Monday, November 3, 2008

Bahamas Bonefish 10-07

I feel like I've been remiss in posting. Actually, I've been on the road almost nonstop recently - I'm actually posting this from a hotel room in Atlanta.

I have a few articles that I've written and posted on a friend's website, and over the course of the winter I'll share them with you. this is the first one - a bonefish adventure from Grand Bahama last fall. I hope you enjoy it.



The reason you go to the Bahamas

February has to be the longest month to a sportsman in any northern state, particularly an ice fishing fringe state. As I sit at my desk in Illinois on February 18, there is a weather advisory being issued in anticipation of -30 wind chills tonight. At times like this, I wonder if spring and warm weather will ever come, if the waters that are currently ice choked will ever be wadable. Of course, they will, but until it becomes a reality, I get through these dreary end-of-winter months remembering warmer, happier, fish filled days. Right now, my thoughts are drawn to last October, to a trip to North Riding Point Club on Grand Bahama Island for bonefish.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Florida Keys over the past 15 years, usually in Jan. or Feb., and often have had the vicious winds ruin any attempt I have at trying to catch bonefish or permit. Every once in a while, the weather cooperates, and I get to try my hand at these fabled saltwater targets. Permit have lived up to their esteemed reputations and I’ve never had one show any interest in anything I had to offer. Over the years, I’ve actually had 2 small-ish bonefish take my offerings (once a fly, once a jig), so the proverbial bonefish monkey was off my back. Still, I’ve never had an opportunity to go to one of the storied resorts in the Bahamas or Belize for an extended bonefish trip, with expectations of actually catching the silver ghosts
For this trip, I had a simple, straightforward objective – catch fish. I didn’t care how that objective was accomplished. I took an 8 wt. fly rod and a collection of standard bonefish flies, but I really only planned to use the fly rod if I had already caught a fair number of bones with spinning gear, and if the conditions were perfect. I also took a couple of spinning rods that would be considered MH freshwater rods. I fished straight 10# fluorocarbon. When I packed the rods, I felt they were on the heavy side, but I wanted something that could handle a permit or big bonefish if the opportunity presented itself. In retrospect, the rods were perfect. Like all saltwater fish, bonefish are tough fighters, and their fabled runs are everything they are cracked up to be. Even a small (3 to 4 pound) bonefish will melt 75 yards of line off your reel as if you have no drag on your reel. As we found out on this trip, your reels need to have more than line capacity – they need to have metal gears. Bonefish will absolutely melt the gears on an inferior reel. Actually, inferior isn’t the right word. Inappropriate is better. The reels we torched on this trip will serve their owners very well when used for general freshwater applications like bass fishing. Since I don’t like to trash a company’s products unless the company purports it to be something it is not, I’m not going to mention the brands of reels we melted. I will mention, however, that the Daiwa’s on the trip (Sol’s and Capricorn’s) and the lone Okuma ( V series) performed flawlessly on bonefish.

Tim and Mercedes

We arrived in Freeport on a Monday night after a short flight from Ft. Lauderdale. We were met by Tim from North Riding Point Club. Tim and Mercedes Comstock are the lodge managers and I can’t imagine to people better suited to the task. They are attentive, personable, and do everything in their power to ensure a memorable stay. I couldn’t think of anything they could have done better after our stay.
North Riding Point Club is one of the premier bonefish lodges on the planet. The guides are great, and the feature that makes the lodge different is the one I feel makes it better – there is no fishing from the lodge. You and your guide will tow the flats boat to one of a number of launches on the island, so you are more adaptable to changing weather conditions. Our three days of fishing showed the guides’ prowess at finding bonefish for us.

Steven (guide) poling the skiff

After a cooked-to-order breakfast, we towed the boats to a very makeshift launch located on the north side of Grand Bahama Island. This would be our launch for the 3 days we were on the island. The ride on the dirt / broken road probably wasn’t more than a mile from the time we left the paved road but seemed longer. The striking thing about the ride – we were driving through tall palm tree thickets when, all of a sudden, there were no more tall palms – only 4’ -5’ high scrub plants. This was the point at which a hurricane had sheared vegetation off a number of years ago. It really drove home the vulnerability of living on an island in hurricane alley.
Day 1 was overcast and windy – everything you don’t want a day to be when trying to sight fish for bonefish. We motored to a series of creeks and mangroves, and the guide began poling. A suggestion to anyone who attempts this type of fishing in the future: over-communicate with your guide from the beginning - it will flatten out the learning curve. We asked him how long the average cast would be, what we were looking for, … Stand in the front of the boat and say to him “OK, when you say fish at 40’, 10 o’clock, this is where I’m going to cast.”, and fire out a cast. You’ll quickly get on the same page and have a better shot at success.

Bonefish “creek” in the mangroves

Even with the communication, day 1 was tough for us. It takes longer than I would have expected to get your eyes accustomed to the foreign environment of clear water and sand bottoms. In addition, the perspective of distance from the boat was hard for me to grasp initially. The guide would say “See the sharks at 2 o’clock, 50 yards?” Where I looked, and where the sharks were, wasn’t even close, at least initially. Still, we found some bonefish, but often missed them with the cast or spooked them by getting too close before anyone saw them. Still, I hooked 3 and landed 2 on Day 1. They were average sized fish – 2-3 pounds – and I was awestruck by their power. Remember, I was fishing with a rod/reel combo that I would feel very confident using for pike or steelhead to 15 pounds, and these little bonefish put a deep bend in the rod and tore off line as if there was no drag. They are truly awesome fish.

6 Pound Bonefish


On day 2, I fished solo with my guide from the previous day. There were 7 of us in camp for the first two days, so 1 person each day had the boat to themselves. Since I was the only person on the trip who brought a fly rod along, I was elected to go solo on day 2 and, if conditions were right, break out the fly rod. Well, conditions were the same as day one, with a little bit of sun peaking through the cloud cover periodically. But, we saw a lot more fish, had more chances at fish, and I had a great day with both the spinning and fly rods.
We began the day by pulling up to a mangrove lined creek mouth on a falling tide. Stephen (my guide) cut the outboard about 75 yards from the shoreline and began poling. After a few minutes of adjusting to the lack of motor noise, I stood up in the skiff and was greeted with the sight I had dreamed about for a month prior to the trip. In front of us were 3 sets of tails. The group slightly to my right had 3 visible tails, 2 tails showed periodically behind a V-shaped wake coming from the creek mouth, and a single tail was working the shoreline on the left. I asked Stephen to stop poling – I wanted to stare at the vision before me, to burn it into my memory. This was life’s version of the many paintings and prints I had seen and read about over the years. It was awe inspiring.
I strung up my fly rod and peeled off about 60’ of line. Now, let me explain my level of flycasting expertise – I’m NOT a fly casting expert. Period. I’m actually a pretty good fly fisherman for freshwater fish, but distance casting is not my strong suit. I had practiced in a local field using the weighted flies I would take to the Bahamas, and got fairly comfortable with a 60’ cast. This would easily put me in range of the fish in front of me. I was ready. A new 8 wt. Tropic Plus line, a Winston B II X rod – nothing could go wrong.
I’m not really sure how to describe the series of events that happened next. I proceeded to: wrap the flyline around my rod, wrap the flyline around myself, pile up the line in a ball about 10’ in front of the boat, and, finally, splash the fly down directly on the back of the world’s most oblivious bonefish, who finally tired of being entertained by my ineptitude, and swam away. His buddies in the creek had already left, and the 2 companions from the morning were now about 50 yards away and moving fast. I had just watched 5 larger than average sized bonefish swim contentedly within 40’ of my boat, feeding the whole time, and caught a whopping ZERO. I had embarrassed myself in front of the fishing gods. The only saving grace was that I was fishing solo, so none of my buddies could chime in immediately with the deserved chants of “I thought you knew how to cast a flyline, …” My chance to redeem myself lie in the one remaining fish, the solo to my left. We poled over to get in position. I actually made an acceptable cast, a few feet in front of – a lemon shark.

8 ½ pound bonefish

The rest of the day turned into one that will live with me forever. Unlike many fishing trips, which start bad and get worse, this one turned around quickly. Stephen had me on fish most of the day, and I hooked up with 10 bonefish, landing 8 of them. The other 2 broke me off in mangroves. My best fish of the day went 8 ½ pounds – a very respectable bonefish in any circle, and a true trophy to me. And, I even got 2 average sized fish on flies. I guess the flycasting thing IS like falling off a bicycle – you just have to get back on.


Day 3 dawned bright, clear, and calm – a perfect day for sight fishing. The four remaining fishermen (3 of the guys had to get back to the states) talked it over with the guides and we decided to run to Sale Cay. Sale Cay is an uninhabited island lying north of Grand Bahama and Abaco. Since the boats used for bonefishing are flats skiffs, and not designed to take on rough seas, it is really only accessible when the winds are calm, meaning it gets very little fishing pressure. Even in calm seas, it is a 45 minute run to the island from the launch. We launched, fired up the motors, and headed for Sale Cay.

Average bonefish on Day 3

The boat ahead of us got to the edge of huge expanse of flats before we did, and, seemingly within seconds, the 2 anglers were hooked up on a double. I hooked up on a medium sized bonefish on a blind cast, and we were off to the races. This day would exceed any possibility I had dreamed about. Both boats were on fish the majority of the day – the other boat seemed to be in a zone from the beginning, while our boat struggled a little in the morning (not due to lack of opportunities!) but shined in the afternoon. This Cay had everything - bait expansive flats, some deep trenches – you couldn’t ask for a more perfect set-up. Add to that a crystal blue sky, bright sun, and no wind, and we had the perfect day. There were fish on the flats, and a lot of fish in some of the deeper muds. I found these muds to be intriguing. You could cast a 1/8 oz. jig tipped with a shrimp into the muds and get pretty consistent hookups, and the fish seemed to be larger in the deeper areas. It was a pleasant diversion from straining to see shallow fish, and the deeper fish were not skittish at all. I actually took a number of fish on an un-tipped jig in the deeper water – they were just flat-out feeding.
The day ended up being one-for-the-books (at least my book!). My boat landed 21 bonefish; the other boat landed 29. I ended up being high-stick for the day with 16 bones landed, and got the largest of the trip – 9 pounds. I missed a few pickups and dropped a few hooked fish as well – I certainly could have gone over the 20 fish mark if everything had come together perfectly. All in all, there could have been no better way to end this memorable trip.
For anyone contemplating a first-class bonefish trip at a world class resort, you should take a serious look at North Riding Point Club. The experience with Tim and Mercedes was nothing short of outstanding. They can be reached through their website: You won’t be disappointed.

The dinner is NOT to be missed!

Land crabs scurry away as you walk the paths


Julianne said...

Bonefish!! I'd love to go south and catch some bonefish. Fly fishing for saltwater fish isn't real big in NC (unfortunately) but it is possible...

But from what I hear, bonefish from a fly rod is where it's at :)

Wolfy said...

Julianne - I hope you get the chance to catch bonefish sometime - fly or spin, they absolutely rock! Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

wow nice bones. Personally ive never been bone fishing but imgoing soon so ihope i will be succesful.