MIAMI -- For the umpteenth time, and to no one's real surprise, the weather forecasters got it wrong one day a couple weeks ago. Despite their predictions of light winds and a 30 percent chance of rain, Biscayne Bay was overcast with spitting spasms of drizzle and blustery northeast breezes. Not exactly prime conditions for sight-fishing for bonefish.
But captain Carl Ball and I had launched his skiff at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, and hoped for a lucky break.
Running all the way south to Elliott Key was a bad idea in view of intermittent lightning in the distance. So Ball pointed his boat toward Crandon Beach, which was nearly deserted on this cloudy, midweek morning.
More than 100 yards offshore, Ball shut down his outboard and began poling along the sandy shallows while I stood on the bow holding a light spinning rod baited with live shrimp. No way were we going to try fly-fishing on a day like this; it is possible to take self-flagellation way too far.
I felt pretty pessimistic. Even though the beach was empty, I couldn't imagine a creature as shaky and neurotic as a bonefish venturing onto a shoreline treaded by so many human beings. In the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands, bonefish are a common sight along swimming beaches. But Key Biscayne? Forget it.
But then, Ball told me one of his customers reported catching and releasing double-digit bones while wading here once upon a time.
Staring down into the water through polarized sunglasses, I noticed the clarity of the water on the incoming tide. But with the white glare from the clouds, it was nearly impossible to see anything more than 10 feet away. All I could make out was the occasional tuft of brown seaweed.
When we were about 50 feet from an empty lifeguard stand, Ball said, "Three o'clock, point your rod, about 30 feet."
I quickly looked where he had directed me -- and didn't see a thing.
"Just cast. They're mudding . . . about 30 feet," Ball insisted.
Even though I still couldn't see what he was talking about, I cast my unweighted shrimp, and let it sink to the bottom about 2 1/2 feet deep. Suddenly, the 10-pound braid became taut, and then the drag on the reel began to shriek.
I couldn't believe it. I tried to reel, but the fish had other plans. I had to wait between drag squealings to crank the handle.
It took about five minutes for me to reel the fish close enough for Ball to grab it -- a 17 1/2-inch bonefish that fought like it thought it was a bluefin tuna. He put it into his livewell while he readied a tagging kit -- one of many handed out by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School.
He took out a tape measure and recorded the fish's length and girth. Then he used a tagging gun, which looks a lot like a staple gun, to insert a streamer tag just behind the dorsal fin.
I snapped some photos, and Ball put the fish back into the water and watched it swim away.
We resumed poling the shoreline and, less than five minutes later, Ball spotted the shadows of another group of fish. This time, I could vaguely discern their cruising outlines. I made a 15-foot cast, which landed aft of their disappearing butts.
Swearing at my bad cast, I reeled in the line to make a second try. But Ball said I should have left my bait where it lay.
"Sometimes it pays to be patient," he said. "If the shrimp is horribly misplaced and I tell the customer to reel in and re-cast, I don't know how many times I've seen the bonefish go over to where the shrimp just was. Sometimes it's better to just leave the shrimp there."
Ball was right. The third time he spotted a couple of cruisers and I again made a bad cast that I thought didn't land close enough, I resisted the impulse to reel in. A few seconds later, one of the fish grabbed my bait and ran off line. But when I tried to come tight on it, it spat the hook.
Still, the point was made. In the crummy visibility, we were having trouble seeing the fish; but they also were having trouble seeing us. Therefore, they were much more likely to smell the bait, turn and eat it without seeing the boat.
Incredibly, Ball spied two more schools of fish. I could barely see them, but I cast in the general direction where he indicated--and caught a second bone, and then, later, a third one. Ball tagged both: one measured 17 inches, the other 16 1/2.
As the weather worsened and the tide began to ebb, the fish disappeared and we decided to return to the boat ramp. A surprisingly productive bad-weather day.
To book a bonefish trip with captain Carl Ball in Biscayne Bay, call 954-383-0145 or 954-565-2457 or visit www.awolfishingguides.com.