some tales of bonefishing in paradise, Key West and the Florida Keys …

bonefishing

bonefish 2

bonefish tailing

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flats-fishing.jpg

Jerry Weinstock, M.D., Psychiatry, replied to yesterday’s cheery   post at this website:

have a nice Sunday Sloan—–swam early and saw the sunrise!

flats fishermen on the flats before the onslaught of Jet Skis
“very pretty”—-ocean side,,,,,Sincerely –Jerry
that is what Key West is all about….beauty

I replied:

Not that Key West it has been my lot to know. I remember Islamorada flats in that way, back a few lifetimes. I remember before jet skis, even; back when I secretly dreamed of being a flats guide. Little did I then know how peculiarly dreams sometimes can come true.

Jerry wrote:

SLoan–I love the flats and –would you believe won the
Key West Bonefish release trophy in 1971.
it is a bit tarnished but not those incredible
memories. We waded then –as flats boats were all
custom built—Hewes wasn’t out yet –no noise
no jet skis ——–paradise –truly,.. !! Jerry

I went to ruminating:

Back when fishing the flats was my paradise,

flats fishing

I mostly poled my father’s small Boston Whaler. His home on Lower Matecumbe Key was on the ocean side, the bottom was rock hard, and when I stayed there, every morning I was out at dawn wading that flat with a spinning rod and a few live shrimp in my pocket. Bonefish liked that flat before the sun got up and put them in bright light.

The last time I killed a bonefish, because I wanted it mounted, was maybe early 1967. My Father and his wife, my brother and his girl friend, and my wife and I were staying overChristmas at what we called “The Fish House,” which is what the original owner had called it. A big cold front came down from the mainland, the wind was howling in from the north, the coconut tree fronds were whistling, and the flats were stirred up and muddy. We were headed back to Alabama the next day, and it would be a while before I would be back down to where I so loved. So, yeah, I got in the whaler and took it down to the rock hard bottom flat off of what now is called Anne’s Beach.

Over the years, I had seen a lot of bonefish on that flat, but had never caught one there. The wind was blowing directly down the flat, so I eased the whaler to the upper end of the flat, cut the engine, baited up two spinning rods with live shrimp, laid the rods down with the butts on the rear seat and the middle of the rods angled across the gunnels so the shrimp could barely dangle in the water.

I picked up the push pole I had made, shorter than the push poles guides used because the whaler was shorter and lower to the water than the flats boats the guides were using, also affectionately called an idiot stick, and started trailing the pole behind the boat like a rudder.

The wind blew me down the flat fast, the water was milky white, opaque, no way to see fish under water. Maybe 50 yards above the flat’s lower edge, where the flat dropped off into maybe fifteen feet of water, a bone fish tale popped up into the air. A big bonefish tale. The tale of an insane bonefish. Bonefish didn’t go up on flats in that kind of weather.

I reached down and picked up the anchor and eased it into the water off the stern, because there was no way to stick the push pole into that rock hard bottom and in that way stop the boat from running over the still tailing bonefish. The anchor line came taught, somehow the anchor found purchase on the hard bottom.

I cinched the anchor line off on a cleat, the boat held its position. Waves slapped the transom, but the fish kept tailing maybe 20 yards below me. The water was so choppy, the fish must not have heard the waves slapping the transom; otherwise, the fish would have bolted to deep water.

I picked up the spinning rod to my right, I spin-fished right-handed, opened the bail and flipped the shrimp down wind right next, like a few inches from, the big tail waving in the wind. I closed the bail, felt the fish pick up the shrimp, watched the line go taught, set the hook – shazam! Off to the races that fish went, straight over the edge of the flat into deeper water. Close to a 100 yard run, before it stopped and I started working the fish slowly back toward the boat.

Maybe ten minutes and several shorter runs later, I had the fish in the landing net. It was by some measure the longest bonefish I’d ever caught, but it seemed thin, and it had a scar on its tale. I figured it was around 10 pounds, my largest bonefish up to then by maybe 2 pounds. I unhooked it and put it on the bottom of the boat, pulled the boat back to the anchor, got the anchor off the bottom, drifted the boat off the edge of the flat into deep water, cranked the 18 Mercury and headed back to my father’s place to show off the miracle.

“Oh, that’s nice,” was the consensus reply. Not, “How’d you catch that fish in this howling wind?!” Not, “Great job!” Not, “Are you going to have it mounted?” Not, “Why’d you kill it?” Boy, what a blah hero’s welcome.

Undeterred, I carried the miracle back to the whaler, to take the miracle and the whaler up to Bud n’ Mary’s where my father kept the skiff in the boat barn when he was not down. We were leaving the next morning, and it was time to take the skiff back, and it was time to show the people who worked at Bud n’ Mary’s, and any flats guides hanging around, the miracle.

In that kind of wind, I had to be careful not to launch the whaler off a wave in such a way that the wind flipped the whaler over backward on top of me. The run up to Bud n’ Mary’s took longer than usual, therefore, but I arrived safely, making the last part of the run on the inside of US 1, using the little cut next to the rocks to ease into the main channel near the bridge, just above which is Bud n’ Mary’s.

A couple of flats guides I knew were there, and two men who ran Bud n’ Mary’s. They laughed when I said I’d caught the miracle tailing just above Channel Two Bridge. “You caught it nigger-fishing in a channel,” one of them said. My efforts to persuade that I indeed caught the miracle tailing met more laughter. I was flummoxed. I really wanted their recognition.

I told the men at Bud n’ Mary’s to put the miracle in their freezer and give it to the Al Pfleuger Taxidermy rep the next time he was by there. They said okay. I called my father’s house, arranged for someone to drive up and get me. I was really bummed out. , And, I was really proud, because caught that bigbone fish tailing on a flat, when nobody else in the Keys was fishing the flats that day.

It was the last bonefish I would kill, but it was not the last bonefish I would catch. I was in love with bonefishing, and would catch and release quite a few more, most of which while I was wading the rock hard flat in front of my father’s home, or pushing his whaler with the idiot stick.

By then, I was flyfishing for bonefish, as well as spinfishing. I caught and released a few bonefish with flats guides, and hooked a few on the flat in front of my father’s house, which made long runs and then broke off on bottom obstructions.

The last bonefish I caught, and the last time I went bonefishing, was in early January 1987. I came down to my father’s home from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I then was living. I had stopped practicing law about a year before. I was searching and not finding much.

I called my very good friend Rick Ruoff, a super flats guide, and he was in.

Rick RuoffRick Ruoff 2Rick Ruoff 3

Sometimes he was off someplace else that time of year. Sure, he had an opening. We met for breakfast on the agreed day, and then we trailered his skiff up to Key Largo, where I had fished with him about a year earlier, with my second wife, Jane, just before we moved to Santa Fe.

Jane and Rick had conspired to give me a new fly rod for Christmas that year, and I had tried it out that day in Card Sound. It rained most of the day, not hard, but steady. Rick put me on lots of tailing bonefish, and I caught and released a couple, while Jane, Rick and I talked about old times and everything under the sun and the moon.

A little over a year later, Jane and I were getting divorced, the weather was nice, a gentle north wind coming down from the mainland. Rick wanted to fish the outside flat off Ocean Reef Club, where I first had fished the flats when I was 14, when my mother and father had brought my brother, sister and me to stay for a week during spring break. Back then, Ocean Reef Club was really laid back and simple. Nothing like today. That’s when I got hooked on bonefishing, even though I did not even get one on the line that trip.

Well, there Rick and I were, entering that same flat just below the salt water creek which goes into Ocean Reef Club. That’s when Rick told me a federal judge not all that long before had fined Ocean Reef Club $60,000 a day for dumping its raw sewerage into that creek on outgoing tides. $60,000 a day, until Ocean Reef Club stopped doing that. I said that was a great federal judge.

Rick was an environmentalist. From the American Midwest, he had attended the University of Miami, where he majored in marine biology. Every weekend, he drove down to the Keys to fish. By the time he graduated from UM, he was a darn good flats fisherman, and he decided to be a flats guide in Islamorada.

Rick knew where bonefish were on any given day. I never went out with him when we did not find bonefish. No matter what time of year, the weather, the tide, the phase of the moon, we found bonefish. We found bonefish off Key Largo that day. I caught and released two small ones, maybe 5 pounds, on fly.

Rick kept telling me stories. He had gone to Tallahassee to testify before the Florida Legislature about what was happening to Florida Bay because of what was coming into it from the Everglades, which were being ravaged by farm chemicals from Big Sugar and other farm combines.

Rick told me of Cuban fishermen setting nets around holes next to mangrove islands, then going into the bank and pouring Clorox into the water, which the fish in the hole could not stand and they rushed toward deep water and the fishing boat closed the next and caught every last fish in that hole.

Rick and I talked about having lost our lust for fishing; now, Rick said, it was just a job he liked, because he loved the flats and he loved his clients. He fished the same people year after year; once I had fished with one of them, an older woman from New England, and Rick. What an interesting day of fishing that was!

After the last bonefish I caught and released, we were spinfishing, Nancy and I were talking about something, when the skiff lurched and I turned and saw Rick’s push pole sailing like a javelin out over the flat to land square amid the back of a cruising hammerhead shark, just off the edge of the flat, intending to have the just-released bonefish for a snack. The now startled hammerhead did a 90 degree left turn and bolted for Cuba.

We were sitting in just over a foot of water on a rock hard bottom, too shallow to trim the 70 Yamaha down and start. Rick was the first flats guide I knew to go to the small flats skiff and 70 Yamaha; the rest of the flats guides were still using the much bigger skiffs and 150, 200 and even 250 Mercury outboards. Rick stepped down off the poling platform above the outboard and eased into the water and waded over and got his push pole, which was in about 3 feet of water.

I think that was when Rick told Nancy and me a story about fishing a client one day and being told by that client of the client being back where he lived on the mainland and going to a party and hearing a big fish story told to other people standing around the story teller, who said it had happened when he was fishing with the world’s greatest flats guide, Rick Ruoff. The big fish story teller went on and on, until Rick’s client finally moseyed over to the big fish story teller and said quietly to him, that was the same identical thing that had happened when he had last fished with Rick Ruoff; wasn’t that interesting? Rick’s client left the big fish story teller to ponder himself.

I could tell a whole lot of Rick Ruoff stories, but right now I’m going back to that day in early 1987 off of Ocean Reef Club, after I’d caught and released two small bonefish on fly.

It was now maybe 3 p.m. and we were maybe two miles below Ocean Reef Club, and we came to a slough which went deeper into the shore and, wow, there up near the shore was a giant bonefish tail in the air. Giant.

Rick said he was going to hold us there with the push pole, the wind was perfect, gentle off shore. Rick said the falling tide would being the fish out of there soon, right across our bow. The sun was over the island, also perfect; no shadow of us would it cast onto the water and spook the giant.

Within seconds of Rick stopping the skiff’s movement, the giant stopped tailing and cruised, dorsal and tail fin out of the water, at an angel that would up the giant across our bow maybe 25 yards down from us. I already was stripping fly line from the reel onto the bow where I stood.

As the giant cruised nearer, I drew the fly rod back and, not being an expert with the double power haul casting method, I zinged a false cast in the air way in front of the fish, and when I drew the rod back ready now to present the fly to the giant, Rick said to lead it about 12 feet. I brought the rod forward and released the line and the fly lighted dead on top of the giant’s left eye. “Not quite enough lead,” Rick said softly. “No shit,” I grumbled.

I had learned some years before from Rick that the way to present a fly, or a shrimp, or a jig to a moving bonefish was to put the bait in front of and just inside of its path, and then work the bait back toward me. For to put the bait over the moving fish’s line direction and then retrieve the bait toward the fish was not natural; a bait would flee a feeding predator fish, not swim toward it; and a bait coming toward a bone fish would spook the bonefish.

That was what I was supposed to have done with the giant. Even without which fishing wisdom, I knew darn well not to drop the fly dead on to top of a bonefish in calm, clear water, with the sun out. This was not choppy milky water with a howling north wind like when I caught the miracle on the flat in front of what now is called Anne’s Beach.

About five seconds after I said, “No shit,” the giant exploded like boulder dropped into the water from on high, and pushed a submarine-size wake across the shallow flat into deeper water, in the general direction of Cuba.

I kinda felt like breaking the fly rod Jane and Rick had conspired to give me a little over a year before across my knee; or just throw it into the water. But I didn’t.

I stewed some more, then turned to Rick and said I’d had enough fishing, let’s go in and get a beer and talked about told times (some more).

Rick said, no, we still have plenty of good fishing time left, it’s perfect, let’s keep fishing. He was like that for as long as I had know him.

I said, no, I’ve had enough fishing, let’s go in and get a beer. He protested again, we should keep fishing.

I said, hell, I didn’t come out there to fish today, I want to stop fishing and go in.

He said, what did I come out there for, then?

I said, to be with him; paying him to take me fishing was the only way I got to spend enough time with him.

Rick’s jaw dropped. Let’s go in and get a beer, I said again. He said, okay.

Rick read a lot. He fished, hunted and guided out west. He fished outside USA for Orvis, looking for new fishing grounds for Orvis clients.  He was darn fun to talk to. Lots of his stories, many told on himself, were hilarious. I envied him.

I already was sensing then that my life was heading in a new direction, but I didn’t know where.

About a week later, now back in Santa Fe, I concluded that I had failed in every way a man could fail, was at the end of my rope, out of bright ideas, and if God didn’t help me, I was a gonner. I prayed, “Dear God, I do not want to die like this, failed. Please help me. I offer my life to human service.”

About ten days later, I awoke in the wee hours and saw two what I figured were angels hovering above me in the darkness. I heard, “This will push you to your limits but you asked for it (I remembered the prayer I had made) and we are going to give it to you.” I then was jolted three times in succession by what I understood was spiritual lightning. I saw the flashes, my body lurched with each flash. The angels dissolved.

Nothing was ever the same again. Along the way, I realized that miracle fish, off of what is now Anne’s Beach, gave its life for me hoping I would learn not to seek the approval of men, or of any person.

It was a really difficult lesson for me.

Now I try to get the angels’ approval; some days I do better than other days.

fly fishing cartoon

Sloan Bashinsky
keysmyhome@hotmail.com

Post-Script:

As I was reading over all of the above, this came in re one of those two angels via Facebook from Key West amiga Erika Biddle -

Erika Biddle 3

(the other  of the two angels was Archangel Michael, although it was some years before I knew who they were)

dangerous man, Jesus

18,847 people like this.
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Jeannie Allen People like the ones at Fox News were around in the time that Jesus was born, and they nailed him to a cross (because they were so terrified of change and of people thinking for themselves).
Like · Reply · 425 · April 30 at 1:28am
25 Replies

Jesse Flanagan hmm… if Jesus had been born 30 years ago, that would have been in … 1984!! Wonder what Orwell would have thought of THAT!?!?
Like · Reply · 162 · April 30 at 1:26am
8 Replies

Amber Bergeron And the Liberals would hate him for being too “judgmental.” Jesus wouldn’t be good enough for either party. What part of “my kingdom is not of this world” do people not understand?
Like · Reply · 53 · April 30 at 1:48am
20 Replies

Scott Bristol He was not a socialist. He would not want to confiscate wealth from some to give to others . He would want those who have more then they need to give of their own free will what they don’t need to those in need . There is a big difference between the two . One is done by holding a gun t someone’s head an the other is from the heart .
Like · Reply · 45 · April 30 at 9:45am
15 Replies

Miguel Melendez
Miguel Melendez’s photo.
Like · Reply · 43 · April 30 at 1:34am
2 Replies

Zig Ziegler Are you kidding me? He would have been #1 on the FBI most wanted, and FOX’s #1 terrorist!

Sloan Bashinsky
How do you figure he would be treated in Key West today? – he was homeless on top of all his other features. The Key West Police recently killed a man after profiling him as being homeless, which he was not.

About Sloan

Darn, that would take a while. Try the autobiographical pages in the header. Ditto for header menu pages at www.goodmorningbirmingham.com. Hatched and raised there, eventually I ran away from home. Here's a short list: Born 1942; male; single; accused of all sorts of imaginable and unimaginable things, perhaps some true. Live on Key West of Weird asteroid. Publish something most days on this website, been at that since July 2007. That's heaps of catch-up reading, probably not recommended.
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