ANTIGUA, WEST INDIES — The small harbor near where I am staying keeps a few boats at this time of year and Louie had keys to one of them, a 27-foot Boston Whaler with a pair of saltwater Mercurys swinging from its transom, 225 horsepower each.
I have been fascinated by boats since I was a kid growing up on Lake Michigan, where on summer afternoons beneath blue skies and scudding clouds I’d ride my bike to our small town’s small harbor that regularly in July and August was home to transients from “downstate,’’ or Lower Michigan.
Most of these visiting yachts were constructed of wood and their varnished mahogany transoms carried names like “Dreamer’’ and “Lost at Sea.’’ Our harbor wasn’t big enough for the largest Chris Crafts, which at that time on the Great Lakes bore originations such as Grosse Pointe or Harbor Springs, places where General Motors executives anchored the big boys. These were yachts generally 45 feet and longer, oftentimes 60 feet and longer, each with a crew, and if captains of these boats wanted respite in our waters they sought them closer to the mouth of the bay, at Escanaba.
The traveling yachts that visited our smaller harbor more often claimed home ports such as Traverse City or Benton Harbor and sometimes Cleveland and Toledo and Buffalo. I admired all of these craft and their owners and the total lack of surprise with which they seemed to live lives impossibly distant from mine. Sometimes while sitting on the cement walkway at our harbor, my bike lying tortuously on the grass nearby, discarded on the fly, a line would be thrown to me by a smartly dressed wife standing on the bow of one of these visiting yachts. In response and as if by professional training I cleated it neatly.
Then the husband of the smartly dressed wife augered the port and starboard engines oppositely and the stern eased gently against its mooring. Huge bumpers swinging from the craft’s railings cushioned the tie-up and the weight of the yacht compressed the bumpers and subsequently allowed them to quickly expand as the comfortable boat pulled a final time against its lines Then the husband and the neatly dressed wife relaxed and I returned to swinging my legs from the cement pilings. Soon drinks were poured on the aft deck and the couple laid back as if what had just occurred and everything leading up to it was all very much expected.
Louie turned over the big Mercurys and angled us out of the cove in which the harbor anchored its docks and the other boats. Antigua is home to laughing gulls and gray kingbirds and frigate birds and West Indian whistling ducks. But it was a brown pelican that I saw arrow its wings against itself and dive into the roiled water that lay ahead.
The wind had blown all night and was unrelenting. Ahead of us lay a sea of rollers and whitecaps.
“Can we find some quiet water with mangroves to cast to?’’ I asked.
“No problem,’’ came Louie’s reply.
You want really to be flexible when traveling and fishing. The angler who fishes his home waters day after day is a different cat altogether than the traveling angler.
Of this last group perhaps no one is better at adapting on the fly than Larry Dahlberg, host of TV’s “Hunt for Big Fish,’’ and a Minnesota resident, at Marine on St. Croix.
Dahlberg doesn’t entirely lack infrastructure when he visits a weird destination in the Amazon or the Nile or the Congo in search of creatures with really big fins. But oftentimes he has little more to go on than an airport and the name of a guy with a boat, into which he loads his rods and reels and thinks about finding fish as one might consider solving a puzzle.
Cutting to the chase: Anyone can catch fish if they are dropped off in the right spot at the right time with the right guide, the equivalent of being born on third and thinking a well-hit ball to the right-field corner is the reason.
Rising and falling through lumbering seas, Louie and I soon found water that was somewhat quieter and bracketed by mangroves, left and right.
Still, the wind blew.
But this was Antigua in late May, and not every day in Antigua in late May is perfect for fly fishing.
If the wind blows again on Tuesday, I thought, I will pack in the fly rod and Louie and I will troll for mahi-mahi or snapper, something for the grill.
But for now I will cast and work the mangroves, wind or no wind.
Stepping onto the boat’s deck I pealed off 40 feet of line and with a 10-weight rod sent a crab-like imitation airborne, looking for fish.