Beauty to behold under the water

As an avid angler, I find amazing learning opportunities in some of the unlikeliest of places.

Even when I can’t fish, I find cues and clues that are out there for those who are paying attention. So it was last weekend when Barb and I journeyed to the Caribbean for our daughter Betsy’s wedding.

Friends being friends, a few folks tested my fisherman’s psyche as the tradewinds tossed the palms and we admired the turquoise waters. “How you going to get through a weekend without fishing?” one asked.

Silly question. Are you kidding? Who would think like that when a father is with his daughter on her perfect wedding day.

So fishing was off the radar, the furthest thing from my mind. Celebrating with our daughter and her new husband and expanded family and friends was all that mattered.

Then, with no intent or plan, I stumbled on a lesson in fish behavior.

As long as I’ve been a waterman, I’ve never been face-to-face with a fish in its own environment.

But Sunday on the beach at our St. Thomas hotel, I signed the online waiver, checked out flippers, mask and snorkel, and backed into the gentle breakers to swim out to the coral reef a few hundred yards from the surf-splashing vacationers.

It was my first experience snorkeling. I took to it like a fish in water. After a few test face dunks and blows to clear the tube of salt water, I was ready to explore the reef.

There I was ... snorkeling a Caribbean coral reef. What started as an activity to check off my bucket list soon turned into a classroom under the water.

The artistry on the sea floor was beautiful to behold. Colors, shapes and patterns danced in view. Wisps of plant life waved with the tide.

Then I noticed the animal life. Whoa. The reef was teaming with fish.

From my canopied chair on the sand, the view was great; I saw blue water and distant islands. But on the beach there was hardly a hint of the fish that swam those waters – other than one’s intuition that there is indeed life under the waves.

It all started to focus – literally and figuratively.

As I kicked my flippers out across the sandy flat, I noticed no fish. It was barren. Probably just like the mud flats on our local reservoirs.

But when I neared the reef, fish were everywhere. Probably just like the humps, ledges and break lines on our local reservoirs and Lake Erie.

I saw angelfish, butterflyfish and several varieties of little snappers. I saw yellow fish, red fish, purple fish and black. I saw urchin colonies scattered about and tiny baitfish schools darting to whatever unheard cadence dictates their synchronous movement.

My mask enabled me to spy clearly through the clear water, and when I dove I got close to fish I’d only seen previously in photos.

My introduction to snorkeling – even from a distant Caribbean isle – helped me appreciate species’ preference for certain habitat and how they use cover to their advantage.

Now I’ll go to our local lakes with a bit more understanding – always a good thing when trying to catch more fish.

The wedding, if you’re wondering, was spectacular. And I’m thankful Betsy left a little time open last weekend for Dad to snorkel up a little more fish sense.