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A Southern Escape

 

Like many Canadians, I found myself a little housebound after two years with little or no travel. In an effort to rectify the problem, my wife and I decided a little warm-weather break was in order, so in February we headed to the Bahamas for a couple weeks. More specifically, we went to Andros Island, long considered to be the "bonefishing capital of the world."

For those who’ve never fished for bones before, they seem an unlikely fish to attract all the attention they do. They’re not particularly large - although they can grow to exceed 10 pounds, anything over five is considered pretty big, and most are in the two- to four-pound class. They’re not an especially attractive fish - like a mountain whitefish they have a sub-terminal mouth, and they’re coloured somewhat similarly too, ranging from silver sides with slightly darker backs to olive - green backs that blend to the silver sides. And they’re certainly not known as being special on the dinner plate. Though I suppose, as with any fish, you could eat them, very few people do.

Bonefish aren’t especially pretty; their reputation is built on their fighting ability which is nearly unsurpassed.

Bonefish aren’t especially pretty; their reputation is built on their fighting ability which is nearly unsurpassed.

No, what makes bonefish so popular with anglers, especially fly-fishermen, is that they always seem eager to eat, especially flies, and when hooked they punch well above their weight, fighting like few other inshore species do. Even a small bonefish will take a fly-angler into their backing with that first reel-screaming run.

It wasn’t by chance that we went to Andros. While we wanted to enjoy all the opportunities a winter vacation in the Caribbean offers, bonefishing was at the top of the list. My wife and I decided the smart thing to do was to hire a guide to help us get started, so we booked a half-day with a well-known local named Glaister, who has a great reputation in fly-fishing circles. On a somewhat cloudy morning, he loaded us into his flats boat and powered us a couple miles back into an inlet before shutting down the motor and poling us across the flats from a raised platform atop the motor. Height is a great advantage when you’re searching for these ghosts of the flats.

 


A typical flats boat with an elevated poling platform.

A typical flats boat with an elevated poling platform.

It wasn’t long before Glaister spotter a school of a dozen bonefish and poled us into position. I was stationed on a platform at the front of the boat while he directed my casting, calling out distances and direction. I was casting nearly blind as I couldn’t always see the fish he was targeting, but I managed to hook into one on my third cast. It took off like it had been shot out of a cannon, reminding me what all the bonefishing fuss is about. Before the morning was out I managed to hook two more, landing one of them, and was reintroduced to the challenges all bonefishers face, especially those, like me, without much experience.


My first bonefish of the trip. Average bonefish are in the 2- to 4-pound class.

My first bonefish of the trip. Average bonefish are in the 2- to 4-pound class.

Seeing bonefish is the greatest barrier to catching them. The classic image of bones has them "tailing" as they move across the flats in search of crabs and other prey, head down on the bottom, their tail fin waving like a little flag above the surface. Over the five days we fished, I saw this behaviour twice. Most often they cruised completely submerged, and learning to see their pale bodies against the white sand bottom takes time and experience. It’s especially difficult to see them on cloudy days, I discovered.

Bonefish are especially difficult to see against a white sand bottom.

Bonefish are especially difficult to see against a white sand bottom.

Then there’s the wind, and in the Bahamas it’s nearly always windy. Not necessarily gale-force, but enough wind that you have to account for it when casting. When fishing from a boat, experienced guides will try to position you so that you’re casting with the wind at your back, although it’s not always possible. Similarly, when walking and wading the flats, you can often, but not always, angle yourself so the wind isn’t in your face. The wild card in adjusting for the wind, however, is that bonefish are never stationary; they’re always on the move and sometimes you have to take your best shot in less than ideal conditions.

After getting an introductory lesson from Glaister, Jane and I spent parts of three days fishing on our own. The resort we were staying at would pack us a cooler and drive us to a nearby beach. We had two miles of shoreline to ourselves; over those three days we only encountered one other couple fishing one morning.


When fishing on our own, we had a couple miles of pristine shoreline to ourselves.

When fishing on our own, we had a couple miles of pristine shoreline to ourselves.

Fishing without a guide brought its own rewards, but one of them wasn’t catching lots of bonefish! Without the benefit of experienced eyes, or the height advantage of a poling platform, just finding bonefish was a challenge. Still, we managed to find a handful or two to cast to every day. We weren’t seeing schools of bonefish; most often we’d see two or three together. I learned a lot about bonefishing on those days, some of it the hard way. I knew to strip-set when a bone took my fly, resisting the urge to lift my rod tip as you would with a trout. But it took me a couple lost fish to learn that a strip-set is just an extension of the normal stripping motion you use to entice fish to take your fly. Twice I lost fish because I strip-set too aggressively and broke off or pulled the fly out of their mouth. Included in my mishaps was breaking off the biggest bone we’d see on our trip, a girthy fish that would have gone five pounds.

Fishing on our own also taught us to watch the tides carefully (bonefish are most active on a rising tide) and that stingrays and sharks, including at times aggressive bull sharks, are surprisingly common in these shallows. We also discovered that this is a game of patience and persistence, and that you can get a tropical version of snow blindness staring at the water all day as you search for fish.


I even managed to catch a little permit, the most desirous and difficult of the flats fish to hook.

I even managed to catch a little permit, the most desirous and difficult of the flats fish to hook.

On our last day we decided to hire another guide, this time for a full day’s angling. Jane still hadn’t landed a bonefish and we wanted to cross that off our bucket list before we left. Ricardo was the answer. He helped Jane with casting suggestions and was wonderfully patient as she learned to handle the wind and extend her distance. In fact, she took shots at 19 different individual or groups of bonefish before she hooked up! When she finally did, she handled the fish like a pro, and before the day was out we’d both caught several nice bones.

Jane and Ricardo with Jane’s first bonefish. She earned it!

Jane and Ricardo with Jane’s first bonefish. She earned it!

Bonefishing is an addictive enterprise; you can’t do it once and move on, satisfied. We’ll be back, if not to the Bahamas than to somewhere else where silver ghosts cruise the flats. If nothing else, bonefish are one more good reason to get away from a Canadian winter for a week or two.

 



Previous Fishing Articles
(1) Pond Power
(2) Caddisflies
(3) In the Good Old Summertime
(4) A Southern Escape
(5) Springtime in Alberta - Can Thrill You to the Bone
(6) Sunny Day Rainbows
(7) New "Fishing" Year Resolutions
(8) Five Fine Places to Find Trout
(9) Catfishing Revisited
(10) Discover Squamish, an Outdoor Playground
(11) Falling for Cutthroat
(12) New Water and Old Friends
(13) My McLeod
(14) Temperature and Trout
(15) On the Road Again
(16) Tips That Will Make You a More Successful Fly-Fisherman
(17) 5 Ways to Catch Your Trout
(18) The Difference Maker - Reading Trout Stream Waters
(19) Rollin’ on the River
(20) Windy Day Pike
(21) Cures for Cabin Fever
(22) Snowbirding with a Fishing Rod
(23) Alberta’s Spring Creek Browns - Blessings and Curses
(24) A day on our foothill streams
(25) Fly Fishing Crowded Waters
(26) Fly Leaders
(27) In the Zone
(28) Learners Permit
(29) Flies of Summer
(30) Selecting the Right Boat
(31) The Italian Job
(32) Making a difference
(33) Pass the Salt
(34) Hopper Time - Fly-fishing’s Second Season
(35) Pike on the Fly - Fishing New Waters
(36) Fall brings the big walleye out
(37) Hoppertunity Time
(38) Becoming a Better Dry Fly Angler
(39) Make Your Own Fishing Adventure
(40) Early Season Fly Fishing
(41) Walleye Logic
(42) Fly Fishing in the Desert
(43) Grammy’s Fish
(44) Top 10 Trout Lures
(45) All I Want for Christmas – Neil Waugh's Yule Tide Fishing Gifts Wish List
(46) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator
(47) What to expect when fishing the West Coast
(48) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing
(49) There’s No Place Like Home
(50) A Golden Opportunity
(51) The Observational Trout Fisherman
(52) Un-matching the Hatch
(53) Alberta Super Bugs
(54) Glass is Back
(55) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca
(56) Speed Kills
(57) Entering the Twilight Zone
(58) Old Man River
(59) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River
(60) Small stream BT fishing
(61) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started
(62) In The Walleye Zone
(63) Zoo Trout
(64) Fly Selection for Beginners
(65) Fly Fisher's Christmas
(66) New Waters
(67) Big Bad Burbot
(68) Looking Back
(69) Out of Africa
(70) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams
(71) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish
(72) The Browns of Autumn
(73) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons
(74) Walleye Town
(75) River Fun - One Bite At A Time
(76) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers
(77) Going With The Flow
(78) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman
(79) Swinging The Fences
(80) A View From The Aerie
(81) Dixieland Delight
(82) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts
(83) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon
(84) Montana's Cool Missouri
(85) Pretty Is As Pretty Does
(86) Toothy Critters
(87) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake
(88) Top Ten Flies
(89) Northern Exposure
(90) Home Water Lessons
(91) Chicken Of The Sea
(92) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish
(93) Deep In The Heart Of Texas
(94) Keep It Up!
(95) River Fishing for Fall Walleye
(96) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the 2013 flood
(97) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity
(98) Hawg Holes
(99) Saltwater Salmon
(100) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing
(101) Down a Lazy River - A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan
(102) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead
(103) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS
(104) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES
(105) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver
(106) Canada's "Other" Salmon
(107) Fall Walleye
(108) Wet Flies
(109) Versatility the Key to Success
(110) Grayling of the Boreal
(111) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish
(112) Size Matters
(113) Fly Fishing Small Streams
(114) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time
(115) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel
(116) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas
(117) The Point Of It All
(118) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day
(119) Fall Fly Fishing
(120) Personal Pontoon Boats 101
(121) Big River, Big Fish
(122) Bottom Bonanza
(123) Fishing Small Flies
(124) So Many Choices, So Little Time
(125) Four Seasons of the Bow
(126) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot
(127) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT
(128) Trout Hunting New Zealand style
(129) Don’t Leave Home Without Them – 10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box
(130) Edge Walleye
(131) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER
(132) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge
(133) Four Corners – Four Waters
(134) Chasing Pothole Trout
(135) Springtime Stoneflies
(136) The Torrents of Spring
(137) Drift Boat Fly Fishing
(138) Bust Them With Bait
(139) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book
(140) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months
(141) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout
(142) Terrestrials
(143) Fly In For Fishing Fun
(144) Rocky Mountain High
(145) Reading the clues
(146) Where the Trout Are The art of locating feeding trout in rivers and streams.
(147) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin
(148) Fly Fishing 101
(149) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod
(150) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay
(151) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder
(152) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead
(153) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital
(154) Eliminating the Spook Factor
(155) Trust Your Electronics
(156) The Most Important Hatch of the Year
(157) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout
(158) Finding Success for Ice Trout
(159) Walleye can be Humbling
(160) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed
(161) Winter Flyfishing
(162) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Fishing Gem
(163) Hot Fall Pike Action
(164) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down
(165) Reading Trout Stream Waters
(166) Frequently Asked Questions
(167) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout
(168) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice
(169) Deep Water Perch
(170) Post Spawn Brookies
(171) A Fisher's Life
(172) The River's Last Stand
(173) The Big Ones Come out at Night
(174) Coho on the Coast
(175) Chasing and Catching Halibut
(176) Summer in the Mountains
(177) Peak Walleye Season
(178) Slow and Steady Wins the Race
(179) Last Ice Rainbows
(180) The Burbot Event
(181) Tackle Matching
(182) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light
(183) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location
(184) The Lure of Brook Trout
(185) The Shallow Water Hunt is On
(186) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now
(187) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies
(188) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan
(189) The Vesatile Plug
(190) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout
(191) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures
(192) Good Fishing at Last Ice
(193) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations
(194) Daily Fish Migrations
(195) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn
(196) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star
(197) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing
(198) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing
(199) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser
(200) The Fun in Ultra Light
(201) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines
(202) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure
(203) Never Stop Learning
(204) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot
(205) Jigging through the Ice
(206) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline
(207) Rainbows on Ice
(208) The Season of Ice Begins
(209) Red Hot Fall Pike Action
(210) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman
(211) Facts On Cats
(212) West Coast Adventure
(213) June Walleye Frenzy
(214) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories
(215) First Fish of the Year Pothole Rainbows and Browns
(216) Northern Exposure
(217) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish
(218) Early Season Pike On The Fly
(219) Man Overboard
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