The first tailing bonefish to be fished for deliberately were taken by Joe brooks himself when being guided by Captain Jimmy Albright in Islamorada Florida in 1947.
In the 1950's I read an article by Joe Brooks on bonefishing which fired my imagination. For over 40 years I have dreamed of catching a bonefish on a fly. I have also read several books by Brooks, Kaufmann, Kreh, Sosin, Wulff, Brown, Curcione and others. The book by Randall Kaufmann 'Bonefishing With A Fly' has been bedtime reading for the past three years.
Bonefish are without doubt the spookiest fish or animal I have ever hunted, They have a fantastic burst of speed often reaching 30 to 35 miles an hour. The fish has incredible eyesight and hearing making them a most difficult target to approach especially by boat. They live in fear all their lives from the lean mean eating machine the barracuda, the sharks and the Homo Sapiens species that hunts them with rod and line.
The bonefish can be found in many tropical and sub tropical areas spanning 30 degrees North and South of the equator. Some of the best areas are the Bahamas, Florida Keys, Belize Venezuela, Christmas Island, Bermuda, Cuba Yucatan and Honduras to name a few venues. I have been told there are bonefish on the Gulf of Oman at Khor Fakkan among the Mangroves which bonefish like to hunt around for crabs and shrimps.
Later this year I will be doing an exploratory trip to the Gulf of Oman in search of the spooky bone's This article is based on my experience of bonefishing in the Bahamas one of the most delightful fishing locations in the world. The warm waters in the Bahamas vary in colour from light green to deep blue and every shade in between with beautiful white coral sandy beaches straight out of Robinson Cruso with miles and miles of flats to stalk the bonefish.
It's very rare to see another angler during a days fishing. The hunt to satisfy my 40 year old dream to catch a bonefish started on 27th October 1997 my 60th birthday. I was given a birthday present of a bonefishing holiday anywhere in the world I liked to choose. I spoke to many of my transatlantic bonefishing friends seeking their advice and locations and the best time to go. Christmas 97 after lots of discussion and taking advice from the staff at Kaufmann Streamborn tackle store in Portland Oregon Kate and I decided on the Bahamas with April and May as the best time to catch that dream.
One of the biggest problems facing the bonefish angler on the flats is wind, Its very rare to have calm days. Usually the wind will be blowing at 5 to 10 miles an hour, often winds of 20 to 25 miles an hour will be encountered. Several weeks before my trip I visited the local cycle shop where I collected a couple of old tires. These would be my casting targets. Every day what ever the weather I would lay out the tires on a local field and practice, praxes and more praxes including the double haul casting Bonefish don't often move slowly in a straight line but take a zig zag course often moving quite fast.
Trout fishing on rivers is very easy compared with the bonefish. On a river the trout usually stays on station. Not so the bonefish. Fishing from a flats boat with a guide, the bow is at 12 o'clock. The guide will use the clock face to guide you too the fish. One moment he will whisper bonefish at 10 o'clock 40 feet. The next second he will perhaps say 2 o'clock 25 feet then it might be another instruction 12 o'clock 50 feet. This is very intense fishing and you have to be spot on with your casting. Make sure you get plenty of casting practice especially the double haul before you go. If needed visit a fly fishing school.
I go to Pat O'Reilly at the West Wales School of Fly Fishing Tel 01239-698678 Spotting bonefish on your first trip is the most difficult thing you will have done in your angling life. You should hire the services of a guide for at least the first couple of days. They are worth their weight in gold. You will learn a great deal. Muddying the water, nervous water, tailing bones are three terms you will hear spoken on the flats. Muddying the water is when the fish are head to hell tail to heaven. In fact its the same as when carp are smoke screening on the shallows.
Nervous water is hard to spot until the guide explains it and shows you an example. I quote from Randall Kaufmaan's book Bonefishing with a Fly page 66 'Nervous water is the tip-off to underwater movement. As bonefish move, they push water and their movement causes surface water to move. The surface is not broken, only disturbed. Look for a slightly rippled water or a surface pattern that is at odds with or moving against the surrounding water. Single moving bonefish causing nervous water are difficult to spot, but a large school can be spotted from a hundred yards or more especially if waters surface is calm.
A patch of nervous water will move around, reflect light, and sometimes take on a shade of gray, brown or green. "High frequency" nervous water is not created by bonefish, but by erratically- swimming smaller fish'. Tailing bones are usually in shallow water and quite easy to spot. The first time you see them your heart rate switches into over drive, adrenaline pumps through your veins. Your mouth will become dry, perspiration appears on the brow, your hands will start to shake as you nervously try to aerialise some line. There in front of you are a bunch of feeding bones perhaps only 20 feet away. The fish have their heads in the sand and mud feeding on clams, shrimps or crabs with their tail often poking out of the water. The first tailing bonefish I spotted were at Freshwater Creek on Andross Island. In fact I pointed them out to my guide who gave me a pat on the back for being observant. I shot 30 feet of line and had a bone from that group about three pounds all very exciting.
One thing you don't need is a lot of equipment but what you use must be the best. Reels are the most important item as they have to do the most work and when a fish moves off from the starting block on a hundred yard dash the reel is certainly singing. Some 4 or 5 years ago I bought a Richard Carter centre pin reel for my coarse fishing and I have been so impressed that I had Richard build me a bonefish reel. Its worth every penny and performed as one would expect from this craftsman. Richard even manufactures all the screws when he builds a reel. When you hook a bonefish it drops down 2 gears inhales some rocket fuel switches on the after burner and moves off. Sometimes around 30 too 35 miles an hour. Don't try to stop that first run you cannot use the fly lines you would generally use in the UK. They become to soft and don't cast properly. You will need to go out and buy a weight forward line designed for warm saltwater conditions. I used the Cortland 444 tropic plus WF8F for most of my fishing only occasionally going up to a 9 WF floating line. I did take an intermediate line but it wasn't used ideally, rods for use in the Bahamas need to be built for saltwater use and in 4 pieces. Baggage handlers show no respect for rod cases. I have seen a rod case thrown across a room to land with a crash and the lock get broken in the process. When I reported this to the airline I received a 'Sorry Sir' and that was that. You need travel rods that can be taken on the aircraft. I use the Greys of Alnwick 4 piece Oceanic in 8 weight but I also carry a nine weight for use when the wind become too strong. Don't worry about a 4 piece rod not being up to the job I have used them for sharks to 110 lbs with no trouble. In fact 4 pce rods are the way too go. Later this year I will use 4 piece fly rods for blue marlin.
Other items of equipment needed are some good leaders 12` in length with a tippet breaking strain of 8 and10 lbs breaking strain. I used the fluorocarbon leaders from Ryobi Masterline. These come in 9` lengths and I extend them to 12` by a double nail knot on the butt end and not the tippet end. Polarized glasses are a must. You need two pairs, one with bright lenses the other with dark lenses to get the best out of searching the flats under all conditions. Clothing is very important, A good hat is a must you need a long peak that is dark colored underneath the peak. The hat should also have a back flap something like the Foreign Legion kepi. Get one with a chin strap or you will lose it when the guide is moving from one flat to another. Shorts, shirts and trouser should be made from a material that has been made for the tropics. I have used the Patagonia clothing for several years of fishing in the tropics, I cannot fault it. When wading the flats you need a good pair of flats wading boots with neoprene socks. Don't try wading the flats like the locals do on your first trip. There are lots of prickly stinging creatures. I get my boots from Kaufmann's Streamborn in Portland Oregon Tel 001-503-639-6400 or Fax 001-503-684-7025 E-mail email@example.com. Ask for their catalogue it makes excellent reading.
When wading the flats, you don't walk but shuffle your feet. This way you will create vibrations and the sting rays will move away. Try not to scratch yourself on the corral as it can be very painful. Most important is the sun screen and sun block. If your of dark complexion go for a factor 25 and make sure you use it liberally. My advice to fair skinned people is go for a factor of 35 too 40. Don't think its macho not to use sun screens. Only the fools go on the flats without protection. The sun block should be used on the nose, lips, ears and any other sensitive parts of the body exposed to the sun. I protect my hands and wrists with a pair of finger less flats gloves called "sun checkers" I purchased mine from Kaufmann's Make sure you drink plenty of liquids. J W Outfitters make a flats pack which contains 2 drinking bottles. This piece of equipment is also perfect for the roving anglers on the lakes and rivers at home especially during the summer months.
My first days guided bonefishing was on Green Turtle Cay, I was staying at Bluff House where Manager Martin Havill had booked me with Ronnie Sawyer rated the number one guide in the area. Friday the 24th of April dawned bright and warm at 7-30am my wife Kate and myself were on the beach at the Town Flats for the wedding of English Ladies fly fishing team member Karen Rigby to Neil O'Shea. They were married early so they didn't miss to much bonefishing. After a Champaign wedding breakfast we went our separate ways. I met up with Ronnie Sawyer at his boat moorings and after the usual welcome and introduction it was into his flats boat and across the channel to the flats. I tackled up with a Greys of Alnwick 8 weight Oceanic matched with a Richard Carter bonefish reel that had some 300 yards of 20lb backing and an 8 W.F. floating line. I attached a 12 foot fluorocarbon leader of 8 lbs BS. Opening my fly box I asked Ronnie 'What pattern of fly I should start with'.
He pointed to the row of Gotcha's I tied one on with a five turn tucked blood knot. I was now ready to go in search of the mystical bones known as the gray ghost of the flats or the silver fox. Ronnie poled me quietly up the flats past some mangroves, after about half an hour we spotted a couple of bones but I spooked them with my casting. We moved on and spotted a mutton snapper I cast some fifty feet 2 feet ahead of the fish and started too slowly strip the fly. The fish spotted the Gotcha and turned. This was better than I thought as the fish gradually came closer. It then moved away, not spooked but just seemed to lose interest. I then had another shot at a bone it turned nipped the fly and moved off. I don't know why it didn't take but Ronnie said they do that.
Some 2 hours into the trip Ronnie spotted a fish "Martin bone at 11 o'clock forty feet, I quickly cast in the direction he indicated. The fly landed some three feet ahead of the cruising bone, I stripped some line slowly, the fish spotted the Gotcha and pounced I made a couple of slow six inch strips felt the fish take and tightened. It seemed as if the fish then dropped down two gears inhaled some rocket fuel switched on the after burners and set off across the flats. I stuck the rod high in the air as Ronnie instructed and watched the line go and go. Far in the distance I could faintly see the fish swirl as it tried to make some mangroves. Then it turned and come straight back towards me I wound in line like mad thinking how I wished I had my big Loop reel at times like this. As I started to get line back on the reel it shot off again taking most of the hard won line. For some minutes I had the feeling the fish was the winner. Then Ronnie said "I think its off" I carried on winding then felt its head shake "Its still on Ronnie" I shouted. Slowly I started to gain line the fish was tiring and then Ronnie said "Be careful Martin its a big fish" The knees trembles, hands shook then I had my first good look at the fish. It was huge.
My first ever bone was a big one. Taking it easy I gained valuable line then it was within reach of Ronnie who made one grab and it was mine. I punched the air kissed Kate shook Ronnie's hand then punched the air again and shouted "Git up there my first bone" Ronnie weighed the fish at exactly 9lbs a few quick pictures and we watched it swim off hopefully to grow into a ten pounder. I sat down shaking I was on a high. Before coming out to the Bahamas other bonefish anglers had told me the fish could take a hundred yards plus but I didn't really believe them I do now. These are tremendous fish.
I caught more bones but nothing like the big one. Other fish caught were barracuda, jacks, mutton snappers, lady fish. I had several species I couldn't identify. I have been invited back to fish the World Bonefishing Championships and provided it doesn't clash with my trip to the Arabian Gulf I will be there. If I don't make the championships I will be back in the Bahamas next year chasing the gray ghost of the flats or as I nick named them the silver bullet. Should you be interested and want any information please drop me a line or E-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org.