Two weeks ago I visited my life long friend, Bill Key, who was vacationing with his wife Kathleen and our good friend Anthony Rodriquez in the Florida Keys. Yes, I went to see the Keys in the Keys.
I flew in to Key West airport Monday and the next day Bill and I left the beach house around 7:00 AM to explore this unique chain of islands which makes a long hook from the Florida mainland for about 80 miles south then westward into the Gulf of Mexico. The day was devoted to nothing more than leisurely driving and stopping to investigate anything that looked interesting. The only real business that need to be done was to find a fishing guide to hire for Wednesday. We were especially interested in the back-country fishing, a term used for fishing the Gulf side of the Keys, as opposed to the Atlantic side which is referred to as offshore fishing.
We finally located a guide and explained that we wanted to try fishing in the shallow back-country flats. This type of fishing turned out to be the guide’s favorite way to fish and we agreed to meet him at the marina the next morning at 7:30.
We met the next morning as planned and wasted no time getting started. After clearing the no-wake area at the marina we stayed between the channel markers on to open water, made a 180 degree turn and went under a bridge that supports the highway. We picked up speed to about 30 MPH and enjoyed the ride past millions of mangroves.
The guide will be known as simply "Guide” so that if he reads this story he will not be offended. And, you never know, the next time we go fishing on short notice he may again be the only unoccupied guide in Monroe County Florida. But as you read along please bear in mind that Guide is a person that impressed Bill so favorably that he decided to trust him with our lives.
Please allow me to explain this fishing technique. Most hunters are familiar with the term “still hunting” as a technique of hunting that involves moving stealthily in order to spot game animals before they spot the hunter. It is great sport that employs all of the senses, patience and constant visual surveillance. Fishing these flats in ultra clear water is sometimes referred to as sight fishing or still fishing. This involves the skills of keeping the boat, tackle, and fishermen undetected so that you see the fish before it sees or hears anything suspicious. Then all you have to do, while remaining undetected in water only two feet deep, is to cast and place the live bait about three feet in front of the fish. Theoretically, if you have made it this far, the fish will take the bait and the fight is on.
The information above was gathered in a period of about tree hours with little help from Guide. It turned out that the combination of few pounds of snuff a heavy accent, like none I've heard before, put Guide in a condition that made his speaking skills practically nil. I would have felt better informed if he had been hopelessly mute.
In order to see the fish better the skiffs have a platform built at the back where one can stand with a long pole and push the boat about with the motor raised. Guide was doing this very thing when I heard him whisper, "nerouswuter" and point to the one o'clock position. Fortunately I looked in the direction he was pointing and saw a bonefish swimming with its dorsal fin and tail above the water (this behavior is called tailing or fining by those who can speak). I immediately learned why many say that the Florida bonefish is the fastest of all saltwater game fish. This one ran over 200 yards so quickly that it would have surely melted the drag on a cheap reel.
Guide then jumped off his perch and began yelling some of the most alarming noises I’ve heard since the time I witnessed a young lady attempting natural child birth without anesthesia. In spite of all the chaos, I really had fun landing my first bonefish with my friend Bill’s help. While Guide was trashing around at the stern of the skiff trying to remove a machete from his belt with tobacco juice now running down the front of his shirt, Bill boated the fish, removed the hook and released the fine specimen.
We continued fishing the shallows until we caught our fare share of fish. Around 3:30 we decided it was time to leave this wonderful playground so Guide took us back to the marina.
The water around the Florida Keys is as clear as any I’ve ever seen. The shoreline and the land have been kept pristine and everyone there seems to respect nature. The Key Deer are protected by the Federal Government but fortunately the Key Limes aren’t.
The short time I spent with my friends on and around Sugarloaf Key was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
Oh, by the way, I looked through an Annapolis book of sailing terms and I feel fairly sure that “nerouswuter" translates into nervous water.