Sometimes the realization of a dream is somewhat disappointing. When a dream comes true, it often doesn't meet those pent-up expectations that you lived with for so long. With mingled pleasure at your accomplishment, and a sense of let-down that it wasn't more thrilling, you can now move on to other dreams.
One of my long-held dreams has been catching a bonefish on a fly. When I was a kid -- that was before paper towels, color TV, or Velcro -- I remember magazine articles that chronicled the hunt for bonefish on the saltwater flats of the Florida Keys and in the Bahamas, the latter an indistinct place millions of miles away. Back then, anglers like Joe Brooks, a hero of mine, would tell of pristine tropical flats, azure blue skies with puffy white clouds and, of course, the fabled silver phantom of the flats: the bonefish. It was right up there with unicorns in my young mind.
Brooks, and Lefty Kreh a few years later, would describe the thrill of the quest for these almost mythical creatures, and how, either wading or in a shallow-draft skiff (this was before flats boats), the guide would spot a bonefish or, more likely, its shadow, and say to the angler: "Bonefish, 10 o'clock, 50 feet." The fishermen would make a few false casts with a bamboo or fiberglass rod, and drop the fly in the designated spot.
"Wait," the guide would say, then "Strip, strip, now!" And all hell would break loose. The bonefish would take off on a frantic run that would soon strip the fly line from the reel into the braided line backing. Heady stuff. I was so hooked on the concept of the bonefishing process, that my dream was born. A dream that persisted for more than 45 years. Someday, I kept saying. Someday.
Shot through the knee in combat more than 35 years ago, then more recently diagnosed with several malignant cancers that had to be cut out, one of my strongest thoughts during those incredibly difficult and painful times was of bonefish; I can't die without having caught a bonefish, I'd think.
"Senor," the Mayan guide whispered emphatically, "bonefish, 10 o'clock, 50 feet!" I looked and saw nothing; I really hadn't expected to from all I'd read, heard, and seen on the videos. I pointed my hi-tech graphite fly rod toward the left front of the boat. "Si, Senor," confirmed Jose Luis.
Calmly, I executed the drill that was embossed on my mind over those years. I had done it a thousand times before in my dreams and on the front lawn. I tossed the pearlescent Gotcha I was holding into the air, made a false cast feeding line on the back cast, and shot the fly toward the still unseen target. "Perfect," said Jose Luis. Elizabeth sat still and intent behind me awaiting her turn on the front deck, focused now entirely on the circle of water where I had dropped the fly.
"Wait, wait," then "strip, strip." He didn't have to say "now," because I saw the silvery flash of the bonefish as it turned to take the fly. I strip set the hook, then raised the rod to clear the rapidly departing fly line, and to check the run of this unleashed dynamo as it headed toward Cancun, miles to the north. Now, this relatively small, three-pound fish was in charge, running again and again, toward the mangroves, toward open water, toward the boat, until fatigue gradually set in.
She lay in my outstretched hand, glistening in the warm Yucatan sun. I gripped her tightly as she struggled to escape. I could feel the throbbing power in her; she was exceptionally firm and well-muscled. When I set her into the water and slowly removed my hand, she sank slowly just under surface until the bright silver of her sides gave way to a mottled viridescence which helps her blend into the bottom where she lives and hunts. Then, like a spirit, she was gone.
I watched the spot where I had held her in the water and reveled in the beauty of her after-image. In the ripples of the clear Caribbean water, I saw the reflection of the last 45 years that had held so many dreams. This one, I smiled, had come true, in no way diminished or below expectation, but rich and satisfying, even more wonderful than I thought it could be. Bright-eyed, I flicked the water droplets from my hand causing more ripples that followed those made by the departing bonefish; and together they dissipated slowly into infinity.
Later, Elizabeth would catch her first bonefish, and we'd alternate catching dozens more. We'd land some baby tarpon, snook, jacks, and barracuda -- needing only a permit to complete a super grand slam of bonefish, tarpon, snook, and permit all in the same day. I made perfect casts and presentations to three of these very finicky fish, and they kept on going like I wasn't even there. Now I dream of catching a permit on a fly before I die.
The Boca Paila Fishing Lodge is located on the Caribbean Coast of Yucatan, Mexico, about two hours south of Cancun. Call Frontiers at 1-800-245-1950, www.frontierstrvl.com; or visit the website at www.bocapaila.com for more information. If you have a dream, this is a place to make it happen.
Issue 1.9: June 22, 2006