The Prodigal Piscator

Each of us seems to have his own individual image of heaven. My own vision is complex and frustratingly opaque. It includes commonly envisioned features, such as eternal peace, reuniting with family, and basking in the radiance of God’s presence. Perhaps the greatest aspect of a heavenly existence might be that , as part of one’s reward, every single item lost or misplaced during earthly existence is returned. It is fortuitous that heaven is infinite, as I will have a nearly limitless number of items on my return list. Losing things is an unending source of frustration for me. Fortunately, my wife is quite adept at relocating such items. I have taken to calling her “The Finder,” referencing a recent television show. She simply refers to me as “The Loser,” a description which is insightful on several levels. I am indeed lucky to have not lost her. Despite her remarkable talents, there are a few things even The Finder is incapable of restoring to my life. One of these is my health. Afflicted with osteoarthritis, I find myself unable to live life as fully as before. Knee replacements have given me back the ability to walk, at least to some extent, but the effect of the disease on my back, neck, and shoulders is not so readily overcome. For over three years now, sleeping has become possible only with medication and a recliner chair. I have lost the capacity to perform many activities which have long been cherished. My road bike, on which I have spent many sweaty hours, has been donated. My downhill skis languish in the attic, along with my running shoes. My greatest loss by far, however, is the ability to travel. The thought of tossing and turning on a hotel bed, unable to rest, has precluded any travel. The net result has been no bonefishing trips in several years. With the encouragement of my wife and friends, I finally gathered the fortitude to attempt a trip back to Sandy Point, Abaco, my favorite spot on this rotating mass of rock and water we call Earth. So, the plans were made and I began  pre-travel preparation with heavy cortisone dosing, and even persuaded my wife to inject my shoulder with the stuff. Despite being a nurse, she was initially uneasy about it, fearful that she might not be able to accurately insert the needle, despite my guidance. The Finder did not disappoint. Her needle found the joint easily and my readiness state was elevated to FishCon 1.

Though rustic might be the kindest description of Pete and Gay’s Guesthouse in Sandy Point, I love the place, as evidenced by some fourteen soujorns over the past fifteen years. Having not visited in over three years, I was a bit disappointed that no fatted calf was sacrificed on my return to the settlement of Sandy Point. Nonetheless I felt as though I was home again. I received a number of old friends upon my arrival, making me feel almost like family in this remote fishing village. Indeed, my circle at Sandy Point was now unbroken. In lieu of the calf, a Bahamian feast of lobster and conch was prepared, accompanied by a brace of Kaliks. Returning to Sandy Point, it seems, may have altered my concept of heaven. Perhaps Sandy Point is the vestibule of heaven. It certainly seems to be so for this fisherman.  I earnestly hoped that the bonefish I had missed during my absence would be returned in spades on this trip. That first evening, I eyed with some trepidation the saggy old mattress on the twin bed in my room. Visions of sleepless nights that would leave me too fatigued to fish reverberated in my head. I reasoned to myself that the medication would negate my symptoms, but still I worried. When at last I lay down, I fell fast asleep, waking early the next morning refreshed with a different vision in my head, one involving flashy blue edged silver tails wafting in the tropical breeze.

My old friend and former partner, Jay, joined me on this return trip. We have shared many days and many Kaliks on guide boats at Sandy Point, as well as numerous other destinations. After breakfast and coffee, we made our initial deployment from the government dock that lies a hundred feet from the door of the lodge. I was relieved to see that the Bahamian skies were just as bright and blue as those in my memory and that the water remained as gin clear as ever. Jay sat next to me in the skiff, while Perry, our chum and guide, steered a southerly course towards the fish rich flats that lay some eight miles distant. My first bonefish in three years now lay minutes away. My pulse quickened as I considered the thrill of the chase and the scream of the reel with a bonefish fast to the end of the line. That first day produced a number of bonefish and served as a warm up to what was to come. It was indescribably wonderful to be back in Sandy Point and back to what I love most, chasing bonefish with a fly rod.

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Day two dawned clear and Perry made the command decision to negotiate the crossing to one of my favorite fishing spots- Moore’s Island.  Between Sandy Point and Moore’s lies some eighteen miles of open water, usually calm and flat, but carrying the constant possibility of a slow, uncomfortable ride home should the weather turn inhospitable. Jay and I finished our morning coffees en route as Perry expertly navigated us to the remote flats of Moore’s in some forty five minutes. Upon arrival, we fished what I have come to call Permit Point, as I have seen good numbers of that maddening fish roaming its shallows. In fact, the first permit ever I hooked, many years ago, was at this very spot. My multiple recountings of that fish, which I ultimately lost to the jagged edges of coral, has become an object of both humor and dread to those who have endured its iterations over the years. Jay and I separated as we walked the flats seeking bones and permit. The air was perfectly still, and no ripple disturbed the water’s surface. The azure sky seemed to blend into its own reflection of blue and cloud on the water, creating a painters canvas of blues, greys, and whites. Soon, “nervous water” ruffled the glassy surface, and blue tinged silver tails could be seen slowly waving good morning to us. We cautiously approached our respective groups of happy fish, and I saw Jay’s rod bend over in the distance. An especially large bone fed hungrily before me while I watched in awe. It was one of those moments when I feel so intimately a part of the natural world. No sound, no people, only The Creator’s handiwork arrayed before me, a banquet for my eyes. Transfixed, I stood rod in hand, transcended by the spectacle. Suddenly, I remembered why I had come to this glorious spot, and made a medium length cast to this brute of a bonefish. He immediately inhaled my fly, then sped off like a bullet fired from a high powered rifle. My entire flyline disappeared in a flash, soon followed by perhaps a hundred and fifty yards of backing. My reel became a blur as the fish made a break for its freedom while I sought to bring it to hand for a photo op and release. The fish suddenly made a course reversal and was coming directly at me at Mach 2. In spite of having a very large arbor reel, and furiously turning its handle, I simply was incapable of keeping up with this speedster. The line went slack and the fish was gone. No matter, I thought. Seeing such a fish engaged in his everyday business oblivious to my presence, watching it pounce on my fly, and then  feeling its muscular pursuit of  liberty is the essence of the fly fishing experience. Satisfied, I turned towards the boat.

Perry moved us to a new spot, hard by Moore’s, where he switched off the Yamaha and picked up the pole. We searched around for fish and soon located a few bones feeding in the pellucid water. After releasing a few average fish, we poled around a small mangrove islet. I spotted a flat white object resting high in the mangroves. Thinking it was a surfboard washed in by a recent storm, I pointed it out to Jay and Perry.  Perry pushed us around the edge of the trees, and we were shocked by what we saw. What we thought might be a surfboard was actually the T-top of a very expensive twenty five foot offshore fishing boat, replete with twin 225 HP Yamaha four stroke engines, the latest in advanced marine electronics, and thousands of dollars worth of heavy fishing gear. It had been forced as far into the mangroves as possible, then a crude effort at disguise had been made by festooning cut off mangrove branches around the boat. Thievery was obvious.  As Moore’s Island is inhabited by a couple hundred hardy souls, the government has had a cell tower erected on the island, and Perry took advantage of this fact to call the local gendarmes. We were told that a boat of this type had been reported stolen from Marsh Harbour only the night before. Furthermore, we were instructed to remain in the area until law enforcement arrived on scene. Now, Jay and I were a bit concerned by this, wondering if the boat takers might show up ahead of the cops to claim their prize. Perry felt we should back off a bit and wait as instructed. Being captain, his judgment trumped our concerns, so we motored back a ways and shut down. Sure enough, in a matter of thirty minutes, a smallish white boat slowly motored around the corner of the mangrove trees. My heart crept towards my throat when I saw it was a privately owned boat, bearing no official markings of any type. Furthermore, its occupants wore no uniforms, just the tee shirts and loose fitting trousers favored by the local fishermen.  From a distance, I could see that the man in the bow clutched something close to his chest, but I was unable to discern exactly what it might be. As they drew nearer, I could see what he held, and I was not happy. It was a menacing looking automatic weapon, sinister in its appearance and adorned with all manner of target acquisition devices. A magazine that appeared to hold enough rounds to dispatch a hundred men protruded from beneath the weapon and it did little to allay our fears. I then realized that if these were indeed the bad guys, I was a dead man, along with my friends Jay and Perry. To our immense relief, a large smile appeared on the gun bearer’s face, and Perry confirmed his identity for us. The weapon holder was, as it turned out, the local constable and the boat driver was a local resident who, coincidentally, was related to one of my friends in Sandy Point.  I politely asked the officer if I might obtain some video, and he readily agreed.  No longer concerned for our lives, we watched as he and his assistant tied onto the purloined boat and pulled it free of the its mangrove hiding spot. They encountered considerable difficulty towing the boat, requiring some instruction from Perry in proper technique. We spent about two hours of our fishing day helping them, but Perry, as we shall see, provides a very long fishing day for his clients. I silently hoped that the police officer was better at policing than he seemed to be at seamanship.  Later, Perry received a call from a very happy boat owner, and was informed that a $2000 reward was coming his way. Perry indicated to us that he planned to donate it to the primary school on Moore’s Island in all of our names. He is an amazing man.

P1000499 Moores police

We moved to another flat, its bottom pocked by white sand holes and covered by variegated coloring, making visualization of our quarry difficult. Perry, however, had no difficulty locating the Ghosts of the Flats, and soon Jay was fast to nice specimen.    After the requisite image capture, it was my turn. I tied on my double secret new fly. I had warned Jay that this fly would render the remainder of the flies in our boxes obsolete.  Not surprisingly, he seemed quite skeptical. It was now time to provide empirical proof that my concept for this newly created fly was valid. Perry soon pointed out an average sized bone pushing past a small mangrove shoot protruding from the clear water. I let slip my creation and it fell a foot from the fish. Without hesitation, the fish charged my offering and we were off to the races. After a short battle, I held it in my hands, but only after I clumsily dropped it onto the deck, an unhappy occurrence for fish and angler. Jay was kind enough to take a photo for documentation, and I released the fish. Only then did I reveal my secret. This fly, which I am calling the Silver Haired Granddaddy, was crafted from my own hair! I had not visited a barber in several months, and when I finally went, I made an odd request. I asked the barber to allow me to save my hair clippings in a plastic baggie, which she did without comment. The hair was utilized that very night when I sat down at my tying vise to bring to reality the vision that previously existed only in my mind’s eye. I had no idea if the fly would prove as attractive to the bonefish as it did to me.  The design would require validation by the true judge of fly design, the fish. Once the bone had been released, I noted to Jay that the first fish that ever saw my new fly ate it, removing all doubt about its effectiveness. Jay stammered something about more data, but I simply reminded him about cognitive dissonance, a psychological phenomenon in which some people are unable to let go of a deeply held belief despite obvious proof to the contrary. I suggested Jay read up on it, as he clearly demonstrated signs of its effects. I told him that despite how badly he might want to use my fly, it was being returned to the safety of the fly box, to be used in a shadowbox presentation at home.  I also informed him that future production would be extremely limited due to the rarity of its chief ingredient.

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Jay’s last of day of fishing dawned with threatening skies lurking in the far distance. Perry decided to try our luck at Gorda Key, a gorgeous slice of tropical beauty some eight miles distant from Sandy Point. Some years back, it had been acquired by the Disney Company to serve as a destination for its cruise ships and was rechristened Castaway Key. It has proven an economic boon for both the Mouse People and the inhabitants of Sandy Point, as many of its residents have found work at the island resort. One of my Sandy Point friends even operates a large flats skiff which takes as many as five spininng rod equipped tourists at a time bonefishing the lovely flats around the island. Fortunately for us, the ship was at sea that day, leaving the entire island, or at least its fishing, for our exclusive use. The trip to Gorda was brief and we immediatley commenced the search for bones. The first sight that greeted us was an unusual one. A very large permit was seen cruising the turquoise water overlying a white sand flat in the company of a huge barracuda. Unable to set up for a casting opportunity in time, we watched in awe as these monsters made their way across the flat, out of reach, but certainly not out of mind.

Just north of Castaway, there is a large mass of coral projecting from the water. It serves as home to hundreds of birds. It appears nearly cylindrical and is long and narrow. Jay suggested that it looked like a nuclear submarine cruising on the surface, giving rise to our name for it- Nuke Rock. We saw no bonefish around it, and resorted to trolling a diver plug in the deeper waters surrounding it. Jay was delighted as he caught both a cuda and a nice strawberry grouper using this technique.

jaygrouper 2 Jays grouper

Perry moved us to a flat that extended to the island’s interior. Though easy on the eyes, we found no fish. We then tried an outside flat. Again we found ourselves straining to pick out fish from the greens and whites of the uneven bottom terrain. Perry repeatedly pointed out fish, but neither Jay nor I possessed the superhuman sight required to spot the fish and make a viable cast. Our frustration was soon ended by a gathering of clouds, a clap of thunder, and angry skies rapidly closing in from all directions. Increasingly large globules of water pelted us from above, prompting the rapid deployment of rain gear. Perry fired up the outboard and set a course for Sandy Point. We raced toward home, veering our course to port to avoid the worst of the weather. Massive lightning bolts arced from sky to water in what seemed hundred yard wide swaths. Those dark clouds we had seen earlier now threatened us with both rain and fire from their dark underbellies. As we sped across the water, trepidation crept into my consciousness. Rain and cloud posed no threat, but that lightening. Oh my!!

rain running

The cell tower at Sandy Point soon came into view, much to our relief. Perry remained unmoved by the entire affair, a feature of his character we would see on display again. Jay and I quickly disembarked once the bow touched sand and ran to our upstairs rooms to wait the storm out. Thunder shook the boards beneath our feet and reverberated in our chests as rain fell in an alluvion onto Sandy Point. We could only watch from the second floor veranda, thinking our fishing day over. But Perry had other thoughts.

raining at Stanleys

An hour later, we returned to the boat, Perry at the helm. We made the short trip to the town flat across the creek from the village. In the aftermath of the thunderstorms, the wind had accelerated to an estimated twenty to twenty five miles per hour. Perry anchored up as shallow as he could and we donned wading shoes, grabbed rods and spare flies, and began our trek across the flat, hoping to spot a fish or two. The bottom was sand, but remarkably gnarled and lumpy. After a very short time, my focus shifted from locating fish to simply remaining upright. The howling winds whistled through the guides of my fly rod, and I realized that even if I did see a fish, there was no way I would be able to cast more than ten feet, and that was downwind. Fishing had now become a struggle for survival. Jay and Perry, being in much better physical condition than me, had disappeared around a small mangrove island. I was alone, facing the elements. The choppy surface of the water made identifying the thousands of holes on the bottom impossible, each a trap awaiting me to place a foot in it. I proceeded by feel, making slow deliberate progress. As the wind flapped my raincoat around my head and body, I felt like a climber on Mt Everest. Screaming wind, poor visibility, and uneven terrain made forward motion a struggle. I was certain by now that each movement could result in stepping into a sand crevasse, sending me deep into the bowels of the Town Flat, never to be seen again. I no longer had visual contact with Perry, Jay, or the boat. I wondered if I might make it back to Base Camp. Nonetheless, I struggled on, and as I rounded the island, the terrain smoothed, and I could at last see my objective.  As I approached Base Camp, I triumphantly held my rod over my head, fishless, but undefeated .

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We journeyed a short distance upstream, to a small flat where a feeder creek joins the main creek. Schools of bones pass through this flat as the tide falls off, forcing them from their feeding spots deeper in the smaller creek. It made an excellent ambush location.  As expected, we soon encountered bonefish, many quite hefty. Jay and I took turns casting at these wonderful fish, landing a few. It was my turn on the casting deck when a four to five foot lemon shark suddenly lunged from the creek to attack one of the passing bones about a hundred feet behind the boat. The shark made his approach from behind the fish, surprising it and easily cutting it in half with a single powerful bite. A large blood pool rapidly appeared as the shark circled, munching on the tail end of its victim. Perry, who saw it all happening, took great exception to the sharks behavior. In a flash, he jumped off the stern and ran as fast as he could through the two and a half foot deep water to the scene of the crime. He quickly located the remaining half of the fish, retrieved it, and slapped repeatedly at the shark. He then calmly made his way back to the boat, threw the half fish onto the deck, and reboarded. He then resumed his scan for bones as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. I was totally blown away. What a man! Who would even conceive of wading into  blood filled water with a circling shark and interposing himself between the actively feeding shark and its food? In an amazing display of understatement, he simply said he needed something for his dinner and the shark had just provided it.  Personally, I think Perry was simply unable to tolerate one of HIS bonefish being taken by sharks. This is the kind of guide I want on my boat!

Jay was scheduled for departure the following morning, though I did my best to persuade him to change his flight. All my arguments were fruitless, as he was determined to return as planned, lest he incur the ire of his better half. Even my accusations of emasculation proved useless. I was saddened by his leaving, but not nearly enough to prevent me from boarding the boat for two more days of solo fishing with Perry, Guide of Steel. Jay’s flight was around noon, and I bade him farewell and safe journeys. I loaded my gear on the boat, then Perry once more steered a southerly heading. He had mentioned something earlier about a permit spot he wanted to try. After a pleasant trip, we pulled up to a remote flat at the end of a small creek. The boat could go no further, so on went the wading shoes, and off the boat went I, trusty GoPro clamped around my head, ready to document my hoped for permit encounter of the third kind. Now, my experience and facility with the GoPro is quite limited. In fact, I am just learning to use it. As Jay had departed and Perry was even less familiar then me with this camera, the responsibility for recording any permit catch was mine alone. My desire was to create a stunning, Academy Award winning video about the proper way to locate, cast to, hook, and land a permit on fly. I faced two major obstacles, however. First, I could barely turn the camera on. Secondly, I had to actually find a permit and catch it, a task widely known to be daunting at best. In my entire fly fishing experience of some twenty plus years, I had manged to catch a permit only twice. Both had been corralled in the Sandy Point area, which gave me hope.

My strategy was to meet the permit on its own terms. I was determined to adopt the same attitude as most permit, one of indifference. I told myself that I really didn’t care if I caught a permit today or not. Even if I saw one, I might not even cast to it. To hell with them, I thought. I can be just as self absorbed as they can. Perry and I slowly worked our way across the flat. I walked along furtively glancing about, doing my best to appear aloof, apathetic, and insouciant about the whole affair. Perry whispered that he had seen movement, and he thought it was a school of fish, likely permit. I did my best to remain nonchalant. “Oh really” I casually said, but felt my pulse quicken. He pointed out the nervous water, and I was cool until I saw a couple of black sickle shapes protruding above the slick calm surface of the water. Suddenly I wished I had my bottle of beta blocker pills in my shirt pocket. To my amazement, I actually remembered to activate my camera. To my further amazement, I recalled which buttons to press.  The school, now identified as permit without question, slowly moved in my direction. I rechecked the knot securing the smallish Merkin crab fly to the twelve pound tippet, and ran my fingers along the length of the leader, checking for nicks and other imperfections such as so called wind knots. These overhand knots are formed in the leader when defects in the casting motion result in a tailing loop. I prefer Lefty Kreh’s less politically correct terminology. He calls them “shitty casting knots.”  Thankfully, my equipment was ready for the challenge. But was I?

“You can reach them now,” Perry said quietly. “Go ahead and cast.” I lifted my rod, and made a couple false casts, fearful that the permit might detect the rod’s movement or even the tiniest pressure wave caused by the shifting of my not inconsiderable weight as I cast. I stopped the rod at the horizon, following the fly with the rod tip as gently as possible to the surface. The fly landed quietly in front of the school. Breathlessly I made small strips, pausing occasionally. The permit, the entire lot of them, in typical permit fashion, ignored my fly. They did not blow out in a hyperfrenetic frenzy, but rather just metaphorically  glanced at the bunch of feathers I had affixed to a hook it and said “Can you believe this guy? Lets just leave!”  I actually made several casts before it happened. One permit, likely not the sharpest knife in the permit drawer, inhaled my fly! And then it was on. These fish, with their flattened bodies, make for an excellent fight. They seem to be able to position themselves in such a way as to maximize drag from the water. But after a few minutes, I held in my hands a smallish but absolutely beautiful permit. It is often surreptitiously stated that size doesn’t matter, when we all know THAT is a lie.  However, when it comes to permit, that aphorism is an undisputed core truth. A fifty pound specimen is staggeringly impressive, but a five pounder is still a permit. Its capture on a fly remains no less impressive.  Any permit catch is a cause for celebration and at this moment, celebration meant a cell phone call back to the lodge where Jay waited to depart to the airport. Perry dialed the number on the phone dangling from a cord around his neck. I was astounded when the call went through. He put the phone to my ear. “Jay, I just wanted to let you know that I just landed a PERMIT!!!” “I told you to stay, but NOOOO, you had to leave. Too bad, as this could be you holding the fish.”  Jay offered some muffled form of congratulations, but I was too excited to recall his exact words. Honestly, I would really have enjoyed seeing him get his first one, but I savored the moment before releasing this trophy to rejoin his compatriots. Excited by the jolt of adrenalin from the capture of my third lifetime permit, I resumed the hunt, hoping to meet that same school once more as it meandered around the flat looking for breakfast.

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In mere minutes, the telltale disturbance of the water’s surface that discloses a school of feeding fish was seen, almost within casting distance, heading in our direction.  Using the same fly that had moments earlier been extracted from the jaw of a permit, I lifted my worn, but functional old Orvis rod. This rod has been seen service for some fifteen years now and it shows it age. Its beautiful green finish has been worn away from most of the tip section and the handle cork is dark and sweat stained after many hours of casting. Still quite capable of subduing even the toughest game fish, it fired line and fly towards the target with accuracy and ease. Once more the fly landed in close proximity to the feeding permit, distracted by their search for sustenance. Once more, they ignored my fly. But a couple more presentations proven too much for one permit, and he hungrily devoured the Merkin. When he realized the error of his ways, he shot off across the flat with fly, leader, and fly line in tow. Feeling the pressure of the drag of my large arbor reel, he turned his broad, flattened body perpendicular to the direction of the line.  Once more, all my gear performed as designed and delivered my second permit of the morning to my quivering hands. Well, not quite all of my equipment. My brain, arguably the least reliable fishing tool I possess, completely let me down. It neglected to send the appropriate electrical signals to those muscles in my arm and hand that activate my GoPro. The result was no imagery , either video or still, of my triumph. My cerebral cortex seems the sole means of recording this particular fishing episode, one my most amazing. It remains to be seen just how long this extraordinary memory will persist, as my brain’s hard drive seems to often skip critical memory sectors. Time will tell, but for now the two a day permit practice is etched in my repository of lifetime events. Obviously, a second cell call was made to Jay. I am not certain that even now he believes me without hard evidence. Have a little faith in me is all I can say. I am aware that people have caught more than two permit in a single day. My friend from Freeport, Greg Vincent, has landed an astonishing five of these finicky fish in a single day, winning for himself the Del Brown Invitational Permit Tournament.  Most fly fishermen consider the Del Brown contest the world championship of permit fly fishing. I harbor no illusion that I might duplicate such a feat, but am more than contented to savor the sweet memory of the day I got two permit on the fly.

After my once in a lifetime permit tour de force, we resumed our bonefish routine, slowly poling the shallow clear waters  seeking silver flashes or the dark backs of our quarry contrasted against the gleaming white sands of the spectacular waters of the Sandy Point area. As I stood watch on the bow, the idea of attaining a Grand Slam recurred repeatedly, since I had bagged the most difficult of the three glamour species of the flats- bonefish, permit, and tarpon. Sandy Point is blessed with large populations of both bonefish and permit, but its tarpon are far less common. There happens to be a particular spot, not far at all from the lodge, where these large leapers with silver scales and iron mouths,can be found with some regularity. That was where my thoughts focused now. I had mentioned it to Perry, but, as usual, he was far ahead of me. “We are definitely going to try to find you a tarpon today, but we must wait for the tide to be right,” he remarked. ” Until then, let’s find a few more bones.” We scoured several more flats as we waited, and saw good numbers of fish, landing several average bones. I tried a couple of the large triggerfish we saw cruising in very skinny water, but had no takers, even using imitations of their favorite food, crabs. I am beginning to think that these tasty fish are more difficult to fool with a fly than even the super persnickety permit. In my total flats fishing experience, I have landed but a single triggerfish, and I ended up dropping it back into the water before I could get it back to the boat and later the table. Perry announced that the tide was now perfect for the tarpon spot, so he returned his push pole to the boat deck and we made for Tarpon Alley, where I fervently hoped to complete my flats triumvirate. We soon reached our tarpon venue and commenced the search. We encountered a small school of very large yellow jacks moving rapidly across the rocky bottomed flat, perhaps motivated by the enormous barracuda we saw a short distance away. Now barracudas are widely regarded as trash fish to be ignored when seen on bonefish flats, but I am of a different opinion. Theses flashy speedsters make excellent sportfish, and I love catching them. They possess impressive speed and are happy to delight the angler with aerial displays like a tarpon. Few sights are as impressive as watching a four to five foot long cuda streaking like a heat seeking missile across a flat at Mach 3 to smash a rapidly retrieved lure or fly. I tend to prefer lures for cudas as they can be cast very quickly when one is spotted, and can be cast much further and in less time than a fly. I have noticed in recent years that cudas seem more reticent to take the traditional tube lures I have always used. This time, I had selected a double propeller equipped lure I used for for larger peacock bass in Brazil, reasoning that its noisy ripping motion and resultant surface commotion might stimulate strikes from these toothy fish. I did mange to catch a few nice cudas with it and my reliable bait casting rod and reel, but this big boy refused to eat. It teased us with torpedo like runs toward the lure, but turned off at the last moment. I suppose being selective is how this particular fish had survived to become so large.  I frequently remind Jay, when he torments me about my physical size, that the largest specimens are often the smartest, demonstrating the intelligence needed to reach such size.  No tarpon were found, despite intensive searching, so we retired to the lodge to celebrate the days victories and ready ourselves and our gear for my final day of the present trip.

cuda underwater cuda catch

I boarded Perry’s skiff at eight o’clock the next morning, excited, but saddened knowing it would be my last day of bonefishing for the foreseeable future. I was pleased that the medication had allowed me to experience the excellent fishing, the double permit capture, and the superb camaraderie of the proceeding four days. Already I pondered a return, wondering how much time would be required to elapse before I could safely expose my endocrine system to the trip enabling medication again. Perry decided to stay close that last day and we made the short trip to the creek around the corner from town. We motored as far as we could up its completely clear waters, on constant alert for bonefish. We found a few schools, and I made multiple casts to them, but to no avail. Flies which had been effective for the entire trip suddenly ceased to be functional. With Perry’s guidance, I went through the contents of all three of my boxes of flies, and sequentially tied on quite a few variations in size, color, and patterns, but no avail.  I was sorely tempted to break out the Silver Haired Granddaddy, but was able to summon sufficient willpower to resist, fearing loss of my special fly. This continued the entire morning. We then took a break for a brief lunch and a Kalik, and were interrupted a couple of times by passing troupes of bones. My presentations continued to be ignored despite variations in proximity of fly to fish, speed of the retrieve, and anything else I could change up. We pushed as deeply as we could into the creek, but eventually were forced to turn back. We fished our way out, once more without success. When we reached the junction with the main creek that runs beside town, Perry anchored up by lowering the motor into the sand. There we resumed our watch. Goodly numbers of fish, many significantly larger than average, passed us on their way to deeper water. Once more, my flies were ignored. These bones apparently had been taking lessons in indifference from their permit buddies. They simply refused to even acknowledge our presence. We would sight fish, cast and make presentations that normally would be gobbled immediately, and then watch in frustration as the bones waved goodbye to us as they swam towards open water.  The pattern repeated and then repeated again. Perry amazed me. His determination to catch fish is unmatched by any of the many, many guides with whom I have fished over the years. His resolve had already been established by the fact that we never made it back to the lodge before six PM. Standard quitting time at most places I have fished is four PM.  My last day, he set a new standard for persistence. Despite of day marked by a hundred refusals. Perry stood watch, motionless, perched on the motor as the sun slowly slipped into the sea west of Sandy Point. The shadows lengthened, and I glanced at my watch. It was seven PM. Perry remained immobile at his station, his eyes searching from behind polarized sunglasses. I was reminded of a scene from the old Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Terminator 2 – Judgment Day.  Like the cyborg that stood impassively for an entire night at the window of an abandoned gas station watching for potential dangers to a young John Conner, Perry was nearly robotic in his devotion to finding a bonefish willing to take a fly. He would occasionally point out a small group of bones, and I immediately made the cast. The result was always the same- refusal after refusal. I had been on the casting deck now for some twelve hours straight. My feet hurt. My back ached. I was actually ready to go head for the barn, but refused to say uncle before my guide.  Light rapidly disappeared, and I could no longer see the bottom, in spite of the water’s remarkable clarity. By now, I had begun to suspect that Perry really was some sort of cybernetic organism. He barely moved a muscle. He must have been using his onboard bonefish sensors to scan the dark waters for evidence of fish activity. Perhaps his detailed files allowed him to detect the circulating hemoglobin in the bonefish’s vascular tree, since they are cold blooded creatures incapable of generating a heat signature, and had long since disappeared from the visible light spectrum. Perry continued to offer periodic casting instructions. These were largely wasted on me, as I could no longer even see the tip of my fly rod. I made an effort nonetheless.  “Please, fish, for the love of God, eat this fly!” I implored as I  made truly blind casts in the general area that Perry had directed. But these fish were obviously atheists. None complied. “Somebody’s gonna eat!” Perry proclaimed as I swatted at the no see um’s buzzing around my head. At nine PM, however, he relented and acknowledged that the bonefish had defeated us that particular day. As we made our way back home, I wondered about the kitchen staff who should have left for home hours before. “I’m sorry, girls,” I thought as the lights of the lodge came into view.

P1000510

P1000507

Synonyms for the word prodigal include wasteful and squandering. Three and a half years without a trip to the flats of Sandy Point would, I suppose, qualify me as a prodigal son of sorts. Those years represent wasted time and opportunity. After all, time continues its inexorable flow towards eternity, and I am not getting any younger. I allowed my physical impairments to steal away an important part of my life. Having now discovered a way to overcome them, I will no longer allow pain and my disease to dictate the terms of my life. I have found that which was lost, and I celebrate  the knowledge that I will be able to stand on that casting deck, rod in hand, and enjoy God’s natural world with good friends for a few more years.

Two of Jesus’ parables about redemption include The Prodigal Son and the The Lost Coin, both recorded in Luke, chapter 15. Both stories illustrate the fact that no matter how desperate the situation may seem, all can be reversed by faith and the realization that change is often within our own power. I, too, had this realization, and like the Prodigal’s father and the woman finding her lost coin, I invite all my friends to rejoice with me.

 

lost coin

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About castingawayblog

I am a retired orthopedic surgeon with fly fishing in my bones! Living in coastal South Carolina, saltwater fly fishing is my passion, though I also love to use the long rod in freshwater. I have been known to use conventional gear as well.
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3 Responses to The Prodigal Piscator

  1. Michael Barnett says:

    Wonderful story, James! Maybe your best yet. Now that you’re back in the saddle, we need to plan our next trip!

    • Hi Mike:

      Well, the true test is coming up in 6 weeks or so. With Miss Sheila’s help, I just got plane tickets to Greg’s. Because of peculiarities in the USAir availability, i am planning a week long stay. If my back does OK with that, new universes of possibilities open up.

      Glad you enjoyed the story. ( hoping you really did and are not just being nice), as that gives me inspiration to keep writing.

      BTW, I just spoke with Steve Thomas. He continues to do well and is very happy. I give thanks to God for his recovery. He wants to take me redfishing in the near future! Maybe Hobcaw will break the spell,

      James

  2. Woody Bailey says:

    Great story James, even inspirational. I’ll look forward to a casting lesson in a few weeks.

    Woody

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