Fishing for tarpon and other gonzo fish is an athletic exercise. Once the fish is on and has made its first runs, the game gets tiring. Hey, I'm not complaining, but that's all there is.
Bonefish are a different story. A bonefish is like a freshly fired silver torpedo. Rumors of zero to sixty in 10 seconds may be a bit exaggerated, but having one on the end o
f your line is proof enough.
These fish are solid. No soft underbelly here. Better yet, they put up a terrific fight. Tough critters. The hunt for a wary bonefish, the sighting, the need to make a perfect cast with exactly the right fly - that's real fishing.
Quite a bit more of an intellectual experience than just duking it out with a musclebound fish the size of a German shepherd.
And it was an experience I almost missed. Jim - he's my husband - and I had talked about taking a fishing trip to get away from the winter grunge that had closed in around us. The Pacific Northwest, where we live, is green year-rou
nd because it's wet year-round. We wanted to go somewhere warm and dry, somewhere with some willing fish nearby.
I made many phone calls, some to companies specializing in travel to fly-fishing destinations, others to fishing friends. My last call solved the problem. The voice on the other end of the phone belonged to Lefty Kreh. Try bonefish
ing at Deep Water Cay Club in the Bahamas, he said. One more phone call and the reservations were made.
Established in 1958, Deep Water Cay Club is one of the older bonefishing destinations. New owners have refurbished the guest cottages inside and out with fresh white paint and pastel trims, hot and cold running water, new beds, air
conditioning, and all the amenities - even a coffee maker and mini-refrigerator. A new lodge with lounge, bar, dining and meeting rooms also has been built. The club can accommodate 22 guests.
But fish are the main attraction. We were novices at bonefishing and had a lot to learn. We had done some reading and talked to folks who had fished for bones in Belize or at
Christmas Island and hoped we could figure it all out.
Not to worry. We soon discovered the guides at Deep Water Cay knew everything that we didn't. Each guide takes great pride in providing his clients with a superb fishing experience.
Our first morning out I was on the bow of the 16-foot flats skiff while Jim rode shotgun. Joseph Pinder, our guide, sighted a bonefish and gently gave directions. "One o'clock, 25 feet," he said.
I cast. "No, more left," he directed. "OK, good cast. Strip ... wait ... strip ... strip. He's on!"
And he was. The loose line at my feet was up and out the rod instantly. "No need to worry about getting this fish on the reel," I thought. "Just don't smoke the thing. Palm it slightly. Keep the rod high. Oh Lord, not around those
mangroves! That's light leader, don't horse him."
Joseph poled the boat away from the mangroves so I could fight the fish in open water. Finally, after a long battle, the fish came to hand. Photos were taken
and the fish was returned, with my thanks.
But I was trembling when I sat down. I couldn't believe a 4-pound fish could make screaming runs like that. What on earth would a big one be like?
I was also amazed that I had hooked the fish on just a short cast. That, I learned later, was by design. Unless you are a well-known fishing personality, the guide has no clue to your casting ability, so his game plan is always to
ask first for a short cast. Once he sees how well you can cast, the guide can then decide what size fish you can handle. In the capable hands of these guides, just about anyone can catch small bonefish here - even the world's worst fly caster.
Jim was up next. He made a perfect cast (naturally), hooked up, then played, landed and gently released a 6-pounder. We both had our initiation out of the way.
My turn again. Soon I was into another nice fish. This time I don't think I even screamed.
Between the two of us we hooked and landed seven fish that morning, without a single long-distance release. A great start!
There was also plenty to see besides fish: Green-sequined baby needlefish, tail-walking across the turquoise, silver, and gold water. Snowy egrets, perched on mangrove edges. A lone pelican roosting in an Australian pine. A ray sha
dowed by a pod of bonefish, waiting patiently for goodies stirred up from the bottom by the ray's undulating wings. Blue holes, deep remains of lava tubes, home for a compendium of marine life. White sand, finer than talcum powder, swirled into abstract p
atterns by the incoming tide.
Over the next few days we grew accustomed to the club's relaxed routine. Buffet breakfast at 7:30 a.m. - fresh fruit and juice, home-baked hot sweet rolls, pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, toast - the works. Good-humored kidding ove
r coffee about who had caught what the previous day. Walk a block or so from our cottage to the boats. Made-to-order lunches on ice, boat gassed and guide smiling.
"Good morning, Joseph," I greeted him. "We all set to go?"
"Ouy yah," he replied in a slight British accent, and by 8 a.m. we were under way.
One morning we ran miles from any shore until as if by magic a huge flat loomed ahead, sparkling white sand in the middle of deep sapphire blue water. Joseph cut the motor and began poling while Jim waited for instructions.
"Long cast now, about 11 o'clock," Joseph said.
"How far?" Jim asked.
"Oh, about as far as you can throw it," was the grinning response.
Jim threw it about as far as he could throw it.
"Perfect cast!" Joseph said. "Leave it. Wait, wait ... short strip, strip, got 'em!"
One cast, one fish. After releasing it, Jim remarked how incredible it was to be sight fishing in the middle of the ocean.
We covered a lot of water that day. Joseph knew where the biggest fish might be found, and that's where we went.
When dark clouds began swirling overhead and the wind started spattering rain on our polarized lenses, Joseph headed for shore south of McLean's Town, the native village barely visible from the club. There we found a bay protected
from the wind. A pair of cruising bones was just entering the far end of a channel running through the bay. Big fish.
Jim got out to wade and, keeping a low silhouette, stalked the moving fish. He would have to cast into the wind, and one cast was all he would get. Double haul, long reach on the backcast, aim, fire. Fish on!
I grabbed the camera and started shooting. Half an hour later, the 10-pound bone was in hand. After more photos were taken, the fish was released.
"Well," I thought, "that answers that. You can catch fish when the weather is crummy. You just have to know where to go."
The return to the club around 5 o'clock each afternoon was almost a celebration. Time for a shower, change of clothes and a cold drink from the mini-refrigerator (just leave a note and the staff will restock to order.) Spotless roo
ms, fresh hibiscus on the coffee table. Cocktails and appetizers at 7 o'clock and dinner an hour later. The food was great, with crisp salads, perfectly done entrees and just the right wine.
Deep Water Cay Club operates 10 months of the year, closing during the hot months of August and September. The biggest bonefish are usually caught during December and March. The club record is 13-1/2 pounds.
The club's easy access to many islands, cays and channels makes it possible to fish in almost any wind or tide. Calm weather also may allow a run to the north end of Abaco Island to fish for permit.
Having heard many horror stories about broken rods, we had brought six. We used only two - a 6-weight and an 8-weight, both 9 footers. We usually had the 8-weight rigged with a crab fly in case we happened onto a permit. Most of ou
r bonefish were taken on a Pink Puff tied on a No. 8 hook.
Each day at Deep Water Cay Club was a wonderful new adventure - great fishing, spectacular natural beauty, comfort, and food fit for the gods.
Will we go back? As Joseph might say, "Ouy yah!"