No Bones about it ­- forget this fish

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When it comes to hunting and fishing, patience is a must, an essential trait. We know that, right?

Some of us have more patience than others. For example, take sitting in a treestand waiting for that big buck to step out. On a cold November morning when the wind is up, I’m good for about two hours, then I have to move. But there are hunters – maybe you are one of those rare individuals – who can stay in a treestand all day with a thermos of coffee and a good book. Nine times out of 10, it is the most patient hunter who gets the shot at a buck of a lifetime. Trouble is knowing that and doing that are two different things.

Same thing with fishing. There are fisherman, usually fly fisherman, who will spend the day pounding the same pool with every artificial in their book. Their sole motivation is a gut feeling that whispers in their ear: “I just know that Old Walter is sulking down there under that snag. I must not give up.” And most of us have come to know our limits in any given situation. On the Nimrod’s Patience Scale (NPS), I fall in the midrange, and perhaps even a tad more patient than the average hunter or angler. During a bear hunt, the anticipation levels are high so I’m usually good for three to four hours.

All of this personal disclosure is intended to persuade you that I’m no pushover when it comes to pursuing my quarry. I do hang in there. But after 10 years of trying in earnest to catch a certain species of fish with no luck at all, I have given up, abandoned the pursuit altogether. Here’s the story.

In the mid 1990s, my wife and I became infatuated with the Florida Keys. Since then, we spend a few weeks in Paradise about every winter. No self respecting fly fisherman vacations in the Keys without getting out on the “skinny water” on the backcountry flats in search of the elusive bonefish. It is the “thing to do,” and there is a reason. In 1995, I watched my son-in-law get a bonefish hookup on a spinning rod, for all of three seconds. The fish took off for Cuba like a banshee in afterburner. It was the first time I ever saw monofilmant line leave a rooster tail as the bonefish departed. In the excitement, my son-in-law caught his thumb in a reel line loop and snap…you know the rest of the story. That experience got me pumped up, and the Reynolds Quest for Bones began.

I hired Flats Guides, the best of the best. No Bones, but we came awful close. Three or four times, we had pods of bonefish within casting range. “There,” the guide would whisper from his poling platform over the stern, “fish at 2 o’clock, 20 yards moving left.” With my heart pounding, I’d make the cast. “Good, good, now strip, strip, strip,” said the guide.”He’s looking at it. He’s looking…strip. Stop! Oh, dagnabit. He spooked,” he said, crestfallen.

This scene repeated a number of times. Later on, after learning the ropes, I chased Bones on my own for about eight years, becoming increasingly discouraged. The Bones are hard to find, and very spooky whenever a fly line comes near.

Then this winter, something wonderful happened. Bonefish began to show up in numbers on a turtle grass flat a mere 30 yards from my back door. This was Divine Intervention! These were five and six pound fish bottom feeding in shallow water on the incoming tide. Nobody else around. Just me and the fish. The wind was down so that you could see their tales above the surface and the direction that they were moving. Slowly and methodically, like a cat stalking a vole, I waded within casting distance.

As the fished moved, I made a gentle cast that delivered my fly (a shrimp imitation) a few feet just ahead of the “V” ripple made by the feeding Bones. Splat! Splat! Splat! The fish scattered. You’d have thought my offering had been a hand grenade instead of a delicate, diminutive No. 12 shrimp imitation.

For three days, I persevered after these spooky, high-strung Florida game fish. And never came close. I came away feeling, not like a skilled, stealthful angler, but more like a skunk at a lawn party, and a clumsy one at that.

A few days later, when the Bones regained their tranquillity and returned to “my” flat, I swallowed my angler’s pride and entered into a conspiracy with my son-in-law. No fly rods. No more mister nice guy. We went after the Bones with spinning rods and live shrimp. Long story short: Still no hookups. After three days of watching these neurotic fish pass up a live shrimp, we returned to port with our tails between our legs.

Bonefish? If these strange fish really do exist, and are not some kind of mirage peculiar to the shimmering flats of the Florida Keys, they deserve their reputation as a “challenging game fish.” If you decide to match wits with them, you have my sympathy.

As for me, I have run out of patience. Bring on the Hendrickson hatches and the Maine brookies.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal.He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.

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