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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.

Mars Bay, The Second Time Around

Captain Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Hurricanes be damned! Andros for summer bones was the plan and we got it done. We head down there in July to get away from the other fishermen and also because people just think it is "too hot." There is also a perception that there are no fish this time of year. They are a little correct in the heat factor but dead wrong in the fish population. Add in hurricane season and being flexible and prepared is mandatory. The rewards are plenty if you have a plan and roll with the punches.

Our plan this year was for ten people to fish in two groups (4 and 6) for a week each group. The Mars Bay Bonefish Lodge is under new management and well on the way to being the best in the south end of the big island. Bill Howard, owner/manager, offered to open his lodge to us in July after shutting down in mid June. He had another call for his boats for the Redbone people and we could take our weeks either side of them and make the month for him. Storms, although having little affect on Andros, changed the number of visitors and the plan. We had four go for a week, redbone cancelled and we got four of the six for the last week. Bill rolled with the punches and made those that made it feel very welcome.

Our first four folks lost the first two days of their week to high winds. They reported the last three days as fine fishing and had a ball overall with Bill's hosting getting very high marks.

The second six folks, whom I herded over there, dwindled to four when hurricane Dennis hit the homes and lifestyles of two of the fishermen. One could not even get to his condo on Navarre Beach to get his gear in time for the trip, let alone find a place for his wife to live while he fished. For some reason he choose not getting divorced over fishing. The good thing was the travel insurance we all carry is going to help them recoup losses of the wallet. Nothing makes up for lost fishing.

The four survivors were Peck, Todd, Ron and I, Scud. The travel from the states can be a problem and a hassle if you use the airlines. Andros is out of the way with few, if any direct flights. Congotown is another airport altogether from anything else on Andros. We took an "on demand" charter out of Ft. Lauderdale, which also gave us the option to evacuate if necessary. Air Flight is the outfit and they have planes to carry six to eight, depending on the size of the people and what they carry. Four of us fit like a dinger in a bell but we sure enjoyed the one and half hour flight with the extra elbowroom. When we had dropouts and I put the word out the weight restrictions were "off," some brought so much "stuff" we came close to over packing the taxi at the other end. The lodge has everything, and will do your laundry, so packing light does not hurt at all.

Arrival at the Congotown airport, if you can call it that, lets you know you are in a different world. One building sits at the end of one straight piece of concrete. There was one old airplane sitting there and that is unusual. About half way down the piece of concrete there is a tail of some old airplane sticking out of the jungle. You have to pay the customs inspector to come to the airport to process you, $40-50 will get someone to meet you on Sunday. I grabbed a cart to put the bags on and we filled it up before a kid showed and complained that it was "his job" to do that. He pushed it to the taxi a hundred feet away and stood by for his tip. Had he not chewed me out for him being late, he might have gotten one.

The Van is paid for by the lodge and takes about forty-five minutes unless you stop and shop for drinkable substances you forgot to pack from the States. Beer is mighty expensive over there but rum and some whiskeys are not. Go figure. The local beer is very good but still a tad pricy. Note for next year is to bring beer if we have weight allowance left over. Ena is the local driver and this nice lady will give you a running tour with many historical notes while she whisks you to the lodge.

We arrived for dinner, well marinated (us, not the food) and were more than surprised to find a real fancy layout waiting. The cook was Melissa, an American-Bahamian who moved back to take care of her grandmother. She left her cooking job at the Four Seasons. She cooked for the first four days and did many repeats of the first night. Breakfasts were just as fine and she did some great sandwiches for our lunches too. There are no supermarkets down that way and most of what we ate was caught that day. If not caught, it came in a can. Fruit is hard to find and packing in some on the charter might be a better use than beer...or maybe not.

The party continued after dinner with rigging being the remaining task. All of us planned on two rods on the boat and some took three; one for bonefish, one for permit or a back up for the first and the last was for barracuda and/or shark. Permit is the only thing we never had the conditions to try for on this trip.

The boat or truck to the boat (depending on tide) leaves each morning at 0700. The wake up call is Bill pounding on the door or just the activity of the cook down the hall in the kitchen. With only four of us, and Bill, we did not use the second building. Bill can nicely handle eight at the lodge. The morning noise did not wake all us up this first day. Some needed a little more sleep and some, like me, slept very little in anticipation of day one. There might have been a correlation between rum consumption and sleep required. Some of the rigs from the night before did not look so fine in the morning light.

Ok, we made the boats by 0815 with new knots and all. Tides were not a factor in being a little late. The boat ride, the worst part of fishing in South Andros, started. Worst, because most of the time the trade winds blow from the east southeast at about 15-20 MPH. The run to the south flats is in open water and takes between 30 to 50 minutes depending on the roughness of the sea. This is the most southern lodge in South Andros so if you stay in any of the others you can add 20 minutes to our ride to fish the most productive flats.

Day one was going to be rough with the normal winds blowing at 15-20MPH. The boats are Rahmings made on the island. The hull shape and size is pure Dolphin Skiff and the boats are tough as battleships but do not give you a dry soft ride in two to three foot seas. There is actually only a small part of the run that is really bad and the guides slow down so as not to turn your teeth to Chicklets or your back to more parts than it already has. They want you to get fishing and you may need to ask for less "banging" if you have a real bad back, like I do. I can afford 10 minutes more each way to be able to stand when it is time to fish. It does get wet but that is why you have jackets along. It is also warm water and the wind dries you out pretty quickly.

The boats split up when we hit the flats at the south end of the islands. I had Ron with me this day, as he had never caught one of these fish before. We also had the oldest most experienced guide in Wilford Andrews. Ron jumped at the chance to stand on the bow first as the tide was high and we were going to pole first. For never having seen the bonefish before and it being a low sun angle, Ron did well. He saw the first couple of fish but the late sightings did not offer any good shots. Pretty soon, Wilford announced we would jump out and stalk the fish he spotted in a little corner or the mangroves just out front. Out went the anchor and over the side went Ron and Wilford. I exited the other side and pulled away from them to watch. I could see the fish "tailing" but let them creep forward without me. I was planning on holding out in the slightly deeper water as the big ones hang out a little from the masses of smaller fish.

It took about five minutes and a couple of casts and Ron was hooked to a running bone that took him to the backing. Wilford coached and they had it in without spooking the whole flat. Ron quickly hooked his second and did a masterful job of this one also.

The two of them worked through a slight depression in the flat and toward me and got yet another fish and released it. I was having a flash back to my first bonefishing adventure. I went four days of pure frustration before I got my first one. Better preparation on Ron's part paid off.

As they came towards me I spotted another pod of fish off the point ahead and I went further out to give them room to approach them first. Ron hooked one right on the point by throwing into the fifty fish holding there. That one ran him into the mangroves and he eventually had the fish wrap around a stalk and break off. I was still scanning the deeper water for the big one when not watching a new guy catch four fish in just under twenty minutes of his first hour of fishing for bones.

About this time I hear a plaintiff call, "do you have any flies with you?" It seems Ron was taken by surprise at the quick departure from the boat and did not have flies in the pocket case I gave him. He did have the case though. I pulled out a "pink puff," the guide's choice, and started towards him. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a monster fish 20 feet away coming at me. I looked and first thought it was a 'cuda because of the size but realized too late that it was the biggest bone I had ever seen. It was the size of my leg and just what I was waiting for. I could not get the fly in front of him before he saw me. My guess, and the guide's, was this one might have been near 20 pounds. The cost of the pink puff went from a gift to $100 on the spot. I take part blame for not making him go back to the boat to load his box.

We did not go back to the boat for almost two hours. I had to stay close to provide a fly if he lost another. Ron had six fish when I got my first; a normal sized one (3-4 pounds) cruising where the big ones were supposed to be. I had caught up a little during the first hour and he had seven to my four. We started across a mile long flat when Wilford said, 'walk straight ahead and he would return to the boat and catch us on the other side.' He told us the fish were starting to flow out of the mangroves on the far side and would all come to us on the walk. It was so shallow and the water was going down fast that I thought nothing could swim. Boy, was that wrong. We would only get a few minutes between swarms of fish flowing right at us. Ron was a little slower at fighting and getting them off but during any fight herds would get spooked while passing during the fight. As soon as you got the fish off and looked up there would be another wave right in front bearing down on you. It lasted for about a half hour and I think I got six during that walk. Ron had a bunch fall off for bad sets but got so many he lost count. I think he was a fish ahead but I was not really sure either. Wilford could tell by the smiles that he had presented quite a morning for us.

The rest of the day was a blur but there was a little lapse in the action when the tide went slack. We ate a lunch and got into another flat full of fish in the PM. We also tossed at a few small groups from the bow, which brought the wind and some aiming into play. Ron noticed it was not as easy as throwing down wind at masses of fish. He was spoiled and in need something to humble him a little.

All in all, the pounding on the way home did not diminish this day. Ron finished with 16 plus fish and I was probably just one or two behind him. The other team was on the back porch with drinks in hand waiting with their wild stories. They did not find the masses we did but both had good numbers and a couple of bigger fish, around six pounds, to their credit. A few beers and many stories of the wonders of the South Andros flats followed by a fantastic dinner made the bumpy ride seem like a cakewalk.

After dinner Peck went into action. He, somehow, got all his lines filthy and reels clogged with salt, or at least it seemed that way. He had lines, rods, reels and gear of all sorts taken apart and spread over the whole living area. He was moving so fast we could not even see him as we wandered from the back deck to the refrigerator to get more ice. Again, a mystery for sure, most all of it got back in place before bedtime. When the stars were bright enough to still be seen full bright with the full moon, we retired. I had little problem sleeping this night.

At 0500 I found Ron on the deck with coffee pondering the past day and what was to happen next. I joined him and was almost blinded by the stars. I know most of the names of the stars and most of the constellations but could not find the constellations, as the stars were all too bright to tell apart. The following sunrise was special and the wind kept the bugs at bay.

The fresh day started with me fishing with Peck and the other guide, George Brown. George really had the driving trick down and we worked our way down south without so much as a cry of pain from going airborne. I checked the timing and we lost only about 10 minutes going a most comfortable speed.

The tides were higher longer this day and we did not find the massive piles of fish early. I had only a couple of fish in the morning. As far as I could see, George was doing the same thing as Wilford in the same places. Fish move. In fact, the second half of the day we went out to an outer island flat to cash in on the fish he found flowing out the first day. We were on the flat most of the afternoon with him amazed there was nothing there. Wilford and the other two folks came up and started on a second flat that was less than 100 yards away but on the other side of a flowing stream between the two flats. We returned and walked our empty flat a second time while the other group fished for two hours in a constant fish flow they described as 'several thousand' fish. I ended up with three for the day and Todd had a couple more than I did. The other team had 8 to 10 apiece. The ride home was as nice as the ride down and the beer even colder that evening. Once again, Peck seemed to have need to polish the insides of everything he owned and had the inside of the lodge looking like a cob web with lines in various stages of rebuilding or reweaving or whatever. If I ever wanted to buy a used reel, it would be from this man.

Third day for me was with Peck and guide George. We'd decided as a group to go all the way to the farthest flat of the Water Keys while the tide was high and fishing limited closer in. We actually did not get out of the boat for the first walk for almost 2 hours. We got there earlier but were trying to find some place shallow enough to find the fish. One opportunity got thwarted when we were going along slowly with the motor jacked up and a large school was busting their way towards us. Peck was napping and did not get the gist of the hurry we were in to shut down and ground the boat on a sand bar. He had his rod in his hand and handed it to me. I thought he was going to climb out and toss at the onrushing mob of fish but he turned around to get his water bottles or something. I looked back and yelled he was going to miss the shot at which time he bolted into action and started stripping line for a cast that was just about five seconds late to connect.

We walked the next flat with one bunch playing out in front of us for about 50 yards of trudging through holes and rocks before they turned and made a run towards us. They were headed at me and I picked the biggest to throw at. I had about two strips in without a bite before Peck landed his special little fly about three feet to the side of my following fish. The fish were not in love with my offering and just pounced on the chance to go over and leap all over Peck's fly. If I had not been refused I am sure we would have had a double.

At one point in a polling run a three-foot barracuda shadowed the boat long enough for me to get Peck's big rod out and toss at it with a special fly a mutual friend made. The 'cuda showed interest on the second or third "splashy" toss and finally came all the way out of the water to take the thing in the air. The back hook fouled on the body of the fly and it did not hook that boney mouth. Too bad, it would have been a tussle. That was just about all we saw for the rest of the morning.

George was getting frantic, due to lack of fish count, and started us working back toward the east side as the water started to fall. He stopped at another spot I remembered from my last visit and my spirits soared. It was his "honey hole" the last time. Sure enough, we paced ourselves across the flat to the far end and, just like last time, the fish bunched up on the falling tide. Peck got a couple really quickly and I finally got one to stay on the hook. I seemed to be trying to get to them with too much line out and the stretch in the line made it hard to get a good hook up. When I let them get within 40 feet before throwing it got easier and I got a couple.

Peck tried to ford a deep spot I remembered was pretty mucky. On the way back from the aborted crossing he, always the entertainment, scored a near perfect 9.5 on his half gainer with a face plant. I heard the splash and all I could see was his hat, which, by the way, was in big demand by Wilford. He had been trying to talk him out of this very seasoned piece of cloth that looked like a pillbox with a fringe. Well, the "hat" just got a well-needed oil change.

On the way back to the boat a "mud" popped up off our right side about 50 yards out. George started us toward it and left it to us. I usually hate to do muds (schools of smaller fish eating off the bottom with mud coming to the top) but the lack of fish so far and the flashing fish at the leading edge of the mud got us excited. The first thing that happened was a barracuda ripped through the school and we could not get them settled down to toss at until he had his fill. He finally left for a nap and we got down to work.

I decided it was time to throw all the odd things in my tackle box and manage to have fish swim by my feet while I was tying on different flies. Peck was working like a lumberman catching one after another. I managed a couple of refusals and a couple of fish. I think Peck must have had a half dozen before they seemed to catch on to us making their jaws sore and left.

We did several more stops on the way home but could not find but a couple of fish to throw at. Not a bad day for sure but not one of the best. George did a masterful job of keeping the boat's ride soft and fuzzy so we could actually enjoy the view and talk.

The gear show went on to some extent on Peck's part but a flurry of knot tying overtook us as we planned to go to the west side and find tarpon the next day. Ron was a sponge for knot knowledge and he had more opinions from us, and Bill, than he could cope with. The "different kind" of line discussion lasted an hour and my brain was full before we got out the spools and started tying around the dinner table after eating. About the time everybody was in mid knot of some sort, the power failed. Out came three types of LED flashlights and one old style. I ended up just a light post for Peck. Nobody stopped tying or talking and teaching. The lights in the teeth muffled some of the words, but the talking never stopped. Bill and I went outside, as it was getting hot in there, and from the back porch looking in it seemed like a LAZER light show or a scene from the first Star Wars.

This went on for an hour and just about the time I was going to figure out how to sleep out in the wind the power came back on. The knots were all tied and teaching over early.

Ron, after hearing about a bar by a bridge and tarpon fishing available in the night declared that, 'Wednesday is let's get liquored up and catch tarpon night.' I must have heard this mantra in my sleep as he said it enough that evening. Fear of the "morning after 'tarpon' night seeped into my brain. ~ Scud

Concluded next time.

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