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Bones in the Bahamas


Craig_S

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All right buggy whippers, I'm off to Grand Bahama for my annual attitude adjustment in April. Exactly two full moons from tonight.

I'm working on a new selection of Pink Puffs and Charlies in root beer with amber v-rib. Mostly bigger than I showed up with last year. 6, 4, and 2.

I just re-read Chico Fernandez (my hero), and am moving on to Randall Kaufmann - Bonefishing! I'm a better read bonefisherman than I have experience. But have 5 years under my belt and consider myself an "intermediate" caster, moving towards 60' with some semblance of accuracy.

I know the topic is a little different for most of you, but a buggy whip is a buggy whip. And the bonefish thing has bit me so hard, I just can't sleep.

Help! Toss me a tropical fly fishing story, and I'll respond with the best I have. Pleeease! Throw me a bone!

Craig

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Okay. Here's a story. Fishing with Bonefish Willy out of Bimini. Willy's eyes weren't what they once were and I chose to fish with him just because he had so much history in the fishery and on Bimini. We took several fish-I saw most of them before Willy did- and were in tight against the mangroves and junk when I saw a BIG bonefish, way over ten pounds. Flipped my roll, got line in the air, executed a perfect short and high back cast and.....came forward with a power forward cast....and JERKED a big flamingo type bird right out of the top of a tree! Poor old Willy (Contact US Regarding This Word) near fell out of the boat laughing. Later that day I took TWO fish as big or bigger as the one we first saw.

While you're there ask around and see if anybody has any smoked marlin. Delicious.

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That's what I needed to here. I'll tell you my Bimini story. We flew there via Chalk's Ocean Air - the same one that just crashed about a month ago. 18 seat Grumman Mallards. 50 tear old belly style sea planes.

Stayed at the Bimini Big Game Club back in about 1995. It was my first bonefish outing, and (gulp) I admit I used a spinning rod. Worse yet, with a live shrimp on the end! Fished with Action Jackson, but the best was with Bonefish Rudy. Rudy was featured on ESPN just weeks before we went. He was old and wrinkled and black. The man had more than a few bonefish under his belt. His boat was an old "panga" style super heavy fiberglass rig with a cloth covered lawn chair for the passenger. He said he liked it super heavy - and quiet. The interior was coated with old pieces of carpet to dampen every sound. Rudy told me tons of stories about fishing with the Atlanta Falcons football team. He was real friendly with the coach. They flew him to the states for a game, one of the most exotic experiences of his life.

Rudy was an ornery cuss. I'd cast to a fish and in his eyes, there was no doing it right. To high, to hard, not far enough, to light, to low, to far. Eventually I latched into about a 4 pound bone and that sealed my fate. Bonefish fever. I caught a few more in a couple of days. The thing I remember is Rudy and Jackson just chewing me out for basically being a rookie.

So now, after the introductions, I take time to tell my guide about Rudy and Jackson. How I don't expect to be treated like an idiot. How I'm paying for the service, and am after all just here to have fun. I've never had a tongue lashing since. And have become quite a bit better for good guiding and team building. There's some of those guys I consider a true friend after just a couple of days in a Dolphin skiff.

And by the way, I've never lobbed a shrimp at a bonefish since. Buggy whips only please.

More stories please! I'm need 'em!

Craig

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  • 2 weeks later...

OK folks, here I find myself responding to my own post. There's got to be lurkers who've gone salt water fishing with the fly. Heck, it's the very BEST fly fishing I've ever done. Here's another story:

Took the family to Green Turtle Key - Abaco on family vacation. By this time, my target was bonefish. And on my hand tied flies only. I spent a day walking the beaches and flats - just me. Fly rod. Mess of flies I learned to tie on the internet. Every thing I knew about bonefishing came from the web.

First thing I hooked into was a jack of some kind. Only about a 2 pounder, but worked out the 8 wt just fine. Stunned by the run. Amazing.

I was amazed by the sea life - sea stars, rays, sharks, sea cumbers, just stunning. Sort of like walking through an aquarium. And always feeling like you are just one step away from a shark attack!

I had two days booked with Captain Rick Sawyer. Quite the guy. White and Bahamian. Green Turtle was settled by "loyalists" at the time of the Revolutionary War. Brits who wanted to stay Brits. And they stayed too. Gawd, sometimes I wish I was one of them!

He picked me up right on time - about 0700. First cast was on the "town flats", 0715 right next to town. Dog gone bone fish took it like a dog on a biscuit. Of course, I didn't remember my internet advice and blew the strip set. Twas a big bone too. I'd guess about 8 pounds.

We spent the better part of the day casting at 20 or so bones. Finally. As the tide almost hits rock bottom, I hook another 8 pounder. The fight was awesome. Three complete reel cleaning runs and I finally land that jewel.

Yup, it is tough. But tough is what it's all about. And the beauty of the flats is the frosting. That bonefish is burned into my memory like a hot brand.

Best of all is Captain Rick. He was so easy to get to know. And we had plenty of time to talk. His life was a million miles from mine. Yet he had all of the same struggles. Heck, he's married to a girl from Wisconsin! When we left, I told him we'd be back for sure next year. But we didn't come. We left for more "family friendly" bonefish places. And after what we shared in a few days bonefishing, I feel guilty for not going back. God bless you captain Rick. I will be back.

Stories?

Craig

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  • 4 weeks later...

Craig, I've enjoyed your stories very much! Unfortunately, I don't have any salt-stories to barter. If you've got more to share, I'm reading...as I'm sure there are quite a few others.

Has all that great saltwater fishing spoiled you from going after the smaller coldwater species around the area, or do you still get out a bit locally? I fear that if I start going after those big fish that take me to my backing I might not want to fish my little spring creeks as much.

Ice9, are you out there anywhere? Good stories from you as well...

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You like my stories!

I'm not feeling very poetic right now. So I'll tell you about my fly fishing history.

When I was about 10, my Grandpa gave me a battle worn Japanese split bamboo fly rod. We went out on North Long Lake near Brainerd and he taught me a few basic strokes. On about the third cast, a crappie sucked down my little popper. The water exploded when a northern bit my little crappie clean in two! It was exciting, but Grandpa died shortly after, and the fly rod pretty much stayed in the case.

About 1995, a friend from Baudette taught me how to fish clouser minnows for crappies on Red Lake. He is a true fly guy. And would occasionally out-fish me while I hung bait! So I jumped on the web and searched out Clouser Minnow and learned to tie them on my own. It was my own private domain as nobody was fly fishing on Red Lake. Nobody was really fishing Red Lake at all! But I lived on the Tamarac River and needed something to do. I developed the Red Lake Clouser. After a lot of trial and error, I'm still sure my concoction is the best crappie bait on Big Red.

Then, after bonefishing with a shrimp, I realized it wouldn't be a huge jump to tie bonefish flies. And with a little internet help, they work very well.

So as to your question about local spring creeks, I've done very little. I've caught northern, walleye, perch, crappie, sunnies, and about a half dozen salt water species. Me and kiddo never go anywhere without a couple of buggy whips. And when opportunity knocks, we pull out the fur and feathers.

Coming full circle, last year I had a nice bonefish bit clean in two by a lemon shark. Just like my little crappie with Gramps. Some things are the same the world over. Predator and prey. Blood in the water.

Craig

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Great stuff. The shark taking the bonefish must have been amazing...an epiphany.

The difference between your Grandpa and mine was that mine wouldn't let me touch the fly rod(s). Interestingly, he kept his bamboos out of site (until I found them, after he died, in his old cabin outside of Evergreen, Colorado) and fished with a Coast-to-Coast fiberglass fly rod and auto-retrieve reel. The heresy. wink.gif I'll never forget it. After he dropped my dad and I off at the dock before sunset he would troll the lakeshore in front of our cabin on Lake Koronis, back and forth, deep jigging with his fly rod, and would occasionally catch a fish that I would watch him fight for WAY too long. I'm still not sure what the method to his madness was, but after finding out much later that he was quite the fly angler in Colorado in his younger days, I just figure that he was trying to conjur up a few old memories while trying to get hold of a big carp to make the catch all that more dramatic. Best of both worlds, maybe?

I never learned to fly fish from Grampa, but the old shop teacher who happened to be a friend of my dad's, decided to show me how to cast and gave me a bunch of his old flies. I learned to cast with a Coast-to-Coast fly rod. smile.gif

Only in the last few years, after moving to southeast Minnesota, have I picked up the fly rod again. I was completely alien to trout fishing until I moved to Minnesota, even after living in Colorado for 5 years. There were different priorities back then, and I married one of them. grin.gif

Thanks for sharing, Craig.

Drop a line when you're in the neighborhood.

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So, just about 2 weeks and I'm gone. I'll be sipping on a cold Kailk, Enjoying the sun on the balcony, and tying on the leaders for the following morning. Nice and crisp and straight.

Right now, I'm tying up some charlie/gotcha type deals with a little pink. Spread out the best 50 or so keepers and didn't see enough pink. Maybe some chartreuse too. Gotten to the point I need to extend reality a little and stretch into what I think a bone might eat after I've been refused by anything logical.

I'll tell you about last years last cast. After fighting the wind for four days, it was time to return to dock. I couldn't let it go. Asked Thio if there was anywhere we could try that was somewhat sheltered. He says, "the tire flats". I say, "Let's go". The tire flats is a 1 acre opening in the mangroves right next to the boat landing where, for years, tires were dumped. You can see a few Goodyear radials just barely covered by sand, but for the most part it looks like a simple sand flat.

I'd blown about the last 20 casts. Thio was pretty disgusted, however to his credit, he was trying to be friendly. These guys want to catch fish every bit as bad as you do, and when you continually blow it, they get bummed too.

We start to pole the tire flat, and immediately, I see a respectable bone cruising the center. I point him out to Thio and he's into stealth poling mode by instinct. He gets me to about 40 feet, wind off my left shoulder, and says, "give 'er a go mon".

I was never in better form. All the nerves were lost on the last 20, and this was the last chance dance for 2005. No problem mon. Sweep the forward cast and the gotcha jerks from my fingers. One back, haul, one forward, haul, and drop. Right on the money. About 5 feet in front of his nose and he hasn't changed course. It settles to the bottom just as he crosses the path. And he keeps right on cruising towards the mangroves. Never even slowed.

I asked Thio what was wrong. He laughs. "Nothing mon. It don't get any better than that. Sometimes Mr. bone has something else on his mind. Sometimes Mr. bone is better than you. Sometimes you're just unlucky."

I pack the rods, open the last Kalik, and we head for home. After loading the boat, I give Thio what I consider to be a generous tip. Thio says, "you owe me a fly mon". I remember I lost one of his earlier in the day. I say, "which one mon?" He says, "the big 'cuda fly mon. And next year bring me an old fly rod and reel."

I give him the big green 'cuda fly and he looks happy. In my current situation, it's unlikely I'll be giving him a rod and reel this year. But who knows. If Thio shows me a 15 pounder, I'd give him just about everything I have.

Craig

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Craig -

Your stories are not only interesting, they're well told. I thinks it's pretty cool that you found fly fishing near Baudette and turned that into a saltwater passion. Fkly fishing isn't hard, but I think it would be tough to get into without a base of support.

One of these years I'm going to have to get to the salt. That will be a long way from where I started, too. Every time I go fly fishing, I silently thank my late parents for giving me a fly fishing setup one long, long ago Christmas, which was pretty indulgent considering that we lived on the Iowa prairie at the time. My parents had the wisdom to eventually move to central Minnesota, where I put the rod to good use fishing for bass and panfish. I guess I'm mostly a trout angler now, but I do like getting back to those warmwater haunts, too.

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Sooo,

I just got done going through the reels. I'm bringing 2 - 8 weights and one 10 weight. With the extras, I re-did 5 spools. The most disappointing was the brand new Orvis mid arbor 8. Bought with a Bonefish Wonderline, rigged. There was a good 1/4 inch left on the spool which I just can't have. Re-spooled with 20 lb chartreuse backing, I added a good 75 yards. Critical. It's the only Orvis stuff I have, and if they are going to treat me like that, I'll shop elsewhere. I do like the way the Travel Rod casts though. Snappy in the wind. At least on the snow. Albright knots all neat and torpedo. Double super glued. Leaders will wait until arrival.

I'll tell you about my "bad habit". I can cast a pretty respectable distance, pretty on-target. But when I "shoot", if there's no extra, I wrap the but of the rod every time. It's really pretty freaky. How does it happen? My quick strike practice is focusing on holding the line in looped fingers until it snaps tight - so there's no way it can wrap.

So I'm in the ready position. Tide is moving out fast and the skiff is doing at least 5 MPH. It's a pretty freaky feeling - just sliding by the mangroves, very little wind, but the ocean is pushing you at a pretty speedy clip. With no point of reference, heads up, It seems like you're sitting still, unless you look straight down at the bottom. You're screaming! And you'd better take that into account on the cast. The equation is like - fish cruising, plus or minus boat sliding on tide, plus or minus the wind, and the guide poling. Instant mental calculation of the proper lead and landing can be rocket science - but better be instinct.

I see and Thio quickly points out 5 fish at 10 O'clock. It's a riot to me that I can actually see them quicker than my guide. But that's happening more and more often. Learning to see them is better than half the battle.

Thio says, "5 at 10 O'clock - 35 feet. My line is already in the air since I saw them first. Gotcha w/legs hits smack in the center of the pod and sinks. Thio whispers, "he's got it". I execute the perfect strip set. Holler, "fish on!" In less than a second, the line comes tight around the butt. I frantically bow towards the fish, trying to free some slack and unwrap the butt.

You can't out speed a bonefish. The 10 pound tippet breaks with a mighty snap. The shot heard around the world.

Thio says, "You gotta give him line. This aint no northern pike. If you don't give Mr bone the line, he's gonna break that little tippet every time.

I say, "Thio, the line was wrapped around my butt. Ever seen that?".

Thio says, "Sometimes Mr bone have something else on his mind. Sometimes Mr bone is better than you. Sometimes You're just unlucky. That bone better than you."

Period. No more need be said. Better than me. I try harder. Don't screw with bone fever. You'll never stop trying harder.

Craig

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Extended butts are really convenient, but, by the same token, they are a line magnet. All the books say to make an extra "guide" by forming a loop with your thumb and index finger around the line as you shoot it. Okay, but try to remember that in the heat of battle!

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  • 2 weeks later...

In the heat of battle I usually make an extra butt out of my own head.

I guess Craig is thigh-deep in a flat right now, or maybe supine under the weight of a couple three Guana Grabbers. But when he returns he can hear a bone story...

I drove down the coast once to fla, fished all around, had a close encounter with a manatee near titusville, pert near soiled myself that time. Landed with a friend in Coconut Grove and day-tripped all around, including some fun fun fun out of Flamingo for small tarpon, four hookups on ten strikes and a total fish-on time of maybe two minutes cumulative, which would include about forty jumps and a 100% breakoff rate. Still wouldn't trade that in.

One day we walked out from some roadway, I think it was on Long Key, where somebody suggested a good flat accessible without a boat. Had no blinking idea what we were doing, but not five minutes out I saw a fish swim by, threw my Crazy Charlie at it, and hooked it. My buddy was ahead of me about fifty feet--we were still wading out--and I said "fish on!". I was fishing a Ross III which has a basically silent drag, and he didn't believe me and said so in an unprintable epithet, still walking and working on lighting his cigar. The fish ran out about forty yards then took a hard left and ran the backing right across my buddy's face and scraped his hat off his head. (it turned out to be a jack, not a bone, but still a rowdy rambunctious fish and a heck of a lot of fun to catch.) Rest of the trip he listened when I said "fish on."

I may have told this one...can't remember...Once I chartered with two friends who were sailors, out in the Abacos. We fished some, mostly trolling and some jigging for snappers and such from teh dinghy, but it was mostly sailing and drinking. Anyhow the Abacos are not well charted. We had booked a dinner at Green Turtle, one of those places where you don't just book a table you actually order over the VHF, and presumably they go out and catch your lobster for you, and maybe make the rum too. Anyhow, my buddy on the radio got on very well with the gal from teh restaurant, and fell in a kind of temporary love with her sight unseen, so we were pushing it a bit to get there, sailing this big old ketch-rigged tub we'd rented BTW. On the harbor approach, out in the bay, we had one marker for the channel in visible about a mile away, and the skipper made for it. It was kind of partly cloudy, real breezy and we had a good line to weather (up wind) to make the post and turn in. I thought the water looked a little skinny, but the erratic sunshine and chop made it tough to call the depth and we were in a hurry, since the skipper was navigating with the wrong instrument if you know what I mean. Anyway when you sail upwind like that the boat heels over a fair way, and I was riding the heel, looking down into the water, when I realized that I could see shells on the bottom of the ocean, generally not a good sign. So we rammed her hard and heeled up on a shallow marl flat at about six knots, and then the tide went out and left us sideways all night, no more beer, nothing to eat, and a sad reservation lass on the radio wondering where her table was. It was a long evening, since we also believed that we were stuck for good and would have to call to get yanked off and be further humiliated etc. So right at dusk I'm standing on the cockpit edge and along comes a big school of bonefish, happy as you please, a good forty or fifty fish in a big silver mass that splits and goes around the boat, some of them not ten feet away. I could have caught one with a tennis racket.

We figured high tide for about 2 AM, so we walked the big anchors out and used the winches to kedge her around so she was facing out toward the deeper water, then ran the diesel and ground her off. I wouldn't vouch for the condition of the winches or the paint after we were done with that boat, but what the heck it was a rental and we got her off ourselves, though I regret never getting that lobstah and conch fritter dinner.

ice

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One day long years ago, Bob Mitchell, the founder of the eponymously named fly shop, said to me, "I'm going to have to get to the salt before I'm too decrepit to go." I've taken that on as sort of a personal mantra, but until I read the stories in this thread, I thought I wanted to go because of the fishing. Now I want to go there for the fishing and for all the interesting experiences you lads have had there. Keep up the stories.

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Nope. Still here! We're leaving early AM Wednesday. I'm what you'd call a particular guy. Still mulling over a few concoctions at the vise, going over and over every piece of equipment. Tonight I'm pulling out the Boeshield and waxing up everything metal. Sorting leaders. Packing the fanny pack. Mashing barbs. Found the coolest flats hat today at the Max Mini Store in Squaw Lake. That store cracks me up.

Where ya been Ice man?

Heck, I'm already there in my mind! I'll report on the in a week and a half. It's going to be good. Mmmmmmmm. Kalik.

Craig

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  • 2 weeks later...

Anybody want to help me with posting some pictures? I'm exhausted, but have a story to tell.

Craig

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I'll try.

Flights all went great. Arrived at Pelican bay and it was horribly windy. The manager (Greg Vincent) offered to push my 3 days fishing back a couple of days to take advantage of weather. Spent the time doing the tourist thing. Rented a car, drove the island, and tried surf casting with no luck.

Horizon.jpg

Finally headed out on the flats to a picture perfect day. Not even a whiff of a breeze. And after getting the bugs out of the cast, immediately hosted some bones.

Pole.jpg

My guide Kenny was the best. A true teacher. Although he was less than thrilled with my ability, he had patience. And taught me the next level of bonefishing.

Sharks.jpg

He taught me to look before stepping off the boat. These sharks are pretty darn huge!

Kenfish.jpg

Bones were plentiful. we scored in the dozens in the three days. The one above was about 4.5 lbs. We caught bones up to 7. If you've never done it, you simply can't imagine the power of these fish. Stunning. Pure stunning. As Ice 9 predicted, they shattered my Orvis travel rod. Thank God for the old Reddington and Temple Fork. They saved the day.

See the avatar for one of several 'cudas. We caught 'cuda up to 25 pounds. They are huge leapers and stunningly fast. I question if I will ever again swim with 'cuda. Kenny wanted a 'cuda for his Easter supper and dominoes party. He pulled a big one on the deck and it slipped back into the ocean. He wanted the fish bad and I grabbed the controls and motored after it. Kenny beat the bastard off with the push pole and after a quarter mile chase speared it through the gills. With the sharp end of the push pole!

Mybone.jpg

Bonefishing was the best I ever had. Over a dozen the first day. After that, the wind picked up a little and I talked Kenny into fishing with me. We doubled several times. A gentleman, Kenny always got me hooked first, and then hooked his bone with ease. The man can cast well over 100 feet!

Boy.jpg

True professionals, the Pelican Bay staff was concerned about my request to take my 10 year old son along. Eight full hours in the sun is punishing for me, and I had the same concerns. Greg Vincent volunteered to pick up the boy and take him to a local hot spot. Free of charge I might add. The boy caught four bones on spinning gear and shrimp. And Greg sent me some awesome pictures of the catch. I'm truly sorry I missed my son's first bones, but he's now as hooked as I am.

Upon the return, I made my son take this pledge. "I will never again toss a shrimp to bonefish. Next year I will cast the line at least 40 feet". And I believe he will.

To sum it up, incredible. The staff at Pelican Bay Bonefishing are simply the best. If you're thinking of trying, give Greg Vincent a call. A true class act. Class act.

Craig

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Congratulations on what was obviously a wonderful trip. Great stories and great photos, particularly the one of your son at a truly momentous point in his life.

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Well done, Craig! Sounds like an amazing trip, and pretty awesome that your son got on some fish.

Is barracuda really good, or is Kenny just a big fan?

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I've never eaten one. And for good reason. They get a thing called "reef sickness". It seems that they bio-accumulate toxins from reef fish and it makes the poor 'cuda sick. Worse than that, if you eat a 'cuda with reef sickness, it'll make you horribly sick - or maybe even kill you!

Kenny says that 1 in 5 fish on the deep water ocean side have the sickness. He feels pretty secure eating them because flats 'cuda eat bonefish, needle fish, and small snappers which don't have any toxin. I asked him if it wasn't possible that a reef 'cuda might swim on the flats, and it seemed to stump him a little. He said he didn't think so since the 'cuda only lives a few days with the disease.

According to Kenny and others I've talked to, yes, 'cuda is excellent table fare. That's why they're willing to take the risk. I think they feed a little to their kitty first and see what happens wink.gif.

Craig

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  • 8 months later...

For your reading enjoyment, I thought I'd dredge this one up. Getting ready for the next one. Where's Ice 9? Come on buddy, pony up a story.

Craig

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That is some good reading. I can't wait to hear about this year's trip. Keep up the good writing and the good fishing!!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I agree. Good stuff. I'll be back down there some day...Craig and Ice, you really should put your thoughts and stories on paper. Query somebody and get those things published. They are good reads.

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