Mon, Apr 17, 2017 - Page 11 News List

FEATURE: Ashes of fly-fishing legend stolen

NY Times News Service, ISLAMORADA, Florida

Nobody knows why someone would steal the cremated remains of a Florida Keys fly-fishing legend from a pickup truck parked outside a restaurant earlier this year.

Captain Bill Curtis had no spurned lovers, lifelong enemies, obsessed fans or angry family members, according to friends, family and police.

Yet, shortly after 5pm under rainy skies in late January, a man wearing a black hoodie broke a window of a Chevy Silverado parked outside a Flanigan’s restaurant in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood, surveillance video showed.

The thief ignored a laptop computer, a US$400 pair of sunglasses and valuable camera gear.

Instead, he snatched the box of ashes from beneath a stack of books and sped off in a black pickup truck.

That was the last time anyone saw what is left of Curtis, who invented the poling platform for skiffs and the Bimini twist knot, spotted fish for Jimmy Buffett and Ted Williams, and inspired characters in the novel Ninety-Two in the Shade.

“It’s like losing my father twice,” Nancy Curtis Bacon said about her father, who died on Oct. 24 last year, aged 91.

Bacon said her father wanted his ashes spread at Curtis Point, the seaward reach of Old Rhodes Key in Biscayne Bay, Florida, that bears his name.

She was planning to hold a memorial service there when the weather cleared. She never got the chance.

Curtis was one of the fathers of saltwater fly-fishing. He valued the respect and admiration from his fellow guides and would laugh each time he caught sight of them peeping at him through binoculars, studying his skills and trying to figure out his next big move.

In 1975, he invented the poling platform, which is above the engine at the stern and is used to stand on and propel a skiff boat across flats and sight fish. Fellow guides initially made fun of Curtis, saying the platform looked like a fish-cleaning table.

He would laugh and say it was a shade to keep his engine cool. The platforms are now standard equipment on fishing skiffs.

He created the Bimini twist and the Curtis connection knots, which are known for their strength and are now commonly used by anglers. He designed and developed the first mass-produced flats boat.

Some say he established sport fishing’s grand slam: catching bonefish, permit and tarpon in one day.

Besides Buffett and Williams, Curtis befriended writers, like Jim Harrison, Carl Hiaasen and Thomas McGuane, for whom he was the inspiration for the fictional Florida Keys fishing guides in Ninety-Two in the Shade, published in 1973.

Stu Apte, a member of the Fishing Hall of Fame who holds 44 world records, guided Curtis to the first bonefish he ever caught in Biscayne Bay, in 1949.

The two first met at Captain Mack’s tackle shop in Miami one year earlier and formed a successful team — alternating between poling and sighting while the other fished.

They won numerous tournament trophies and earned widespread notoriety in fishing circles. They even had some degree of fame: Apte said it was Ernest Hemingway who first recognized him on the docks in Cuba, not the other way around. The writer had known Apte from newspaper reports on US fishing tournaments, invited him aboard his boat, called Pilar, and taught him how to make mojitos.

Curtis lost one eye in a stick fight when he was four years old, “but he could see fish better than most people could with two,” Apte said.

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