Drake Magazine Back Issue Content 2001bonefish drawing

My companion was hunched over the push pole in a paroxysm of laughter. I looked at him, I looked at the open sea, I tied on another fly. I was in that state of mind perhaps not peculiar to angling when things seem to be in a steep curve of deterioration, and I had a fatal sense that I was not at the end of it. Bonefish are ready takers of a well-presented fly but once hooked, they are so explosive that getting rid of slack line and getting the fish on the reel can produce humiliating results. Their speed and power are so far out of proportion to their size that a bonefish, finally landed, seems to have gone through a magical reduction from the brute that burned line off against the shrieking drag to the demure little fellow one holds in one’s hand while gently removing the fly. With his big round eyes and friendly face the bonefish scarcely looks guilty of the searing runs he just performed. And the fastest individuals are the ones that look fat, bright little pigs that root around the shallows. They’re almost always moving, and if they rest, they prefer to get in among the mangrove shoots where barracuda can’t get a straight run at them. Their reactions to anything overhead are instantaneous, so one good way of locating fish is to watch a low-flying cormorant cross the flats; every bonefish touched by the bird’s shadow will explode to a new position, then resume feeding. You slip up to where you have seen them move and perhaps you make a connection, the slow-stripped fly line jumping rigid in a bright circle of spray.

After a wonderful meal of roasted razorback hog, garden vegetables and big in-season Florida tomatoes, I sat up listening to my host’s wonderful stories of life in the thirties: training fighting cocks in Bali while recovering from malaria, roading birds from his bicycle, tossing roosters from the balcony of his hotel to the bellhop down below to build up their stamina. Once, when he was waiting to catch the flying boat to the Orient, his plane was so late that he went to Idaho to learn to skin in the meantime. And I enjoyed his cultural views: “The Italians are my favorite! They adore their little pope! Then they put on their condoms and fuck everything in sight!”

Afterward, I went up on the foredeck and sat next to the windlass to watch the full moon rise. We were in a small tropical sea trapped between the Atlantic and the Caribbean. The Gulf Stream, that great violet river, poured northward just beyond my view, regulating the temperature of the world. Once the moon was up, it appeared as a fixed portion of the universe while the clouds and weather of planet Earth poured over its face. I thought of all the places and times in my amusing life I had looked to a full moon for even one suggestion I could do something with. I thought about John Cheever stating that man made a better traveler than a farmer and how the motion of clouds against the face of the moon always made me crave motion or pine for the sound of waves breaking on an empty shore. Or how Roger Taylor said a boat was meant to improve your position for watching the weather, or how Hemingway said, “Always put in the weather.” Weather on the Gulf Stream included the northern gale when we were headed to Cuba on my sloop Hawksbill: winds that built the seas up so high that the spreader lights thirty feet above the deck lit the waves from the side, and the big graybeards with their tops blowing off chased us high over the stern until they caught us and knocked us down at three o’clock in the morning. Weather is one of the things that goes on without you, and after a certain amount of living it is bracing to contemplate the many items not dependent upon you for their existence. But tonight the moon shone broadly on the tropical sea.

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