The way he looks at her, the way he speaks to her, and how he puts her first every time is a true lesson in love and chivalry. His first concern every morning was getting a fresh cup of coffee to her. Her agenda precluded his in every situation. When I asked how long they've been married, he smiled with a twinkle in his eye and said, "Not long . . . 64 years." Their love shined with youthful antiquity, timeless, seamless, and infectious. Being in the presence of these lovers is an honor I will cherish forever. I believe that 64 years truly felt like a short time.
The way she says, "Jimmy," with her soft southern drawl, says it all. Although everyone refers to him as Jimmy Carter, Rosalynne seems to be the only one who calls him, "Jimmy." "Jimmy" might as well be translated as "baby." His friends call him Mr. President.
“Good morning Mr.President,” I said in a quiet voice as he walked into the lodge where I was tying him a bonefish fly in the dark hours of early morning. Coffee sounds gurgling, Willie Nelson singing Whisky River on the little Bluetooth stereo, and early birds starting to chirp.
There was a large school of bonefish that would come by the lodge at first light, a great way to start the President’s day of saltwater fly-fishing. The school’s feeding patterns were predictable, but what they were eating wasn’t. I was engineering different bonefish flies all season to keep ahead of this particular school. Whatever patterns worked one day, didn’t necessarily work the next, the prey was constantly changing color, size, and species. Crabs to shrimp to baitfish, and many variations.
“I also tie flies while listening to Willie Nelson,” the President told me as he watched me assemble his bonefish fly. “In fact Willie and I are good friends, we used to jog together.” Later I found out about some big scandal about Willie Nelson smoking weed in the White House when Carter was in office.
Whisky River faded into a live version of Midnight Rider by the Allman Brothers, my playlist on shuffle.
“Allman Brothers,” the President smiled, “more friends of mine. Did you know they played shows to raised money for my campaign?”
“I had no idea, but I sure have enjoyed seeing them live at Red Rocks many times, and now I like them even more.”
I focused on the bonefish fly. Small bead chain eyes to the weed-guard, the start of almost all our bonefish flies back then. Then I brought the thread to the tying point and tied on plastic dumbbell eyes, wrapped with an orange chenille egg sack - another standard move. Then came the breakthrough, gold. Gold crystal flash body was triggering the bite. Finished the fly with a cream bunny hair wing, olive tail. I tied two and led the President outside to the white hole, where luckily the bonefish had just moved into.
Secret service surrounded us, and we dissolved into the moment. Our rapport had been developed in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, so our communication was dialed in. I told him exactly where to cast, how long to wait, how to strip, when and how to set the hook, when to let em’ run, and when to bring em’ in. Every command played out like I was fishing myself and we caught bonefish, every morning, the same ritual for 6 days. Morning bonefish with coffee and Willie Nelson, breakfast with everyone, and President and his friends off in boats fishing around Guanaja for more bonefish and hunting permit.
Rosalynne stayed at the lodge and worked on a speech about a book she had just published.
Middle of day 3, I was running around the lodge putting out usual fires when the secret service stopped me, "Mr. Brown, Mrs. Carter would like to practice fly-casting, would you please help us facilitate this?"
"No problem." I dropped everything and hustled to the dock where we hang our fly-rods to find one for Rosalynne. Because all the boats were out fishing with the President and his friends, the only rod left was a fast action Scott 10 weight--not ideal for a petite woman. It was our only option.
"Mrs. Carter," I said, "the only rod we have at the lodge now is a 10 weight, have you ever cast one? It's pretty heavy."
"I think so, let’s give it a try." I walked her out on the concrete pier jetting out from the lodge where she could cast over the flats with a slight breeze at her back. I pulled off a bunch of line and handed her the rod. She began to cast.
I watched in awe as Rosalynne handled the 10 weight like a breeze, casting rhythmically, with a perfect loop. Her cast was like a heartbeat, a breath of fresh air, a metronome. For the first time in my guiding career, I had no advice, nothing to say but, "Wow, that's incredible, don't change a thing. You have obviously put some time into this."
She proceeded to make perfect cast after perfect cast until I broke the meditation.
"Mrs. Carter, there are actually some bonefish tailing right now on the other side of the key. How about casting to a couple of fish?"
"That would be fine," she said.
We stepped into the flats with help from the Secret Service.
"Do you see the tails?" I whispered to Rosalynne.
"Yes," she nodded, "I see them."
The fish moved toward the concrete sea-wall, where a secret service agent hovered. I waved him back, afraid he would spook the fish. He sank back into the shade of a grape tree.
"Go ahead and cast a few feet to the right, 1 o'clock about 30 feet."
She peeled off some line and let the fly land exactly where I said. The bonefish faced the other direction, never saw the fly, and nervously moved away from our sight, into the vast reaches of the flat, our chance was over. It hurt me, but she was un-phased. "That was close," she said with a smile. "I need to work on my book now, thanks for the time Steve."
So went my chance to get the first lady onto a bonefish, but I was left with the experience of watching a perfect fly cast from a First Lady.
President Carter wrote an article about his experience in Guanaja and published in Fly Fisherman Magazine.
See his article here: https://www.flyfisherman.com/editorial/guanaja-bonefish/152032