World Wide Fishing!

Women are from Venus and Men go to Mars Bay
Trip date: July, 2002

By Capt. Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Photo by the Author

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 first.

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 "mon."

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 that big.

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.

Capt. Scud

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 day one.

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 the story.

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

More Fly Fishing in the Caribbean:
Montanans Go To Andros
Peacock Bass Fishing in Puerto Rico
Grand Bahama Island - Bonefish
Grand Bahama Bonz
Dr. Bill & Skeep on Andros Island
Amateur Bonefisher On Andros

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