Welcome to Salt Water Fly Fishing

Welcome to Fly Fishing The Salt! If you are just discovering the joys of fly fishing the salt (or salt chuck as some call it) here you will find information to steer you in the right direction. Tips on what equipment to use, why, where and how to fish. And we will try to include a little inspiration to get you going. For the experienced salt water angler, there will be personal stories about real fishermen and their experiences, tips on what flies for which fish and techniques that work. Your stories and articles are also most welcome. Share the knowledge and adventure. Pass it on! This is for you.

Mars Bay Bonefishing: Winter 2007

By Captain Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Standing in a foot of clear 75 degree water with the sun shining and a breeze of 80 degrees fluffing one's fishing shirt, you could wonder what it is like in Minneapolis, or just cast at the fish and forget how lucky you are just to be alive. I bet folks up north are not close to worrying about the water getting a little warmer so the fish will start moving on the flats. It is 2 December 2007. A small gathering of friends is once again on the saltwater flats of South Andros Island, Bahamas, fishing out of the Mars Bay Bonefish Lodge.

Morning Launch

EagleXpeditions has been to this lodge five years running and the transformation from day one until now, at the hands of the manager/part owner Bill Howard, is nothing short of a wonder. Our first trip had great fishing and pretty good accommodations but some aspects needed improvement. One year of Bill and the bad things were all gone and each year the already good things get better. New good things keep popping up too. Free drinks happened a couple years ago, free calls back home another, and this year the GSM cell service happened along with WIFI. The staff is excellent: food out of this world. Bill has trained the guide force up to four with a new guide in the wings so he can take eight fishermen or four boats out daily. The boats are all new, or almost new, with poling platforms. Two of the three lodge buildings are completed, all air-conditioned with super beds all around. The big things that now differentiate this lodge from others on South Andros are location and price. The other lodges are many miles up the coast from the most desirable fishing areas, requiring either an extended run in rough seas for an hour each way or a 20 minute ride to Mars Bay ramp to launch with us. The other is price. Bill is controlling his expenses and offering the best deal in town. There is a local-run lodge much cheaper but in talking with guys we met in the terminal at Congo Town, we would not have wanted their "deal." We saw the boats, the guides and watched them trolling for fish when we were being polled. Their boats were beat up and without platforms or even poles. The Mars Bay Bonefish Lodge ranks a "best buy" in the travel industry.

The travelers with EagleXpeditons this time started with six but by the time the butts hit the airline seats, only three showed up...on time. One came in a day late as he forgot when his reservations were and had to rebook. (Kent is a recent retiree and is having trouble remembering what day it is.) Another, a famous author, had a court date change and could not come at all. He was glad he had travel insurance and got his money back. One backed out before he paid anything and never got replaced. I did talk Ted Johnson of Leisure Time Travel into coming down for a couple of days to see the lodge since I had paid up slots and enjoy his company. He came a day before us and fished with us for two days. The three that made the trip, on time as planned, were Scud, the trip coordinator and owner of EagleXpeditions, Unk of Bonescharters and Daniel, a young fishing fiend, is an engineer to pay for his fishing habit. Kent ("Killer") retired from stock brokering last year.

Author Scud

Ted had an adventure getting to the lodge as the airline he was connecting to in Nassau had sold his slot. They sent him to the airfield on North Andros and he took busses, taxis, ferry boats and begged a local fisherman to take him the last leg. The airlines in the islands do business a little differently than US air carriers. It is best to fly non-stop out of Ft. Lauderdale and hope they stop where they are supposed to.

Day one had Daniel and Unk in separate boats and Scud fishing with Ted, who wanted to do a photo shoot. Ted had a bunch of fish already the day before. The water was cool from a passing cold front which made the fish wait in the deeper warm water until the water on the flats got warmer later in the day. Scud, as the designated fisherman with camera man, managed to do everything wrong for many shots to keep Ted from getting the desired pictures. Ted had forgotten his wading boots and was barefooted. He wandered the flats without a whimper but was seen to be stepping "lightly" by the end of the day. The sand looks clean, white and flat, but coral and holes in some areas can provide sharpness that even puts boots on the local guides.


The guys got some nice fish but nothing of the large variety they were looking for. The difference in fishing for big fish exclusively, or just fish, is using the boat in deeper water. At higher tides the fish are back in the mangrove forests chasing food. As soon as the water gets high enough to them to enter the trees, they flow in and when it starts dropping, out they come. Big fish cruise around the edges when they don't quite fit inside after all the little fish are already in. Of course, the barracuda and sharks cruise around the edges waiting for the bones. It all makes for a very interesting ballet.

When the tides are flowing, the flats come into play. The fish, all sizes, flow over and through the flats in large schools and you walk the flats hoping for the big ones but are inundated by the smaller 2-4 pound fish. You can end up with a thousand fish flowing by you in an hour of walking. The fish swim and "tail" along the way offering lots of shots and hook ups. Of course, the smaller sharks and ever-present barracudas are right along with them. The first day Scud got into a school of fish and had three sharks trying to take the one fish on his line. He released the drag so the fish could run away from the four-foot sharks chasing it. When the fish was out of the way, the guide hit one of the sharks with a stick sending him off the flat, but the little bone turned back toward the boat and ran into two more sharks flashing around. While the guide chased one of the bad guys off, the other ate the fish.


The predators are more numerous here than in any other bonefish area this gang has fished. Unk thinks the sharks are getting to use to people and bolder. Daniel got a reputation for keeping bonefish out of the mouths of the sharks. Most guys depend on the guide to chase off the hungry beasts or don't cast to the fish when the sharks are too close. But with a fish on that you cannot break off or let run, Daniel is the champ. He once had a fish in his hand when a shark appeared. He usually chased the shark off by kicking and tossing sand. Some combination of these actions usually scare them off but one shark did not turn off and Daniel had to jump over it to avoid being bumped. Both fish and fisherman got a scare. The guide mumbled something later about, "who said white men can't jump." Another time he was reviving a tired fish when he again got interrupted by a black tip that just would not give up. Most sane folks will give the fish to a shark that gets too close. He finally walked a long way with the little bugger to get to water the shark could not get into and then brought it back to life, once more, and watched it swim away. He was prepared to go with it to keep it safe, we think. Fish must like this guy. Without a "call sign" (Unk, Scud, Killer...) Daniel could get "Medic" or some such moniker but with a last name of Payne, "Anal" will probably stick.

Daniel also had a run-in with an egret over a fish. The egret thought the fish being revived was just the right size for a free meal. Unk described it as "funny" the way a two pound bird stood up to a two hundred pound man. Daniel won this battle and another critter was saved from a vicious bird attack.

Killer arrived the first evening fished so there were four for the next day. Ted was going to catch a flight in the afternoon so took a half day for more pictures and to catch a few more fish close to the lodge. The day was a maximum walking day as the tide did not fill the mangroves during our time slot. Some parked the boat on a flat's edge and walked for eight hours. The walking is not fast but still covers a lot of sand. Fish flowed out half the day, took a little break at slack low tide, and flowed in again on the inbound water. The action can be constant when the water is flowing well, with easy fish, or slow technical fishing for demanding fish at lower flow rates. Big flows of water and fish allow big flies and most any leader and fly will work. The "technical fishing" can require fifteen foot leaders, tiny flies and soft fly landings. Scud even went to a seven weight rod to have a lighter line. A stupid maneuver to take a small bone off caused him to "salt" the flats with profanity when he broke the tip off. He had "technically" hooked and fought a fish to the landing phase and then buffooned picking up the fish only to break the rod. He thought he was miles from anybody but Unk "quoted" his exact words for the world during the rum assisted debrief on the porch that evening.

For the next few days we fished one boat with two fishermen and two boats with one. We had paid for all these guides and boats and Bill wanted to keep the whole operation going. Most of us wanted to fish alone some, except Killer who claims to be blind. He gets the guide full time while walking, and when in the boat, had two sets of extra eyes working for him. Killer got eight fish his first day using his disability claim. It could be pure BS, the blind part; he really needs an audience for his stories and jokes. It is a full up show as good as any in Branson. A guide alone would miss some of the nuances...or maybe not. Unk and Scud knew Killer from before so they traded out passing the ear plugs back and forth. Scud liked to walk alone and let Killer wear down the guide. On one walk, the designated "Killer listener" walked outside Killer and the seeing-eye guide and caught eight fish to their one. They kept chasing the fish out of the shallows to him like a good pointer.

Rain played in the game a couple of days. It seemed, if you looked at the weather on TV and left your rain gear, you got soaked. Kent left his gear one day while with Scud and they paid big time. Rain came down in buckets just after they got going with some big fish around them in deep water. The guide picked up and ran out of it, and out in front of it, so we could get wet some more. On the second dunking, Scud managed to see a bone from the front end in the heavy rain and hooked it. The nearby shark thought that was nice of Scud since he was in the dark too and a battle ensued between the fish, Scud, the shark and the guide using the pole as a weapon. The fish got landed, the shark disappointed and Killer sat soaked. He was probably telling a story but we could not hear him. Scud, Unk and Daniel all had no-gear showers too. These little storms did not hurt the fishing and the rain was not cold. In one of these rain storms a guide lost his glasses overboard. Unk loaned him some Ocean Waves which did not get returned at the end of the day. Unk threatened to call in a B–52 strike on the whole island if the $200 glasses did not show up. They caved and he got them back.

The end of each day saw the guides and fishermen sitting on the porch telling of the day's feats. It was noted that the fishermen told stories of the size and numbers and the guides would chime in...or not. That subtlety probably meant supportability of the statements being made. After a couple of drinks all the stories matched and the noise was from all sources. Pictures from all the digital cameras have added much to claims. The drama is given but the truth is there, even adjusting to the "posing" for apparent size enhancement. Two of the guides asked Scud to bring them cameras next trip so they could walk around the town showing off. One story that got some attention was about Scud and a guide named Ronnie. They drove over an estimated twelve foot long hammer head shark on the way to a far away spot. They circled around and taxied along side of it for a while. It was not scared but Scud was "concerned." That fish could have eaten the boat and the guys in it with a couple of gulps. Ronnie said the big guy must have followed tarpon up to the flats but they were not spotted during the stay.

Host Bill

One great day Scud talked Bill Howard into fishing. He has many tasks to keep his operation going but loves to fish. He had not been in a month or more and finally accepted. Big fish were all they wanted so staying in deepening water in the boat was the goal. George, the guide, is one for walking all day and this was not to his liking. Of course, with the first school of fish, both Scud and Bill jumped out of the boat and chased them into the mangroves. George contrasted this with the goals just given him and decided they were lying. Bill caught a fish and Scud only scared them. Bill's leader got screwed up in the mangroves or the fact that it was three years old made a change necessary. While fussing around in the boat, Bill got the line wrapped around the motor and had a real fight on his hands before George turned the motor off. Scud tied him a new leader out of modern materials. Scud got the first big fish while being polled along a flat in clean deep water. It looked like they would have a big day. Then Bill broke his rod while casting at the next fish. There might have been a knick in it because of the way it broke. Bill was fit to be tied as the fish were still there. Scud gave Bill his rod (Bill only brought one) and sent him off wading to catch a fish and cool off. Bill walked off as Scud called out "please do not break my pole." Bill got a fish and Scud completely re–rigged the last rod in the boat so they would each have a bonefish rod. Barracuda were off the menu for the day. They now had an eight and a ten weight to work with. George decided the boys had enough of the good fishing and gave them a long boat ride ending up on a flat telling them to "get out and walk." The fishermen did not want to walk and made him go to another place. George retaliated by driving another million miles to another flat and said "get out" again. Scud said he would just sit in the boat and Bill could go if he wanted. Bill walked and Scud got polled until the fish started coming. Then Scud walked fifty feet to wait for the flow and only after the first couple of groups had big fish among them. The fish were not easy and the ten weight Scud was using was little big to toss light flies to flighty fish. Bill got a bunch and Scud a few and all the big ones got by them. Little fish swimming with big ones get to the fly first as they are faster, or maybe hungrier.

As to the fishing in general: We all caught many fish for the week. Those working for big fish got fewer but that is the game. There were a lot of five pound fish caught among the 2–4 four pound average fish. A couple of sevens were reported as were at least three eight pound fish landed. There were, as usual, several big fish seen each day. A lot of stars have to be aligned and the right chants said to hook a big one, but they are there. Unk swears he had a school of a dozen fish come at him with the smallest being ten pounds. He was using a fly the guide had laughed at called a "chilly pepper." Why, when he had many proven patterns? Well, a book he read said it was "magic." The fish all rushed over and gathered around the fly perfectly delivered and then puked and left. Unk had the fly off in ten seconds flat. Too late, that was the shot of the week. We saw no permit or tarpon this trip. Permit are usually seen by someone. Last trip six of them showed up in front of one fisherman and he wrapped the line around himself trying to get a shot off. The guides do not target permit as they don't believe a fisherman really wants to fish all day and catch nothing. Tarpon are a long run and in the springtime.

We did get another fisherman at the lodge late in the week and he stayed after we left. He was from New Jersey and did some job that had to do with 'oil futures price advising.' He explained that several times but understanding was going to be tough by guys who do almost nothing else but fish. Jay was his name and he did not get away often. He was amazed at the fish numbers and his lack of currency in catching them. After day one, we all had him out working on his technique. He was then armed with many confusing tactics for the following day. We left. He either got better or had to flush out our "help" and read a book. Daniel stayed a day extra and said the wind really came up (normal there is 10–20) and he had the best day of the trip. He went to one of the guide's "secret spots" and had many fish with the smallest over five pounds. Nobody was there to hear if the guide and fisherman stories matched so we will believe every word.


Bill Howard has his lodge running at full tilt and heavily booked already for the next year. He is all "word of mouth" now and has stopped going to trade shows and advertising in the magazines. He cannot take much more anyway. Scud is trying to reserve a week in the early December each year and another in Feb. He has a couple slots open for Feb 08 and probably four or five for next December 08. Ted may manage to send some folks as he indicated he liked the place and package. Working directly with Bill at the lodge works best for filling cancellations short notice. Before this place gets crowded, like Belize and Mexico have, filling the bonefish "square" is mighty painless at Mars Bay. ~ Captain Scud Yates

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