The sun transformed Long Key Bight from an ocean side flat into an eye piercing mirror. The transformation had been gradual as Steve Huff poled the l6 foot bonefish skiff into the brisk wind. The water varied in depth from one to five feet and sparkled with an intense bronze cast. The water’s hue caused cruising bonefish to appear black instead of their normal brilliant silver. The crescent shaped flat was formed by Long Key and Long Key Point in the middle of the Florida Keys and was easily seen from Highway 1.
Huff had been guiding Lee Mitchell and I in pursuit of Keys bonefish, permit and tarpon for years. Today was one of many spent on the duck grass flats of “The Bight”. I often remarked that The Bight is to receive a portion of my cremains when the time comes. Huff stepped down from the poling platform and jammed the l4 foot push pole into the sandy bottom. He tied off to the elevated poling platform with a white nylon line. When the skiff was secure, he announced it was time for lunch. Steve opened the boat’s fiberglass cooler and removed chicken salad in Styrofoam cups from the brown lunch bags. Usually, aluminum foil protects the sandwich bread from melted ice. Today it did not. No matter, for Stout’s Restaurant in Marathon made chunky chicken salad which could be enjoyed even if eaten by spoon.
As we began to eat, I wondered why soggy chicken salad served in a bonefish skiff always tasted better than a Fifteen Dollar ($l5.00) lunch back home. Steve ate quickly. Lee took his time. I wolfed down my food and never took my gaze from the eye straining water. Lee believed that whenever he set down his rod and reel to light a cigarette, eat his lunch or pop an icy cold beverage, a bonefish would mud or tail and then disappear before a cast could be made. But today we had not seen any fish and so we took some time to talk.
“It’s great to be back in the Keys” I said as I slowly shook the grasp of the real world and began to enjoy the first day of our annual Keys bonefish trip. Huff ignored the sentiment and commented that Mitchie’s diet failure had made the poling a hell of a lot harder than the previous year. Lee replied, “Maybe I should find a younger less expensive guide who will pole into the wind at least part of the day without complaining”. Huffer and Lee were glad to see each other.
I thought of my trip preparation which always began with my fish log. For years, I have kept a blue, now dog-eared log to record the fish caught, the fish missed and the fish imagined. It is also a valuable aid to detect fishing embellishment which is of course what other anglers do. Each entry of the log contains a few words to assist the aging mind in recalling the flats fished, the tides, the weather, but most importantly, the stories. I read these stories often as I prepare my fishing mind and soul for a Keys fishing adventure.
In addition to the log, I keep a navigational map of the Keys. On the map, grease marks note the exact location of the most memorable bonefish, tarpon, and permit caught. I keep the map and log in the middle drawer of my office desk in Columbus, Ohio. On cold winter days when I cannot successfully return one business call out of twenty on the first try, I often pull out the map and gaze at each smudged grease mark. The map and log have been to the Keys as often Lee and I have. I would never even think of packing it in anything but a carry on. Clothes lost in an airport can be replaced, but the map and log are as precious as my Mickey Mantle rookie card.
During lunch, Mitchie and I spoke of plane schedules, reservations at The Siesta Motel, the packing of rods, reels, rain gear, sunglasses and the lengthy list of items crucial to the success of the trip. My wife often wonders aloud how I could pack for the trip by myself without error, but can never find my glasses without her help.
After listening to the endless details of our preparation, Huff snorted “Hell, you’ve had a great time even if you never catch a fish.” We agreed.