rebel. I paddled us around the perimeter of the pond, casting repetitively as close as I dared to the stumps and tree trunks along the bank.  Still no luck.  For his part, George remained stoic, secure in having a one fish lead on me. He was getting no bites either. After an hour of trying, it was clear that I had been defeated by both George and the fish. “OK. I give. Time to pack it in George. You win”. I wound in my lure for the last time for that trip. I looked down at the buzzbait and was totally shocked by what I saw. The bait was new, having recently been purchased from the local Gander Mountain store. “Well, it is no wonder why I didn’t get a strike on this bait!” “What is wrong?” George asked. I sheepishly held the lure up in front of his face. The brilliant shiny white store tag was still wrapped firmly in place around the hook, rendering it completely useless! I had forgotten to remove it in my haste to land a fish. I was beyond embarrassed, but after a short silence, George and I burst into laughter. “I do not have a fish, but I have a great fish story!” I exclaimed. “Man that Coke is gonna taste extra good today!” said George.  I guess the tackle box and the camera weren’t all I forgot today”. I said. “What else did you leave at home?” George asked. “The most important piece of gear of all- my brain!


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Good Things Come to Those Who Wade

redfish tail with grass



My initial reaction as the bow of the boat touched the spartina grass of the small island was  “ I’m going to need some bigger shoes- like snow shoes maybe.”  The salty water appeared to be about a foot deep but the incoming water would soon be knee deep. I double checked my waterproof radio to be certain I had set it to the same channel as my friend as I slipped over the side and grabbed my backpack and fly rod. “Good luck!” my friend said as he slipped the engine into reverse. “I’ll be back on the other side of the tide.” With that, he sped away to his secret spot, leaving me to my own devices.

I was leery of the muddy bottom’s ability to support my not inconsiderable weight, tentatively placing one foot ahead of the other. After some steps had been taken and my confidence buoyed, I began to scan the water’s surface for signs of redfish, the target for today.  My polarized sunglasses proved a valuable asset as I searched for those gorgeous blue tinged tails fluttering in the midday sun. Sometimes less obvious clues to the presence of redfish are an angler’s sole means of detection. Fins barely jutting from the surface, wakes, or even the shaking of the grass can all give away the fish’s location. But nothing beats the sight of that magnificent tail sticking up like a billboard along a highway, to get a fisherman’s heart pounding.

Soon, I thought I saw one at a distance. I made my way as quickly and stealthily as I could manage to casting range. There it was, a nice redfish, busily rooting the bottom in pursuit of fiddler crabs. Focused on its task, it made no note of my presence, fortunately for me. The rod silently swayed in the warm air and dispatched fly line. Leader, and fly towards the happy redfish. The fly landed ten inches from its nose and suddenly, the redfish was happy no more. It bolted with the gold colored fly in its mouth. After a couple of satisfying runs, I held it in my hand. After its wonderful redness had been recorded for my collection, it was released, free once more to stuff itself on the abundance of food found on the flats.

We are blessed indeed to have shallow water flats in coastal South Carolina which are havens for redfish. Equally fortunately, these game fish take flies readily ( well usually anyway). They are available to the fly fisherman both summer and winter. In the warm months and fall, they are best fished on the high waters of the larger tides. The exact height required will vary by the specific fishing location. Some flats can be fished a tides of five and a half feet or even less, while others need over six feet of water. This knowledge is gained through trial and error, or a very good fishing buddy who is willing to share his knowledge. I generally prefer to arrive on the flat about two hours prior to the predicted high tide, though timing can be affected by wind and other weather conditions.  Wading can be quite effective when the water is too shallow for the boat, though in certain spots the angler risks bogging nearly to his waist in the soft plough mud. I have learned to stay well clear of the greener grass, which often indicates a small creek where the bottom is treacherous. Slow careful foot placement also advised. Quality wading shoes are an absolute MUST to protect the wader’s feet from oyster shells and to prevent loss of other types of shoe wear caused  by the suction effect of the plough mud. Tennis shoes are a NO-NO.

redfish June 30, 2012

The author with a typical redfish caught on local flats

Most redfish on our flats are in the two to five pound range, though we do occasionally catch a ten pound specimen. The largest I have personally encountered was estimated by my friend at eighteen pounds! I prefer an eight or even a nine weight rod if the wind picks up. But some anglers who appreciate a more sporting approach, may use a six or even five weight stick. Floating lines and leaders of twelve pounds work well. I like fluorocarbon, though mono works also. Experienced redfish fly rodders all seem to have a personal preference for flies. Standard patterns like Clouser minnows or spoon flies are staples. Personally, I am partial to gold colors.

Winter redfishing is a whole different ballgame. As there are no fiddler crabs to be found on the high water flats, the redfish are not there either. We like to fish for them at low tide along oyster rakes and in back creeks in the colder months. Although wading is not recommended, the angler with a shallow draft boat has the advantage of clear water ( the algae has been killed off by the lower temperatures) and the height advantage of being in the boat allows a larger sight range. Often in the winter, reds aggregate into large schools, as many as a hundred at times. Seeing them coming across the flat at a distance is quite a sight, much like bonefishing the clear waters of the Bahamas.

I have heard redfish called “The Poor Man’s Bonefish.”  I suppose this is true in the sense that travel to some exotic location is not necessary. But I can promise that your angling life can be greatly enriched by spending some time in your wading shoes on South Carolina’s incredible flats casting to feeding redfish.

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Catching Up in Sandy Point

It is uncommon for two people to remain steadfast friends without seeing each other for over fifteen years. Yet this is exactly the case with my chum Tom and me. We met many years ago in a professional setting and immediately became friends, drawn together by our mutual interest in fly fishing and our similar philosophies of life. Though he lives in the Boston area, and I a bit further south in Myrtle Beach, we have kept in frequent contact. Some years back, I visited him and his wonderful family in Boston, where we attended a large and informative fly fishing show. He reciprocated by making the trek south to my home in South Carolina. We hired a guide and spent a frustrating day casting to highly uncooperative redfish in my home waters. We vowed to erase that failure by planning a new adventure fishing together again.

Growing families, heavy demands at work, and a host of other variables resulted in repeated cancellations of trips for redfish, bonefish, false albacore, trout, and tarpon. This pattern was repeated for more than fifteen years.  Though we spoke often by phone and emails, circumstances precluded any actual visits or fishing time together.

It was last fall when I began plotting yet another return trip to my favorite bonefishing destination- Sandy Point, which lies at the most southerly tip of Abaco Island. Here I have spent many days, rod in hand, pursuing my favorite fly rod target, the bonefish. It is a fish that provides the angler with both joy and frustration, delivering them in varying degrees of equality. Sandy Point is also blessed with a dependable population of permit, and I have become increasingly aware of its resident tarpon population over the course of the past four or five visits. Pete and Gay’s Guesthouse, operated by my old friend Stanley White, exemplifies the persona of a locally owned Bahamian lodge. It is rustic but functional and the staff and guides are hard working, friendly, and eager to do whatever it takes to create a memorable experience for the guests.

Stanley's Place

Our luxury accommodations at Sandy Point

Stanley, tom, james

Tom, Stanley, owner and manager of Pete and Gay’s Guesthouse, and some dude found wandering the Town Flat

When first I emailed Tom about joining me and five of my fishing buddies on this bonefish adventure, I did so half heartedly, suspecting that circumstances would once more preclude his participation. To my astonishment, his reply indicated that he would in fact be able to come along to Stanley’s. I was thrilled to know that at last I would be able to spend a few days fishing my favorite spot with my old friend.

We agreed that Tom would fly from Boston to Myrtle Beach, where my wife and I would retrieve him from the airport. Together, we would drive to an outlying airport, and continue the journey to Abaco. When Tom arrived, it was early June. Here in South Carolina, temperatures were solidly in the nineties, yet Tom emerged from baggage claim sporting a fleece coat. After our initial salutations, I queried him about the coat. “It was forty degrees in Boston this morning” he explained.  “Well, my friend, you can pack that jacket away now. It is ninety two degrees here, and even hotter down on Abaco.”

Most of my family was able to join us that evening for a wonderful dinner prepared by my wife Sheila, and I was pleased to be able to introduce to Tom my daughter, son in law, my unimaginably wonderful grandson Liam, as well as Sheila’s mother and stepfather. After dinner, Tom and I talked into the night and it seemed as if we had seen each other only two weeks ago, not fifteen years earlier. Early the following morning, we made the drive to Florence to catch our flight. Recent airline mergers have resulted in dropped flights and consolidation of others which have made the once UBER-convenient flights out of MYR now a two day travel adventure. So, our alternative was a one hour drive to a smaller airport. Sheila graciously agreed to chauffeur us there and retrieve me upon my return.

The trip proved uneventful other than the extensive security searches to which I was subjected. Having had both knees replaced, I always alarm the metal detectors and I have discovered that some TSA agents are more thorough, or perhaps bored, than others. I was led to a small room where I was brusquely told to “Sit down in that metal chair! Do not speak or touch ANYTHING!” Attached to one of the legs of said chair was a menacing appearing device that looked suspiciously like a cattle prod. The TSA man, meanwhile, went to fetch his superior. When they returned, I underwent a thirty minute search which, although no body cavities were penetrated, was very thorough. Once satisfied that my socks, with their hidden zippered pockets to hold my cash, were harmless, I was released to board the flight. I suppose it is the price we must pay for safe travels, but nonetheless I find it quite disconcerting.

The remainder of the journey was routine, and soon we found ourselves standing once more on Bahamian soil. Stanley , our host, had arranged an airport pickup by Ezra, a resident of Sandy Point. The final leg of our journey to Sandy Point requires an hour’s driving time. It passed quickly as the ebullient Ezra regaled us with local tales of interest, pointing out attractions as we drove. I was especially interested in hearing his stories about Casuarina Point, as we passed Different of Abaco, a now defunct bonefish lodge. It was there that I made my first visit to Abaco some twenty four years ago. It is also where I made the acquaintance of Miss Nettie Symonnette, a colorful local personality who built the lodge and created a manmade waterway for her guide boats into the Marls. The Marls area is a massive area of mangrove islands extending along the west coast of Abaco. Here bonefish, though smallish, are quite plentiful. There is no natural access to the Marls from this part of the island, necessitating a lengthy boat run to reach the treasure chest of swimming silver that resides among the mazes of mangroves. Miss Nettie created quite a sensation when she directed a local man with a bulldozer to create a sort of canal to allow her guide boats a means of passage. Her newly dug opening to the sea immediately became known as “Nettie’s Ditch.” But, that is a tale worthy of its own post.  We shortly thereafter found ourselves in downtown Sandy Point, though our true final destination required a boat to reach. That would be for the next day. For tonight, it was time to meet our fellow travelers and anglers, then pass the evening of catching up and enjoying a few Kaliks.

stanley sunset 2008edited

A typical sunset at Sandy Point. This photo was captured from the rooftop lounge area.



My old friend Tom Guest finally made it to Sandy Point.

The following morning, we made our way to the guide boats, which were gathered into a small armada, all nosed into the sand at water’s edge in front of the lodge. Stanley had arranged for Tom and I to fish with Wally that first day, a fine choice. I have fished with Wally many, many times during past trips, and find him to be dependable and hard working. He decided to make the crossing to Moore’s Island, a rich fishery some eighteen miles away. Tom and I boarded his sturdy locally built boat and settled down for the forty five minute ride.


Good times are even better shared with good friends. Left to right- Steve, Joe, Mike, Me, Jay, and Tom

After a pleasant journey, we arrived at Moore’s with high hopes. Tom was first up on the deck. We found fish, but unfortunately, were not able to seal the deal. We moved on and soon found a flat that was literally covered with large sharks in impossibly skinny water. As we approached for a closer inspection of these animals, it became clear that they were quite large. Even the smaller specimens were estimated at six to seven feet, and the bruisers around ten to perhaps twelve feet in length. They lazed about the flat, seemingly resting, but soon the reason they had gathered here in such numbers became clear. It was mating season, and these sharks were busily involved in procreation. I had witnessed this spectacle only once or twice in the past, but I have never seen so many sharks engaged in such a massive orgy. Wally guessed the total number of sharks at around one hundred and fifty to as many as two hundred!


Three of the many sharks encountered at Moore’s Island


Walks with sharks!!

I noted some movement in the short mangroves shoots near the shoreline. Several sharks were slowly swimming about the area. As I peered a bit closer, I discovered that the activity was actually a school of bonefish clustered in the super skinny water. We pondered whether they would take a fly in the midst of the enormous biomass of predators, but I decided it was worth an attempt. So, much to Tom’s horror, I carefully slipped over the gunwhale with my fly rod. I tread softly between the sharks that were now moving in the shin deep water in very close proximity to my exposed legs. I made a cast, but was rejected. A second cast was snatched by a bonefish whose hunger exceeded its fear, and off it went, boldly swimming among the massive sharks. Incredibly, I was able to bring it to hand and release it. The fish’s frantic, erratic escape attempt drew no interest from the sharks. Typically such vibrations in the water alert sharks to the presence of a wounded fish and the predation instinct results in immediate vicious attacks. Anything in the water, including human legs, becomes fair game at that point.

I glanced back at Tom, who stood with his Nikon to his eye, poised to capture the carnage, presumably to be displayed at my funeral. I did my best to suppress a chuckle and keep my game face in place.

Most people are lumpers when it comes to sharks. Any creature that remotely resembles one is immediately branded a bloodthirsty killing machine, intent on ripping to pieces any biologic object it spies in or on the water. While many , if not most, sharks are indeed predators, they serve their function at the apex of the food chain in the ocean much like their terrestrial counterparts such as big cats or bears. They are not inherently evil, or good for that matter. They simply do what has been programmed into their DNA by The Creator through millions of years of evolution.

I noticed several sharks engaged in the mating process perhaps a hundred feet away from where I stood. I flicked on my waterproof Nikon point and shoot, and slowly made my way towards them in an effort to get some underwater footage. It was a privilege to witness nature up close and personal in this way and I wanted to be able to share it with my friends who may have never had the opportunity to see it for themselves. Though the water was much too murky from all the sand being kicked up by the roiling, twisting shark bodies, I did manage a few shots from above the surface. I was especially fascinated by a behavior I observed in which one the sharks rolled onto its back and proceeded to spurt water repeatedly from its mouth. I began referring to this behavior as a “sharkgasm.” Perhaps some ichthyologist will elucidate this for me some day.

I made my way back to the boat and climbed aboard. Tom remained amazed that I had walked with sharks that day and even caught three bones while “amongst” them. I finally could no longer contain my laughter, and told Tom that the only reason I ventured into the shark den was that these were nurse sharks. Nursies, I explained are extremely docile creatures and are almost never aggressive. They do have a set of small transparent teeth that they use to crush their prey, but represent little risk to humans. “Had these been bulls, blacktips, or tigers, there is absolutely no way I would have even gotten close to the gunwhale!” All my apparent bravado was actually contrived as a way to get some dramatic photographs of me bravely wading in close proximity of ten foot sharks. I was never in any danger at all.

We explored a number of flats that first day and Tom was able to cast to more bones, but none made it the boat. That was just fine, however, as we greatly enjoyed spending the day in each other’s company in one the loveliest places on the planet, and observing the natural world together. That day reminded why I love flats fishing so very much. Despite my affection for trout fishing, I rarely have witnessed the myriad manifestations of nature, such as the mating ritual of sharks in shallow water, that I am privileged to see on the tropical flats.

Considering our experiences that first day, I have come to realize that the word “Fishing” is actually an acronym. It has taken me a mere sixty years to discern its true meaning:

F riends

I n unison

S haring

H appiness

I n

N ature with

G od

Day 2 Fishing with Mike

When I fish with Mike, I feel as though I am playing my guitar in a jam session with Eric Clapton. We may both be using the same instrument, but the outcomes are diametrically opposite! Clapton creates soul felt rhythms and riffs that flow effortlessly from his innermost subconscious directly to millions of his fans. I, on the other hand, can only make screeching disjointed noises, reminiscent of fingernails on a chalkboard. On rare occasions some sound wave freakishly emerges that might broadly fit the term musical in its tonality.  Similarly, on occasion, one of my casts somehow results in a fish being caught. For Mike, this is an expected conclusion. For me, it a cause for rejoicing.

I am always awestruck and humbled by Mike’s technical abilities. His casts are melodic yet somehow in some engineered way, his fly seems to land at the right place, at the right time, and with the right entry splash. He always knows what fly or lure those particular fish on that particular day will find appetizing. I often joke that he could catch a fish from a bath tub. That is actually not completely in jest.

Mike and I share a long standing joke with my old friend and business partner Jay about fishing for non piscine targets. This was rooted in his accidental capture of a shellfish while we fished for redfish on our home waters. We manage to keep the gag alive when he snags objects in the water such as oysters, assorted bivalves, and now mangrove bushes and trees. This jest has provided much merriment over the years.


Jay has now added echinoderms to his already impressive fly fishing repertoire

Early in our fishing day Mike, to my astonishment, made an overly long cast and his Zara Spook sailed into a tangle of mangrove trees. I half expected him to slip off his shoes and glide weightless on the water’s surface to retrieve it. Or, perhaps, he might, Harry Potter like, point his fishing wand towards the tree to summon it from its leafy Azkaban. I was disappointed when instead Perry, another friend and guide today, pulled the boat up to the mangrove and stepped onto its branches. He scanned for limbs sufficiently strong to hold his weight, and mountain goat like, navigated those impossibly narrow wooden ledges to the spot where lay the lure. In a matter of moments, the lure had been returned to Mike’s waiting hands. Despite Mike now being exposed as a muggle, I determined that he might actually be some form of genetically blended squib and had inherited at least some magical powers.

We fished a few shallow spots back along the creek that drains a mangrove forested shallow behind the village of Sandy Point, catching a few bones as we enjoyed the beauty of the natural world that lay in such proximity to the manmade one. Only the occasional segment of telephone wire that appeared intermittently through the mangroves to our right revealed the presence of civilization.  Well, that is if you managed to tune out the sound of the odd car engine.


Jay is not alone in his ability to hook non-piscine targets

As the tide neared its zenith, Perry moved us out of the creek, past town, and onto a coralline bottomed protuberance of electric blue and shocking day glow green waters known as Rocky Point. Located less than a mile from the lodge itself, it holds a breathtaking variety of marine creatures, including our target for today- tarpon.

Tarpon are relatively rare in the Sandy Point area, excepting their nocturnal visitation of a few brightly lit docks scattered around town. Free range tarpon are prized and rarely captured here. In my experience that now exceeds twenty years, I have been thrilled to cast flies to a few tarpon, and even to have a couple of takes and jumps, but I possess no grab and grin photos of these wonderful animals. I hoped that today would be the day, especially as I had my own resident Wizard aboard, ready to cast the appropriate tarpon incantation.

Perry poled the boat over the technicolor waters and we were treated to the sight of a variety of species as we peered into the clear waters beneath the keel. Sharks numbered prominently in the count, and we did spot the odd permit. It is widely accepted that permit hold the top spot as King, nay, Emperor for Life, of the tropical flats. In the Sandy Point area, tarpon remain by far even less populous and at least equally desirable for fervent flats fishermen such as us.

Mike produced from its under the gunwhale storage place his own Elder Wand, which was soon to prove its merit.  Attached was the Zara Spook , a lure spoken of in hushed whispers in tackle shops. The Spook is rumored to possess such concentrated powers that it is able to summon forth all manner of fish, from sharks to jack to barracuda to even the lordly tarpon. I considered Mike’s wand and noted its appearance to be banal, plebian, and common. Yet I knew of its capabilities when wielded in his magical hands.  Looks can, indeed, be very deceiving.

He surveyed the wondrous waters that lay spread in all directions. It all displayed a certain sameness, disturbed only by the pod of bottle nosed dolphin that frolicked in the stunningly blue waters at the drop off of the flat. They wheeled and danced, cavorted and snorted, entertaining both themselves and us.

The Spook launched skyward. As I traced its path, I wondered if it might reach low earth orbit before it fell, meteor like, toward the sea. A soft “PLOP” and it rested at the very limit of my visual range. I made a furtive glance toward Mike. I could have sworn that his lips were moving- nearly imperceptibly, with a slight quivering, as though he were dreaming. As I strained to see the lure, I seemed to perceive a thin fog spreading across the water. Wispy, smoke like, it slowly flattened itself against the sea’s surface.

In his hand, the Elder Wand trembled, its powers travelling down the braided line which linked it to The Spook. The rod’s innocent appearance, however, belied its mystical construction. I now realize it must be made not from cane or carbon, not fiberglass or graphite, but fashioned instead from the wood of the holly tree, at its core a feather from the mythical Phoenix.

Mike’s spell now took full hold.  The Spook began to slide seductively, in a side to side motion so attractive to fish that only a sorcerer’s hand might create it.  In a sea of sameness, a featureless layer of liquid, the tarpon found itself drawn inexplicably from its cryptic lair to the cold, inanimate, floating object of its desire. Ten million years of evolutionary survival instincts proved useless against the siren song sung by the triple gang of treble hooks attached the charmed rune now wafting on the surface.

The ocean exploded in a mass of silver anger.  Thirty pounds of shimmering scales writhed against the hooks which now held fast to its mouth and jaw. Its intense pursuit of freedom caused the tarpon’s muscles to alternately tense and relax, as if it were posing in a bodybuilding contest, while it sought some avenue of escape. Twisting, turning, whirling, fleeing, it raged against the lure, but all to no avail. Mike slowly, steadily moved the tarpon towards the boat. Soon, he held the handsome fish in his hand. But the tarpon was not yet spent. In a final display of strength and will to survive, it flung itself from Mike’s grasp, flopping to and fro about the deck. The needle like tips of those treble hooks had now become lethal weapons. As it departed Mike’s hand, it left a reminder for him- a small but bloody laceration on the ring finger pad. Somewhere in its primitive brain, I could sense a laugh. The fish was once more in control, forcing Mike, Perry, and I to do the tarpon two step- dancing away from the fish and all those terrible hooks. I suppose it is true that he who laughs last, laughs best.

The Silver King by now was depleted of its energy. Mike triumphantly raised his prize for the obligatory photo op. The camera whirred and clicked and the hooks were removed, albeit not without difficulty. The fish was revived and swam on, continuing its day. It expressed no appreciation for the fact that it had actually been the guest of honor at a party that day. It was, after all, Mike’s sixty seventh birthday, and coincidentally, his forty seventh tarpon. What a gift from the fishing gods! Happy birthday to the best angler I have ever known.


Happy Birthday to the best fisherman I have ever known- his present was a tarpon, the 47th of his illustrious career

I next mounted the casting platform, where I was entrusted with use of the Elder Wand. Despite being a couple of years younger chronologically than Mike, but many, many years younger in fishcraft, I lifted the wand, and letting the mystical Spook slip skyward. Its touchdown lay considerable closer than Mike’s castings, and my crude movement of the lure were surely the object of the fish’s ridicule. Yet, after a few shaky presentations, the water about the offering exploded into a localized rain shower. The smallish spinning reel instantly began rotating at the speed of blur. Line disappeared off the reel faster than a snowball on the surface of the sun. Alarmed, Mike implored Perry to crank the motor and take pursuit.  The little Yamaha sputtered to life as I became a mere spectator, powerless to have any influence on whatever form of marine life had fallen under the spell of Mike’s lure. Soon, we were straight up and down over the creature. I peered into the water and saw the line trailing off under a ledge of coral on the sea floor. Unable to force any movement, I had an epiphany. I released all the pressure and waited. In a matter of seconds, the fish emerged. But, it now had caught its breath and was ready for a second sprint. I tightened the drag a bit and held on tight. The fish raced across the water, but with less enthusiasm this time. It soon spent its energy and I brought it to the boat.


This Jack Crevalle was quite a fighter

I held in my hand now a nice specimen of a jack crevalle. Far less glamorous than its lovely cousin, the permit, it is a hard punching fighter, well worthy of the angler’s attention. It resides in the same neighborhoods as the tarpon, but can also be found in some abundance in my home waters of South Carolina. The jack crevalle has certainly moved up on my target list after this close encounter of the very best type.

The day came to a close, and Perry pointed the prow towards Stanley’s, and the Kaliks and fellowship that awaited us there. It was time to celebrate both birthday and tarpon.

Day Three- Fishing with Jay

Jay and I have practiced orthopedic surgery together for more than twenty five years. During this time we have known the stress of standing with gloved hands and masked faces over bodies torn asunder by accidents, felt the joy of relieving the suffering of those afflicted with painful joint conditions, and seen the rapturous faces of parents whose children whose birth deformities have been corrected by our hands. (As an aside, the word orthopedic literally means “straight child”). We have even known the gutwrenching anxiety of sitting together in a courtroom, as our professional capabilities were being attacked in a frivolous lawsuit.

But we have also shared many positive life experiences outside our professional time together. We have participated in a number of athletic activities, such as the notorious bicycle torture ride known as the Assault on Mt, Mitchell- twelve hours and one hundred and two miles terminating at the peak of the highest mountain in the United States east of the Mississippi. We have shared the casting platforms of innumerable guide boats as we sought out that gleaming sliver of silver called the bonefish. Those days have created some of my favorite memories, memories that will substitute for the actual experience when I reach that point in life when my body is no longer able to stand on that bow, see those magnificent tails wafting in the tropical sun, or lay out that fifty foot cast to some of God’s most wonderful inventions.

The day was a typical day on the water with Jay, replete with his criticisms, offered with great relish, of everything from my casting to my physique, even my choice of clothing and the flies I had chosen for use that day. I was, in fact, offering to the bones a fly of my own design that I had crafted from my own hair. After a few months of growth, an exceedingly slow process for me, a plastic bag made the trip to the barber with me. Trimmings were collected and brought home to my tying bench. After constructing the fly, I reflected on an appropriate name for it. As my granddaughter has selected from her own imagination a moniker for me, I decided to use that. From thin air, she had concocted the name P-Paw and I, of course, loved it instantly. Thus the fly made of my own now silvery hair was christened the “P-Paw Fly.”

We happened upon a nice school of fish early in the day, and casts of the P-Paw fly resulted in nearly instantaneous hookups. I have not yet decided if I am more pleased by the success of the P-Paw, or the immediate cessation of disparaging remarks about it prompted by the hookups.


The P-Paw fly at work

Jay caught a number of bones and I enjoyed watching as he played the fish to the boat. He caught one memorable specimen that sported a couple of large gashes, evidence of a recent attack by some toothy predator, likely a hungry barracuda. “Look!” said Jay excitedly “I just caught a twelve pound bonefish!” Puzzled, I remarked that a more accurate weight might be three pounds. “Yeah, but if you include the missing pieces taken by the cuda, it would easily weight twelve pounds, maybe thirteen!” Perry, our friend and guide, and I had a hearty laugh over that one. “Perry” I said “We need to find some shade right away. It looks like Jay has had a heat stroke!”

jay's cuda bonefish

Jay’s bonefish had a close encounter of the unpleasant type prior to being caught. He had now escaped twice when Jay released him.

We motored to our next spot, and anchored in the outflow of a medium sized creek. There we waited for the falling tide to bring with it the schools of bones that were almost certainly feeding among the mangroves further up the creek, too shallow to reach. Perry decided that we would have lunch as we waited. Jay and I noted the smell of gas as we munched on our sandwiches and turned to see the cowl off the motor, lying across the stern. Perry was hard at work on the motor. We had noticed that the engine did not seem to be performing as well as normal, and thought we had detected the distinct odor of gasoline while we were underway. “I checked the tank and we have used twice as much gas as I usually do on this run,” Perry informed us. “Might be a problem with the fuel pump.” He removed the pump, a diaphragm type, and carefully inspected it. “AHA!” he said. “There is a hole in the diaphragm.” He held the faulty part up so I could see the damage for myself. Sure enough, a small defect was present. “So that is why we smell gas. Fuel is leaking through and causing the engine to run rough.’ he explained.  “What do we do now?” I wondered aloud. Perry rummaged through the storage compartment in the console and soon produced an old vinyl tool pouch. “We’ll just have to make a new one” Perry explained. “One small problem though” he added. “I do not have a knife.”  As luck would have it, I had elected to bring my Abel pliers and knife combo with me on this trip. I had it on a trip to the Florida Keys a few weeks earlier, but when I experienced an unfortunate incident involving fishing line and a prop, I discovered the knife’s cutting surface had the approximate sharpness of a large marble. Once back at home, I made a trip to my local Gander Mountain store where I purchased an electric sharpener. I had spent considerable time insuring that the knife would be ready for any cutting task that might be required on this trip. I confidently handed the black handled serrated knife to Perry, smiling smugly at my level of preparedness.

Perry’s capable hands traced the damaged diaphragm onto the vinyl tool pouch bag with the now keen edge of my knife. In minutes, he held a duplicate of the flawed part.


Perry’s Ingenuity saved the day for us.

He expertly reassembled the pump using the makeshift diaphragm. Holding his breath, he turned the engine over. It immediately sprang to life, running as smoothly as the proverbial top. Our fishing day was now salvaged, due to Perry’s resourcefulness and a freshly sharpened knife.

I just have to admire the ingenuity required to solve problems on the spot, with limited materials with which to work, be it a new fuel pump diaphragm, or if I may say, as modestly as possible, a P-Paw fly built from an increasingly rare ingredient- my own hair.

Day 4- Fishing with Joe.

Like many folks, I have met a number of people through mutual friends. I have been privileged to make the acquaintance of some interesting and knowledgeable people over the years in this manner. I have learned much from them, making me a better fisherman and in some way, a better person.

Joe Bibbo is one such friend. An environmental engineer by profession, Joe is a serious outdoorsman and sportsman. I have been fortunate enough to have spent a number of pleasant days fishing with him. His methodical approach, a product, I suppose, of his engineering background has demonstrated to me the importance of patience and a steady sure method. Ever the anxious one, I often launch off wildly in pursuit of my quarry. This technique, though sometimes successful, is apt to result in missed fish and disasters on a much larger scale.

Joe and I came upon a nice school of happy bonefish, feeding busily adjacent to and within, the mangrove studded shoreline of a small cay. I felt my heart rate rise exponentially as I saw the fish lollygagging about, searching for an easy snack. Despite a bonefishing career spanning two decades now, I continue to get giddy headed when confronted by contented, hungry fish. I noted a small tremor in the fingers of my casting hand, even though Joe was up on the casting deck.

Joe, for his part, calmly and deliberately stripped his fly line into a neat pile as he peered at the parade of silver sided speedsters drifting before us. He next drew back his rod and delivered a beautiful, cast which entered the water with a barely perceptible splash and within easy eyesight of the pack of bonefish. One dashed away from the school rushing the fly in an effort to grab it ahead of his chums. The bone was successful. Joe made a perfect strip strike and was rewarded by a smallish bonefish ripping line off his reel. Unfortunately, the proximity of the mangroves that had attracted the fish initially now offered the fish an escape route. All that was necessary to gain its freedom was for the bone to swim around the tangled roots and snap the ten pound leader. Into the mangroves went the bonefish. Joe, remaining totally nonplussed, calmly slipped over the gunwhale and, taking care to not put excessive pressure on the fish, walked serenely into the thicket of mangrove branches. Then he ceased walking, peering intently at the fly line as it entered the maze of branches and limbs. I could almost see his analytical mind calculating angles and vectors as he visualized the path taken by the line and the fish. Once his intracranial computer had done its work, he methodically separated line from limb, slowly and deliberately, until after a few minutes, he held in his hand a gleaming, wriggling mass of bonefish flesh. Had it been my fish, I would have tried the brute force approach of yanking the line, and the fish would have slipped easily away. Lesson learned!

Perry poled the boat across a number of flats, most of which held satisfying numbers of bonefish. We passed an enjoyable morning together reveling in God’s creation and casting our flies to sometimes willing, but often indifferent, bonefish. We were treated to the sight of large schools of barracudas, all of whom seemed to be in the throes of lockjaw, as well as sharks. These predators roamed the deeper waters along the edge of what I have come to call Permit Point, so named for the relative abundance of these persnickety fish found there.

The drop off along the eastern side of the flat is sand bottomed and offers spectacular visibility.  As I scanned the water I was, as always, dumbfounded by the variety and abundance of life in this salty environment. A mirror like reflection suddenly seized my attention, and I spun towards it, seeking its source. What I saw ratcheted my pulse up instantly. A school of perhaps fifteen good size permit were working directly towards in the boat. Instinctively, my arm began the casting motion, a crab fly already affixed to the tippet. The fly arced across the cloudless sky and entered the water some ten feet from the fish. I allowed the fly to sink and then added just a subtle small tug in an effort to simulate a fleeing crab. A nice sized permit darted from the school, making a beeline toward the fly. The lead eyes of the crab fly pulled it towards the bottom. My heart missed its next beat as I watched in anticipation. Taking a permit on fly, as I have said many times, is to flats fly fishing what a hole in one is to golf- a nearly freakish occurrence. At the very last possible nanosecond, the fish veered away, its disproportionately large eyes having spotted some defect in my fly that disclosed it as a fake. The permit joined its brethren and they swam past us. My hopes dashed, I comforted myself with some comment about how the rarity of the catch makes permit fishing an exercise in frustration. Perry cranked up and we headed to our final destination of the day and the trip- Rocky Point.

There is a spot along the beach south of the village of Sandy Point lying about a mile from Pete and Gay’s Guesthouse where large outcroppings of coral cover the sandy shore. The rock structure juts out into the sea forming a roughly triangular structure. The submerged portion of rock extends perhaps a quarter of a mile or so seaward. Its bottom topography is irregular, frequently punctuated by overhanging ledges and deep holes, creating ideal environments for a variety of fish species.  The deep water surrounding it features white sand bottoms that the brilliant rays of the sun cause to emit phosphorescent neon hues of blue, green, and topaz. Villagers refer to this are as Rocky Point. I think of it as Jardin de Rey- the garden of the King., as it is a fine example of the Creator’s stunning artwork. It is, to me, a sort of Garden of Eden, so much life teems in its waters. It is here that my friend caught a tarpon, and here that we encountered permit, horse eye jacks, and massive yellow jacks. The chrome flashes from huge masses of large shad, complimented by the royal blue color of hundreds of impressively large tangs enthralled me as I watched them going about their fishy business. Other, more sinister creatures also roam these waters. Impressive numbers of sharks prowl here. Bulls, blacktips, lemons, and other apex predators perform the task nature assigned them here. Soon we would become eyewitnesses to these magnificent creatures’ handiwork.

Joe let slip a cast to a sizable fish that Perry had spotted. He was unsure exactly what it might be, but ventured a guess that it was a jack. Joe’s fly no sooner was wet than the fish attacked it with considerable gusto. His reel whirred itself into a blur of motion as the fish sped away hoping to free itself. Suddenly the water exploded into a billion drops of liquid blueness. It churned and boiled like an overheated pot of stew. The Man in the Brown Suit had made his arrival known. A large shark, likely a blacktip, intercepted the fleeing fish and ripped it to shreds, along with Joe’s fly. Suddenly, the water was once more calm. The shark had enjoyed the dinner Joe had prepared for him, and now was wiping his mouth clean with the clear blue water rather than a napkin. He inconsiderately swam away without so much as leaving Joe a tip.

We were both amazed and amused by the display of the brutality of the natural world. It truly is a cruel world, but it is as the Creator intended. We had just seen an example of the underwater version of The Circle of Life.

I ascended the casting platform, now armed with a baitcasting rod and a monstrous eight inch long lure originally designed for peacock bass fishing in the Amazon. Sporting three sets of 8-0 treble hooks, it is a fearsome weapon, looking like it should be trolled offshore for giant blue marlin. I have found it to be attractive to the big barracuda found at Rocky Point and indeed all around the Sandy Point area. For reasons I do not understand, the cudas have ceased to pursue the old standby tube lures. This appears to be true in the Bahamas as well as Florida. It is as though the Barracuda Times published an article warning the barracuda populace about this piece of human treachery. In any case, I hoped to cast my Woodchopper, despite the perils involved in launching something that could have been used in the Inquisition, to any barracuda we encountered on the flats.

Not seeing any cudas or other likely targets, I began a series of blind casts, ripping the Green Monster across the surface of the water. It really does create a remarkable disturbance as the fore and aft propellers churn up the water. I let it pause periodically, as though I were bass fishing. Then, out of nowhere, a gigantic flash of silver nearly blinded me, so bright was the reflection off the fish’s silver sides. A huge SPLOOSH, and my lure was gone. The fish peeled line off my reel at a frightening rate as it headed for Havana, lure in mouth. “What the heck is it?” I asked Perry. “I’m not sure” he replied. “Maybe a really big horse eye” was his reply.  The fish by now had very nearly emptied my reel of all two hundred yards of its braided line when, BAM! The line went completely slack. “Damn” I thought. “I really wanted to see what this was.”  A disturbance in the water close to the exposed rocks on the shore caught our attention. My fish, like Joe’s, had been snatched by another large shark. But this time, a few of the shark’s friends had shown up, uninvited, to share his meal. The water was whipped to a frenzy of fish remains, blood, and whirling shark fins and snouts as what seemed to be three or four of these predators locked in combat over the tasty morsel of jack. Suddenly the waters once again calmed without providing any clue as to the identity of the victor. “Anyone care to go for a refreshing swim?” I inquired. “No way” was the simultaneous response of my companions.

By now, it was seven PM, well past the usual four o’clock time when we return to the lodge. “I guess we should get back to Stanley’s” I suggested to Perry. “You remember how they worried when we were late last year” I remarked. Perry reluctantly stowed his push pole, turned the ignition key, and we made for home port. As we ran the short distance back to Sandy Point, a song spontaneously popped into my head.

ROCKY POINT ( sung to the tune of Rocky Top)

Wish that I was on ole Rocky Point

Down in the Caribbean sea

Ain’t no time clock to punch on Rocky Point

Ain’t no fishing license fee

Once I caught a tarpon at Rocky Point

Silver and shiny and fat

Runnin’ and jumpin like he smoked a joint

I still dream about that

Rocky Point you’ll always be

The best fishing spot to me

Good ole Rocky Point

Rocky Point in the sea, Rocky Point in the sea

( apologies to Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. I simply could not resist!)

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