Up with the rising tide the bonefish come to the flats, sometimes silently in twos and threes—the biggest ones singly, hunting alone—at other times in large schools making faint, trembling wakes as they move in to feed. From below, Artist Stanley Meltzoff, dressed in his black scuba suit, watches them in their own habitat. With a brilliant sun above, most of this world of the bonefish is in shadow except for thin zones so concentrated with light that it seems they would be capable of setting paper afire if they could be captured and held still. The silvery scales of the bonefish reflect the light and to Meltzoff the effect is reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles—an infinite depth of light and motion. Thomas McGuane sees the bonefish in a different way, with an angler's eye, more subjectively, and his essay on the rewards—and hazards—of the hunt follows Meltzoff's paintings.
Bonefish start life as transparent, ribbon-shaped larvae, then grow smaller and take on the appearance of the adult. Here a group of juveniles seeks the protection of a conch shell. A snakefish lurks below them and West Indian sardines swim by.
Both bonefish and permit are bottom feeders and are sometimes found on the same flat nosing about in search of crustaceans. Below, two baits—a chunk of conch and a live shrimp—are presented to a group of bones that are muddying the clear water with coral sand in their hunt for delicacies. This trait—and the fact that their tails and dorsal fins often show above the water as they feed—enables anglers to spot this otherwise well-camouflaged fish.
As the dropping tide exposes the bonefish more and more to his most persistent enemies—man and barracuda—he becomes less inclined to take the offered bait. Yet even off the flats he is never completely safe, for there in deeper water lurks another predator, the shark.