Four am has come and gone. Nearly an hour since Iíve risen to greet the day. I sit calmly at my tying desk turning out common patterns for todayís quarry. As the minutes pass filled with the sounds of the coming dawn the light filling the room more and more as the minutes pass Iím aware that itís almost time to go. Pausing after I apply a drop of head cement to the last fly of the morning. I contemplate the adventure that waits. Each day on the water is anew, never as the previous before it. That first glimpse of the vibrant hues of orange, purple, red, and blues as the sun begins its familiar journey through the heavens take my breath away. The gentle lapping of the water as I board my small vessel and push off the dock. The momentary buzz as I turn the key and listen to a sound that soothes my soul, that of the engine purring to life. Throttling forward just a touch I begin my sixty-yard journey to the opening of my canal and out to sea.
The mangroves are alive with birds singing their praises for the coming light. A school of mullet that calls my channel home darts nervously away as my bow moves slowing through their formation on the search for food. Clearing the opening and water depth steadily growing deeper I push the throttle forward brining my craft on step. Iím motoring now, breeze in my hair, and the aroma of the tropics filling the air as the sea spray peels off both left and right of me. Standing at the helm driving into the light my soul is renewed. This is the moment, the moment for which my life has been about. It was instilled in me from my grandfather whom placed me on his lap and begins teaching me the life of the water. Itís serenity, itís calm, and even itís storms. He also instilled in me the passion of fishing. And still to this day I return day-after-day to pursue yet another tug on the fly line.
Gliding effortlessly through mangrove cuts I navigate my way into one of my favorite flats. Not only does the abundance of fish draw me here. As in life itís also about the journey. Each time I visit this area I am amazed. Itís like being on an exploration of a new world. You wind your way through an intricate system of shallow channels surrounded on either side by tall mangroves and the occasional coconut palm. In many sections you duck as the mangroves lean over the still water path leading into this flat that Iíve come to know as ďhoney hole #31Ē. Why number thirty-one? Because Iíve discovered thirty others almost just like it with in a couple of square miles surrounding this one. The last leg of the approach is most technical, calling on me to trim up the engine yet remain on plane as to not draw more than ten inches of water. Should I slow down and I would be stuck at idle speed or forced to cut the engine, trim her all the way up and pole the boat the remaining hundred yards or so.
Speeding down this natural mangrove tunnel I turn the wheel to the left and feel the hull slip to the side as she banks through the final turn. I see the opening ahead now. Passing by the final mangroves I explode into a five hundred yard by three hundred yard wide flats reminiscence of some distant out-island in the Bahamas. This however is a mere seven-minute run from my house. While pressing the trim button up and simultaneously throttle back, I feel the craftís momentum slow as the force of the water brings her to a gentle glide. Turning the key the engine goes silent. I trim the engine the remainder of the way up and cock her to the right. No noises remaining other than the lap of the wake against the hull. Climbing atop my platform I reach for my pole. I insert it into the water with great care. Creating no noise as I push in the direction of the start of the east side of the flat.
As the waters surface calms from the disturbance of my entry I can clearly see the sandy bottom. The higher the sun raises overhead enables me to spot schools of bonefish over a hundred feet away. Itís time for the morning feed. Their noses buried in the sandy silt bottom in search of prey, the tails rise high out of the water. I spot my first group of tailing fish ahead some hundred twenty feet. With a graceful dismount of a skilled gymnast I come off the platform and toward the bow of the boat. Slipping the anchor silently over the side I wait as the boat extends its anchor line while watching the tails to keep track of their location. Rod in hand I slide over the starboard side and into the water. Itís cool and refreshing on my feet. The inch or two of soft silty sand squish between my toes. Itís a feeling some have disliked. I find it comforting and a bit fun. Stalking closer towards my intended targets I carefully slide each foot forward at a stealthy snails pace as to not create and disturbance. One careless noise or false move and the fish will high tail it in the opposite direction. Bones are as nervous as long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Much of the appeal of saltwater flats fishing is itís more like hunting than fishing. Itís the way of the still hunt perfected by the native Indians of Canada and America, only in water rather than the forest. Requiring a keen eye and a cast every bit as skillful as the hair-trigger of a skilled hunter. The poling platform your stand, the rod your riffle, and the fly the bullet. Once Iíve closed the range to roughly eighty feet I carefully strip off the needed amount of line, release the fly that was pinched between my thumb and for finger. Draw back waiting as the rod gives me a familiar tug indicative of the time to flick my wrist forward and let more line slip effortlessly through the eyes of the rod. One more back-cast and a second haul forward I watch as I release the remaining line and the loop shoots past my head toward a lone bone that Iíve singled out as heís veered off to the side of the school. The line unfurls and the fly is presented. He sees it and I being a slight strip as if a wary creature were attempting to evade a predator. With a flip of his tail he speeds forward scooping up the fly in his mouth. I strip again and the hook is set. Immediately the other tails disperse in panic and the fish on the end of my line attempts to run into a clump of mangrove shoots rising no more than eight to ten inches from the waters surface. The battle is on. As old as time it self, predator vs. prey.
Today is December twenty third yet it feels nothing like one-day from Christmas Eve. If it werenít for the small island I call home decorating what is known on maps as Barrier Reef Drive with lights hanging from building to building and small island businesses playing Latin versions of Here comes Santa Clause, and Jingle Bells one would have no idea it were that time of year. Typical it is not. But Christmas time it is, the world over is bounding with their various beliefs and traditions. Itís a comfortable seventy-eight degree with a mild breeze coming from the east.
Iím back on my dock early today as I have a commitment to a friend that Iím excited to assist him with. In the tradition of a Corona beer commercial weíre going to string multi-colored lights on a lone palm tree that has been planted on a concrete island in the center of his swimming pool adjacent to a palapa-roofed bar. Where in three days time one of our festive seasonal celebrations will be held with friends and family. Weíll come dressed to the nines. Complete with Rasta colored Santa hats, themed t-shirts with the sleeves chopped off, our best dress board shorts, flip flops, and what ever local Ho-Ho-Ho we can find to join us.
The air will be filled with the smell of lobster being buttered on the grill, seasoned snapper and veggies wrapped in foil, and jerk rubbed yard bird, that would be chicken to anyone not form the south. And let us not forget the delightful aromatic aroma of spiced rums and the local beer, the Belikin in flavors of both stout and regular. For desert weíll sample the papaya nut bread, banana mango fruit cake, and a local favorite amongst ex-pats the famous coconut battered fired, chocolate dipped, sliced bananas toped with Coconut crŤme sorbet and drizzled with red and green sprinkles. Later with our cheeks aglow from the festivities and our spirits high (literally) weíll partake in that age old tradition of streaking to the moonlit waters of the Caribbean for a bit of skinny dipping. And with the water full of naked people weíll discover our evening gifts. I just home my gift doesnít float or poke, ouch. With or newfound gifts under our arms we stumble gleefully back to our homes, or our gifts home. And practice our giving and receiving. After all, Ďtis the season!
And you thought I only write NICE stories. I hope this comical tale has brought a smile to your face and warm Caribbean rays to your current place. From all us who are here because weíre not all there!
Wishing you a very merry Christmas.
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