Bonefish Bob: A Tribute
by Bernard F. Blanche (Brazil 1965-67)
Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Co.
Reviewed by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975-77)
This is a book for the passionate fisherman, one who longs to fish eternally. It is also a testament to the life of a man who took solace on water and relished the challenge, Bonefish Bob Berger.
The author met Bonefish Bob in Islamorada, Florida in 2004, when his subject was 70 years old and only two years shy of suicide, a death that forces survivors to second guess whether they could have done more. In the author’s case, he decided to write about Bonefish Bob’s life. This is a delicate obituary, a tribute to a man whom the author admired.
Robert Edward Berger was born in 1934. He grew up in York, Maine where he developed a keen love for fishing. As a mere boy he is remembered for having braved an ocean tempest in a small boat in order to hook and land a giant striper. His ability to create flies was legendary. Once he tore a strip from his own plaid shirt to rig a fly that landed nineteen rock fish in one hour. During the cruel Maine winter, he ice fished for smelt. On one night trip accompanied by his young son, Bob crashed through the ice.
His son only heard a muffled voice, “Don’t get any closer!” He was under ten inches of ice, breathing desperately within those precious few inches between ice and water. His son listened to the gasps and thumping as Bob attempted to break the ice.
“Dad, I saw you! You’re down river.”
“I can’t focus on getting out if I have to worry about you coming down.” Bob broke the ice and slowly pulled himself out. He zombie-walked towards his son as his clothing froze. His son drove. Bob passed out. Once home safe, Bob lamented, “I hated to lose that lantern.”
At the age of 51, Bonefish Bob gave up ice fishing. He moved south to the Florida Keys where he operated a fishing charter service. He fished tarpon from kayak as well as skiff. He also fished for trout in Montana during the summer.
The book includes a subplot. Bonefish Bob was a Korean War veteran. During combat when his best friend was seriously wound by motar fire, a temporarily deaf Bob left his own foxhole to rescue his buddy. He retreated, carrying his comrade until he found an empty American jeep which he commandeered. At a military hospital, he interned his friend not sure whether he was still alive. Before he could find out, he was ordered back to the front to live the next half century wondering. In old age, he reencountered his friend fishing on the Upper Missouri River in Montana. His comrade had survived and returned to live a long life. He was now a grandfather, thanks to Bonefish Bob.
Lawrence F. Lihosit is the author of several well-received books about the Peace Corps experience including Years On and Other Travel Essays, selected as the 2012 Peace Corps Writers Best Travel Book.