"That was fun," she said after letting the fish go. "Let's catch some more."
I told her not to get her hopes up, that the school of bonefish—if it were a school—had surely been spooked. Niki smiled at me benignly and kept casting. A few minutes later she caught a second bonefish.
More hooting, more pictures, more backslapping. Niki took it all in stride. Her technique was getting better, so why shouldn't she keep catching bonefish? She moved closer to shore and caught two more. The photographers had taken all the pictures they needed, and they began putting down their cameras and picking up their fishing rods. They spread out along the shore and commenced catching bonefish as if they were bluegill. "I can't wait to teach my kids to fish," Niki said.
"Frank?" I asked. "How the hell did you do this?" It was by far the most action we'd seen all week. Everyone was having a ball.
Johnson McKelvy, the producer of SI's TV show on the swimsuit issue, was fishing beside us. Somehow, in the midst of all those feeding bonefish, he hooked a pompano about the size of a pancake. He was skittering it in along the surface, laughing. "Look at this!" McKelvy said. "Can you believe it?" The fish was flipping on top of the water in an effort to escape, about 10 feet in front of him.
I saw a streak in the water, and before I could even think, a barracuda—bigger than the one Antonio had killed—leaped out of the water for the pompano. Its mouth was wide open, its teeth exposed. The pompano jumped too, toward McKelvy, who stumbled backward, flicking his rod tip in horror as he fell. The pompano flew in the air, away from him, with the barracuda still in pursuit. Unfortunately the pompano landed a few feet from Frank. The barracuda leaped again, and I saw Frank spin sideways like a bullfighter. The barracuda flew past his chest. If he hadn't moved, it would have hit him square. I watched, frozen, as the barracuda landed between Frank and me, then leaped a third time, veering sharply in my direction. I remember that its mouth, still agape, looked completely unhinged. It landed no more than three feet from my leg and disappeared beneath the surface. The water was cloudy with sand. I braced myself, expecting a collision. None came, and I turned to see Niki backing toward the shore, alarm all over her face. I took two steps and lifted her into my arms.
She was surprisingly light. We scanned the water. "Want to switch?" I asked, reconsidering my predicament. No one could find the barracuda. The pompano was still flipping on McKelvy's line.
I started walking toward the shore, hoping someone would pick up a camera and take a picture. No one did. "I think it's gone now," Niki said, and I put her down. Then, to my astonishment, she waded right back to where she'd been standing and resumed casting. "I just want to catch one more," she said.
That is the kiss of death. How many times had I heard just one more instantly kill the fishing for the day. Everyone else had had enough after the fright with the barracuda and was waiting safely on the shore, reliving the incident. Not Niki. In three more casts the rod tip bent and we could hear the zzzz-zzzz-zzzz of the reel. When she brought the bonefish in. Frank took about one third of a second to unhook it. In less than two hours of fishing, novice Niki Taylor had hooked six bonefish, each two to three pounds, and landed five. We popped a beer on the shore and toasted her success.
"That's why they call them supermodels," McKelvy said.