November 11th, 2002

Castwell's Great Adventure
2002 WBI (World Bonefish Invitational) Freeport, Grand Bahama Island
By James Castwell

I caught the 'red-eye' out of here at ten p.m. on Wednesday night, flew until five a.m., changed planes in Atlanta and got into Ft. Lauderdale in time to catch a smaller bird that landed at Freeport, Grand Bahama Island late Thursday afternoon. Grabbed a short nap in room 315 of the Pelican Club, my digs for the weekend, splashed some water in my face and met the other contestants for a boat ride to a waterfront restaurant about ten minutes up the harbor. Little did I know this was the first step onto a tread-mill that would not slow down until I flapped my wings at noon on Sunday and headed back home to Seattle, Washington.

Not that that was a bad thing, it was not. It was just one of the many events which were skillfully woven into a very short bonefishing competition. Dinner at seven on Thursday night, drawing for my guide, observer and fishing location afterward. Breakfast at 6 a.m., guide picks me up at 7 a.m. towing his high-speed flats boat. Lines in the water at 8 a.m., curse driving rain all day, broken only by eating a soggy lunch, lines out at 4 p.m., load boat, drive back to hotel, wash face, meet again for dinner, (bus ride this time, an hour long...) Eat and draw names for Saturdays fishing, another hour back to the hotel, collapse, rise at 5 a.m., meet bus at 6:30, ride an hour to east end of island and prepare to fight rain which today has decided to pour on the east end instead of the west end where I had enjoyed it's company the day before.

As mere mortals can not begin to see the bonefish in sunny weather, even my seasoned guides were out of business in the driving rain of Friday, the result was I blanked, zero, de-nada, zilch, nothing. However, the guide did manage to grab a spiny lobster that refused to go back down its hole.

Saturday once again found us dealing with a 'weather-event.' Wind at 25 plus, white foam ripping from the tops of two foot waves...neat. We did manage to see a few fish actually on both days, between rain and squalls, but only as we were about to run the silly things over with our boat. Not possible to cast to as they were off like a shot.

All was not lost though, as the sun did bore thru a blotchy sky for an hour or so on Saturday, just before we had to quit. At 3p.m. we saw our first small group of bonz...they looked to me like some rare 'pigmy' type, I have never seen bonz that small. Did I care? You're kidding, right? A deftly presented cast at about 25 feet with my 8wt rod and I scattered them like confetti on a ticker parade. But, luck must have been smiling on me and they huddled together again like nervous quail. I swear, I bet they still had milk on their teeth. I made another cast.

"Glomp!' Ah-ha... I was fast to a driving diminutive denizen of the not-so-deep. Around one, now two and lastly three mangroves sprouts he went. He made the knots of a mule-packers diamond hitch look juvenile. Tugging did not help, backing up the boat did, once, twice and the third time. At last the critter was captured, much to the cheers of all in attendance.

We seasoned anglers call that 'getting the skunk outta the boat.' Five minutes later a new group materialized and fell prey to my superior skills and luck. I now had two and at least twenty minutes yet to go for the top award of five grand. Oh well, at least maybe one more fish anyhow. I did, and he was a respectable representative of his species. I even managed to kind of 'zing' one of my fingers a bit with the backing as I stupidly left one finger engaged while the line was screaming off my reel. My guide had given me a bit of admonition as I had not 'ripped the lips' off of it when it took my fly. He was right too, but, this was only 8lb tippet and with a knot or so on each end will break at much less than that. I was not going to do anything on purpose to lose this fish.

He tried to get me to hurry up and land it because he had seen a few bigger ones 'up ahead' and wanted to go after them. I landed my bonefish and we went after the big ones but did not find them. The game was over. Three attempted, three hooked, three landed.

That evening, Saturday, we were loaded into busses and driven to a delightful restaurant for the evenings awards dinner at seven. A lot of dignitaries from the Bahamian tourism industry were on hand to give out the trophies and smile for the media. Lots of flash bulbs were popping, big TV cameras rolled, a local band kept the noise volume going and we all filled our plates from a fine buffet. Local favorites and they were wonderful.

Previously each of the islands had a local contest to determine its champion, these were pitted against each other on Thursday to establish a national winner. On Friday and Saturday the national winner and the champion of each island were in contest against a group of 'international' fly fishers, I was one of these. As it turned out, the top rod from Andros Island also won the over-all title and took home the check for five grand. The son of a famous camp owner, Rupert Leadon Jr. was one very happy guy. The festivities were enjoyed by all, plenty of food, refreshments, music and a lot of good natured comradery.

Will they have one again next year? You can count on it. A few improvements are scheduled for 2003. It was felt that the eight pound tippet rule used this year was a bit too light. Next year each contestant will be given his own spool of ten pound Grand-Max tippet material, which will be the official one for the tournament. The scoring will also be changed to be more in line with other fishing contests held in the region.

All in all, things went well, I had a great time and would love to be invited back someday. On that note, my wife already has been... yup, the LadyFisher has been invited to compete in 2003. ~ James Castwell

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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