Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

November 3rd, 1997

Bonefishin' on a Bahaman Cay

"Put a cast at twelve o'clock, about twenty-five feet," instructs Joseph Pinder, our Bahamian guide. The bow point is always twelve o'clock, so at least I know where the cast should go. But I don't see the fish. I'm wearing my photo-gray glasses, with flip down Polarized clip-ons. They are supposed to work. I can't find the fish!


Leaning back against the casting support, I deliver the cast. "On target," says Joseph, "Strip, strip, wait. He's following it. Strip again. He's got it!"

Day two is much better. We purchased some amber clip-ons. What a difference. We can see the fish. We can spot fish. We catch fish. Fish after fish. What a rush!

Our guide has also figured out that we can cast. If a guest at Deep Water Cay Bonefish Club can't cast, the guide takes up the slack. The first cast I made, 25 feet, was about average for lots of guests. Sure, there are people who cast just fine. Most however, are not able to make a long, accurate cast with any kind of a presentation.

The guides job is to get bonefish to the boat. The guide directs the caster, and if necessary, poles the boat into position and waits for the fish he has spotted two blocks off in the distance to come in. You don't usually catch big fish this way, but you do catch fish.

Drop the fly, I'm in Heaven Bonefish congregate by size groups. Pods or schools of three pound and under fish may consist of a hundred fish. As the fish get larger, four to six pounds, the number in a school may only be eight or ten. Really big ones travel as singles, doubles, or quartets. I didn't make that up, that's how the guides described them.

By day three, Joseph is directing our casts to fifty feet or more. Accuracy is extremely important. The fly can't hit the fish on the head. Bonefish eat crustaceans. They have evolved to a point where they actually inhale water and then direct the exhale at the spot they want - blowing sand away. Exposing their prey this way gives the fisherman the perfect opportunity to place a fly where the fish is working. The fish thinks your fly is something he has just exposed.

The take is soft. Mr. Bonefish just sucks the fly up. The action starts when the fly reaches the rear of his mouth and he begins to crunch it up. Getting the fish on the reel, taking up the slack line left from striping in your fly, is easy; Mr. Bonefish does it for you. Bonefish commonly make an initial run of about a hundred yards. There is not time to catch a breath. On the count of three, the fish takes off again, usually in the same direction and runs out another hundred yards. Wow! Large or small, bonefish are incredibly strong. Five or six runs of this kind are normal.

Comparatively, a twenty pound salmon will make one or two runs, and you can begin playing it in. Not a chance with even a five-pound bonefish. Plan on a battle.

Your reel is certainly more than a place to store line here. We were well equipped. No rod or reel failure. Feathering the rim of the reel did save my bacon more than once, 'tho. It's a method of applying a little extra drag. You simply put the reel against the palm of your non-rod hand. Too much pressure will break a fish off. Gentle pressure will slow the exit of the line from your reel. Personally, I get more than a little nervous when the reel spool has about a half inch of metal showing. Especially when the fish is not slowing down.

Slowing down in this case is a relative phrase. A bonefish travels at fifty-five feet a second. Absolute bull strength. A silver rocket! Bob Aid at Kaufmann's in Seattle warned us, "Be careful, bonefishing is addictive." Probably the understatement of the century. Thanks Bob. A little late.

A good day's work

Toward the end of our adventure, Joseph our guide, decided we should go head-hunting. We had caught lots of bones. So many that some of the other guests were feeling a bit insecure. Castwell and I finally quit keeping a total of what we caught, (that happened when we were at seven casts, seven fish boated.) Instead, we spoke of what we lost. Castwell lost a very large bonefish to a shark. It came out of the mangroves and pieces of fish were everywhere. None of us spotted the shark.

Sharks! Sharks seem to be trainable. They follow the boats. One of the other guests got into a large school of bonefish, which was being followed by about seventy sharks. The sharks didn't seem to be a threat to people. They are five feet or less in length. We saw black tip, brown and hammerhead sharks. The black tip were the most aggressive. Joseph actually beat one off as it made a run on a fish I was landing. Spooky. Then again, perhaps some latent vision of Jaws was involved in my mind.

Equipment choices were exactly right, although we did take more rods than we needed. The four back-up rods were never removed from their cases. As it turns out, the fishing shop at Deep Water did have rods available. We fished both six and eight weight rods. The six-weight was great. The change to a larger rod was only made when the wind got to thirty-five miles an hour.

A new Cortland Pop 2 cassette reel, (retailing for about sixty bucks,) was tested on this trip. Two bonefish under five pounds were landed on that reel. The only problem encountered was in the excitement of it all, I really did not pay any attention to winding the line on the reel evenly. Toward the end, there was no place on the reel for incoming line. I carefully hand-stripped the line into the boat. Yes, I got the fish.

We were asked to make sure the reel got wet, and not rinse or clean it for the whole trip. Done. Results? The reel had absolutely no sign of any salt-water problem. Was this the perfect reel for bonefish? Probably not, but it sure would do a dandy job for normal trout or bass fishing. That's a recommendation. An entry level fisher could hardly do better, especially in this reel's price range.

Happy Camper

We did take flies with us, mostly Gotcha variations. Yes, they caught fish. The big producers were a Mini Pink Puff, and pink Gotchas. The only fly we lost was the one attached to the bonefish eaten by the shark. He also got half the leader.

Was that first trip what we expected? Yes. Any disappointments? None. Would we do it again? We are doing it again. If you want to give bonefishing a try, look for information here next week on the Fly Angler's OnLine Bonefish Party (casting class included). ~ The LadyFisher

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