Phil, her captain, also acquitted himself as a cook, and the night we ate all the fresh mangrove snappers or the night we had all the crawfish and black beans illustrated the compensations of life on that part of the South Atlantic, which seems at once a global drop-off and shelf of copious marine life, a buzzing cross-section of the food chain with fishermen briefly at the very top. One could raise the poetry as a nonconsuming naturalist, but who besides the angler crawls to the brook at daybreak or pushes his fragile craft to the head of the tide to come out on the flood with the creatures that breathe the water?
The weather broke and we began to fish, poling the skiffs among the myriad small cays in the fragrance of mangrove blossoms, the ceremony of angling holding our minds on all the proper things. Bananaquits, the active little Bahamian honey creepers, flitted along the sandy shore.
At one small cay we disturbed a frigate bird rookery, iridescent black birds, the males adorned with red inflated throats. They pushed off the branches of mature mangroves and soared with the amazing low-altitude slowness that their immense wingspans allowed, practically at a walk. For a moment the skiff seemed surrounded by magnified soot, then they climbed steeply and soared away.
We spotted two nice fish well back in the mangroves in inches of water, their backs out of the water as they scoured around the bases of the bushes for crustaceans. Their silvery brilliance was startling. We stopped the skiff and watched. They didn’t seem to want to come out, so I decided to give it a try. I cast the fly into a narrow space between the mangroves and watched the two fish circle toward it. I moved the fly slightly and the first fish darted forward and took. I set the hook and the bonefish roared out of there so fast that for a brief moment the small mangroves were swept low by the pressure of my fly line and the fish was off.
At the edge of a turtlegrass flat I hooked a bigger fish that forced a sheet of water up my leader with the speed of the line shearing the surface. At about a hundred yards into his run, the hook broke. Now, that’s very rare. I chatted less with my companion and more to myself and tried to stare through the water to the bottom or concentrate on the surface for the “nervous water” of approaching schools. We found one right at the edge of the mangroves. I hoped if I could hook one here, it would head for open water. I made a rather long cast that fell just the way it was supposed to. One strip and I was solid tight to a good fish. He ran straight at the boat and I had fly line everywhere as he passed us and stole line, causing it to jump up off the deck in wild coils that were suddenly draped around my head and shoulders. The fish was about to come to the end of this mess. When he did, I felt the strange sensation of my shorts rising rapidly toward my shoulder blades. At the point they came tight in my crotch, the leader broke with a sharp report: The line had hooked the button of my back pocket.