Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tough Love

I’ve been thrown out of bars. I’ve been thrown out of school. I’ve been thrown out of the house. But I’d never been thrown off a skiff before.

Bring it in. Put on your boots. You’re walkin’ back.

To be honest, I probably deserved it. (I typically come by my expulsions righteously.) I’d blown shot after shot. Torrie had busted his ass to find us fish and I’d screwed it up time and time again.

Eleven o’clock. Eleven! You’re lookin’ nine! Square up on the boat, mon.
Put it in front of the fish. He don’t eat out his tail.
I said forty feet. That’s
[pick any number less than forty].
You don't see those fish? There’s ten of them!
No. You’re OTHER right!

So he dropped me off and he left me. Pushed off with Jason on the bow and headed out into the sprawling flat, instructing me to walk the edge of the mangroves with the sun at my back and keep going. He’d pick me up on that far point, a mile or so out. Maybe.

It had been frustrating, fumbling all those opportunities. Bad line management, poor accommodation for wind, poor fundamentals. I’d stood on the bow at the ready and took deep centering breaths to calm the inner tension but the moment Torrie said “fifty feet, twelve o’clock, moving left,” the yips came tumbling out. And it’s not like I hadn’t done this before. No this-is-my-first-time excuses. I just sucked.

But this humiliation was uncalled for. This being left to slog along, alone, was unjust. It wasn’t right. Yeah, I’d disappointed myself and I felt guilty about disappointing the guide, but this? I walked and felt pissy about it.

But it’s hard to stay mad in the islands, wading along firm sands on a bluebird day in crystalline, emerald-green, shin-deep water. A light breeze filling your nose with the hint of salt and promise. A fly rod in your hand. There’s a reason that the islands are so relaxed. It’s in the air.

The flats seeped in, replacing everything else. The ripple of wind and the reflection of sun made the waters dance and the feeling of isolation comforted me. My tensions slipped away, left in the blue mud trail that extended behind me. All that mattered was the next waft of breeze, the next breath, the next passing cloud. The call of birds and the hush of slow steps in shallow water. I gave in to the place, in to the peace, completely.

They appeared in my peripheral vision. I saw them, not because I was looking for them, but because I wasn’t looking for anything and they were something. Anomalies. Subtle wrinkles in the fabric of the flat. Movement slightly askew from everything else. Two of them.

And before I thought too much about how it happened, my drag was singing and I soon held one of the pair in my hand. A splinter of silver, chipped from the flats, reflecting everything in each perfect mirrored scale. Wet lightning. And as quickly as it had arrived it slipped back into the warm salt, paused for a heartbeat at my feet, and was gone.

Take that, Torrie. I don’t need no stinkin' guide. I can do it myself.

But, I had to admit, I had done everything he’d said. Read the fish as they approached. Put myself and my line in a position to act. Moved the fly when it needed to be moved, stopped it when it needed to be stopped. Closed the deal. I’d been listening. I’d been thinking. But I’d been trying too hard.

So I smiled and waded on, soaking up the day and nicking a fish here and there, each almost as an afterthought to this splendid stroll on the flats. And quicker than I would have liked (though all day wouldn’t have been enough) I caught up with the skiff at the prescribed far point where the guys were digging into the cooler. Before I could say a word, before I could give Torrie a piece of my mind, he looked up from the box, a huge smile on his face, and extended a cold Kalik in my direction.

I been watchin'. Knew you had it, mon. Could see it in you. Just needed some time to yourself to make it right.

He had seen what I was missing and he had given it to me. Not the cast or the vision or the physical act. I needed the headspace to go with those tools. The room to figure it out in the very best way. My way. He'd put me where I could only disappoint myself, knowing that I wouldn't.

The beer tasted damn good.

We finished the day on the boat with a few more close shots, thirty and in, as the tides dropped out. I blew a few of them, but didn’t sweat it that much. Torrie was quiet until he called it a day and watched as I made my wind-em-up cast, clearing the coils on the deck with two leisurely flicks, sending out sixty feet of line, straight as an arrow. Twelve o’clock. No pressure.

I could hear him chuckling from the platform.

Note: Okay. Torrie didn't really throw me off the boat. Pardon a little poetic license. But I was sent in the described direction, on my own, after a frustrating morning. The rest is true, right down to the reason that he sent me off. My deep gratitude and respect goes out to an extraordinary guide, Torrie Bevins of the Andros South Lodge, for recognizing what I needed and making it happen. I look forward to walking the Dirty South with (or without) you again, my friend.

Oh, and pictured at the top of the post is my buddy Steve Duda of The Flyfish Journal who, if I recall correctly, was heading out on a similar walk our second day on Andros South. We jointly agree that wading's the very best way to play this game.