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The novice starts with a simple combination—early incoming water in the morning or evening—and gradually, by observation, begins to include the mosaic of tidal information that finally becomes the fabric of his fishing knowledge. Tide in the tropics, where only a foot of water moves on the average, seems rather ethereal to the new bonefisherman. It does not seem reasonable to him that three-or four-tenths of a foot of tidal variation can be the difference between a great and a worthless fishing tide.
There is another way that tide can work: you are poling across a flat in less than a foot of water. A fish tails high on the flat. You begin your approach, closing in deliberately. There is the small sound of staghorn crunching against the skiff's bottom, then the solider sound of sand. You can't go any farther. The bonefish is still tailing, still out of reach. You get out of the skiff and wade to him and make your cast. His tail disappears as he tilts out of his feeding posture, follows your lure or bait, takes, is hooked and running. For 10 minutes you live as never before. Then the bonefish, a fine eight-pounder, is released.
When you return to the skiff, it is high and dry; the tide has dropped from under it. You've got a six-hour wait before you can budge the skiff. You pace up and down the fiat like an angry executive. If you are a smoker, you smoke more than you have ever smoked before.
Can't someone get me out of this?
Now if you have gone aground in the morning on a summer's day and have not brought water, you will be truly sorry. If you have gone aground in the afternoon and can't find your way home in the dark, you'll have to sleep in the skiff. Pick a breezy place where the mosquitos have taxiing problems. A certain number will crash land on your person anyway, but the breeze will discourage the rank and file. Curl up in your little flats boat, listen to the wave slap and, watching the deep tropical night, think upon the verities of your choice. Tantrums, it is to be mentioned, only keep you from getting to sleep.
Tide, that great impersonal pulse of earth which brought you that eight-pounder on a platter, has cooked your goose.
Bonefish are hard to see. You train yourself to see them by a number of subliminal signs which, after you have fished the flats extensively, give you the opportunity to amaze your friends with feats of the eye. "Bonefish right in front of you!" you say as one ghosts past the skiff, visible only by the palest shadow it makes on the bottom.
"Where?" your good friend whom you shouldn't treat this way asks. "My God, where?"
"Right in front of you!" This starts your companion casting, even though he sees nothing, not one thing.
"Flushed fish," you say, gazing at the horizon.