On last year's bonefishing trip everyone was elated. We had perfect conditions, clear and sunny, with giant schools of fish everywhere we went. Trying to duplicate that great experience for the most possible fly fishers, Wayne and I set forth on an adventurous schedule: two weeks in the Bahamas. Everything was planned. Even workshops were conducted in the basic skills and equipment for success.
Perhaps the first sign of impending difficulty was the 6AM flight out of San Jose. After arriving in Houston's B terminal, we checked on the connecting flight. It was leaving from terminal C gate C23, all the way across the airport. We got from B to C, only to find the flight had been moved to D, gate 36. We finally boarded the flight and taxied onto the runway. And the pilot told us we were 25th in line. Much later he told us a warning light had come on. Back to terminal D, transfer to another aircraft and finally, four hours later, Fort Lauderdale.
Waking before 6AM the following morning we flew to Andros Island in a little over an hour. There were storm clouds and dark skies and as we departed the aircraft the rain began to get us and our gear very wet. Seems a tropical storm had settled over the island and the only bright thing was our smiles and enthusiasm. We had the opposite conditions of last year. The skies were cloudy, and the wind galed to twenty-five mph. It made visibility and fishing very challenging for both the guides and us.
The guides would hunt out holes in the storm. Many times the storm would roll across the area and engulf you into its fury. You could hear the rain coming across the flat. Once it found you, the only choice was cover up in the boat and get drenched, drenched to the tune of two inches in the bottom of the boat in an hour. Impossible to fish. Threatening, if the lightning was near you. You would be wet inside your rain gear and drenched outside of it. Wayne said, "We were 100% wet 65% of the time."
The weather proved to be a daily obstacle. We saw many large fish and the guides speculated that the fresh water brought them onto the flats. It mattered little as to why they were there if you couldn't cast to them.
Bonefish are constantly moving. They stop only to feed. If you are retrieving your fly and being followed and the bone stops in the vicinity of your fly, set the hook.
One day I saw a large bone that may have gone fourteen pounds, and I managed one seventy foot cast, which the bone had absolutely no interest in. Watching him swim away over the white, sandy bottom for nearly three-hundreed feet, I could only dream about future possibilities, or what may have been.
During the first week there were several interesting events. It would be impossible to recall or print all of them.
One day Wayne noticed that Susan was having an extremely difficult time with her line. Susan said that the line had been recommended by a fly shop and installed on the reel just before leaving for the trip. Susan had not seen the information sheet supplied by the fishmasters prior to purchasing the new line and fly shop was unaware that we were fishing in shallow water. Wayne suggested that Susan fish his rod while he changed her line, right there, in the boat. Wading the next flat, with Wayne's rod, Susan was able to catch, land and release an eight pound bone. She was hooked. Bonefishing was great, even if the weather was miserable.
Phil Drees and I were fishing one day with a guide whom others had refused to go with. Eddie was a relatively new guide and passed to us because of his inability to tie knots. Eddie took us over to "Cromer Grove". The water was shallow. He did his best to get us up close to the mangroves.
Wading into the skinny water as to not spook the fish, we positioned ourselves to cast to the tailing bones. What is "tailing"? Looking across the water all you see is smooth surface, and then a crystal sail, the tail fin, rises out of the water. Sometimes you may also see a dorsal fin or a wake giving away the fish's movement.
Phil managed the next cast, another sixty-five footer, and the bone made a swift movement to take the fly and was set-up on by Phil. The six pound bone ran down the line of mangroves and started around the point. Phil was well into his backing and had maybe twelve turns of line left on his reel. Frantic, he started wading toward the fish. The excitement mounted, Phil started to recover line. It was a give and take for twenty minutes, then Phil actually began to regain his fly line and control the bone. It was a great experience to land that fish.
I saw some large wakes coming down the edge of the mangroves and cast into their path. Nearly that quick they were upon my fly and with a short set the bone had taken my fly and broken off and then we had to leave.
We had a great day with a guide who was not wanted by anyone else. We were ready to go with Eddie again.
The first week came to an end. Jack, Susan, Roger, Phil, Ed, Ed Jr., Dave, and Bob left and the new group Wayne Jr., Nick, Joe, Les, and David arrived.
The weather did not change much this second week. In fact it rained eleven out of fourteen days, bringing out the land crabs, which the locals gather and sell for $30-40 per dozen.
There was one day we left the launch site at 8AM and the rain forced us back at 10AM. During the two-hour interim we sat under the bridge and allowed the mosquitoes to feast on our persons.
A couple of opportunities developed during this week when Wayne and I actually had the chance to wade flats. One day a large pod (school) of bonefish was discovered waiting for the high tide. We could cast and recast into the school as long as we did not wade into them. We fished this school for several hours and caught thirty+ fish.
Eventually, we moved to another flat, found a large school at its point and managed to wade closer. Wayne caught a fish and played it close to me. The next thing I knew a black tip shark was within six inches of my foot going for the bone. I splashed, saving the bone, scaring the shark. I wonder if he thought something was going to eat him.
This point proved to be made of rocks and the bones certainly knew how to get off our line. They cut the line nearly every time we hooked up.
The following day Wayne and I had another guide who took us south. The guide indicated that he saw tailing fish off in the distance and asked if we wanted to wade. Saying, "Sure," we found ourselves wading nearly four-hundred yards in shallow water. The guide rigged the boat to follow us, as the tide was coming in. The water was less than mid-calf and the doctor flies were biting us through our long pants. Nevertheless, we continued to move toward the fish.
Finally I reached casting distance to a school of bones. Nearly sixty+ feet away I had the first opportunity to hook up and took it. A couple of false casts and shooting some line put me close. I stripped twice and a bone took the fly. The next thing I knew the bone was speeding off and everything on the flat came alive.
There were wakes in areas where we didn't even know there were fish. Wayne, fifty yards away from me, noticed that there were large wakes being created by fish bigger than bones. More than five sharks were swimming around the various schools of bones.
One minute the water was calm and smooth. Then, the whole flat came alive and skittish. I worked the hooked bone and brought it in to be released. The situation had changed in one instant. You had to be very careful not to make noise or splash your fly.
Wayne was casting and hooking up with bones, too. We tried to cast to the bones when the sharks were off in the distance. This did not work. The sharks were quick to identify and move in on hooked fish. Wayne had played a bone to within twenty feet of my position when I noticed two sharks converging. It was all over in an instant. From two directions the sharks came and in less than a heartbeat there was no bone, not a scrap, nothing to tell he had ever been there. That was one of the highlights, seeing so many bones tailing on that flat was a great sight.
This second week proved to enlightening for another reason. One of the first-time bonefishers asked if we could help determine why his line was hinging. We quickly saw the problem and set about correcting it. The fly shops in our area provide great service, but sometimes the help may not be familiar with the conditions or type of fishing we are doing. Check with the fish master, read their information, and ask questions if you're not certain your equipment is properly rigged. It's a lot easier to correct your equipment here than on the fishout.
All in all, we had a fairly successful fish out. Everyone caught fish and learned something. The PFF Bone Fishing Team survived the hardships to fish another day.
Next year's trip is currently being planned and will not be able to accommodate as many fishers as this year's. If you're interested in coming next year, please let me know. Currently it is planned for one week—possibly April or early May. Rich Catanzaro If It Stops . . . Set The Hook!