Phantoms of the Flats (Cont.)

Oct 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

I strung my matrimonial-size hammock between two coconut palms on the ocean side, found a piece of driftwood for a table, and picked a few coconuts that were ripe enough to have firm meat. (I would later learn that eating too many of these gives one a horrendous case of the shits.) Little crabs were tossing sand out of their holes all around my camp as I stashed my backpack, grabbed my rod and some flies I'd tied, and then crossed the road to face the mangrove obstacle.

Mangroves have green, waxy leaves, and the branches grow together like the many wires that make a window screen. I twisted and wrestled and crawled through these tangles, turning my clothes almost completely orange from a staining liquid that rubs off when you touch the limbs. About halfway through, I was stung on the arm by a worm, something that had never happened to me in all my 27 years. Before I could retaliate, he dropped from his perch and disappeared underwater. The bite swelled to the size of a 35mm film canister, and I got the terrible feeling that this trip was not going to work out and I would not be finding any bonefish after all. I named the worm the Mexican evasive fighting worm and made a mental note of its appearance in case I had to describe it at the emergency room.
The swelling receded by the time I finally reached the lagoon. The water stretched for miles, white or gray or blue depending on the depth, which ranged from ankle- to thigh-deep. Twenty feet in front of me, a three-inch razor blade stuck out of the water, waving back and forth. I was hallucinating from the worm. No, I realized, it isn't a razor at all; it's the tail fin of a bonefish. I'll be damned, I thought. He was tipped forward in the water, making the same noise with his tail that you can make wagging your finger in the sink. There were several more fish with him.

I fumbled with my rod before casting a sparsely tied brown fly with ball-chain eyes about five feet in front of the fish, which raced over and picked it up so fast that he was into the backing on my reel before I had time to yell yeehaw. The line whipping through the water sounded like ripping newsprint and it shot a rainbow-colored mist into the air.

When I got that fish in my hand, I searched him from nose to tail and am pleased to report that there was not a huge price tag stapled to him. I thought of those guys in the fly-fishing shop back home and one syllable came to mind: Ha!

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