On the way to La Pelona, Niki told me about her athletic background. These days she gets most of her exercise chasing her twin two-year-olds, Jake and Hunter, around the house. But she assured me she was coordinated. At Cooper City High in Pembroke Pines, Fla., she had competed in a local softball league, while swimming and playing water polo for fun. Her fishing experience was limited, but she picked things up quickly. And she was lucky. She was confident that catching a bonefish would not be a problem.
It is an amazing thing, confidence. Far more valuable than skill. When we arrived, Niki selected an eight-weight rod that was to her liking and received about five minutes of casting instruction from me. I would share these priceless tips with you, except that, for the most part, they were ignored. Niki employed her own unique casting style—there was sort of a hitch in the middle—and with the wind behind us, it worked. The fly, a bonefish special, flew out fine.
Frank took over. He led us far out into the blue water until we were wading up to our chests. "Don't worry, I'll drown first," Frank said. The 6-foot Niki had a couple of inches on both of us. "Cast there," said Frank.
We'd been sight-fishing all week, casting only to fish that we'd spotted. This seemed more like cast-and-pray fishing. But Frank must have seen something to have led us out here. Niki took the rod back, the line kind of curled up behind her in a giant C, then as she came forward—fwwooossh—the wind straightened it out as sweet as you please, and the fly landed 30 feet away. Perfect. "Now strip," Frank said.
Niki looked at him warily.
"The line," I said. We hadn't covered that part. I showed her how to bring in the line with her left hand. As promised, she picked it up quickly, an impressive feat considering the length of her nails. The truth was she had a wonderfully relaxed style of stripping that must have perfectly mimicked a swimming shrimp because on her second cast a huge bonefish—one of the largest we'd seen all week, perhaps 13 pounds—rose up from the deep and followed her fly. Looking from the fish to Niki's manicure to the handle of the reel, which he could envision spinning like a propeller the moment that big bonefish started its run, Frank undoubtedly thought, There go the nails. But Niki was distracted by something and stopped stripping in the fly. The bonefish, seeing its quarry go dead in the water, veered away and departed.
"Strip, strip, strip," Frank told her. "Don't stop."
"Oh," Niki said with a smile. "All right." She cast again.
Strip, strip, strip. Suddenly there was a bend in the rod. "I've got something," she said coolly. She did, too, but it wasn't taking out line the way a bonefish would have. Niki brought in a small yellowtail snapper. She held it up, we posed for pictures, then we let it go. At least we weren't going to be skunked.
Niki cast again. Strip, strip, strip. This time, the bend in the rod was followed by an insistent zzzz-zzzz-zzzz as a bonefish began running out to sea. Frank and I hooted. Her fourth cast. I couldn't believe it. The rest of the swimsuit crew, watching from the shore, cheered. Niki calmly held the rod tip high, let the bonefish finish its first run, then reeled. She digested our frenzied instructions, weathered a couple more short runs and calmly brought the 2½-pound bonefish to hand. Never a doubt.