Cool Shots at Bonefish

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

What makes a rewarding bonefish trip.

It’s hard to fly off to an exotic location for a week of fishing without having a goal, or at least some expectations. The first can be dangerous and the second disastrous. Still, one or the other is generally present on a fishing trip and the more the trip costs, the higher they usually are.

I’ll never forget my first bonefishing trip. My expectations were to actually see a bonefish and my goal was to not make a complete ass of myself when I did. (It’s good to have goals, right?) That trip did so much more than exceed my expectations. It was an awakening of sorts and the beginning of a life long obsession.

On subsequent trips I adjusted my goals. I wanted to catch a lot of bonefish. I wanted to catch big bonefish. I wanted to increase my hookup ratio. I wanted to catch bonefish on my own. I wanted to develop my own fly patterns. Eventually I just wanted quality fishing with good friends. One by one, all of those things went in the done column and I kept going bonefishing.

There’s not a thing on that list that I don’t still enjoy doing. Who doesn’t want to catch a lot of fish, or a big fish, or have a great day with a good friend. With the exception of the friend however, they all become less important with time. Most days all I really need is to stand on the bow and glide across a beautiful flat.

So what makes a day of bonefishing exceptional?

More and more, for me, it’s about the quality of the shots. I’ve written before about my Spaulding Gray moments. The perfect shot. But it’s a lot to expect to have a perfect shot on every trip and the road to hell is paved with expectations. Sometimes it’s just about cool shots.

What makes a shot cool? Something different. Something that requires me to think past the lead and cross idea of a bonefish shot. I had one of those shots on my last trip.

We were poling the edge of a flat on a pretty high tide. Drifting along about twenty feet from the mangroves. It was a beautiful day and fishing had been really good. I was fishing with my buddy Rich Hohne and guide Norman Rolle, two guys whose company I really enjoy. We were telling stories and laughing way more than was good for the fishing, when in my peripheral vision I saw movement.

The small school of bonefish were just in the edge of the mangroves, well behind the boat. They must have been too far back in the bushes when we blew past them. Now it was a challenging backhand cast and a pretty unforgiving current taking me away from them. Add to this that the fish were still well back in the mangroves and there was no clear shot.

I dropped a cast at the edge of the mangroves but the fish ignored it. They were swimming in our direction at about the same speed we were moving. Norman began bringing the boat to a slow and quiet stop as I dropped another cast at the edge of the mangroves. Still nothing. The fish were too far in the bushes.

I watched the schools progress. Five or six fish with the lead fish being pretty respectable. They were just nosing along about six feet from open water. I found a gap in the mangroves that I could hit. It wouldn’t get me all the way to the fish but a good three feet closer. I took the shot. I made a couple of strips and still got no attention. I spotted the next gap and started to lift my fly for another cast.

Just as I accelerated the fly, the lead fish saw it and charged out of the mangroves. I was just about to pick up the line for a cast. How I stopped that cast I don’t know, but I did. I did and the fish came for the fly hard. I took one enormous strip, to pick up all the slack the truncated cast had left in my line, and by the time I was at the end of the stroke the fish had my fly. There was still slack in the line and no time for another strip to set the hook. I clamped the line against the cork of my grip and pulled back hard with my rod hand.

Norman and Rich exploded when the hook found its home and all hell broke loose. I was in a potentially rod shattering tug of war with a nice bonefish on the edge of the mangroves. He was in and out, in and out. I’d lose ground then gain it back. After less than a minute the fish became momentarily disoriented and I grabbed the leader and snatched him out of the water green as a dollar bill.

It was a weird shot. The shortest fight I’ve ever had with a bonefish and plenty went wrong, but I pulled it off because I thought on my feet. It’s not a hero story. It’s in no way epic but of all the fish I caught on that trip, that’s the one I find myself thinking about. It was different. Challenging in ways you don’t usually get, and just cool in general.

Like the day I was wade fishing with guide Tori Bevins and hooked a big bonefish, only to learn I had a huge bird’s nest in my stripping line. The fish was running hard and there was no way I was stopping him. When the bird’s nest hit the stripping guide it stuck and it looked like it was over. Another nice fish broken off.

I don’t know where the idea came from or why I thought it was a good one, but what I did next was pure inspiration. I hooked my left arm through the slack line between my reel and the bird’s nest stuck in the guides and let go of my rod. Tori’s eyes were the size of a permit’s when my rod and reel, drag still screaming, shot off across the flat connected to me only by the line looped through my elbow.

I got that rod back and landed that fish. I guess that’s what I love about bonefishing. It’s a fast paced game of wits and it rewards the angler who can improvise. As soon as you think you know what you’re doing, something weird happens and you’re caught with your pants down, again.

That’s really all I need. One cool shot. That can make a trip for me. If you have a favorite cool shot story, at any fish, tell us about it in the comments section.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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2 thoughts on “Cool Shots at Bonefish

  1. So much goes into a trip, and somehow,, way more comes out.
    You’ve been blessed with an encyclopedia of great stories Louis. Oh the memories!
    One great trip memory for me was with you and Torrie. End of the day, gliding across a flooded and windy Dodum, desperate for some bones hiding way off in the mangroves. I had maybe a couple of fish to hand that day. Lights on lights off, an all-around damned tough day.
    Two ‘cudas roughly four feet long sat motionless a hundred feet out. You passed me my loaner, never-been-used-by-me, nine weight with a shark fly on it. Torrie poled closer and I got my one and only shot at a ‘cuda.
    I knew that fly had to move. One shot, wind at my back put that fly three feet in front of him. The instant that fly hit the water I put my to under my right arm and two-handed that line in as fast as I could. He went from zero to mach to zero again once he ate that fly, stripping like mad, he took flight after a marvelous run only to spit the fly….
    That might not have ended that way if I hadn’t exclaimed, “Holy shit! I got him!”
    To which Torrie said, “No way Mon, he’s got you!”
    From cast to fail lasted maybe 10-15 seconds, but it is certainly one of my favorite memories. The visual nature of flats fishing is the problem.
    A very fine problem.

    More please!!!

  2. Louis, I think that one thing that separates a very rewarding bonefish trip to a so so one is dogged determination. You can’t catch these fish if you don’t have a line in the water. On the recent trip to Belize I watched boat after boat fly anglers just stop after a few casts to spooky tailing fish, they became frustrated at a lack of bite. I knew these were hard to catch bonefish from the guide and the local fly shop. Non stop casting and determination resulted in three bones in this particular school in a half days trip. Preparation, casting practice, knowing the fishery, and Determination will always increase your odds to a rewarding bonefish trip.

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