A fish pictured last Sunday on the outdoors page was incorrectly identified as a bonefish. It was a shark.
A murky red rush-hour cloud was still hanging over the city when Bill Curtis, Bill Brener and I skittered out into Biscayne Bay in Curtis' fast bonefishing skiff.
It was 9 a.m., about an hour later than we were supposed to start. The traffic had subsided some. We could feel the first warm rays of the sun as we headed south down the day.
"The water's been a little milky up at this end," Curtis barked ober the roar of the outboard. "It's always that way when it blows north. We'll head down south and then work our way back."
He eased the skiff over toward the Key Biscayne side and pointed out the villa Richard M. Nizon maintained when he was president.
In 15 minutes, we had left behind the glints of sunlight off the white Miami skyscrapers and the fancy mansions of Key Biscayne. We were in a series of smaller keys, most of them uninhabited and destined to stay that way as part of the Biscayne National Monument.
White egrets and ibises lifted off from the mangrove swamps and buzzards soared from the tops of tall pines and palms. There were no other boats in sight.
As we left the urban sprawl, the water cleared. We were skimming across the Biscayne flats and soon we could pick out the grasses, sponges and sandy spots in the bottom three feet down.
In another 15 minutes, Curtis, a soft-spoken Oklahoman widely regarded as one of the top bonefishing guides in Florida, abruptly killed the engine and reached for his 15-foot push-pole. He climbed up on a poling platform on the stern and eased us silently through a cut between two small islands.
"Tide's still running in," he said. "We should see some fish in here. Yesterday, we picked one up the minute we got here."
Brener and I reached for our rods as Curtis buried the pole and tied the boat off next to a green island.
"The fish will be coming in from shore, against the curren," he said. "You'll only be able to see a dark spot against the sand. Do you have polarized glasses? You might as well be blind if you don't."
He ground up a handful of fresh shrimp and tossed it toward shore. "That's where you'll see them," he said. "They'll come right in to feed on that chunk. You won't have to cast any farther than that."
We gathered on the bow, the three of us practically shoulder to shoulder on the narrow deck. He stood poised with our tackle pointed, loaded and ready to cast, a firing squad waiting for the condemned to show up.
But these condemned were no fools.
Bonefish are pursued in gin-clear water, as shallow as a foot deep. No fish that swims in the sea is any speedier or spookier than these legendary gray ghosts of the warm-water flats.
They come to shallow water when the tide runs fast They nose up against the current, scenting shrimp and tiny crabs unearthed by the flow. When they find food they sweep in and sweep the bottom clean.
But they won't exactly barge in. Feeding bonefish act more like starvelings stealing the emprors grapes. They dash in, grab a morsel and then disappear. They are glimpsed only for a moment even by the sharpest eye.
"Look," Curtis hissed, "there to the left. Fish coming in. Get your bait out there. Can't you see him? My God, not tere. You hit him on the head...
"Reel in fast. He's gone. I don't see him anymore. He could come back. There may be others...."
A bonefish guide needs the eyes of a killer and the patience of a saint. Curtis has both.
He goes through agony under the subtropical sun to bring man and fish together, only to have some klutz from New York or Toledo or Washington foul up a once- or twice-in-a-day chance.
"I don't mind if a guy is at least trying to do what I tell him to do," Curtis said.
And he knows no favorites. He once scorched Ted Williams, the baseball and fishing giant, so hard that Williams threw his fly rod at him.
But we digress.
Curtis found us some fish that morning, and he patiently prescribed our casts and retrieves. He even helped us hook two handsome bonefish of six and eight pounds and they did everything they were supposed to do.
They ran off 100 yards of 12-poundtest line in screeching, powerful dashes for freedom. They ran under the boat and ran off again; they peeled line from the reel like melting butter, as the magazines would say.
And it was very nice, except for one thing.
Brener and I never actually saw a fish.
"Cast it there," Curtis would say. We did that approximately and Curtis gave a play-by-play.
"He's moving to the left. I think he's spooked. No, he's coming back. Close your bail. I think he's going to take it. Okay, get ready. He's going to pick it up. Hit him!"
The truth was he was having all the fun. The bonefish were too swift for our untrained eyes.
As day grew closer to dark we moved farther north. Our last stop was just off the tip of Key Biscayne, within sight of the Miami skyline.
We were by now resigned to a twofish day, which isn't bad for bonefishing.
Then out of the blue we looked up to find bonefish swarming around us. They came in little schools and big schools. They came into the shrimp chum with impunity, darting after chunks of food no more than 15 feet from the boat. We could actually see them.
Suddenly we were doing it all by ourselves.
Brener hit a fish that looked as if it would pull him overboard. He fought it and fought it, and when he finally got it to the boat it weighed in at 11 punds. The biggest Curtis ever caught was 14 1/2 pounds. This was a real champion.
I caught another one and switched to a fly fod, which I use about as well as Jack Beeny played the fiddle. Even the fiy rod worked.
We hooked seven bonefish in an hour, all of them between 6 1/2 and 11 pounds. We landed four and could have had four more if we hadn't been so preoccupied with watching them.
It was high sport, thrilling sport, made whole by the fact that each fish, once landed, was quickly returned to the water to fight again.
Then all at once the tide gave out and the bait ran out and we turned for home with the fiery orange sun behind us.
Bill Curtis says he is one of only two full-time bonefish guides working out of Miami. This is odd, because bonefish seem to be as big and plentiful there as anywhere else.
He fishes about 250 days a year, practically all in Miami except for three weeks in the spring at Homosassa Springs, chasing giant tarpon.
His rate is $150 a day and he carries two anglers. I counted my $75 excellently spent, and Brener concurred.
Curtis' mailing address: 320 West Heather Dr., Key Biscayne, Fla. 33149.