Taking The Bow, A Bonefish Beginning

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Bob's First Bone. Photo by Louis Cahill

Bob’s First Bone. Photo by Louis Cahill

By Bob Baughman

So you want to try your hand at catching a bonefish or two?

Never have done it?  Stories of 80’ backhanded casts into 25 mph winds needing to hit a dime-sized target got you a bit concerned? Yeah me too, but not any more. Well I went, caught many more than two fish, and I doubt that I’ll ever have that cast in my quiver — didn’t need it. The goal was to immerse myself in all things tropical — being defined as warm weather and bonefish — escaping a northern Michigan winter, albeit only for a week.

The other goal was to learn as much as I could without coming across as a complete ass on the flats of South Andros in the Bahamas. As many, I grew up flyfishing in fresh water. The Rockies and Midwest hold fantastic fishing opportunities of their own, but obviously no saltwater opportunities (even though I still run in to the odd person who believes the Great Lakes are saltwater). I had fished a bit in Florida, but true flats fishing had eluded me and it was now time to figure out if this was a rabbit hole worth jumping into.

I’m a fan of Gink & Gasoline and during one evening session of catching up on their blog, I saw an ad for a bonefish school on South Andros Island. I clicked where it said to do so, read a bit and with some amount of trepidation, booked the trip. I knew nobody else and learned that there would be 10-12 anglers there, many who are returning and use this as annual event. As it turned out, I was the least experienced of the group. I was hoping that there would have been more like me, but everyone was returning or doing this because they enjoyed it…this would be fine.

The next least experienced angler was returning for his second week-long “school”.  He made the trip from London with a duffel bag and a rod tube — a great guy with a knack for telling great stories. Truly enjoyed the time spent with him. One of the days I shared a boat with him, he caught a bonus barracuda that became dinner for our guide. There was also a pair of brothers who brought their sons which made for a fun father-son-brother-uncle-nephew-cousin mix. They had been coming to the “school” for many years and besides being accomplished anglers, were a great group of people.  A theme is starting to develop regarding people who attended the “school” and fun.

The group was rounded out by two retired fishing buddies new to South Andros but experienced in salt, a young redfish guide looking to expand his experience with bonefish, and of course Louis. The stage was set for the ten anglers at bonefish camp…or “school”. Louis set it up so the four “single” anglers rotated boats daily which resulted in being paired with each person for two days of the six on the water.  Every day was a bit of a different experience as the weather changed from sunshine to rain and back, and that the flats habitat on South Andros is expansive — to say the least.  A person could fish the area for a lifetime and see new areas daily. It is easy to see why many consider South Andros as the go-to destination for bonefish.

Every day we saw and caught bonefish; everyday I gradually felt a bit more comfortable on the deck of the boat. I still had a hard time seeing fish unless they were against a light background. I attributed this to lack of experience…and just crappy eyesight. Thank goodness for the guides, as all of them have incredible eyesight and can spot bonefish far quicker and further out than most. My blind casting to direction and distance called out by the guide resulted in many hookups.

At the end of each day it was fun to hear the stories each person came back to tell.  Entertaining to a fault and it continued past dinner. This trip was advertised as a school and while Louis did a great job of instruction for my benefit as I was the only never-ever, it was far from a formal class and more like a bunch of friends helping each other out.  Whether whipping broken fly line loops, exchanging flies, offering tips on line management, demonstrating the proper mixing proportions of gin and tonic or the other myriad of topics covered in the week, it was a “school” not a school if that makes sense?

So did the trip meet the goal? Absolutely, and more. So did I make an ass out of myself flailing away at some fish? Nope, I don’t think so. My average, freshwater casting skills were passable…though I could have done better and that is what practice is for, right?  Did I “trout set” a few fish and lose them? Yup…did it as expected. More practice needed is my excuse to go back, further exploring this very deep rabbit hole.  Making new friends during experiences that will not be forgotten was the best part.  Escaping a week of northern Michigan winter wasn’t so bad either.

If you are on the fence of deciding whether or not this is a trip for you, jump over.  Who knows, we may get to share a boat in January…I’ll be there!

Bob Baughman
Gink & Gasoline
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One thought on “Taking The Bow, A Bonefish Beginning

  1. This is an short piece I wrote about my first trip to Kiritimati in 2010.

    Kiritimati Bonefish

    Standing calf deep in water, there is very little cloud cover, the wind is about 40kph coming from 2 o’clock, the guide has called a fish 40 feet at 11o’clock, yes there’s the fish this will be a hard cast because of the wind, you shoot 40ft of line and leader into the backcast then start the forward cast. You have to come in low because of the wind, give it a short vigorous haul without shooting line.

    Good cast for the conditions the fly has landed just past the fish and to the 10 o’clock side, long slow strip, stop, long slow strip, stop, yes the fish has seen the fly, short strip, the fish moves in and takes the fly, you maintain pressure on the line, yes the fish moves off with the fly, you set the hook with your striping hand. You know there are 7 or 8 metres of line floating in the water at your feet and in less than a second you ensure this line has fed into the stripping guides of the rod, the slack is taken up and the reel begins to SCREAM while the line HISSES through the water.

    Now you lift the rod tip to the 45 degrees to keep pressure on the fish as it swims at more than 15 metres per second through the water doing its 8 to 10 second dash. Ah, it’s 120 metres out and slowing down and you settle into the fight to turn its head and pump it in. Here comes the back of the fly line lots of vibrations coming through the rod, let go of the reel handle as the reel starts to scream again.

    With luck you will eventually get the fish in so that the guide can control it, no photos, so the guide keeps it in the water and makes sure it recovers before it is let go and it lazily swims off.

    The guide points to more fish and you move off to get another adrenaline rush.

    Yep I did good for a 67 year old and landed 84 Bones on that trip using flies I had tied.

    Yep I’ve been back twice since then so my total Bones is now 454.

    Yep I’m going back again later this year. Can’t get enough of Bonefish and Kiritimati. Cheers B M

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