(From my grandfather’s memorial service in 2007)
The flats off of Lowe Sound on Andros Island in the Bahamas are a surreal place. At low tide the water is only inches deep. Most days the surface is as smooth as a sheet of glass. When the sun is shining – which is most of the time – the distant keys appear to be floating in the sky. The only sound, besides that made by the boat that Granddad and I were in, was the occasional fish breaking the surface. It was this occasional fish – the elusive Bonefish – that Granddad and I had set out that morning to try to catch.
March, 1982 – my senior year of high school. Our annual trip to the Bahamas during spring break. And a right-of-passage of sorts for me. I had graduated from half-day fishing trips on the reef in search of dinner, to this – a full-day on the flats. Looking for – and hopefully catching – bonefish. A full day in a small open boat with my grandfather, and a Bahamian fishing guide named Arthur. A chance to learn something from Granddad about the art of catching this crafty fish. And a chance to show him that I truly appreciated my time with him, in that special place, experiencing something that only a fortunate few ever get to do.
We awoke very early – before the sun came up. We ate our big breakfast in silence. We packed our lunch – peanut butter and raisin sandwiches – his favorite while out fishing. We added sodas to the cooler and headed out to meet our guide. Arthur drove the half hour from his home on Lowe Sound to pick us up. The ride back to the dock went quickly. Before I knew it, we were getting into the boat and motoring out to the flats.
After many minutes of skimming along the smooth surface, Arthur cut the motor, and we drifted silently. He retrieved the long pole he used to push the boat, and standing on the back of the boat, he propelled us quietly along.
Granddad’s first lesson for me came as he told me what to look for. The bonefish feeds off the bottom – head down, tail up. A slight, irregular ripple on the surface might indicate a feeding bonefish. Lesson two was the art of casting to this skittish creature. Cast too close – and the fish would spook and high tail it to the next key before the sound faded of your bait hitting the surface. Cast too far, and you run the risk of having the fish change direction and miss your bait entirely. Lesson three – how to fight and land the fish – would come very shortly.
Arthur pointed out a distant disturbance on the surface. Deferring to Grandad’s experience, I waited as he cast his line. A perfect splash as his bait landed a few yards ahead of the ripples that Arthur believed to be a bonefish. Arthur was right. And Granddad’s cast was, indeed, perfect. The ripples moved towards Granddad’s bait, and then line began to sing off his reel.
Watching my grandfather fight a fish on light tackle is a study in strength and poise, and an image I will always carry with me. As I have continued to fish over the years, I find myself recalling that image, as I attempt to emulate his style and try to land the fish on the other end of my line. That day, as was usually the case, Granddad won the battle and boated our first bonefish.
I, too, caught my share of the strong, speedy fish that day. And a big Barracuda, to boot. The bonefish is a mighty fighter. And very hard to catch. But Granddad’s lessons, Arthur’s keen eye and my persistence resulted in one of the most memorable days of my life.
I have had many other good days on the water since. And I have caught my share of fish. But to this day, those 10 hours on the flats, sitting next to my grandfather, sharing peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, huddling under ponchos as we waited out a fast-moving squall, and catching a half dozen bonefish, will forever be one of my most cherished memories of Granddad.