Finger Bait

The exact same thing happened to me, save in a saltwater setting and with no tooth contact -- at the southern tip of Andros Island. The wind was up; the bonefish were spooky. My late friend and guide Carl Moxey had dropped my wife and me off on the lee of a long cay (which we named "Long Cay") and polled around to the windward where there was sufficient water to float the skiff. For half a mile we waded on hard, crunchy bottom, with a brisk current tickling the backs of our ankles. Then, three casts ahead the bottom went from brown to black. I wondered how the wading would be, then realized that the whole flat was shifting and undulating. It was a vast shoal of bonefish that we couldn't see the end of. They held in the current like trout, occasionally repositioning themselves. We shuffled into casting range and dropped our flies into the mass of fish. Nothing worked. Finally, we went to a brownish Charlie variant called "Gotcha," stripping in slow, short jerks that left delicious little puffs of silt. They attacked with abandon -- fine, healthy fish of two and three pounds that made the fly line hiss and kick spray. Every time I'd unhook one I'd say to myself, "That's enough, and now I'll tie on the long, chartreuse streamer with the wire leader hanging from it and cast to that big cuda." The big cuda was holding just under the surface off my port beam, watching me with baleful, maybe hungry, eyes. But I kept trying for one last bone, and pretty soon I forgot about the cuda. "Rip, rip, reeeepin," sang the tide birds. Now the stirred-up school had moved offshore into waist-deep water, and Moxey -- toting my camera bag -- had appeared at Long Cay's west end. I was unhooking another fish, and it was thrashing between my legs when, suddenly, it vanished in a hideous explosion. The cuda didn't go between my legs, but I felt his shovel-sized tail on my left thigh. Had his calculations been off an inch either way, he would have ruined our whole vacation. "Cretin, cretin, creeetin," shouted the tide birds.