In Search of Gray Ghosts
Part 2: Suddenly the fish stops, and there he is, alongside the boat, showing his sleek, silvery self.
By M. B. Roberts
Modra pulls up on the rod, which is bent like a tightly strung hunter’s bow. He follows the fish around the boat in big, labored, man-on-the-moon steps as Stanczyk barks out a series of commands involving the motor (“Don’t let him get caught under it”), the other line (“Don’t let him wrap around it”), and the push pole (“For God’s sake, get him away from that”).
Modra bends down and passes the rod under the pole, switching it from his right to his left hand. He steadies his feet and takes a deep breath as the bonefish takes off on another high-pitched run.
“Hang on,” Stanczyk whispers. With a loud grunt, Modra reels and tugs one last time. Suddenly the fish stops, and there he is, alongside the boat, showing his sleek, silvery self.
Stanczyk pulls what he estimates is an 11-pound fish into the boat and snaps the hook from its mouth. “Look at that!” he says smiling as he hands the fish to Modra. “At first, I was betting on the fish.” Modra takes it and places it back in the water. After a few shakes of his tail, the bonefish is gone. A large patch of dark clouds fills the sky directly above the boat, but Modra and Stanczyk are oblivious. With their heartbeats still elevated from the battle, they immediately busy themselves with rebaiting the lines.
Modra, who happens to be my husband, met Stanczyk ten years ago when we were living in Fort Lauderdale, a two-hour drive from Islamorada. Every chance he got, Modra would “blast down to the Keys to see Stanczyk.”
Fishing is always on Modra’s mind. Even when he is working or sleeping and the topic seems to have briefly sunk below the surface, it’s really only a tug away. In fact, a psychiatrist would be wasting his time conducting a Rorschach test on Modra, who would free-associate every inkblot with the screen of a fishfinder (“Well, doc, obviously that’s a school of monster perch!”). Then he would steer the doctor into a discussion of how to smoke trout.
But Modra doesn’t have a psychiatrist. He has Stanczyk, who at age 58 has been running Bud & Mary’s Marina for 25 years. And yes, before him, 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; no word on the younger woman.) In fact, Mary’s ashes were spread in the inlet near the marina.
Stanczyk is a true angler. Every day he covers his nose and chin with zinc oxide, slaps a visor on his head, puts on a long-sleeved Bud & Mary’s T-shirt and baggy shorts, and heads to the water. He fishes nearly every day, whether it’s for work or fun—if a man who finds it physically impossible to leave water where there might be a tailing bonefish can be said to be having “fun.”
But I digress. The next day the winds are calm and the just-risen sun is warm in a nearly cloudless sky. Stanczyk heads to the dock around 7:00 a.m. and finds Modra already there. The flats await. They’re joined by Vic Gaspeny, an amiable Bud & Mary’s guide who caught the world-record bonefish (14 lbs., 6 oz.) on a nine-weight fly rod in 1985. A good guy to have along.
This article originally appeared in the February 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.