First Bonefish

I have a great friend named, Lee Mitchell. His friends call him Mitchie and in fishing circles he is known as Captain Crusty. I enjoyed many fish catching afternoons on his 32 foot Bertram which he ran as the consummate captain on Late Erie. We also had the misfortune of being members of a club in Columbus, Ohio known as The Drummers. The Drummers was one of those clubs with no socially redeeming value. However, we did excel at drinking beer, playing golf, and dealing gin rummy. From years of experience, I knew that if Mitchie had consumed at least two Beefeater martinis on the rocks with blue cheese stuffed olives, I could get him to tell his bonefish stories over and over and over. Mitchie had the unique talent of arriving at the end of a story only to push the restart button so I had the pleasure of hearing the story from the beginning before we ever heard the end.

My memory bank was full of stories of bonefish in the Florida Keys. Mitchie raved about a place called Bonefish Alley where he finished with Guide Steve Huff late in the day on an incoming tide. Schools of bonefish would push up on the flat to feed. As the sun was setting in stunning pink and orange, the bones would wake and tail and Capt. Huff would simply use the push poll to spin the boat to give Mitchie and his fishing buddy of the day another shot. I will tell more of the enticing stories in later posts.

Dreams turned to reality in 1988. Lee and his late wife, Marian, were staying on Key Colony Beach and invited Lauri and I to stay for several days in March. Two fishing days were scheduled. On the first, Mitchie and I headed from Marathon to Islamorada. We were to meet Guide John Kipp at The Lorelei in Islamorada. John did not show. We headed back to Marathon disappointed. But Mitchie is a determined sort and fortunately had the phone number of a then young fishing guide named Jose Wejebe. Mitchie called Jose who wasn’t booked. He agreed to meet us at the Holiday Inn near Vaca Cut in Marathon at noon for a half day of fishing. Jose launched his bonefish skiff and ran around the corner to Ted and Mary’s flat ocean side of Marathon. The flat was named after the proprietors of Hall’s, a must stop bait and tackle store in the Keys. We saw nothing. I would not have seen anything even if there were fish on the flat but Jose and Mitchie also detected no fish clues. On down the flats Jose poled. After fishing High School flats we still had seen nothing. Jose jumped down off the poling platform, fired up the skiff and headed around the corner to Boot Key.

After Jose had poled a couple of hundred yards Mitchie said, “Humph, never seen a bonefish on Boot Key!” Jose, “Really?” No sooner had the words crossed his lips than Jose whispered, “Steve, school of bones 9 o’clock, sixty feet.” I looked, saw nothing and out of panic launched my shrimp towards what I thought was 9 o’clock. The fishing gods smiled that day because a fish ate, set the hook on itself and took off. The drag sang that beautiful song of a fired up bonefish and after a couple of great runs, Jose lifted my first bonefish out of the water. “No bonefish on Boot Key? Someone must have gotten lost! Way to go Rowe!” Thanks Jose. You are missed.

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