The bonefish population of Ascension bay, Mexico
is half laughing and half sore jawed after this
November trip by the crew led by Bones Charters
and Eagle Excursions. Laughing at the antics of
fly-casters tossing with 20-25 MPH winds for the
whole week and hurting because a lot of bones as
well as other fish types got caught despite the
hard conditions and those new to saltwater fishing.
This was one of the finest trips yet to this pristine
part of the world.
Gathering up enough folks to make it a good trip was
not all that hard, even with the economy on its' ear.
Unk Smith and I started in the spring and had up to 12
slots to fill. We had gotten the lodge down to a pretty
good discount and that made this trip a bargain. Most of
the slots were claimed at one time or the other. Some
fell out leaving eight of us finally.
Unk Smith, Rick Heim, and myself have been many times to
Pesca Maya. Fred Erickson had been twice, Bob Rector and
my two sons, Travis and Justin, had been once before. Our
new traveling team member, Alex Alexander, was our only
one new to the act of chasing fast fish in salt water.
I cannot say he has not caught saltwater fish as he nailed
a nice saltwater catfish while practicing with me back in
Florida. Alex has about seventy-five years of fishing
experience if he started at age three. Alex let on there
are not many things in life new for him anymore but this
adventure was. This story through his eyes might be much
better than my version, but this is how I saw it.
Getting to the fishing lodge to put a line in the water can
be half the adventure sometimes and this trip was no exception.
Alex decided to have a wild night in Cancun on the way to
the lodge so he could get free airline tickets. In fact,
he also scheduled another night there on the way back.
I was dumb enough to decide to do that with him and to
take Justin, my youngest son, along with me. For the
price of a very fine hotel, superb food and frolic on
each end of the trip we could have flown first class
both ways and had a stretch limo standing by full time.
Cancun is not a cheap place.
Leaving for camp the next noon we ran into a group of
five from Santa Fe heading down to the same place. They
were almost as eclectic as our crowd but with the added
kicker that only one of them had been down to the camp
before or even tossed a fly at this kind of fish. They
were surely not new to the fishing game and led by the
owner of High Desert Angler fly shop, Jarrett Sasser.
He originally had six coming but one dropped out. His
team consisted of another guide, the world junior
fly-fishing champion Norman Maktima, bison ranch
manager Chuck Kuchta, surgeon Dr. Arnold Atkins (the
prior bonefish catcher) and a world fly-fishing traveler
Mary Redmond. This esteemed group raised the bar a little
in class as our group of sailors, bomber and fighter
pilots, money handlers, motor home salesmen, lumber
mill operators and skier would have never showered on
a fishing trip without having Mary show up for dinner
dressed to the nines. Anyway, Jarrett and gang were
all ears when we started taking of how to fish the flats
of Ascension Bay and the two groups melded into one gang
by the end of the first day together.
There are a couple of stories about the airport, the wild
nightlife in Cancun, body surfing nice waves and a great
dinner hosted by Rick and Bob complete with feeding tarpon
off the deck, but they will have to be told over drinks
later. So, off to the adventure we sallied with a diverse
group of slackers to professionals, of ages from the low
twenties to the late seventies, with all sorts of skill
levels and all with a burning desire to catch fast fish.
The Trip Down
One difference between the camps on the north end of the bay
and the other major lodge, Casa Blanca on the south side,
is the ride down from Cancun. For about $1500 a week more
the south end folks fly down in small planes. They get
there with a couple of hours of effort. The hardy north
end folks (and poorer?) do the manly (womanly) thing and
drive down in vans. I had asked many times about the bridge
about 15 miles north of the camp (total of 90 mile trip)
and was told it was "good." It had been rumored out.
That can cause a side trip on a boat.
The road down is paved for the first 65 miles and goes
pretty quickly if the drivers don't want to stay together,
the potty stops are minimal, you can find the whiskey
store easily and all of you are ready to leave at the
correct time. If all the above gets screwed up and Fred
is held up in customs for looking like an international
terrorist, even the paved part can seem long. Adding in
some rain causes some more time. Then…find out the last
25 miles of dirt road is in the roughest shape we have
ever seen and you get an agonizing four and half hour
ride down. Besides the storms taking a toll on the roads,
we met at least four long convoys of "eco" tourists. The
one lane road stops one way and we were just two vehicles
compared to the many. We stopped each time. These convoys
can have as many as twenty tiny jeep-like vehicles with
loads of dusty young scantily clad European kids bounding
through the pot holes on a great adventure to the outback.
This act has really expanded in the last few years and all
the fishing lodges feed them a lavish lunch while we are
out fishing each day. Me thinks, these gangs don't help
the roads much either. The length of the trip was 90 miles
horizontally and another five mile vertically. There are
no mountains, just big holes to go into and climb out of.
The bridge was all brand new but the rest of the road sucked.
It took one hour and forty-five minutes from the bridge down,
We got in sort of late but Brian Jones was standing by
ready to serve. Brian met Mary, whisked her off to the
royal suite and the rest of us had to find places to sleep
on our own. Not really, we threw our stuff in the cabins
and opened the bar. Mr. Jones is as close to a perfect
host as one can find, a cross between Indiana Jones and
an English butler, closer to Indiana. The big surprise
came at dinner when the new cook was revealed as a true
gourmet chef. We have always eaten well here but this trip
was to be a feast of wonderful sauces and confections served
with utmost class.
It was almost cold the first night and the winds were light.
Blankets were requested.
Unk and I have been down there five times now and only
once was it harder fishing and that was in a forming
hurricane in '98. The wind from the north and northwest,
this time, associated with a cold front the Mexicans
have never seen the likes of, made for a different week.
With such winds we were going to use only about five
percent of the usual fishing area of this vast bay.
And, the part we were using is not usually among the
best areas we fish.
We were forced to use the north shore to get out of
the wind, somewhat, and the guides were scrambling to
find fish while the fish were scrambling to find warm
patches of water. I am glad we were not in the little
skiffs used by some lodges as the 24' Ponga boats were
hard enough to survive in while crossing the bay the
few times we did.
Funny thing was that every one of the 13 of us caught
bonefish the first day. New people, especially trout
chasers, usually don't get started that easily. It
is a testament to the guides and the preparations
taken by the new folks to have had this happen.
I was in with Alex the first day and he told me right off
"to get up and catch the first one so I can see how to do it."
The first three hours we looked for fish in the wide-open
areas of the NW part of the bay and found plenty of spooky
fish while standing on the nose of the boat in 25 knots of
wind. I tied knots in leaders and got some pretty good
shots in but did not get any fish to eat. I was convinced
the bones were shivering and could not chew. Alex was not
impressed and turned down any offer on my part to take my
place. We finally found a place up against the shore to
walk partly out of the wind. Alex and the guide walked
in water up to the tops of their ankles and I walked alone
outside of them at the knee-deep arena.
I got hooked up almost immediately on one I found about 40
feet out front. It was a classic fight and I had a chance
to show my partner how it was done. I didn't screw up,
fortunately. Within five minutes I watched as Alex,
all six-foot-four of him, was being shown a target off
at his eleven o'clock by the four-foot-eight guide
Phillippe. The posture was perfect, the first cast
looked perfect but he picked up and tossed a second
perfect 40-foot cast. The fish took it and he perfectly
set the hook and then cleared the line to the reel and
let the fish make a long run. The guide never had to
offer much help as the fight was perfectly handled and
soon he was smiling for picture with his first bone -
a three pounder if an ounce. The smile was wider than
the fish was long. I walked over to shake his hand for
such a masterful effort saying, "I have never seen a first
bonefish taken so well, from the cast to the landing."
He said back, "I suppose I can tell you then that I never
saw the fish until the guide picked it up." You have to
love an honest Texan!
That done, I figured I didn't have to worry about him
catching fish so I went back to my side of the walk and
continued. I might mention the first part of the day I
had changed flies every time I was pretty sure a fish
rejected one. The guide had chosen each one of them.
All alone, I changed to a pattern Lefty had shown me,
a craft fur shrimp, and caught the first fish on it.
This fly had been good most of the places we have fished
but the guides still don't know it well here. It was
later called, "killer fly" by both the guides who saw
it work. Here is an example of why it got called that:
Alex was soon "on point" again and tossing at fish off
to his left. I was about seventy feet right of him and
the guide. He picked up and threw the second cast at
his twelve and the third at his two o'clock. I then
picked up the two slightly spooked fish headed across
in front of me. They were not in full flight but
scooting along. I threw out in front of the two nice
bones, about ten feet, and moved the shrimp as they
rocketed towards it. One kept going but the second
almost bent in half turning to grab the little bug.
I was so startled at the side-on strike that I missed
the strip set. He hit it again when I still had slack
in the line. I pulled it out of the water for a second
cast and the fish went frantic looking for it. He was
all over the place searching and putting it near him was
hard. It landed where he had been a second before but
was off to his side about eight feet. He heard it hit
and romped over and ate it and four inches of leader
in a giant gulp. The guide was laughing at the antics
of this fish. He called it a "killer fly" for the first
Alex and Phillippe were on the stalk again and I stood
and watched. The perfect posture was not quite as good
this time but he managed to get hooked up just about
the time his rear foot slipped and distracted him. I
watched the fish take off as the rod almost bent in
half. Alex forgot to let go of the line this time and
it was about to break. The guide and I both yelled at
the same time to "let go" and he did but with the slightly
out of balance start to this episode, and then the release
of the line causing more unbalance, we ended up with a
very tall man dancing like a whooping crane in an earthquake.
The fish did its' thing and got landed but once the dance
act started the new guy syndrome lasted the whole fight.
He smiled sheepishly as he landed the fish probably to
let me know he was not 'perfect' after all.
We finished this first day with a couple fish more each
and neither of us damaged. I could not have had a more
fun start to the trip.
The hilarity stalked the bar after day one. Everyone had
caught fish despite the winds and folks also had shots
at permit and snook. Mary shamed us all by coming to
dinner dressed like a debutant. She had three fish for
the day and had enough energy to clean up unlike the
rest of us pigs.
Alex went to bed early after not having to tell one lie
at the bar and I quietly sneaked in after some serious
rum intake (he was my roomy) only to find him waiting
to ask questions about the day. Now that he had a chance
to see what was happening, he wanted to go the next step.
I tired to answer the machine gun delivered one line
'whys and hows' but I was pooped. Alex was talking
so fast it took him a half hour to hear my even breathing.
One thing did stick, that the "seven o'clock dinner was
pretty late and Alex needed fuel for sleep earlier."
Falling asleep early allows me to get up with the stars
setting and time to have coffee with Brian. We discussed
the fine start of the trip and I mentioned the late dinner
and in fact that the breakfast the day before was late
too. Brian stated it was the cook's clock and dragged
me in to see the big clock over the stove. It was about
forty minutes slow. I asked why he did not fix it and
he said the cook would cut his hand off for messing with
the running of his business. The cook is the 'God of the
Mexicans' and the kitchen in this place.
I passed Alex off to Unk for day two and went with my second
son Justin. Justin had fished with his brother the day
before and they were both happy about landing several
bones each. Not only catching them, but seeing and tossing
without the guide's help. That is the second stage in
bonefish hunting. The weather was the same for this day
with the wind only slightly more north still at the brisk
pace. It was another hard morning with little sun to help
in seeing fish and we had nothing as we started a walk at
about eleven. Once again, I gave Justin the guide inside
in the shallow water and I was in the deep. I like it
out there as the fish are bigger and there is a chance
to see permit farther outside.
We walked for about twenty minutes and Justin finally got
a shot. He tossed at a big bone only to discover it was
really a snook, out in the flat. The guide had the extra
rod with a snook/tarpon fly on it and handed it to Justin.
He stalked that snook and took some more shots at another
couple of snook when I got nice a big bone hooked up. I
had him on and into his second run when Justin started
throwing at a herd of snook, about ten of them. I was
watching him and trying to get my fish landed. I asked
for the other rod set up for snook and the guide yelled
back to the kid with the boat to run it up. Justin hooked
into a big snook about then and I got rid of my fish with
a quick release. Justin lost that one after a short fight
but I could see a school of about thirty of the monsters
out 50 yards in front of him. I got the other rod about
then as the snook started my way. Bone fishing was on hold.
I tossed in front of the mass of the fish and quick stripped
when it was just off the nose of the leader. One of the
followers snapped it up and I was off to the races.
I landed that one and we decided we needed a picture
as he was probably in the eight-pound range. Snook
catches are not all that common here and this was big
for the flats. I had both guides tied up with the camera
act and Justin was throwing at more fish.
Now, both armed for snook, we climbed up on a sand spit
and leapfrogged down the beach out to a point with fish
all over the place in the shallows within 20 to 30 feet
of the shore with a wind behind us to cast with. Not
only snook were sliding by, but also big jacks could be
seen flashing in and out to get what the snook were eating.
There were also large barracuda and I wanted to get into
them too. The group had taken up a $5 collection to give
the guide who got the biggest one of these toothy fish for
Snook in and among the mangroves are hard to attract
and you have to get it in front of them and wiggle it
to lure them out. My method in the flats of getting
hooked up was to use the "close to the nose" cast and
then a hard strip. I hooked and landed another one
almost at the next shot. Justin's casts were too wide
and he got hooked to a jack cravelle, which took him
to the backing. He got that in and I got a picture
before sighting another herd of snook coming. Justin
tossed and again got a jack but a much bigger one this
time. He was tied up while I landed my third snook.
He was still hooked to the jack when I switched to the
barracuda pole with the wire leader and was throwing at
the biggest one of them I had seen down there, about
five feet long. I didn't catch him but when another
four snook came by I hooked one on that rig and landed
him about the time Justin finally got the big jack in.
I'd guess it was a ten to twelve pound jack. It really
kicked Justin's butt.
Justin figured out how to see the jacks coming and to
get the hook in front of the snook. He finally hooked
and landed one of the beauties and we got pictures of
that one and his smile. I hooked another one on a
snook fly and lost it. I also got a couple of jacks
when I tried for them. They were everywhere a snook
I had made a funny foam surface fly that Brian Jones
named a "furgnurgler." I make wigglers and gurglers
and this was an offshoot. It floats and then when
stripped it dives and shakes its' head. I put one on
that looked like a drunken frog and the first cast at
a snook it got eaten. I then could not control it well
in the wind and had to take my turn at a couple of jacks.
Justin was busy avoiding jacks and tossing at snook as
they were still everywhere around us.
On the way back to the boat, back tracking about a
hundred yards; I hooked into a big one that fought
like a bull. It jumped and worked its' head so many
times it almost cut my sixty-pound bite tippet through
with the gills. We weighed this one with a scale and
it was just short of nine pounds. Many pictures were
taken of this one and Phillippe quietly asked if he
could take this one home to his family. The guides
can do that on a small scale, even here, but they
would never, without asking the angler his permission.
There seemed to be plenty of these fish so I did not
mind at all. They are probably more his fish than
Justin and I were actually tired of chasing snook
after an hour and a half of this fantastic activity.
I had the only bonefish, so we were going to eat
lunch and go after some more of them, or find a permit.
We did bust across the big bay to the side by Casa
Blanca but did not find fish on that downwind side
of the bay. It was cloudy cold water and windy over
there. We did get a close up tour of the bird island
on the way home. It was full of breeding frigate birds.
I ran the camera out of computer space after a bunch
of great shots.
On the long hard way back across the bay upwind, I tried
to figure out why I filled the camera so quickly. I had
some old pictures on it and needed to get rid of them to
have room on the disk. One of the little symbols on the
screen menu on the camera lets you take off a picture
at a time so I started with the first one to omit. My
guess was off as to the right symbol and approaching the
dock I clicked the wrong one and erased the entire 71
shots on the disk. The two fantastic days with thirty
great shots of many "firsts" were gone. I feel as bad
about that today, if I think hard about what was there,
but right then I was inconsolable. I just sat at the dock
in the boat until Justin came back and told me to "get
over it," but in much kinder words. I had to promise
myself to go back and catch all those fish again and
retake the lot. I started with the guide holding up
the last snook for another shot on my now empty disk:
One down, twenty-nine to go.
I was almost over the picture screw up when the first rum
hit the gullet. Day two was good for everyone again and
the bar was ripping. I noticed many more had showered
already and the stories were going strong. Arnold the
surgeon and Norm the champion had as many shots at snook
as we did but did not hook any for some reason. Arnold
did get a heck of a nice 'cuda though. It was
thirty-five inches, and on a fly.
In the discussion with him I got very interested in his
"art" of fishing. The snook thing was just the strip
technique and he got snook the next time he had a chance.
I was interested in the old rods and reels he was using
and he only threw shooting heads, none of these new
fangled ghost-tip wild weighted lines for him. We set
up a time to let me see his craft. Later, in talking
to Mary, she said he controlled all his stripped line
in loops by holding them in his lips. I was even more
With a few rums, I also accosted the cook about the late
meals but did not mention the clock to protect Brian.
I caused a real bustle to be dinner served on time.
I got to bed after Alex and again he was ready and waiting
with more questions. He had gotten another good day of
fishing with Unk and wanted to talk. He too had gotten
into the jacks and even landed a nice barracuda. He said
he would ask the important ones first. I tried. . .
Breakfast was offered up about a half hour earlier the
next morning and I asked Brian what had happened. He
said he snuck into the kitchen in the middle of the
night and corrected the clock undetected. Now the
cook was making the correction for the old setting and,
in effect we were getting a double fix. I asked why
the cook did not change the clock and Brian said that
would be admitting his clock was wrong so he would never
Travis, my oldest son, got stuck with me for the next day
and we really did more motoring than fishing. I had never
been skunked down here but there is always a first time.
I loved fishing with Trav and we had plenty to talk about.
We walked in very skinny water at sundown and Trav finally
got a fish and lost a few more in a beautiful up sun stroll.
On the walk out we picked up crabs and other creatures in
the sand discussing with the guide what ate what. Got some
ideas for more flies.
This night we pulled out a new Renzetti vice I carried down
for Brian and started tying flies. The doctor was giving
me advice on how to do some neat tricks and speed up my
tying. I was looking for a cutting device to snip off
some bead eyes and in a flash the doc whipped out his
pocket multi-tool and flipped it open. I took it and cut
the eyes off then the doc "mentioned" he had a "problem."
There was blood everywhere as he had gashed himself in the
quick-draw maneuver. He washed the knuckle with the rent
in it and showed us how to use super glue to hold a cut
closed. Glad he was the demonstrator AND the victim.
His tying suggestions stopped for a short while as the
The snook strips were quicker for Arnold this day even
if his knife draw was not. He nailed a 12-pound (Boga
grip measured) snook.
At bedtime, surprise, Alex had some more questions for me.
He said he could perhaps save effort if he required me to
answer after each couple of words. He was tired of talking
over my snores.
Next morning Arnold and I went out on the beach to show me
how he tossed all that line out of his mouth. He did fling
a line a long way but really only about as far as I could.
I managed to get the whole fly line out with my seven-weight.
I am not versed in shooting heads so it looked like a lot
of extra work to me. Others came down and I left my rod
to others so they could play in the sand with the doctor.
The first up was Fred and the venue was for bones and perhaps
snook. I had plenty of each on this trip so I was to be the
rod hander-upper as fish appeared. Fred started armed for
bonefish. A large fish popped up about fifty feet off
the nose and the guide yelled, "tarpon." Fred handed
the bone rod back on the left while I handed him the
snook/tarpon weapon on the right. I was trying to reel
up the line from one rod as Fred was stripping out the
line on the other. Then it became clear the "tarpon"
was really a permit lounging on the surface and now it
was at about 30 feet. I grabbed the permit rod and tried
to hand it to Fred. He was standing on the remaining
bonefish rod's line and wrapped up in the tarpon rod's
line and refused saying, "why don't you try to cast that
one." I was in the middle of the boat and the fish was
at the 2 o'clock position at 20 feet closing. I understood
the tasking but not the methodology needed. I stripped out
a few yards and did a roll cast 'near,' but behind the spot
the fish was last sighted. I was trying to get to the front
end of the boat and clear of Fred so I could put a back cast
out closer to the fish. I got the pole clear in front and
tried to pick up the fly for another try and the line went
tight. I'd hooked the fish. Better said, the fish hooked
As the fish took off like a scalded ass ape I climbed up
front and worked to loosen the drag as it was going to be
a long run for so large a fish. I pondered how the fish
had gotten to the fly, but then, you don't always see all
the fish in a group and often have one you did not see
take a fly tossed at another. Meanwhile, the fish kept
taking line. It paused and I tried to get some back but
it just started running again. With a hundred yards of
backing out it finally stopped and let me bring it back
in. It started back fast causing me to really work to
keep up. This was the way my last (and only) permit fought
me too. At half a fly line out, about 40 feet, the fish
started a sideways pull; also a permit-like tactic. I
finally got a clear look at the beauty about then and I
had a big bonefish hooked. He must have been lurking
around with the big permit. I was not disappointed, only
happily confused. I had, after all, gotten the first fish
and during Fred's half hour.
Fred got up again and things started popping. A couple
of big snook were sneaking along the bank and Fred got
about ten good shots at them. I think they saw the boat
as he got it in the mailbox a couple of times with no
bites. He then had a shot at a bunch of bonefish. He
had a shot and just about the time they were in perfect
range and position for the wind, the guide shouted,
"no fly." There had been a 'crack' on one of the back
casts so I repeated to Fred, "no fly," causing him to
break concentration and start looking for the end of
his leader to see what happened to the fly. I had my
rod out and rolled out another cast to the center of
the school of bones and one jumped on my line. I was
fighting this fish when Fred protested, "My fly is STILL
there." He had a valid point, as the proof was evident,
but I was fighting the second fish during his turn. I
was accused of trickery only Unk could have pulled off.
We fished hard the rest of the day and mostly for permit.
We got a few more bones but they were pop-up opportunities
and caught on permit crab flies.
One nice permit shot happened late in the day in the lagoon
near the camp. You could see the fish coming about half
a mile away with the size of hump he was making in the water.
He was searching the lagoon for food moving along at about
six or seven knots. When he got near, coming directly at
us off the nose, I put the fly right off his nose and
started stripping to keep up with him. He was off to
one side of my line when he saw the fly and moved right
over behind it. I stripped along waiting for the tug but
he looked hard and went on by us. He was a monster.
The guide said I might have been stripping to fast.
I count it as just another hard to please permit.
Permit fishermen do not get upset with a fish that
does not eat. I am not sure if most of them even
It was a great day of discussions and fun with an old
buddy and the sunset and double rainbow accompanying us
to the dock was special. It seemed the end of the
brightest rainbow hit directly where we had the shot
at the big permit. I hope he got the prize at the end.
As we washed up rods Travis, my oldest, came in and
reported he 'had a permit landed today.' Now two out
of three of the Yates family members have touched this
kind of fish. He was not claiming victory much as he
was tossing at a bonefish at the time it struck and it
was less than a pound in size. Both the take and the
size sounded familiar. I had seen a fish like that
included in a grand slam once. A permit is a permit
no matter how it was taken. Travis' permit was enough
to open the single malt scotch we brought along for
such an occasion. One of us brings one on each trip
and will take it home still sealed if a permit is not
Travis also had a story about a big snook Rick coaxed
out of some trees by hanging the fly over a limb and
bouncing it on the top of the water until the fish was
driven crazy and busted out of the hole to smash the fly.
He landed the fish.
Alex had one hard day of fishing with Bob, highlighted
by the guide cracking him on the head with the pole,
almost knocking him out. The poles these guys use are
ten-foot, two-inch thick mangrove tree trunks. When he
got his senses back, and it took a bit, he looked back
at the cowering guide and asked him if, "he would kindly
clean the sand off the pole before clobbering him the next time,
it messes up my coiffed curls." I saw the lump on his
head and accepted he had some important questions before
lights out but don't remember if I answered. I was pooped
from fighting Fred's fishes all day.
Brian was still alive but slept with one eye open just
in case the cook found out what happened. I was sworn
to secrecy and the camp was on "Scud Standard Time"
until the slow running clock returned itself to "Cook
With dawning of the fifth day, the prettiest sunrise so
far, I was standing on the beach throwing at fish before
breakfast or even coffee. The nervous water was
everywhere at first light. First casts got nothing when
Brian sent a green and white Clouser fly down to me.
I put it on and the first time it hit the water I was
hooked up to small but spirited fish. I pulled up a
cousin of the permit, the palametto. It is much smaller
and perhaps even more rare than permit to catch. Instead
of the black splotch on the side behind the side fin, it
has three light vertical bars. I let the little beauty
go and started the day already ahead on a slam.
Another great partner from the past, Rick, thought he
could keep me from stealing his fish and said he would
fish with me. We had both sat and watched each other
get slams (three kinds of fast fish) on separated days
on other trips. The wind went back to northwesterly
and Phillippe tried another spot south across the bay
down by the airport, if you could call it that, beside
Casa Blanca resort. We saw bonefish right off but they
were hard to get to bite. As soon as I switched to my
little fur shrimp and had another one of the bones do a
'kabuki' dance trying to get it in his mouth, we started
catching. We both used the fly and both caught fish that
ate it so deep we had to cut the fly off and give it to
them. Sometimes that is better than trying to get a deep
hook out. The theory is they pass them quickly when the
hook rusts away in a few days. When I cut the line and
released one fish I thought he smugly left saying to
himself, "at least he let me keep that shrimp." The
"Killer fly" name was mentioned by the guide again.
I had shown his son how to tie that fly the night before,
but had to promise him I would give him a few when I left.
I brought about six dozen with me and had handed them out
to almost everyone there, even the cook talked me out one.
We dinked around on the south side of the bay and had a
couple of permit shots but no takes. I thought I saw
George Anderson, a friend leading a group to Casa Blanca,
but the guide would not go too close to them as we might
scare their fish. We ate lunch on Iguana Island but the
lizards were all gone. The last time there we were hailed
by the hungry hoards of them and shared our lunch lest we
became lunch. There had been a camp there and they might
have been all eaten or one of the two storms this season
might have washed them away. More than likely, they were
scooped up and smuggled into the states for pet shops.
These were all black iguanas, which are rare and protected,
The last stop of the day was on the far side of the bay
near where I had attended Justin's snook party on day two.
No snook to be found but the guide suggested we put permit
flies on and try the deep water at the mouth of the big
side bay and see what we could dredge up. I tossed a crab
out and quickly got a jack ripping line off. The guide
said almost anything could be down there. Rick, seeing this,
tied on a surface popper and commenced to slay jacks, one
after the other. Some of them would miss and cartwheel
out of the water snapping at the fly. The guide really
wanted us to get a good fish but seeing this, I switched
to a popper and we both caught tough hitting, hard pulling
jacks for the next hour. It was a great way to end an
otherwise slow day.
Rick hooked into a large one and had his fly line snapped
in two as he, one of the most experienced fly throwers I
have ever fished with, was standing on his line. That was
a $50 mistake I am sure is in my future.
We got back and listened to Norm say he had hooked a big
snook that had stripped off all his line and then the fly
line had separated at the backing. I guess he missed the
briefing on how much drag to use (plenty with snook) and
that a nail knot was not good enough for big saltwater
fish. His line was the same color as the bottom so they
could not find it when the fish ducked into the mangroves.
Another lesson to pass on to others. Thank goodness he
gets his lines cheaper being a guide.
Justin, the snook slayer from day two reported Travis
had masterfully worked one out of the trees and got it
to bite and landed it. He replaced one more picture
on my disk.
This night the staff had done a little work for me on a
party and we had "coco locos" for the drink of the night.
They take a green coconut and cut hole in the top, flatten
the bottom and mix a drink of rum, vodka and mescal along
with the coconut water. It is more than smooth and instead
of making for a great party, it had most in bed right after
dinner. I am not sure if Bob even ate. The lesson here was
have this night early on for an icebreaker, not after five
hard days when folks need sleep.
The boys and I did not go to sleep after even three coco
locos and ended up standing in the ocean knee deep in a
flood of moonlight debriefing life and our family in general.
Great night but I might have forgotten some of the hits I
got when we got bringing up my flaws. Fred joined us for
the special moment and probably got some debriefing items
too. Travis was asking a bunch of questions on how to raise
kids for some reason but it was not clear if he was going
to remain standing so Justin took him off to bed.
The Last Day
The last day started late for my last fishing team, about
10 AM. We actually needed the sleep. Like the last time
I did a trip with both boys along, the last day we fished
together as a team of three. The guide did not seem to
mind. We demand nothing but seeing the beauty of the place
and the time together. The morning brought few fish but
good fun while our heads cleared. Many pictures were taken
for future embarrassing moments. Our goal with the late
start was to stay until after dark in our favorite spot,
hopefully having it to ourselves.
We gave up on the rest of the bay early and had lunch at
the mouth of the flat called "Paradiseo." It was where
I caught my first bonefish ever and so had our departed
friend Jim Buckingham. We once held his memorial where
we now sat and ate. The walk into the sunset together
was to start here today.
The day had been sunny and warm, despite the continuing
wind, with that being a criteria for the fish to pep up
and start coming back in from the depths to get warm and
start eating again. We had barely started with fanning
out to walk away from the afternoon sun when Travis had
his first fish on. He got the second and we switched
Justin over with the guide and he started catching.
I was off in the middle of the ten-inch deep pond and
they were on the shoreline to the left. The fish were
spooky and the kids got close by staying on the shore
and sneaking up on them. When I finally stopped walking
and let the others get ahead of me the fish started flowing
by in twos and threes giving me constant shots. I got three
almost in a row and then started trying to pick out the big
ones to toss at. I managed to lose several flies with break
offs by big fish. It was so shallow that I was cutting the
eyes off my fur shrimp to keep it from sinking so fast. Of
course, with the eyes off the hook rotates down instead of
up and I got many weeds along with fish.
A situation like this makes time fly and soon the kids were
yelling for me to catch up as they were going to work their
way through the mangroves to our last flat for the sunset.
I still had many fish coming by so told them I could find
the way, go on without me.
I fooled around for a bit and then thought I was missing
something and went after them. At first I could not find
the path they took even though I could hear them hooting
up ahead. I finally found footsteps in the mud and
followed along a trail that also had a big tail mark
and footprints from a large saltwater alligator. I
hoped they followed it instead of the other way around.
When I got to open water again, both of them were in the
middle of the flat about twenty yards apart hooked up
and fighting fish. Between us were hundreds of tails
and fins out of the water.
We were looking right at the sun as it got ready to set
and the gold color reflected off the fish like twinkling
Christmas tinsel. Tails looked like tails but the back
fins look like tiny sailboats tacking up wind. As I got
closer and tried to cast to a fish, I would land the line
on another dozen I did not see and spook the ones I was
trying for. Justin got another on and that one, running
around in the pond, was sending fish in all directions.
It looked like a NASCAR track in one of the big pile-ups.
Travis gave his rod to Phillippe and started taking pictures.
I looked back and he hooked up on the first cast behind us
as Justin fought on. It took me a while to remember how to
hook a bone in low light. You have to get it close and
then barely move the fly along. They hear it moving in
the mud instead of seeing it. I finally caught one but
the beauty of the fins and sun as the angle of the sun got
lower was a sight not to throw at, but to just look and
Just when sensory overload was near, off my left shoulder
came a soft whooshing as hundreds of white Ibis started
passing about twenty feet away heading right into the
sun going to the mangrove island a hundred yards in front
of us. The sky screaming red and gold, white birds
reflecting the colors from above and fins and water
from below left us speechless. We stood and held our
breath as the sun disappeared. Phillippe, who lives
here year around and has probably seen this a million times,
was quiet as a mouse too. I know it is a job for him but -
what an office.
We walked out while the birds argued loudly about what
branch and with whom they would sleep. It was a long
walk and then the stars blurted onto the black canvas
of night lighting our way. The moon was hours away
from washing them out. This added to the hush and
even the boat motor on the way home seemed quieter.
The fish in the water along side of us would turn on
swirls of phosphorescence when we spooked them. I
wonder how many times this might happen again. . .the
boys and me together in a setting like this. I, again,
doubted this could be repeated, but a few years back,
with the brother of Phillippe, we had a day together
and an ending like this, that I then thought could
not ever be matched. Let's hope I was wrong again.
Back at the camp, all fishing done, some packed, some drank.
Norm, recovering from having his butt kicked by the snook
and having to leave early, had a day with finally landing
a snook and then had a choice of throwing at tarpon or
permit at a single moment. He took after the tarpon
and hooked two but landed none. I guess our briefings
had not gotten into how hard it was to keep a tarpon
on the line. He did say, "Boy, they really EXPLODE."
I assure you YOUR first tarpon will bring out that
Jarrett had landed a big barracuda, bigger than Arnold's,
claimed the prize for his guide. Only, his was "trolled"
up. I had not specified, only assumed it would be, by fly.
Arnold was miffed as he should have been and that will make
me be clearer the next time. Who would think a certified
fly casting teacher would ever troll? The barroom lawyers
cleared up the debate for me and I am not sure who got the
money, but one guide was richer by a little. At least we
had the 'cuda targeted this year and caught some. They
are a highly underrated fighting fish. Mary had one almost
wear her arm off.
One van left early and I got up to say 'so long.' Our van
did not leave until noon so the boys, Unk, Alex, Mary and
I had an unrushed breakfast and then played on the beach.
We pulled chairs into the gentle surf and I fished for
passing jacks. I got a blue runner to bite but wanted
to get a rainbow runner like Unk had the other day, just
to see one.
Alex finally got me at a time of day when I was not sleeping
and asked the questions he had saved. I was afraid he was
going to talk so long he might lose his voice. I have not
heard so many "why" questions, since Justin was eight.
Alex had hurt his foot from walking so had caught little
the last two days without the walking available to him.
All in all, I was extremely impressed with his stamina
and fishing ability. He spent every day all day with us
mid-lifers, and then with the kids, slashing away at the
fish in winds even more unrelenting than he plays golf
in down Texas way where he lives.
The ride back was no fun and too long again. We did
stop for a trinket search and to eat. Unk and Travis
were dropped off for a flight home and Mary, Alex,
Justin and I went back to the resort hotel for a
night of rest before the next day flights. When
we arrived, the beer drinkers from the night before
were solidly supporting the beer industry still and
had the brewery starting to put on an extra shift.
One of them had left a full three-tiered box of
flies at the lodge. Beer drinking and packing
might have been mutually exclusive.
Justin went back to body surfing as he had on the
way up and some of us older guys took naps. We had
a restful night and great dinner with fish stories
aplenty. I still did not hear any lies, as the
stories were just too good and really happened.
The flight home was calm and almost forgettable. I
can bet on Alex's flight someone got an earful. He
still had things to say if he could find someone not
asleep. Alex did email the next day to say he had
the wrong rod tube. Rick had suspected the beer
drinkers and searched in vain all over, leaving
with his rods packed in with Bob's.
A side-story came up about Travis and the airport
security. It seems they thought his fly collection
stored in the end of his rod case was highly suspicious.
At least the one beer drinker did not have to worry about
that. When he flashed his "Tom Cruise" smile at the
lady she recoiled and then suspected his rod was a
machine gun. He had to back track in a million people
line and check the rod and flies. Upon return to the
check station they took his bag down to the threads
looking for the bombs they were sure he was carrying.
Meanwhile, Unk stood beside him with a case with three
rods in it and a massive batch of flies and was waived
right on through. Strange, looking like a blond Arab
terrorist just does not pay.
We look forward to seeing each and every one of these
folks again on future trips, either with Unk and me,
or Jarrett setting it up. We fit together pretty well.
I'll work toward setting up another trip in the spring
and at least one in the fall. May time frame I may
have a venue for the beginning giant tarpon fisherman.
Tarpon are really graduate level fish and expensive to
chase. I am working with Bucktail charters of Venice
Beach, Fl to get a lodge and guides to catch some of
these monsters. You will be able catch them on fly,
spin or live bait. Let me know if you are interested.
Also, for you westerners, a friend is running a Hell's
Bay boat on Flaming Gorge lake chasing "golden bones."
These are fished just like bonefish, flies and all,
and run in the ten to thirty pound range. You get many
shots and can expect to land a dozen if you are good at it.
Carp are what I am talking about. I think he has a killer
venue and worth a try. I'll pass his numbers if you are
interested. ~ Capt Scud Yates