The places where we were seeing bonefish were very challenging: Long, quick casts were required across the wind; lots of experimenting with different flies; lots of rejections. We'd had the most success with Clouser patterns, and we were running out of those. And the bonefish were bigger than I'd expected, which meant they were smarter. Plus there was the ever-present threat of barracuda. In the span of five minutes, my wife, Sally, and I had both lost hooked bonefish to one monster, who chased them down and snatched them crossways, like a man eating an ear of corn.
While a bonefish can swim about 24 miles per hour, a barracuda travels 27 mph, Frank said. He assured me, however, that they never attack humans, at least not on purpose. He'd known a couple of conch fishermen who had been sliced up pretty badly by barracuda while cleaning shells in the sea. And there was a thumbless guide who'd had the misfortune of trying to release a bonefish by hand while a barracuda was cruising the area. Barracuda teeth are not to be believed. We got a close view of them courtesy of Antonio, the boatman. One day he rigged up a hand line with a needlefish impaled on a heavy hook. When he spotted a barracuda, he flung the needlefish, lariat-style, in its vicinity, and the barracuda attacked. Moments later the barracuda was flipping around on shore, and Antonio was braining it with a piece of driftwood. He had to hit it 15 times. The barracuda was some 4½ feet long, 30 to 35 pounds, with large, pointed teeth like stilettos. Inside, the roof of its mouth was studded with spikes angling backward, the better to grip its prey. There was something evil about its eyes. Its entire aspect was hideous.
"We better not let Niki see this," I said. We'd be fishing with her the next morning.
But this, as it turned out, was the very spot Frank had been saving for Niki. La Pelona (the Balding Island) is a small, mostly treeless cay that was nearly an hour away by boat. We met at our hotel at 8 a.m. sharp. Niki was wearing a floppy hat and a long-sleeved turquoise shirt.
"Orvis?" I asked.
"Gucci," she said.
I asked if the barking dogs were keeping her awake at night.
"No. We have roosters."
The swimsuit crew was staying at a new hotel on the town square. It abutted a house that raised fighting cocks, a legal pursuit in Los Roques. The cockfighting season had recently ended, but that did not prevent the roosters next-door to the hotel from crowing at all hours of the night. These were no farmyard, crack-of-dawn roosters. They were night owls. It was so annoying that Elaine Farley, the swimsuit issue editor, had gone outside in her pajamas at 2 a.m., determined which house owned the crowing cocks and knocked on the door. When an elderly woman answered, Elaine asked if she spoke English. She did not. So Elaine put her index finger to her lips and said, "Cock-a-doodle-doo...shhh! Cock-a-doodle-doo...shhh!" Then she went back to bed.
The astonished woman thought she'd had a vision. In the morning Elaine sent an assistant over to see if the cocks couldn't be purchased and slaughtered on the spot. The woman politely refused to sell her roosters but talked about the dream she'd had the night before, in which a beautiful American woman appeared at her door in pajamas and began crowing like a cock. It was a very good omen, she thought, for her prized fighters.