Fishing. I never quite understood the allure. Sure, I love the taste of fresh fish. But I can drive to the seafood market and back in 20 minutes. Plus, if I lay out $15, I am guaranteed four big tuna steaks.
I never understood the desire to sit still for hours in a frequently fruitless pursuit. But boat rides? They are easily understood. Especially when sunshine is involved. So in the past, whenever someone invited me to go fishing, I'd go. If it was warm and I got to go out on a boat.
My husband, Ronnie, sees fishing in an entirely different way. To him, fishing is both high art and absolute necessity. Fishing is a reward. Something to discuss. Something to read about. To watch on TV. Even when fishing takes a brief rest in his subconscious, a mere wiggle would snatch it quickly and easily back to the surface.
If someone says, "We're going to Ireland," Ronnie's response is: "Oh, good! They fly-fish for trout there. Big rainbows and browns." Mention a honeymoon, planned for Cabo San Lucas. He'll nod his head, "Mmm. Rooster fish. And blue marlin, of course."
A psychiatrist would be wasting his time conducting a Rorschach inkblot test on Ronnie: He would see the screen of a depthfinder on each ink-stained card. Then he would steer the doctor into a discussion of smoked trout.
But Ronnie doesn't have a psychiatrist. Instead, he has Richard.
Richard Stanczyk, 55, owns and operates Bud 'n' Mary's Marina (established 1944) in Islamorada, the mellow fishing village and self-proclaimed "Sportsfishing Capital of the World," where former President George Bush used to go on vacation. (Remember images of the president getting skunked due to the legions of Secret Service-filled boats spooking the fish?)
Bud 'n' Mary's is Islamorada's hub. And yes, there really was a "Bud" and a "Mary." Sadly, they split up years ago when Bud ran off with a younger woman. They're both dead now. (Bud and Mary, that is. I'm not sure about the younger woman.) Mary's ashes were sprinkled in the inlet near the marina.
Richard bought the marina 20 years ago. He is a true fisherman who navigates the water by memory and instinct. Richard, who has fished so many days of his life, still fishes for "fun" on his day off. If, that is, a man who finds it physically impossible to leave water where there might be a bonefish can be said to be having "fun."
Last time we fished with Richard, we went for bonefish. Bonefishing is a serious skill, more akin to hunting than fishing. Richard turned off the motor and poled the boat through the shallow flats as Ronnie stalked fish. When he saw one, he presented the bait directly in the fish's sights. If the fish took the bait, he reeled and reeled, taking about 10 minutes to bring it in. I concentrated on not moving my feet lest they make that rubbing-against-the-boat/scare-the-fish noise I was forbidden to make.
Once again, Richard invited us to go fishing. This time, we would go for tarpon.
"You'll like this better," Richard told me. "It's exciting. Dynamic. These fish are big. Jumpers. It's a thrill."
I didn't know about the thrill part. But, as always, I was up for a boat ride.
The morning we were scheduled to go, thunder rumbled. It was raining. Richard called to say come anyway.
"It will clear by evening," he said.
"You guys fish at night?" I asked.
"For tarpon," Richard said. "Absolutely."
It is sunset when we reach the marina. We see Richard hurrying down the dock with three fishing rods in one hand and a backpack in the other. He's wearing royal blue O.P. corduroy shorts and a long-sleeved Bud & Mary's Fish Naked T-shirt, dark polarized sunglasses and a visor pulled down so his salt-and-pepper hair sticks straight up like stiff pieces of seagrass. He's got zinc oxide smeared over his nose and chin.
He greets us warmly, but then he's all business. He says to meet at his boat in five minutes.
Bud 'n' Mary's, there since 1944. (Bud 'n' Mary's photo)
IF YOU GOGetting there: Take Route 1 south to Mile Marker 79.8
Activities: fishing, deep sea/offshore, backcountry, party boat. Also: diving, snorkeling, glass bottom boat, full service marina and motel.
Back country guides: Full day: $375; half day: $275.
Evening tarpon trips: $300 (includes bait).
Lodging: Motel rooms: $85 per night, double occupancy. Penthouse apartment: $250 a night, with full cooking facilities, two bedrooms (each with two double beds) wrap-around deck with ocean view.
Reservations: Bud 'n' Mary's Fishing Marina, P.O. Box 628, Mile Marker 79.8, Islamorada, Florida 33036; phone: 800-742-7945; fax: 305-664-5592; Dive Shop: 800-344-7352.
Information: For Islamorada, call: 800-322-5397.