Phantoms of the Flats (Cont.)

Oct 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

SOMETHING I quickly realized about on-the-cheap fishing in Mexico is that you wind up with a lot of time to kill. To spot fish on the flats, you need a high sun with no clouds, so you can only sight-fish for bones about five hours a day. The rest of the time I'd snorkel the reefs that parallel almost the entire Yucatan, or talk to the teenage soldiers who occasionally come strolling along the beach with grenade launchers and M-16s, searching for drug traffickers. In the evenings I'd try to catch something to eat. Killing bonefish is frowned upon in angling circles, which is no big deal, because they're too bony to eat and they don't taste very good. But I caught mangrove snapper, barracuda, mullet, and reef fish, and now and then I'd find a conch. You can wire the fish to a stick and cook it over dried coconut husks and you've got a treat. Sprinkle with lime, salt, and pepper, then lie around, swatting at sand fleas while you wait for the earth to orbit around the sun and get into a good position for more bonefishing.

SOMETIMES A POD of bonefish will be coming at you so thick you'd swear it's a green queen-size mattress getting pulled through the water, and the fish will fight over who gets to eat the fly. Other times you can't find any fish but a snobbish loner, and he'll look at your fly like it's the stupidest thing he's ever seen.

One day I was having troubles with the latter situation, and I decided to try swimming across a deep channel that stood between a mangrove thicket and a large, knee-deep flat that stretched for hundreds of yards. The night before, I had watched a crocodile swim down this channel, gliding along with only his eyes and the thin ridge of his back above water. Just as I got out in the middle of the water, nervously doing a one-armed dog paddle with my rod held high in the other hand and my fanny pack between my teeth, a small white boat hauling two guys came zooming around a point, almost whacking into me. I had been so focused on a potential crocodile attack from below that I hadn't even heard the motor. The boat veered sharply to miss me, and then disappeared as quickly as it had come. Shaken, I climbed onto the flat and wrung out my shirt as best I could. The sun had risen to its optimal position, straight up and burning bright. I drew a deep breath and took a paranoid glance around for crocodiles, which had become a habit of mine. The coast was clear, but off to my left, over a patch of turtle grass, several razor blades flicked just at the surface of the water, as bright as silver coins flipping in the sun.

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