Culture

Bonefish Ahead!

Hauling bonefish with Willis Taylor “back in the day.”

By Diane Taylor ~ Photos By Marta Morton

It was Easter Monday of 1982. On a whim, a small group of us (six, to be exact) sailed from Pine Cay to Sandy Point on North Caicos with Richard Kriss on his 22′ sailboat Little Wing. It was beautiful sailing as we threaded our way through reefs and tied up to the dock. The same dock where I’d seen Haitian sloops with their cargo of Haiti-grown fresh vegetables the crew would trade for dried conch that Caicos fishermen had dived for. We all had to be back on Pine Cay the next morning for jobs, and arranged for trans (transportation) with one of the few cars on the island to pick us up early the next morning.

Fishermen come to TCI’s abundant waters to fly cast for bonefish.

We chatted with people at Sandy Point and then our “trans man” Zander drove us to Horse Stable Beach where we walked the beach and marvelled over the shells and the stillness. As the sun descended perilously close to the horizon, the no-seeums began to hunt their large human prey, so we headed over to Susan Butterfield’s for supper. For some reason, the other five were able to spend the night at a friend’s house that could only take five.We heard that someone had a place where one person could sleep and that’s where I spent the night. I got up at 5:15 Tuesday morning to wait for trans that never came. Fortunately! 

How Willis Taylor knew my situation, I don’t know, but he came by and said he was heading to Pine Cay by motor boat from Bellefield Landing. Would I like to come? Well, yes! Broad smiles all around. His two teenage sons straddled one bicycle, he another, and my place was behind him. 

Off we rattled on the gravel road under pedal power. The last half mile or so veered down a steep hill, and we plunged down at a mad pace, me holding on to him. Willis knew and steered around every pothole and in no time we arrived at the low tide water, and he and the boys tucked their bikes away in the underbrush. 

We loaded ourselves and our belongings into the skiff that had a huge pile of netting in the stern. Willis showed me his lunch bag that contained several whelks he’d collected from the north side of Dellis Cay—his wife had boiled them for him earlier that morning. The engine came to life and we headed out across the flats. I’d be home for breakfast. 

Suddenly, the boy at the bow pointed ahead and off to the port side. “Bonefish!” I didn’t see anything, but Willis immediately steered over to an area several hundred feet away, and as we approached I could see the water alive with large silvery fish, lots of them, just below the surface. I looked at Willis who gave me a little frown. “We have to stop for these,” he said. The work day starts now.

Although this man is using a cast net to collect bait fish, “hauling” for bonefish involves surrounding the fish with a net.

He threw the anchor over and he and his sons leapt into the waist-deep water, carrying the huge net. Within minutes, the two boys carried one end of the net in one direction towards the school of fish and Willis carried the other end in the opposite direction until eventually the net formed a large circle that trapped many of the fish inside. All three began catching the two- and three-foot long fish with their hands, giving the necks a quick twist and tossing them into the boat. 

“You, too,” Willis, worried look on his face, motioned to me to give them a hand. Really? Okay, I could do this! Into the den of circling fish I slid. “Break their necks if you can, otherwise, just throw them in the boat,” he said. Okay. I’d caught smelt (seven inches long) in Ontario with my bare hands, I could do this! Well, this was different, and I wasn’t a big help but I did add a few to the several piling up in the skiff. I didn’t have the know-how to snap their necks, though.

Those guys moved FAST! The excitement lasted all of fifteen minutes. The boys carefully walked the net back in, folding it just so, so that it would be ready at a moment’s notice again. At least fifty bonefish. A good haul, a good hunt. Most of them he would sell to the Meridian Club on Pine Cay. Calm now, he weighed anchor and steered the boat and cargo back on course over the milky turquoise flats.

The next day, I ran into Willis on Pine Cay and he gave me a slow warm smile and slight nod of the head. Not long after, I somehow wound up on another bonefishing trip with him, and “we” captured over eighty. He said I was his good luck charm. 

No, Willis, you were mine. How many people can say they have been bonefishing the traditional time-immemorial way?

Diane “Dee” Taylor lived and worked for three years on Pine Cay with her husband Gary Hodgkins in the early 1980s. They worked with PRIDE (Protection of Reefs and Islands from Degradation and Exploitation) under the direction of Chuck Hesse.

She teaches memoir writing and has published The Gift of Memoir: Show Up, Open Up, Write. She is part of Spirit of the Hills Writers. For more information, visit https://dianemtaylor.com.



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On the Cover

Agile LeVin—photographer, explorer and chronicler of everything TCI on his website www.visittci.com—took this drone photo of the multi-textured wetlands of West Caicos. He was part of the expedition that investigated the site of the historic pirate attack in the area. For more information and photos, go to page 48.

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