March 8th, 2004

Bonefishing Primer
By James Castwell

On a recent bonefishing trip, during the few off moments when I was not yanking the slippery things from their watery homes, the guide, myself and the LF got to chatting about some of the important things we could collect for those of you who are new to this sacred recreation. We agreed that the written-word was sorely lacking in really, really good stuff.

Now, I am not against those well meaning souls, who in their mis-guided attempts to help out have simply gotten it all wrong. They just didn't know any better. Probably influenced by a lot of things they themselves have read. Writers do a lot of that, read and then swipe the ideas for their own use. With that firmly in cheek, I will elucidate forthwith.

Stanley, he was our guide on this insightful day, has seen it all and when he found out we wrote a little, laid it on us, so to speak. Take for instance, the possibility of getting sun-burned, or worse, fried to a freekin' crisp. How do most of you protect against such an inevitable actuality? Slobbering on lots of gooey stuff, that's how. Or, maintaining macho, just dab dribs and drabs here and there. Both of these methods suck, and are also just wrong. For you, the newby, we collectively arrived at this priceless suggestion, remembering, of course, that one gets what one pays for.

Nothing, nothing at all for the first day. Hell, you are not going to get all that badly burned in one day and it might just might be your first step toward becoming a bronze god, or goddess. Now, and this is important, the very next morning after you have had enough coffee to get all your icons lined up and functioning, look directly into your bathroom mirror. Look especially for those areas that are now turning bright red. They will stand out clearly now and give you a perfect map as to where you should apply some SPF goo. This will keep you from wasting the stuff by anointing areas which don't really need it. Simple? Of course, this is just pure academic thought, not heretofore really explained in depth. "Red skin in the morning, fisher take warning," I always say.

Much along the same path is the use, or not, of bug-dope. Leave it off the first day. The next day just dope up the big blotchy areas and scabs. Simplicity in action. Economy of both motion and money.

Be sure to explain to your guide that you have been fly-fishing for a long time and have never needed the double-haul and sure aren't about to learn it now. You have always been able to get close to your fish and he will just have to make sure they are not too far away. He will immediately understand and make a note of your abilities.

Professional, that what those guides are, real pro's. And darn proud of it. Do not insult them in any way or you will pay dearly for such transgressions. Like when your guide helps you land a nice fish and all of a sudden it is swimming off toward the horizon before you could get a picture of it, these things are not always accidents, my friends.

One fun thing that often happens is this. Especially if your guide stands on a platform high above the outboard motor. When you are up front, shift your weight sharply every so often. Not too far as to be noticeable, but just enough tho "keep him on his toes," so to speak. If he should actually fall off, be sure to offer him your hand to get back in. He will probably refuse it, but, it is a courtesy anyway. He may really enjoy the event as it gets awfully hot up there sometimes.

There is the silly rumor that you should give them a tip. Ridiculous, I say. How could you possibly be in any position to offer them any tips or advise on anything. Good-grief, these guys know it all, and you do not. Nope, no advise or tips at any time. I have no idea where that ugly rumor ever got started.

When you have been wobbling for several hours in the blistering sun on the forward poop-deck of a pregnant pram and you gotta go, don't worry if you dribble some on the boat, hell, these things are washable and the guide won't mind at all. He might even stop the boat if he really likes you.

And when your back feels like it's in a vise, your toes are fried to the deck, and the sun is a swirling ball of fire in the sky and it's only noon, just suggest, " Hey, when in hell do we eat lunch?" It is his duty to find a delightful shady place immediately, and prepare a gourmet spread, usually without buzzards looking on, but not always. If you have a few lurking in the bush tops, do not bitch. Tacky to do so, they are a symbol of luck or something. Speaking of luck, make sure in the morning they put a few nice big fat bananas in the lunch basket, I think it's a kind of superstition thing too.

Humor is big down there. Always happy and looking for anything funny. Try to use it often. Like when your guide works for hours to position you for a great shot at a huge bonefish, "at ten o'clock, mon, 'bout thirty feet. Cast now, mon! Let it go!" Try this, pitch a sloppy shot at three o'clock, ten feet. He will bust a gut. Explain that with his funny accent you miss-understood him and that he really should speak louder in the first place. And by the way, "where in hell is ten o'clock anyway?" These things will let him know you are truly one of a kind.

It's an 'out-islands' custom to lose your hat on the first day. Be sure to wear on old one with out any strings on it and when you are zooming along at about forty per, let the thing fly off. Laugh a lot here, it goes along with the humor thing I was mentioning above. He may make a furtive glance back at it as it sinks in the swallowing wake, but remember it's a custom and expected. Go with it. He may offer to try for it, explain you are very rich and not to worry, you have a lot of them.

Sighting bonefish. Wow, that is a big one and you can really screw up here. You see, your guide is in the back of the boat and you are up front. There is no way he could possibly see any fish before you do. If he points and says there is one at 'such-and-such,' say, "right, I've had my eye on that one for a long time now." This is of course a lie, but, he will never know. Unless you cast of course, but that is another matter all together.

Speaking of casting, remember, bonefish do not swim in a straight line. So when the guide says to cast at a certain place, hell, just let it go anywhere really. Chances are, with a little luck, the fish will find it on it's own. Try to place your fly behind the fish as often as possible too, they have their eyes on the sides of their heads and can reverse direction instantly, you will show the guide that you are a seasoned veteran of the sport.

Since you will be there for a few days, actually spend some time targeting the fish directly, aim right for the things. By the time your fly gets there they will have moved anyhow and your chances are just as good as anyone's.

You got to look classy. For sure, and one way is to aggressively thrust your fly rod to the left and the right when playing a fish. It does not matter that the thing might be two-hundred yards out, he will know you are a sharp guy, have watched a lot of T.V. and will be very impressed. This also will impress your guide, about the same amount.

Fear. Right, have no fear at all of hitting the guide with your fly. Also try not to hit him with the rod if possible, but do not worry about your back cast at any time. Hey, these guys are real pro's and can duck anything you might be able to pitch at them. They can be bouncing around on a dipping deck, trying to point you to a good fish, keep the boat in the right position for a cast and can play dodge-ball with a fly traveling at the speed-of-sound with ease.

And remember to keep lots of tension on the fly line when the guide is trying to remove a fly from your fish too. It might get stuck in his thumb as it comes out, but these guys are tough, they're used to it, happens a lot and is considered an 'occupational hazzard.'

It is well known that tropical game fish are attracted to sound and if possible make a few clunking/thumping sounds from time to time. The end of your fly rod, a soda can, almost anything will do the trick. Sometimes it is needed to wake them up as the warm water tends to make them a bit lethargic as well.

Swearing is certainly acceptable language. The average Bahamian does not go to church more than five times a week and if you feel the urgent need to let loose a blast, such phrases as; "Oh golly-gee, Wow-ee, Boy-oh-boy and Whoopie are well within good usage form. "Yee-haw," is alright but is will mark you regionally.

When all is done and said and your trip is over, offer some of your flies to the guide. Not any of the good ones of course, just the odd-ball and chewed-all-to-heck ones. Pick out at least three or four, let him know how you really feel about him busting his ass shoving you all over the blistering flats.

A final thing. Hit your local fly shop and pick up a few items before you go. A check list might look a little like this. Four rods, (three new ones), three reels, (two new ones), extra fly lines (three colors), a dozen flies of each size and pattern your fly-shop-guru recommends, sun-dope, bug-dope, alligator-dope, shark repellant and lots of money.

You are now well equipped to represent the average North American first time bonefisher.

Until next time, "Yo Mon!" ~ James Castwell

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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