An Outdoor View: Bonefishing, Part 9

Author’s note: This column is the last in a series about fishing at Christmas Island in 1987. — LP

March 2 — When I wake up, I feel as if I’ve been beaten with a two-by-four. Right off, I know why. The fishing was so good yesterday, I was careless about drinking enough water. I’m dehydrated. When the other guys leave to go fishing, I fall into bed and sleep all day. It’s depressing, being halfway around the world, sick, and missing out on a whole day of fishing. And still no sign of my missing pants.

To make matters worse, when my buddies return from fishing, they’re all grins. I missed the best day yet, they say. Howie, who usually doesn’t brag about numbers, says he caught five bonefish with five casts, and a little later, six with six casts. His day’s catch was 48 fish.

Having heard enough about the “best day yet,” I go back to bed.

Later, I go to the refrigerator for ice. When I open the freezer door, there are my pants. They’ve been soaked in water, stuffed into a plastic bag and frozen into a solid brick. Someone apparently felt strongly about not wanting me to wear them again.

March 3 — I’m feeling as good as new today. Good thing, because we’re going out on the 28-foot offshore boat. We ride to the harbor in bright sunshine. The day looks promising.

The captain and his crew of two are local Natives, and they seem proficient at fishing and running this boat. A half-hour run from the dock, and we’re trolling four, squid-type surface baits at about 12 knots — cruising speed for most fish in this part of the Pacific.

A pod of porpoises joins us. At one time, seven are under the bow, holding their positions with little or no effort. With my camera, I lie on the bow deck and watch them from five feet above. They occasionally turn on their sides to look up at me.

Joe, Chip, Doug and I draw straws to determine the fishing order. Howie excludes himself, opting to troll a fifth line with his 12-weight fly rod. I win “first fish,”and pull in a 10-pound bonito. It no sooner hits the fish box, and we have another.

The skipper looks for birds, which are looking for baitfish, pushed to the surface by larger fish. Whenever he trolls past birds, we catch fish. When the bite stops, he again goes looking for birds. This is similar to trolling for salmon in Alaska, but there are several differences.

For one thing, the fish here can be larger and stronger than salmon, so we’re trolling with heavier tackle than is the norm for salmon fishing. Another difference is that we’re trolling much faster than anyone trolls for salmon. The gamefish here are used to chasing fast prey.

And then there are the sharks. While holding Howie’s fly rod, Joe hooks a bonito. Before he can bring it to the boat, a shark takes everything but the gills. Then Doug hooks a bonito. He has it almost to the boat, when the water behind the boat suddenly turns red. Doug reels in nothing but the bonito’s head. We learn to pull fish in as fast as possible, yet another reason for using heavy tackle. When Howie manages to winch in an entire bonito with his fly rod, we give him a standing ovation.

The variety in our catch is amazing. The most numerous of the fish seem to be bonito, the small cousins of tuna, but we catch several other species. I catch my first mahi-mahi, the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen, its flanks gleaming gold, blue and green. Other “firsts” for me are a rainbow runner and a wahoo.

For our last night on the island, our hosts hold a luau, complete with roast pig, followed by Native singing and dancing. Held under whispering coconut palms near the beach on a balmy night, the food, music and dancing are a perfect ending for this trip of a lifetime.

March 4 — When our flight from Honolulu touches down in Anchorage, it’s the middle of the night, and the temperature is 17 degrees. Home, sweet home.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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