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There was so much confusion that no one knew who was doing what, or why. I had become about as anonymous as a man in the Times Square crush on New Year's Eve—so I simply dropped my rod, elbowed and squirmed my way out of the crowd and walked quickly away.
And, I'll admit, I was laughing. When I stopped and looked back from the safe distance of 100 yards and saw the knot of people still frantically milling on the pier, I nearly had to double up—and I realized that it was the first time I'd found anything genuinely funny since arriving in New York.
On Monday morning I was back in Macy's basement rifling through footwear. Every hour or two my boss would come by to see that I was working. He'd open a couple of boxes at random and make sure the shoes in them were correctly matched. Until the end of that week, when I finally completed the job, whenever he came by I was either smiling or chuckling to myself, and I'm sure he thought I was half crazy or simpleminded—but I was thinking about the bonito I'd hooked off the Coney Island pier.
I finally finished college, and I made it a point to learn about bonitos, too. I've been fishing for them ever since and have hooked them off Florida, California and Mexico. They've become my favorite saltwater game fish.
It's true that bonitos don't get much publicity, and there are two clear, if silly, reasons for this. First, they're dark-fleshed and not especially good to eat—but, of course, that matters not at all when you fish for sport. Second, they aren't very large—anything over 10 pounds is exceptional—but 10 pounds of bonito is as strong as 10 pounds of any fish that swims. Hooked on light fly or spinning gear, they can do things difficult to believe.
In Spanish bonito means pretty. And bonitos are that, with bodies as streamlined as torpedoes, blue backs striped longitudinally with black, silver bellies and scythelike tails.
They often travel in large schools and will strike at virtually anything that moves quickly through the water. They are found along both coasts, though they're less common in colder northern waters, which explains why my first catch was unfamiliar to so many of the fishermen on the pier that day.
Every time I hook one, I remember my first bonito at Coney Island, which I'd never have encountered had it not been for a pile of women's shoes in Macy's basement—and every time I remember, it makes me smile.