Book review: Book guides readers to wonder, gratitude
January 7, 2017
'Body of Water: A Sage, a Seeker, and the World's Most Alluring Fish,' by Chris Dombowski
"Fishing returns a man to his principles."
I imagine those principles vary for every angler. For Chris Dombrowski, the "flyfishing poet," he steps in the water and is reminded of his attentiveness, wonder and gratitude for the environment and his fleeting opportunity to actively participate in the "creature world." In his new book, "Body of Water," Dombrowski guides his readers to these same principles of wonder and gratitude.
"Body of Water" is both a celebration and an elegy for the bonefish, Bahamian ecology, and David Pinder Sr., the legendary fishing guide primarily responsible for developing the industry in the Bahamas.
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The bonefish is one of the world's most coveted game fish, not because it is particularly edible (it isn't), but because its mesmerizing, speedy elusiveness makes pursuit highly challenging and satisfying. These fish forage the flats and mangrove swamps of the tropics. The Bahamas contain the highest concentration of mangrove habitat in the western hemisphere, so anglers from around the world go on pilgrimages to the Bahamian flats to cast for the bonefish and for reprieve from the icy streams of home.
Today, the bonefishing industry brings in $150 million annually to the Bahamas, a country in which tourism accounts for half the economy's GDP and 60 percent of the jobs. One fishing club owner estimated "each live bonefish is worth a thousand dollars to the islands' economy."
It has not always been this way. "Body of Water" recounts the genesis of the industry, focusing on the story of David Pinder Sr., whom Dombrowski calls Senior. The author met Senior on a lucky expedition to the Deep Water Cay, an exclusive fishing lodge on Grand Bahama.
Senior has lived in McLean's Town his entire life. As a young man, he possessed intricate knowledge of the cays after years spent foraging for seafood. When Deep Water Cay was first purchased and developed by an expat in the 1950s and 60s, Senior was hired to clear the mangrove flats by hand to make room for the lodge. For decades, he was the head guide at Deep Water Cay, and became legendary for his prophet-like ability to find bonefish. Senior trained generations of bonefish guides, and has been personally thanked by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham for his role in developing the sport and in turn, the Bahamian economy.
After a lifetime dedicated to the bonefish and mangrove flats, Senior was strongly encouraged to retire from guiding at Deep Water Cay, given a small severance, and in Dombrowski's words, "abandoned by the industry."
At the same time, the industry itself is in peril, due to overdevelopment and exploitation. Mangroves have been razed to accommodate commercial development of the islands. Yet mangroves are an invaluable resource; they play a critical role in protecting the islands from the brunt of tropical storms, filter water and maintain the integrity of the islands' fresh water lens, and are the nursery grounds for countless fish species, including the bonefish and other species of commercial value.
Even those who have never before cast for a fish or laid eyes on the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean will finish reading "Body of Water" with a sense of awe and wonder and a commitment toward the conservation of our imperiled planet.
Chris Dombrowski will visit Bud Werner Memorial Library as part of the Library Author Series at 6:30 p.m. Jan 9, to talk about "Body of Water."
This book is available at Bud Werner Memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path.
Emily Katzman is assistant manager of Off the Beaten Path.