Skip Lynch was the winner of the Fly Anglers OnLine
September 2000 Monthly Drawing, for a 3 day bonefishing trip
from Stafford Creek,
Andros Island, Bahamas! Here is his story on the trip.
02/18/01 - 10:44 pm Holiday Inn-Junkanoo, Nassau, Bahamas
Arrived without a hitch . . .can't say the same for Bill. Continental Connection
has "lost" his case containing his rods, medicines, and airline tickets to Andros
Island (lost since his arrival in Nassau at 3:00 pm and they still haven't arrived with his things, and there's no one to answer the phone at the airport) It's raining and blowing to beat the band, so the potential weather isn't helping our moods either
Rum & Cokes, conch, shrimp; it's all good. All of the natives seem especially nice,
if not entirely helpful. Yikes! Bill needs to chill. He's seriously stressed
at the potential loss of $3000 in gear and tickets. We'll have it straightened out
in the morning.
02/19/01 - 8:12 am Nassau Airport
Bill's rod case still hasn't arrived (as far as we can tell), and the folks at Continental Connection are being less than helpful. I fear that the case was pinched here at the airport and will be a loss. We've changed our flights to the afternoon in the hope that Bill's wayward case shows up on one of the morning flights from West
Palm Beach. Bill is stressed; more stressed than he usually is, which is to say
that he's redlining. I can't say that I blame him, or that I wouldn't be as bent, but I didn't have quadruple bypass surgery a year ago.
Still in the Nassau Airport. Bill's bag is still AWOL. Our frustrations are mounting and nearly equal the number of inoperable phones on this island. Our hotel room last night had no phone service, but a room change fixed that. But the new room had no hot water and smelled vaguely of dog vomit. So we rebooked our flights to Andros for the 2:30 pm departure. At 3 pm, they announced that our new time of departure would be 4:45 pm. No explanation/no excuses/no apologies. So far I'd have to say that our "Bahamas Experience" sucks! Bill's is worse still, one addendum to the list of lost items in his rod case; his checkbook (brought along to pay for his stay at the Stafford Creek Lodge). Details, details.
02/20/01 - 8:17 pm Stafford Creek Lodge, Andros Island, Bahamas
It's nighttime on Andros and in spite of the fact that Bill's gear is probably lost
forever, the fishing has been very good, the meals exceptional, and the starlit
skies as spectacular as they were in Kruger (Africa). We've seen sharks, rays
and bonefish, snowy egrets, pelicans and terns, barracudas, turtles and a million
other fish I could never name. I caught my first bonefish a half hour into the
morning's poling. It was a 4-pounder, a good fish by most standards, but certainly
no monster. Considering the 25 mph winds gusting to 35 mph, I was pleased to
get it hooked and landed. In all, we landed 6 fish, 3 for Bill, 2 for me and one for
our guide, Shawn. Shawn Riley is a burly native with a thick accent and an uncanny
eye for spotting fish. He's only been flyfishing for 3 years, but casts like he was
born with a flyrod in his hand. Shawn was able to see fish 10-20 feet before we
either Bill or I were picking them up (if at all!). In fact, I never truly saw my second fish, except for the smudge of gray in the water where Shawn was pointing. On the water, Shawn never laughed or joked around with us in spite of our efforts to include him in our verbal jousting - not until the boat was unloaded of fishing gear, the gear was rinsed of seawater and the cooler was hoisted up to the deck did he finally joke around with us over rum & cokes, and Kalic beer, and then only sparingly. The wind and sun beat the energy out of you. I'll have to write more tomorrow.
I stepped up on the bow deck next to Shawn. "How good do you cast?" he asked as
the 25-knot winds buffeted the water against the flats boat.
"Good, I'm a pretty good caster," I said.
He pointed into the teeth of the wind and told me to give him a 45 feet. I made
it to 20 feet and had to duck as my fly was blown back to the boat. Shawn was
patient, more patient than I was with my abject failure. I swallowed a healthy
dose of pride and geared down my ego to listen to his impromptu casting lesson.
Bonefishing with a flyrod requires a skill set that most trout fishermen never have
the opportunity to develop. Rarely does a trout fisher cast to moving fish. When
the winds pick up past 20 mph, most freshwater flyfishers I fish with stay home and
tie flies, mow the yard or settle into their easy chair with a bottle. Also, a trout
fisherman may make dozens of casts to a single fish, all the while never being
entirely certain of anything other than the holding lie. Bad casts can be mended
or picked up and another presentation can be made.
In bonefishing, those things are all crap! Windy days are welcomed, if not desirable, and a double haul is not just for shooting line; it's essential for punching flies into near-gale force winds. The flyfisher casting to bones must force his fly on a very exacting path, and drop it within the fish's field of vision. (I use the word "force" here because the winds can come from any angle and sometimes the best way to simply get the fly away from the boat is to "muscle it" as best you can) A presentation a half-foot too far from the fish, and he never sees it; a half-foot too close and the fish is off like a shot. Bonefish are rarely stationary. They move to your left one second, then they might be quartering away to the right, the next moment they are bearing down directly toward the boat. Compound all of this with the fact that you may get one (and occasionally two) casts to a fish and you come to realize that you suck as a flycaster.
Within minutes, Shawn made his first call from the poling deck, "2 fish, 10 o'clock - 60 feet." I took up the line and started to false cast desperately trying to get a feel for the line in the tailing wind. "Ok," he called out as he swung the bow directly downwind, "12 o'clock, give me 35 feet." One more false cast and my fly was on its way.
"Let it sink - strip - strip - long strips now."
I felt the line tighten and then go slack. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a gray shape darting away at an astounding pace. "He's gone," Shawn sighed
with little hint of frustration or displeasure. But I was pissed and wanted a written apology from the fish. (Well, he could dictate a letter. Dolphins are so damned smart, right?)
"What happened?" I pleaded to Shawn.
"Not'in', he's a dumb fish. Keep yer elbow tight to your ribs when you cast.
Yer doin' fine," he said, never taking his eyes away from the water.
Shawn poled us along a coral wall, all the while trying to describe what mere
mortals could never hope to achieve; the wherewithal to actually see bonefish
in the wild. Oh, they are easy enough to see once spooked with their long, silvery
forms gliding into warp drive. But seeing them, really seeing them,
takes years of practice, and for me, I simply couldn't relate to Shawn's coaching.
In time I was able to see forms, not sharp shapes, more like blotches of gray
against the water's mosaic of greens, and blues, and silver and gray. The trick,
it seems, is not to let the surface ripples hypnotize you. Neither should you
stare at the pulsing reflections on the bottom. You try to look in between, or
you look for movement, or, if you are extremely lucky, you look for the tails
of fish sticking out of the water as the fish go nearly vertical digging food from
the sandy bottom.
But on your first day of bonefishing, you've got no chance.
We poled along in barely enough water to float the flats boat. Shawn, my fishing
partner Bill and I scanned the water intently. Near the end of the slender, little island, Shawn once again turned the bow downwind and said, "OK Skippa', Gimme a cast to 11 o'clock, more to your right, more, 35 feet - You see 'im?" And to my shock and
surprise, I did! "OK now, 35 feet," Shawn whispered. I paid out line with my false
casts, "Now drop it." I watched with joy as my 9-weight line unfurled and my Gotcha
with the rubber legs turned over and dropped into the water with barely a "plop."
"Let it sink, ok, long strips, now, strip - strip," I took Shawn's immediate instruction to mean that my cast was a good one. After four or five long strips, my leader was coming closer to the boat than I thought it should. I had one last strip left in the water when I saw the fish as clearly as anyone should ever see an unhooked bonefish. And in an instant, he was hooked! Shawn called down from his perch on the poling platform; "OK - jus' let 'im run." And with that, the last of my flyline exited through the tip of my rod.
Do the math. Roughly 9 feet of leader and tippet, plus another 100 feet of flyline,
and about 50 yards of backing went ripping away from the boat by the time I had
counted to seven. That's about 25 miles per hour with only a 10-pound tippet
between the horizon and me. When the run stopped, I reeled the fish back as
smoothly as I could, and I kept a good bend in my rod for pressure. Soon my
flyline returned to my reel. I knew that the fish would make a second run (all the
bonefish fishing books said as much), and before I saw my leader, the fish was
sprinting off again. But the second run was much shorter into the backing, and
just as quickly, the flyline was spooling back onto my reel. When finally the fish
was played out, Shawn descended from the poling deck and eased a beautiful
4-pounder from the water.
We all cheered and high-fived and took photos to record the event. I thanked Shawn
and slapped him on the back, my hands still slimy from my brief handling of the fish.
Shawn is an imposing 6'2" and about 270 pounds, so I apologized immediately. He
just laughed his deep belly laugh and told me that he was used to it. I handed the
rod over to Bill with my broadest smile and said, "It's your turn. Don't #$%& it up." He laughed and said that he would do his best. In less than an hour, Bill landed a 6-pounder.
By the end of the day, the three of us had all caught fish: some bigger, some smaller. But no fish ever equals the memory of your first fish.
02/21/01 - 8:13 pm Stafford Creek Lodge, Andros Island, Bahamas
Be careful what you wish for, you may get it. The winds from yesterday have dropped
and the water was incredibly flat, perfect for seeing fish, and for fish to see you! I'll admit that from my bonefishing reading, I was both under- and over-prepared for the experience. On the one hand, casting into the wind and seeing the bonefish are far harder than I believed possible. On the other, the runs are long, but far less imposing than, say, a steelhead's. But then we didn't tie into a big one either. Most of the fish we've caught over the last two days have run a good amount of backing off of our reels, but certainly nothing to lead me to believe that more than 150 yards (plus or minus) is necessary for 95% of the fish hooked. Of course the largest fish we've caught were the twin 6-pounders from Tuesday.
We caught 6 fish again today. Shawn was a lot more lively and talkative today. I
suppose that clear skies and calmer winds will do a lot for a man's enthusiasm. We
spooked a lot of fish and changed flies at least a dozen times before we settled
on an iridescent Gotcha, we all caught fish on that pattern. We had a great dinner
with Benry, he's a guide for Prescott here at Stafford Creek and is the son of the "Crazy" Charlie, inventor of the famous bonefish pattern. Benry is quite an animated sort and always seems to wear a broad smile. Megan Smith, Prescott and Samantha's 4-year-old daughter, lured me into a puzzle game and wouldn't let me go until I promised a second go tomorrow, she's so clever and outgoing, what a sweetie. The best news of the day: Bill's case arrived this evening and all in one piece. I'm exhausted, with any luck, permit and tarpon await us tomorrow.
Things I Knew - Things I learned
- You can find bonefish by looking for them "mudding" - Mudding makes finding
individual fish in the milky water as hard as finding them in clear, bright flats.
- Big fish swim as singles or in small schools of two to three fish, and rarely in large schools of ten or more fish - Those single or paired big fish are
spooky as hell, and sometimes something as simple as the wrong fly pattern
or color can send them dashing off.
- Walking the flats allows you a much lower profile in the fish's field of vision, therefore you can make a much closer approach to the fish - the fish are even harder to see at such a low vantage point, and walking a couple of miles in knee deep water will wear you out fast!
- Bonefish are spooky critters - Flats boats are designed to have a fisherman standing on the bow. But that bow deck is hollow, save for the anchor that is usually stowed there. In other words, if you shuffle your sneakers on a wet bow deck, the empty space below your feet will serve as a sound chamber, magnifying the squeak and will alarm cruising fish. The best way to fish from a bow deck is in your bare feet. Apply sunscreen to every part of your feet (except the soles) several times a day or you'll pay dearly for the advantage of quiet feet.
- Good casting requires an internal rhythm - "The Sound of the Men Working
on the Chain Gang" works especially well as a casting rhythm, especially when sung
by Shawn Riley. (Not that he has a good singing voice, he's far too big to tell him that!)
02/22/01 - 10:03 pm Stafford Creek Lodge, Andros Island, Bahamas
We've packed our things for the trip home, the cab is due here at 7am and I'd be just as happy if I never leave Stafford Creek's hospitality. There are no ringing phones, no television or radios, no newspapers, all is very, very quiet. Bill and I did well today, but not as well as we'd hoped. After two days of fishing the flats off of Mastic Point, Benry took Bill, Shawn and me up to the north end of the island to fish for permit off of Joulter's Cay. After a long run out to Joulters in the flats boat, we'd no sooner killed the engine and got some line stripped through the guides of Bill's 12-weight when Shawn saw a school of permit swimming directly for the boat. Bill got a cast to them and as the crab fly settled to the bottom, a fish turned from the others and looked over the sinking crab. Then all hell broke loose! Obviously the imitation crab alarmed the big fish. His alarm spooked the school, and for 5 or 10 seconds, the water in front of the boat boiled with fleeing fish. Prescott and another Stafford Creek guest, Chris Miller, were 300 yards ahead of the thundering mass of fish and got 2 casts to them as well.
Shawn poled us around for another hour or so before we gave up the permit hunt to
concentrate on bones. A 10-minute blast across the flats had us on a stretch of water the size of Rhode Island. Shawn swung the boat in a big circle and killed the engine. As he climbed the perch he said, "Ok, give me a cast, 12 o'clock, 45 feet." I had only just started stripping line off of my reel and was still situating my feet and the pile of line around them when he said, "C'mon man, 12 o'clock, 30 feet!" Needless to say I never saw the fish, and my 30-foot cast to 12 o'clock was actually something more like 35 feet at 1 o'clock, the fish spooked from their mudding and were gonzo. Still, we managed our usual 6 fish, and we all took fish while wading the flats. But today yielded only little fish from big schools. Shawn must have put us onto 200 or 300 fish. We caught 2 fish (2 pounds), 3 fish in the 3 to 4-pound range and one that was 4 plus, but through bad luck with sharks and barracudas, poor casting and spooky fish, we felt like we did alright. Chris Miller seems like a genuinely good guy and I've invited him to Troutfest '01. He told
me he doubted if June would work for him, but August/September for Deschutes steelhead and the Fall Caddis hatch on the McKenzie were do'able. I think he'd make a great TroutFester, and I know Bill agrees.
You think it's easy? You find the fish!
The Line Manager
When you are fishing from the bow deck of a flats boat, there's not much room
for keeping the coils of line from getting under your feet or dragging in the water.
Fishing barefooted will help you feel the line under your soles, but on windy days
it's best to keep the extra line in the well behind you. If there is third person in the boat, that person is charged with the job of being the "line manager." The line
manager's job is to keep the coils of line free from your feet and if the line gets
wrapped around anything on the boat, they have to unwrap it immediately.
Bill and I were having another one of our good ol' fashioned fishing contests. It's
always a good-natured head-to-head battle with lots of jibes, taunts and cheering.
It's never mean and we really do root for each other (once the fish is hooked). As
usual, Bill won the Andros Island bonefishing contest, but it was a tainted victory
at best. Here's how the events of the 2-minute-drill unfolded.
With the score 7 fish to 6 in Bill's favor, and my turn with the rod, Shawn eased the
boat around to put me in front of the two tailing fish about 45 feet. They were no
monsters, but they were fairly easy targets for me to even-up the score on the
tote board. "OK!" came the call from behind me, "two fish tailin,' 10 o'clock, 40 feet, Gimme a cast!"
As I started working the line through the guides, I could only come up with 25
feet of line to cast. Knowing that I had at least another 25 feet of line behind
me, and try as I might, I just couldn't get anymore line from the well. And the
boat was drifting perilously closer to the feeding fish.
In frustration I dropped the line in the water, well short of the fish, and looked
behind me. And there in the well, oblivious to all but the sound of the wind
whistling through his ever-fading hairline was my friend and fishing partner,
Bill, the line manager, with one of his ratty old tennis shoes squarely on my
coils of flyline. He was peering over the gunwales trying to see the fish that
Shawn and I were trying to get.
"What the. . .'yer on my f$%#ing line!" I yelled, cussing like a sailor so he'd get
my meaning without confusion.
"Oh, sorry," he said very calmly.
When I turned back to cast, Shawn calmly said, "No man, they're gone."
Bill picked up an empty netter on our final walk of the flats off Joulter's Cay,
so he would have won the match anyway. But I'm claiming foul and will file
the appropriate protest documents with the IGFA as soon as I can. This sort
of injustice must not go unpunished!
02/23/01 - 12:58 pm Nassau Airport
Ok, here's the deal. My scheduled 12:30 pm departure flight for Miami is delayed
(go figure!) There's no one at the ticket counter and there's been no announcement
to tell us when or if we're ever going to get off of this banana republic. If I don't get to Miami by 3:00 pm, I won't make my United flight to Dallas, if I don't get there by 4:00 pm, I won't get to rebook my mileage flight to PDX. So there it is and so I sit. Bahamasair is far and away the worst airline on the planet.
15 minutes ago, we finally got some word about our flight from
a thoroughly nasty woman at the counter, no excuse/no apology/no explanation.
I think I'm going to ditch the Dallas leg and use 25,000 of my miles to get on the
Miami to LAX, LAX to Portland flights at 5:00 pm. If my bags make it, I'll be all set!
I spoke with a guy at the "airport" in Andros Town about the fishing, he had traveled over to the west side of the island yesterday and hooked what was estimated to be a genuine 17-pound bonefish. The fish ran off 250 yards of backing in it's first run when the line went dead, all he could do is reel in an enormous fish head - sharks! ~ Skip Lynch