This summer had already been a blast with several
trips to chase the giant tarpon up and down the
waters of Florida. I had many good shots and two
very successful days. I got seven of the monsters
to eat, jumped a few and almost landed a couple.
Then up popped an exploratory trip for off-season
bonefishing. Andros Island just by the "tongue of
the ocean" needed to be researched.
Unk, my fishing partner, with help from Todd, a fishing
friend and many time Bahamas fisher, got us into a Mars
Bay bonefish camp at the end of the road south from Congo
Town, Andros Island, the Bahamas. November is the "season"
but if it gets any better "off-season" than we had, we may
need arm slings. There ARE some fish out that way. Four
of us caught just less than 200 nice fat bonefish in 21
man-days (5.5 fishing days) on the water. We have done
better in Ascension Bay, Mexico but it's always been
their "in season."
Getting there was a drive to Ft. Lauderdale, a charter
plane flight of 1.5 hours over and a hour taxi to the lodge.
The latter was the unique part with the road being a super
highway to them and a just barely paved path to us. Ena,
the driver, talked lessons from the Bible on the way down
but stopped to let us get enough beer to make the 22-mile
drive. It was going to be slow as she was driving on the
"dummy" as a spare. A dummy is the little tire in today's
cars to allow trunk space. We only got a six pack and she
warned us it was three six pack ride. Should have listened,
it was very slow.
The ride was with the beautiful eastern flats on our left
and the homes of the islanders on the right. If you don't
live on the coast, the bugs, a fly they call "the doctor"
especially, will eat you alive. The doctor has an injection
style nose you can feel quite well and the blood really
flows if you allow a full bite. Once on you the fly must
be killed, as it will not leave until you are a shriveled
up grape. It follows your scent for miles up-wind while
you are wading or walking and hits like a linebacker nose
The island people are subsisting on very little money but
in a land of plenty. The beauty is striking and food from
the land and sea is bountiful. Homes are put together with
what ever they find, bring in or washes in from the sea.
People are very friendly and helpful speaking proper english
with a Jamaican style accent ending most exclamations in
Mars Bay Bonefish Club is a house, fully air-conditioned,
with three bedrooms. It is modern with washer and dryer,
cook, maid and even satellite TV. More than the four
could sleep there but there are only two guides and two
boats. The people must be in the same party, as they will
have to share the house. If more came as non-fisher types,
they would have to be into sun or reading as there is little
else to do and 'The Doctor' keeps you along the beach or
inside. There is a bar right downwind behind the house and
The Doctor finds the drunks there before he gets to the house
so we did not have many on the porch at all. Actually, the
fly is just about like the yellow deer fly of Florida but
does not land so lightly and is black. The Doctor's bite
does not itch and after bleeding a bit the hole is not all
The cook, Geneva, was excellent and the maid, Rodnell, very
efficient and nice. She would write a note each day to say
how happy they were to have us there and give us a blessing
for a happy day. Management of the lodge kept the place
running after we had a little start up glitch; there was
no beer in the fridge. Food was fresh conch, fish, crab
or lobster severed with rice, salad and veggies. One night
we had conch done three ways in a dream meal.
Fishing requires somewhat of a run to the best places. There
are fish within a mile of the lodge but the good flats are
about 20 miles south at the end of the island. There are
perhaps a hundred square miles of flats and keys in that
area and we were the only four fishermen on them the whole
week. The run can be brutal with the 16-foot flats boats
running full out. It took a couple of days to convince
the guides, at least one of the two, that we would give
up the extra ten minutes to be able to walk when we got
done with the run. Once that got across there was nothing
to complain about at all.
We fished the incoming tide in the mornings, with it getting
better each day and then the falling tide after an hour and
a half of slack in the middle of the day. The tide flow
moved an hour earlier each day and there is only one tide
a day in this area. It was warm but not hot with a 20 to
30 MPH wind going the whole week and puffy clouds blowing
merrily along at about three hundred feet and mach two.
You needed mucho sunscreen but it was never uncomfortable.
I guess the off-season tag comes from wimps that think it
is too hot in the summer. Of all the trips I have made so
far, this place had the most and biggest fish seen, on
average. Part of the "seen" is because of the sandy bottomed
flats where the fish could be seen even with the cloud
covering the sun and in the rain. We would stand in schools
of a thousand fish at times and catch until tired.
It should be noted that the 20-30 mph winds make it a sort
of advanced place to fish. The guiding techniques were
such that you were mostly on your own and you needed to
be able to cast in all directions with the wind always
there. After a rainstorm would come through it would
calm down for a few minutes but that was seldom. After
the bugs found you the wind was welcome back.
The guides, Willford and George, said the November season
brought in many more fish and lots of bigger ones. I don't
know where they would swim as we had more than we could
handle at times. There were a couple of days when we
did not find the big groups but always there were fish.
Todd and I teamed up for the week. Unk and his in-law,
Rod, an eye doctor from a family Unk's son just married
into, were the other team. Rod had never done this before
and had little time at the support end of the fly rod.
He trained in the Kansas winds but still found the
experience daunting. It was drinking from a fire hose,
as bonefishing is the master's degree level for fly-fishing,
reserving some rare large fish for the post-post grad level,
like Atlantic salmon and giant tarpon.
I started day one making every mistake a bone chaser can make.
I messed up fly selection, drag and hook settings, casting
upwind (causing knots that weakened the line causing
break-offs) and wrapped my line around the reel and myself.
Even with all that I got three fish that day having many
chances and plenty of lost hook ups. Todd did no wrong
and got a dozen. We both knew it was a great day until
we heard from the other two and Unk forgot to count when
he passed thirty and Rod managed five on his first ever
day trying this sport. I knew I would have to get better
control of my game if playing in this league. I'll try
to not take a year off between bonefish again. We got
the flies of choice figured out (they seemed to bite
anything we threw at them) and tied up some more "gotchas"
and "kraft fur shrimp" in a 'Lefty' pattern. We had the
stuff to tie about anything as Unk brought a whole store
supply and Todd was not far behind.
The next day was slow for both teams as we tried to go
through an inland passage to avoid the rough seas and
ended up wasting the incoming tide on the flats by being
in the creeks. We got out on the flats during slack tide
and then did not find any big bunches in the afternoon.
Todd and I both got less than ten but saw some new country
and two permits. The guides do not fish for permit as of
yet but I think there is a place to find them if you spend
some time looking. The focus is bonefish, totally.
We did end the day with a long walk with sharks that was
not totally comfortable, as there were just too many. The
walk started with the three of us (two plus guide) spread
out across a large flat fishing the falling tide. Todd got
two fish right off and I finally got one on the line.
Just before that hook up a small, four-foot black tip
joined up with me to see if I would feed him. Where there
are bonefish there are sharks and barracuda, almost without
fail. When I hooked up the shark took off after the fish
on the line. I tried to break the line to save the fish
but only pulled him out of the water as the smallest, fastest
fish in the school had gotten to the fly first as usual.
The shark was right after it and followed the little fellow
as I ripped him away from the killer. This was all happening
right at my feet and the shark got a nip on the fish until
I ripped him out of the toothy mouth. It was getting too
wild for me and I let the shark have the fish and then
while the front half was still hanging out I broke the
line and the little bone was gulped down. All this went
on within five feet of my legs.
This commotion caused a second shark to arrive just as the
fish disappeared down the other shark's throat and he was
wild with all the blood in the water. These two sharks
just fussed around in the knee-deep water looking for more
food and several times almost bumped into me. I would hit
them with the rod tip or, once, with the butt of the rod
to make a bigger impact. Both of these fish were oblivious
to the taps but would turn away slowly. The guide said he
would get the boat and meet us at the end of the mile long
flat for the ride home. Todd and I walked abreast along
but Todd kept way out, my two wingmen bothered him some.
I was spending more time watching the sharks than fishing.
As we progressed we picked up two or three more of the
little devils and then they forgot the professional
courtesy thing and started bothering Todd. Todd is a
lawyer. As we ended the walk the boat was not there
yet and our choice was to wade into deeper water. We
did not as the sharks were harder to see then and the
light was getting low. About then a small bunch of bones
headed our way. We discussed not throwing as we would
be feeding the sharks if we hooked up but decided they
might not be so hungry then and both of us stripped back
out our lines and threw into the on rushing pack of shark
bait. Both flies hit the water as three of the biggest
sharks all day dove at them at the same time, one from
each outside of us and one between. The bones, for some
reason, did not pay any attention to the flies and did a
180 turn and left rapidly with the sharks in trail. The
guide came around the corner then and we made him come
to shallow water to pick us up. The sharks were left
fuming and still hungry.
The third day we switched guides and got the more
experienced of the two. This one had 22 years guiding
versus the other's 3 years. He had us on fish from
the start and it was Todd's day to make every mistake
in the book. He had been most gracious in not laughing
at me when I struggled, but I have only a few years at
this game. He has over forty years catching these fish
so he got some ribbing for making some rookie mistakes
like wrapping the line around the reel like I had on
At about an hour to go on the day he still had not landed
a fish. I, on the other hand, had a half dozen I was
throwing at, and at least two I had not seen and had
taken my fly while I was throwing at other fish. Luck
was really on my side this day. We ended up in a small
flat at day's end with a large school milling around.
The guide just poled us up and down the flat and we
landed a dozen fish between us in about forty minutes.
This school had a bunch of sharks causing them much
consternation. The fish we hooked were usually chased
at some time in the fight but we would lighten the drag
so they could run away from the slashing jaws. We were
in the boat so did not have the feeling of the day before
but the sharks were very aggressive. I did have one
fish get hit by a big shark and we kept him, the guide
wanted one to eat. We had a rain shower blow through,
but the fish were easy to see in the rain water pattern
and we kept on catching. Great day, even for Todd, but
that was the only time I caught more than he did.
We got a second day with that guide and never had a dull
moment. Our counts were Todd 18 to my 15 when the day
ended. Both of us had a great day with few mistakes.
This guide knew where the fish were in the slack times
and put us on constant shots. We rode in the boat most
of the day where we had waded most of the other days.
We did get out of the boat occasionally to surround a
school and the first shot of the day had me out sneaking
up on some fish only to have a good sized shark bump into
me from behind. It scared the poop out of both of us
and the splash/scream scared the fish away.
Our last day as a team was back with the first guide.
He had learned how to slow down so the ride did not
cause a problem either way and the day started out
with him finding a school so big on a large flat
that there were literally thousands of fish. We
walked up one side of the flat and spread out about
fifty feet. We had the whole mass flow at us, around
us and through us repeatedly and we both hooked up each
time. For about an hour and a half, they kept coming
back to us. There were so many it could have been a new
bunch each time. Together we landed about thirty if you
count the two the guide got when he could not stand it
any more and picked up Todd's back-up pole in the boat
anchored behind us and started throwing. We both lost
many fish to avoiding the predators and both tried every
style fly we had. They would eat anything but a green fly.
There were not as many sharks around us but our attack
on the school started with me being accompanied to the
fight by a four-foot long barracuda. He got the first
two fish I hooked and then went off to take a snooze,
as he must have been full. You cannot get a fish away
from them as they are faster than the bones. Todd lost
a couple to sharks later on but the sharks did not need
us to keep them happy in a crowd that large. They did
not follow us closely.
It was good we found that big school, as the rest of
the day was not too productive. This guide could not
find fish when the tide was slack while the more
experienced one could. It was a great day and we
traveled to some keys new to us and even saw a partly
built resort in the last key of the island chain. It
was not completed because someone got sick and died
and the money stopped flowing. It was going to be a
neat place reachable only by seaplane or flats boat.
Any investors out there?
Our plane was not going to leave until late the next
afternoon and two of us wanted to fish the morning
before leaving. The judge and doctor were plum
tuckered out so Unk and I had to do it alone. We
flipped for the guide of choice but it did not end up
mattering at all. Both found places near to the camp
so the long ride did not take up time and we got a half
dozen apiece. In my case I had a long lone walk with
several notable fish in my catch. The day was so
perfect the only thing missing was a witness to my
perfect casting and masterful battles. One fish
knitted my name in the mangroves not just once, but
twice in the same ten minute fight. Another, the
last of the day and the largest of the trip for me,
did four runs (the usual is one or two) and did them
in all four compass directions during the fight. I
just about missed seeing him as a cloud blocked the sun.
When that happens, I stop so as not to walk up on a
fish and spook him off. This fish swam up to me and
he and I saw each other at about five feet. I just
saw his big eye and a tail as he turned way. I started
to thrash up a blind cast in the last known direction
in hope of a blind hook up. This was probably going
to be my last fish of the trip. About then, a small
hole allowed the sun to flash through and I spotted
the big guy wandering away at forty feet with his
butt towards me. I unleashed a perfect cast dropping
the shrimp pattern just to his left and four feet in
front. He moved toward it and the lights went out.
He hit it going away, which is not at all bonefish like.
He might have just lunged as the light dimmed for him too.
It was not the normal hook up where you feel a light tap
as the fly is grabbed from behind, but a bang like a snook.
Off to the races he went in the first of the four directions
he would eventually cover, it was straight at the mangroves.
Unk and I had discussed a book we read the night before on
how to stop a big fish from going where you don't want him
to and I tried it. I let the drag go loose. The fish
stopped and started slowly 90 degrees left away from the
tangled roots. I started wading out into the deeper
water away from the side of the lake to keep the trees
out of plan and the fish kept on moving with me, although
about 150 feet away at the other end of the line. When
he had gone 90 degrees around the circle I hit him with a
little pressure and he took off again. I got him back
from that run and the next compass point. When he finally
let me get him in where he could see me, he ran around
me and off the third direction. One more time back in
and he made his last run in the remaining quadrant and
just barely got me into the backing. That was enough
and he gave up and let me drag him in and almost turned
over for me to pick him up when along side. I think he
was in the six-pound range and the largest of my trip.
Todd had an eight and quarter pounder on the day before
so my eyes were calibrated. We had that one on the
Boga Grip scale. Todd had yelled, uncharacteristically
for him, and when I looked he held up what could have
been a silver salmon it was so big. He had a witness.
I held this last fish of the trip while he got his
"breath" but had a keen eye lest the last shark on
this trip were to show up and end things in his favor.
There were some very large fish out there and we had a
few shots at them. Unk had a shot and hook up on what
both he and guide thought was a barracuda when it
approached because of its' size. It took off and
some other fisherman in the boat was consumed with
a knot and how it went on a fly while standing on
Unk's line. Twang! All of us have done that many
times and will again. It is what makes stories better.
That fish was over orca size the last time Unk told
Ena got us back to the airport without a beer in the
van. Without a "dummy" the road IS a super highway.
The flight back was wonderful. Not having to fight
through the airline terminals and security was a treat.
I will always think of that last day and walking alone
through the finest fishing grounds in the world fighting
the fastest fish in the world. That last fight will last
a lifetime and get better with each telling.
~ Capt. Scud Yates