Mexico 2002 ~ Ascension Bay
People photos and text by Capt. Scud Yates

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.

Air View of Pesca Maya

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 started

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, fifteen miles.


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.

Cabins at Pesca Maya

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 time then.

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 his customer.

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 was not.

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 any man's.

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.

Guide Phillipi and snook

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 interested.

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 do that.

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 glue dried.

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 himself.

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 have mouths.

Bob and Permit 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 landed.

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 Standard Time."

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, I think.

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.

Travis and nice snook

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 ponder at.

Last Night

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 expression.

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.

Going Home

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


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