President-elect also likes to fish Islamorada, Fla., which is halfway down the
chain of islands between Miami and Key West and calls itself the Sport Fishing
Capital of the World. Bush was introduced to the area—a fishing paradise of
hard-bottom and grass fiats famous for bonefish, permit, tarpon and snook—by
Nicholas Brady, a long-time friend and the man he will retain as secretary of
the treasury. George Hommell, a local guide with a string of distingished
clients, takes Bush out. Hommell has "fished," as guides often put it,
Jack Nicklaus and Ted Williams, among others.
He and the
President-elect generally set out for the flats of Florida Bay at 6:30 a.m. in
a 17-foot skiff that's powered by an 110-horsepower outboard engine and is
equipped with a poling platform in the stern. Wearing shorts and a T-shirt,
Bush fishes from the bow, casting toward the tailing bonefish. Using 10-pound
test line, the President-elect takes 10 minutes or so to land an eight-or
nine-pound bonefish that in one tearing run can take out 200 yards of line
across the flats—and then do it again. With the exception of his first bonefish
which is mounted and hangs on his office wall, the President-elect has released
every one he has ever caught, holding it by the tail and moving the fish back
and forth in the water so that the gill plates open and the exhausted fish can
loves it out there," Hommell says. "He talks a lot about his concern
for places like Florida Bay—keeping the water clear so our kids and their kids
can enjoy it."
As a rule,
Hommell and Bush stay out on the flats—along with a Secret Service
passenger—until 3:30 in the afternoon. "Eight hours he spends out
there," Hommell says, "and when he gets back he'll have a game of
tennis with Ted Williams and a couple of others. Then after that he goes
jogging! When we get off the water I'm pooped enough to go to bed!"
President-elect, who is fond of quoting Izaak Walton's line about how the days
a man spends fishing ought not to be deducted from his time on earth, has had
to endure only one long spell without fishing. That was during his tour of duty
in China, where he served as chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in Peking from
1974 to '75. With diplomatic travel restricted, his only opportunity to fish
came during a party at the Soviet Embassy, where he was invited to sit in a
boat at one end of a ceremonial pool. At the other, an army of beaters got into
the water and started driving a school of large carp toward him.
"Scary," Bush says. "Damndest thing. Hundreds of these gigantic
carp leaping out of the water. We waited for them with nets on the ends of
There was other
entertainment at the Russian complex in Peking. "Hockey games," Bush
remembers. "On the lake at the embassy. I was never much of a skater, so I
didn't go out on the ice. I don't like to do things I can't do well. I don't
dance well, so I don't dance."
President-elect often speaks of fishing giving him time to relax and think.
Many have remarked how quiet he is on the water, particularly for a man who's
so energetic and voluble. When he takes over the Oval Office, he will join
quite a list of Presidents, including Cleveland, Hoover, Eisenhower and Carter,
who fished for this kind of contemplative relaxation.
Carter, as might
be expected of someone who grew up in Georgia's pine-woods country, was raised
not only with guns (he once shot his sister in the rear end with a BB for
throwing a wrench at him) but also as a fisherman, pulling catfish and eels out
of the Choctawhatchee and the Kinchafoonee creeks with a cane pole. With more
sophisticated equipment, he kept up his fishing during his Presidency at Camp
David (where, without his knowledge, wildlife officials restocked the
facility's streams) and near his hometown of Plains.
It was in Plains,
while sitting placidly in his boat, that Carter caught sight of the famous
"attack rabbit" swimming toward him—a kind of furry torpedo, he must
have thought it—and fended off with his paddle what was very likely a swamp
rabbit (Syvilagus aquaticus) that the Secret Service had spooked from the
Bush has also
been attacked, in his case by a six-pound blue-fish (Pomatomus saltatrix),
which he boated off Florida and which nipped him in the back of the hand.
"See this scar here. Just call me Lyndon," he says, referring to Lyndon
Johnson, who once pulled up his shirt to show off his gallbladder scar to the
press. "Then I've got a scar up here close to my eyebrow from a collision I
had when I was trying to head a ball playing soccer at Andover. Can't see it?
Well, how about this one?" He pulls his shirt away from his neck to reveal
a prominent knob on his right shoulder blade. "Got that one playing mixed
doubles with Barbara at Kennebunkport. Ran into a porch."