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Welcome to Fly Fishing The Salt! If you are just discovering the joys of fly fishing the salt (or salt chuck as some call it) here you will find information to steer you in the right direction. Tips on what equipment to use, why, where and how to fish. And we will try to include a little inspiration to get you going. For the experienced salt water angler, there will be personal stories about real fishermen and their experiences, tips on what flies for which fish and techniques that work. Your stories and articles are also most welcome. Share the knowledge and adventure. Pass it on! This is for you.

A Cajun Fly Fisherman Discovers the Joy of Caribbean Bonefishing

By Capt. Marty Authement, Houma, Louisiana

"What are y'all doing in here?"

Our guide was giving us some good-natured ribbing, delivered in his (think Jamaican/Caribbean) accent, accompanied by a huge grin.

The big-block Ford engine on the 24-foot airboat had barely stopped and he was telling us to, "Get out. You can't fish in the boat!"

Our group of five grinned back, a wordless acknowledgment that his instructions were not necessary. We were getting out of the boat as fast as possible, chomping at the bit to begin our pursuit of the illustrious and elusive bonefish.

The roar of the airboat's twin, counter-rotating props had carried us across miles of water averaging a foot deep. Out here, within the semicircle of the Caicos Islands, the coarse flat sand stretches as far as the eye can see, covered only by a sliver of water. Mile after mile of this tropical plateau stretches to the horizon and beyond. The tell-tale emerald green of deeper water loomed far beyond our vision.

This is the Nirvana known to salt-water fly fishermen as "the flats." And it was alive, teeming with thousands of bonefish.

In the world of fly fishing, bonefish are one of the most prized species, combining challenging stalking and presentation with world-class fighting ability. Articles about these silvery creatures abound in fly fishing magazines, and all resonate with the same message: These fish are hard to catch.

That's only partly true. A well-presented fly in front of a bonefish is rarely turned down, so in that way they are actually easy to catch. The trick is getting into a position where that presentation can be made.

These fish have an unwavering reputation of being spooky, which is true, at least some of the time. A single fish or a small group cruising the flats can be very wary, and a quiet, careful stalk into casting range can be tricky. But large schools are less likely to dart away from a clumsy footstep, and feeding bonefish -- called "tailers" because their silver forked tails break the water's surface as they tip their heads down to feed on the bottom -- are otherwise occupied and less likely to hear or feel an approaching fisherman.

As our guide, Ganger Lockhart, pointed to several schools of bonefish, we stepped into the shallow and surprisingly cool water of the early tropical morning, fanning out from the boat like points on a compass.

My fishing buddies for this trip included Joe Bruce, owner/operator of The Fisherman's Edge fly fishing shop in Baltimore, Md.; Joe Erickson, of E&B Erectors in Lakeshore, Md.; Joe E.'s brother, Bob Erickson, a retiree from Lapata, Md.; and Bill Zeller, who works for a printing company in Essex, Md. Three of our group were bonefishing veterans. Bob and I were the rookies.

"The two Joes," as I like to call them, have chased redfish with me many times in the marshes of Terrebonne Parish. I was in the Caribbean on their invitation. Walking farther and farther from the boat, and from the assistance of the veterans, I realized another element of the bonefish mystique. While stalking can be difficult, just seeing them in the first place can be a challenge. Bonefish have bright, silvery sides, which are nearly metallic and have the ability to act like a mirror, reflecting the color of the bottom they are cruising over. And if there is grass on the bottom, their dark backs blend in perfectly, completing the illusion.

For a while, I started to wonder if I had chosen the wrong direction to walk, void of fish, or perhaps I simply wasn't seeing them. Adding to my difficulty was the stiff trade winds, which Ganger assured us encouraged the fish to feed more actively -- "You don't want a calm day. You catch nothing" -- but seeing through the waves was difficult.

As I walked I contemplated the importance of wind on this trip. It was wind that rushed through the commercial jet engines that carried me from New Orleans to Providenciales, "Provo" to the locals, then wind surged through the propellers of the Cessna that carried me from Provo to South Caicos. Wind pushed our air-boat over the flats, and now, wind was stirring the water, motivating the fish to feed and helping to guarantee my success.

Then it happened.

I spotted my first bonefish, less than 20 feet away. After two quick false-casts, I sent my fly forward, but the line arced in the stiff wind, landing my offering on the fish's back, spooking it and sending it out of sight in the blink of an eye. For a moment, I stared at the empty water in disbelief, then started walking again.

It didn't take long to spot the next opportunity. Single fish can hide in the waves, but a school of 50-plus swimming straight at you is pretty obvious. With my heart pounding and my back against the wind, I made a back cast, then a forward cast, and drove my No. 4 Norminator right between my shoulder blades. Once again, in a rush, I didn't compensate for the stiff wind. As the school casually split in two, swimming around both sides of me, I contorted myself to free the fly from my shirt.

OK, this was getting embarrassing.

But redemption wasn't far away. Following the retreating school was another, even larger school, easily 100 strong. My heart began to pound again, but I whispered to myself, "Slow down." I put out a 40-foot cast, landing it well ahead of the school, and waited for the first fish to reach my offering sitting on the bottom. When I was certain the lead fish was near my fly, I gave the line a short strip -- enough to attract attention, but not enough to startle the fish or move the fly out of striking distance -- and it was hungrily gobbled up. The school scattered as my fish darted, and my reel screamed as line was peeled off with blinding speed.

It wasn't a big bonefish, in fact, it was the smallest I caught in five days of fishing.

But despite its size, it still showed me the fight these "ghosts of the flats" are famous for.

And many more would follow.

The average fish were 3 to 6 pounds. A "good" fish is anything over 8 pounds, and anything in double digits is a trophy.

By the end of the first day, I caught 15 bonefish; a pretty good number for a novice chasing these wary creatures.

I have heard and read many stories about the line-stripping runs of bonefish, but nothing prepared me for the reality of the experience. It's not just the distance they can cover, but the speed at which they do it. Once hooked, they take off like a cannon-ball. Fingers have to be kept clear of reel handles as they spin so fast they are a blur, and retreating line can burn or even cut skin.

I had loaded my fly reel with 35 yards of fly line and 200 yards of backing. The majority of the fish half-emptied my spool. Twice, it almost wasn't enough. The success of each day's fishing varied, as fishing always does. The slowest day, as Ganger predicted, had little wind. The casting was much easier, but there was little to cast to. One day was also cut short by a breakdown -- a bad starter that prevented us from changing locations. These things happen, but in the end, the time was not lost.

After fishing Monday through Friday, we were scheduled for a 1 p.m. Saturday flight, giving us just enough time for a short morning trip back to the flats -- make-up time for the breakdown.

The day was calm, and the airboat glided over miles of empty flats. No bones in sight.

A change of strategy was necessary.Ganger headed inland and took us to a set of mangrove-lined lagoons. There weren't many bonefish, but a few small groups were foraging.

With time running out, it was our best, and last chance. We stepped out of the boat and started walking.

Shortly after rounding a point and entering a lagoon, I spotted tails glistening in the sun. Three bones were feeding less than 20 feet from me, but 10 feet behind me was a tall stand of mangroves. A back cast was impossible. My only chance was to walk, very slowly and quietly, at an angle away from the bank, getting to the side of the fish.

But two questions gnawed at me. Could I walk quietly enough in this calm, skinny water not to spook these fish? And even if I could, would they stay there long enough for me to walk out?

The walk seemed to take an eternity, slow and tiny steps, but I got into position and made a cast.

The small fly landed about a foot on the side of the trio, and two fish turned to check my offering. The bite was immediate, and as I lifted the rod I began to feel the satisfying weight of the fish.

Then, the unthinkable happened. The fish came "unbuttoned," Joe B.'s favorite term for an unhooked fish. I stared in horror as my line and fly lifted harmlessly into the air, certain I had just blown my last chance at a bonefish.

But incredibly, the fish didn't spook. The strike was so short, it didn't startle the fish, and their tails flipped back into the air as they resumed feeding. A second cast found its mark near the fish, and this time, the hook held. The sound of my screaming reel filled the lagoon as the one took 150 yards of line and backing.

As I unhooked and released the fish, a glint caught my eye. Another small group of bones was feeding about 100 feet away, tails waving and shining in the sun.

After a very long, very slow walk, my offering was accepted and another bonefish tried to empty my reel.

I only caught those two fish that day, but considering it was a short trip, and in difficult conditions, I was rather pleased with the results.

And, in the end, it isn't about the numbers.

Here I was, on one of the most productive flats God ever smiled down upon, and I was catching bonefish.

Such beauty and success surpasses numbers.

The Details:

South Caicos island is rather remote. Beyond the Blue charters is the only guided fishing service on the island, and they run the only hotel, Ocean Haven, which basically exists for the fishing and diving charters. Other than that, the island is basically a fishing village, with about 1,200 residents. They are extremely warm, friendly people, but it definitely has a Third World feel to it.

The meals are part of the package, served at the hotel. They are cooked by local ladies from the village, kind of home cooking Caribbean style, and it is wonderful! If someone is looking for night life or other distractions, this is definitely not the place for them. But for the person who wants bonefish, just bonefish, in some of the most secluded, productive flats on earth, this is the place. Because there is no other guide service on the island, and because Ganger owns the only airboat, you own the flats. For mile after mile after mile, there's no one else...No TV's, no phones, just bonefishing in a Caribbean paradise. For information on bonefishing in South Caicos, visit www.beyondtheblue.com ~ Capt. Marty

Capt. Marty

About Marty:

Capt. Marty D. Authement owns and operates Marsh Madness guided fishing service in Houma, Louisiana. He is also Lifestyles Editor of his hometown newspaper, The Courier. He can be reached at, captmarty@internet8.net or visit his Website at www.marshmadness.net. The preceding article appeared in the April 20, 2003 edition of The Courier.

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