We ended our stay in the Gardens of the Queen the way we began it, with Hardy and Fletch fishing with their sons, Cam and Nick, and Greg and I together with Keko. The last morning on the boat is like finishing the last few pages of a book you wish wouldn’t end. Usually there’s always one or two stragglers making a late appearance for breakfast but this morning everyone was topside early. Greg was doing his back stretches when I came up shortly after six. Fletch and Nick were quietly reading. Hardy was organizing his gear and Cam was listening to music on his iPod.
Suliet started bringing breakfast to the table and asked how everyone would like their eggs. I drank a cup of coffee and looked out over the water towards the old fishing boat wreck on the edge of the mangroves. A cormorant was standing atop of the wheelhouse drying his wings. He was facing the rising sun and the honeyed light it cast on him made him look a bit like some ridiculous character trying to catch an early morning tan. The conversation around the breakfast table was subdued. In the beginning we had all been very keen on keeping a notebook with the totals of our daily catch—who caught the first bonefish or tarpon; who caught the most—but nobody showed any interest when Cam asked if he should total everything up. It wasn’t that we weren’t interested in knowing, it’s just that by totaling it all up we’d be acknowledging that the trip was over and we still had a few hours left of fishing this morning.
We took off in the skiffs about 7:30. Just as on the first day, Greg and I went with Keko. He told us that the Avalon would lift anchor shortly after we went out fishing and move to the staging area by the permanent boat, Tortuga. We had to be back at the Avalon by 10:30 for the four hour journey back to Jucaro.
I did not care about the fishing this morning. All I wanted to do was sit in the skiff as Keko poled, taking in the Jardines for the last time, memorizing the sad cry of a scarlet ibis flying over the mangroves and the way the light shined like broken glass on the surface of the shallow flats and the way your cracked lips always tasted of salt when you were on the water. We had said two years ago that that would be our last trip to the Jardines, but we had come back for one more adventure and it had truly been the best of the four trips but it seemed unlikely we would come back again. So I wanted the feelings that I had in the Jardines to tattoo themselves on my soul so they would always be there for me and I could recall precisely what it felt like to be in this preserve where there were still many turtles and sharks and wild birds and fishes of ever kind. I wanted to have this moment etched in my mind forever because I knew it would not stay like this, that it was something rare and precious that I had experienced now four times, perhaps for the last.
Keko headed the Dolphin skiff south, skirting the outer edges of the mangroves, but every time he came around a bend and slowed the engine we discovered a boat already there with the guides working the shallows. All week long we had had the Jardines to ourselves but suddenly it seemed crowded. That’s because the clients on Tortuga and Halcon also had to be back at their boats by 10:30 so everyone was working as close to the mothership as possible. Nonetheless, Keko decided it would be better to go further away, even if it took us more time to get there, and fish where no one else was going. He took Greg and I back to the bonefish honeyhole, that unique spot of U-shaped reef where, if the tide was right, the bones massed and where Greg and I had caught 14 bones in a little over two hours earlier in the trip.
As before, Greg got out of the skiff and walked about fifty feet away from the boat, setting up at a 90 degree angle from where I was on the tip of the boat. The morning light was such that even with polarized glasses it was almost impossible to see beneath the glare of the water’s surface so we were blind casting, but since we’d been here before and knew the contours of the reef we at least had an idea of where the bones might be if they were around. We both tossed our flies out in the honeyhole and stripped in short, quick bursts, the way Keko had taught us, but neither one of us was getting any hits. I didn’t care. I just liked the motion of whipping the line behind me, feeling it load, and snapping it forward so that it shot out in a straight line for forty or fifty feet. I would have been happy to do this for an hour even if I knew for certain there were no bonefish in the area.
Keko kept glancing at his watch and finally he said to reel in, that it was time to go. Greg was still a good forty feet away from the skiff and although I knew he could hear Keko, he was ignoring him. I reeled in and sat in the boat watching Greg cast. It was a thing of beauty. Such pure, simple movement, the line whipping back and then bam, he’d bring down the hammer and the fly would dart out maybe a hundred feet in front of him. Keko kept looking at his watch but didn’t say anything. Greg knew it was time to leave. “Just two more casts, Keko,” he said. “Just give me two more.”
Keko was silent. We both watched Greg cast a very long ways and start stripping the line and neither of us was really surprised when we saw it go tight and Greg’s pole bend at the tip. He laughed, pleased with himself, and we laughed as well. He played the fish for longer than normal, letting it run whenever it wanted. Finally he brought it in and held it up for us to see. It wasn’t a particularly large bonefish. Certainly nothing compared to the ones we’d caught in this same spot at the beginning of the trip. But it did not matter. It was the appropriate ending to the trip. Greg carefully removed the fly from the bone’s mouth, gently put it back in the water, moving it from side to side to get water into its gills, and the set it free. We watched it slowly swim away. Then Greg walked back to the skiff, got in, and silently we headed back to Avalon, our fishing adventure over.