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The road to wisdom?
Well it’s plain and simple to express...
Err and err and err again, 

but less and less and less.
Piet Hein (1905-1996)




It had been some time since I had caught a big bonefish. By big, I mean those big-shouldered, flat-headed monsters that have left the cute and cuddly class reserved for poodles and hamsters and entered the realm of Rottweilers and wolverines. In front of me was a real beast. While small bones bob and weave on the flats as if looking for a handout, big bones slink onto the shallows like invisible assassins. They've got an attitude... they act like any hunter worth his salt should act. This guy in front of me, when visible, was the only the palest of green. He moved very slowly and seemed at times to be nothing more than the bottom and a shadow. This is precisely how bonefish got their name, the grey ghost. With these big fish you’re never really sure you see them until the light is just right. Then two and a half feet of grey-green vapor suddenly becomes a direct link to your adrenal gland. If you don't keep your vision concentrated and your mind focused, these fish will disappear just as they came... a wish becomes an apparition... excitement becomes nothing more than hope.

After a few days of catching dinks, this big bone seemed to be sent by the central committee to restore the species storied reputation. I knew from experience that this is the moment when casts fall apart. A thousand things can go wrong and often do. Fly lines can wrap around fanny packs and fighting butts can reach out to grab any loop not battened down. If you do manage to get your line in the air, there are lots of traditional ways to screw it up and I always find a few new creative ways to botch a cast on each trip. Of course, you can screw it up by throwing too short or too long... or you can pile your leader... or you can noisily smack the fly. Other popular choices include lining the fish or popping the fish on the head with the fly. But the result is always the same. You get nothing... nada... nothing. You are left just a big goose egg on the scoreboard and an overwhelming and somewhat masochistic need to relive what you just did.
At times like this, you might swear out loud or look to the heavens. Some anglers drop their rods to their side and their necks droop as they stare at the water. We all know this posture of defeat. We can read it a mile away. Shoulders slump and rods drop as assorted and highly descriptive expletives loudly waft over the pale yellow flats. You cheesed the cast, you screwed it up, you blew it… now have plenty of time to think about what just happened.





But if you do somehow manage to make a good presentation, no such leisure time exists. Things happen fast from here on in. Through the adrenaline haze of a thumping heart and buzzing fingers, you must now get the fish to eat. If you do, your journey continues. If not, you have another block of time to think of all the synonyms for rejection.
But if the big bone eats, it begins! If there is one moment in fishing that we all seek, it is that nanosecond before and the few seconds after, the hookup. This is when all hell breaks loose. When a big bone decides to take his considerable bulk elsewhere, he leaves an angler with a fly line ripping through the air as he struggles to keep up with his oxygen intake. If you manage to get the fish on the reel and avoid plinking your 10 lb. tippet like a broken violin string, line begins to melt off your spool. You hope you set your drag right as thoughts of getting spooled replace the dozens of other concerns: the cast, the retrieve, the hookset, that you just successfully put in your rear view mirror.
Fighting a big bonefish is a different game. If you haven’t done it for a while, it can be a real shocker. What may have been routine with the poodles and the punks becomes an all consuming exercise with their larger, supercharged brethren. If you’re lucky, you get to see your fish. You have to do a lot right to get to this point. But if you do it right and if you are really lucky, you get to measure and release your catch.




Numbers now have real meaning...28, 30, even 32 inches translates to 9,10, maybe 12 pounds. Anything over ten pounds is considered the fish-of-a-lifetime. You may get a bigger one, but it will never be any better. You found your Holy Grail and you know this even after the release and before you begin to once again scan the flat. You think about bonefish, in Latin, it's Albula vulpes, in legend, it's the grey ghost. Whatever you call them, you think their reputation is well-deserved and now duly noted.
But I was at the beginning. I thought I could see my monster, my Holy Grail, my fish-of-a-lifetime. With a dry mouth, I slowly took another step forward. Time would tell whether I was up to the task.