FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Capt. Jorge Valverde reads a flat like an IRS auditor reads a tax return: His keen eyes don't miss a thing.
So when the sun popped out from behind a mass of clouds and lit up Biscayne Bay, Valverde was able to see a couple of faint muds, which are signs of feeding bonefish.
Seconds later, Valverde saw three shadowy figures swimming 30 feet from his perfectly positioned flats skiff.
He cast a live shrimp in the direction the fish were heading. Two of the fish veered away, but the third bonefish charged in, picked up the shrimp and swam off. When Valverde felt the line accelerate off the spinning reel, he closed the reel's bail, pointed the 7 and a half-foot rod at the fish and lifted the rod tip when the line came tight.
What happened next is what every bonefish addict lives for -- the fish streaked across the flat, ripping 10-pound braided line off the reel.
"I don't think fishing's the right word for what we do," Valverde said after tagging and releasing the bonefish, our second of the day. "We're hunting the fish."
Few anglers hunt bonefish as skillfully as Valverde, who guides for bonefish, tarpon, permit and sharks in Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay (visit lowplacesguideservice.com).
In addition to his phenomenal eyesight, Valverde always seems to know where bonefish are likely to appear on a flat given its layout, the stage of the tide and the weather conditions. He also lets the bonefish dictate his tactics, rather than heeding the so-called experts who offer absolutes, such as bonefish always feed into the current.
Our first bonefish -- Valverde hooked it and I reeled it -- was caught while it swam with the falling tide and into a southeasterly wind of 15-20 mph.
That we had caught any bonefish was a testament to Valverde. It had been raining when he left his home in Cooper City that morning. The cloudy skies looked like they might drench us as Valverde motored across the bay from the Biscayne National Park boat ramps to some flats where we'd be somewhat protected from the stiff winds.
The sun peeked out from behind the clouds every now and then, but the bonefish we saw were not interested in eating. So Valverde ran north to a flat where the tide would be falling sooner and the light might be better.
"I was hoping we could get past those clouds and we did," he said.
In short order we saw a stingray, a small sea turtle and a ballyhoo. As soon as the tide turned and started going out, sharks and bonefish began appearing.
We caught and released two lemon sharks and a bonnethead shark casting shrimp to them, which Valverde said makes it easier to deliver a good cast when bonefish show up.
"You may not get a lot of practice casting on bonefish," said Valverde, noting that bonefish are less tolerant of bad casts than sharks. "You may get only five shots.
"Lemons and bonnetheads give you the opportunity to make the practice casts. I use it as a training tool. When people catch (sharks), they say, 'This isn't bad.' Sharks jump and run out line and most of the time they're cooperative."
When a bonefish cooperates, it gets your heart pumping and your knees shaking. But just when you think a bonefish is going to act a certain way, it might do something else, which is why catching a bonefish is so rewarding. And why Valverde always expects the unexpected.
"I don't make the rules," Valverde said. "I just play the game."