We like the Bonefish Tarpon Trust because they have a cool sounding URL – tarbone.org – and because everything they do is driven by scientific research, and the desire to keep doing it.
So when Aaron Adams dropped a note about supporting the org’s new membership drive, I’m all in.
They are now offering associate membership for $50 contributions. As Dr. Adams wrote:
“As always, the funds go to support BTT’s research, conservation, and education. We are having monthly give-aways of gear (this month it’s Howler Brothers), next month Cheeky, then Orvis,…. But best of all, the final drawing at the end of the year is a trip to Ascension Bay. And for people who join and renew at $100 of higher, there is a year-end raffle for a trip to Pesca Maya.”
The delivery captain loosened up and had some stories about things. New Age mystics had commissioned him for a night trip, once, and he lost power, and a strange green light rose up around the boat. Then one time a low-flying Cessna headed for the south island fell out of the sky and disappeared below the waves in a blink.
We all needed to unwind after the crossing; holding tight in 8 to 10s in the stream built a collective nervous tension. The tables at the restaurant sat under a trellis on an open-air patio, and the breeze kicked up from the front that had hindered our cruise, sending napkins into the air.
Tim tried the ring toss game and stuck it on the first swing and the next few hours disappeared trying to find the balance between rum and hand-eye coordination.
Bonefish T pulled his skiff into a vacant slip behind the hotel and we stepped down onto the bow and he ran east into the sunrise, stopping on a flat intersected by mangrove islands.
Nothing brings insecurities to fore like standing on the bow of a flats skiff, especially with a head made weak from dehydration. Bonefish T found a school and turned his skiff and called out instruction. I lay down a cast and missed and awaited castigation.
“Pick it up and lay it down again, to the left,” T said calmly, and I did.
The line tightened up and I held the rod high and watched the backing peel off the reel. After a while T pulled the sleek metallic fish out of the water and handed it to me for a snapshot.
The delivery captain had some friends on a sportfisherman that made the crossing and he went to meet them. Jill wanted food first so the rest of us found an outside eatery and filled up on beer and cracked conch.
The server asked what brought us here.
“Bring a barracuda back for me tomorrow,” she said laughing in response.
The flats around the south island did have drug planes; the upturned tires of a flipped one exposed in the shallow water. T poled me in front of a small group of large cruisers and one bit and took me far into my backing and as I reeled it in the fish charged straight for the boat. A large lemon shark fell in behind it, ripping a wake.
Loosen the drag loosen the drag, T kept saying and I had no tension on my line but it still ended in a frothy explosion that carried the violence over a great distance.
The crew from the sportfisherman was at the Compleat Angler and they recognized us and we played Liar’s Poker for the rounds. Jill stuck her business card under the glass table surface with all the other cards and photographs (a permanent record that would disappear in the fire a year later).
We had a Chalk’s flight in the morning so Tim and Jill left early but I made one last stop at the hotel bar because you think about a trip for months and then you’re in the middle of it, and then you go to sleep and when you wake up, it’s in the past. And that feeling you get when the line comes tight starts to fade so you can barely remember it.
We’re big fans of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and are spreading the word about their upcoming Symposium. In their words:
There was a bluegrass duo at the bar and after the 13th request for “Dueling Banjos” the guitar player jumped off the small stage and grabbed the requester by the throat.
This is a place that flips switches. It’s where Wallace Stevens threw down with Robert Frost and tried to punk Hemingway. The guitar player’s response fell within acceptable parameters. But it was time to leave.
The Canadian had built a pickle-fork flats skiff that ran 74 and he put in a foot pedal throttle, like a car. In the morning he intentionally ran over cormorants as we blasted across bayside waters from Big Pine. He hit a well known flat and killed the engine and trimmed up. We did not have a push pole. We drifted and, unbelievably, spotted a group of four bonefish. I tried to strip line off my reel and saw a shrimp impaled on a Mustad fly by my head and the Canadian jumped past me on the bow; saltwater mist shot from the spool of his spinning reel as it gained velocity.
He felt bad about it later. He decided to run oceanside to a channel marker and drop pinfish for barracuda the size and girth of a railroad track cross beam. I hooked one and it jumped and ran and dove deep in a lightning fast counter move, and I slammed my knuckles on the gunwale and split them open.
The thunderstorms rolled in on the afternoon and knocked out the power at the hotel, and with no air conditioner the room quickly lost its cool. The rain stopped but the Canadian had taken the boat to fix the jack plate we bent. I walked out behind the hotel building and past the camper lot to the small beach. I made a few blind casts and hooked a nine-inch barracuda. I pulled it in by hand and green shards of bucktail from the abused clouser stuck to its skin and my fingers.
The Canadian was late coming back so I drove down to Key West myself. I couldn’t find the locals bar where he intimately knew the waitress, so I bought a traveler and walked the streets. The strangers moving in and out of the buildings and along the walkways blended together but one face caught my attention.
The guitar player from the bluegrass band; it was him, asleep on the front step of a shaded porch, an unlit cigarette in his mouth. I took two steps then stopped, turned back and threw my half-full cup in his direction. I ran off before I could see the impact and probably wasted three dollars worth of vodka, but I didn’t care.
I love Dueling Banjos.
Bjorn couldn’t join the crew because real life got in the way, but last week he tied a handful of flies and sent them my way. The idea being that if he couldn’t be here, at least his flies could help a brother out.
Caught all my fish today on flies from Bjorn’s vise, with Michael Gracie as witness.