I enjoyed the privilege of spending two weeks on two islands in the northern Bahamas and returned two weeks ago. Bad news first. My friend meeting me in Andros from NY missed his JFK flight due to construction on the bridge he had to drive over. He made it as far as Ft. Lauderdale and the next morning had to take a one person charter to get to Fresh Creek. The guide I had arranged for us to fish with...a terrifically talented, bright and articulate young man and I elected to fish locally until he showed up in camp and we would then retrieve him and head out. We didn't get very far. Though he has a modern skiff with a new 4 stroke motor, it kept stalling out. Turned out to be the oil pump...parts needed from Nassau. My bud arrives and this guide's uncle is called upon to fish us. I've know this experienced senior guide for some time and like him a lot...and he sees fish unbelievably well...but for my skilled but somewhat less experienced flats fishing friend; "C'mon Mon, over der left of Noon", is not a descriptive confirmation of where he should be looking. To make matters worse, we had extra high and slow to go out morning high tides so we were up the creeks in mangroves each morning. But we caught fish, I had picked up a liter of Glenfidich at the Nassau duty free to wash the conch fritters down with and we had a fine if brief North and Middle Bight experience for three days, just not with the guide and boat I had intended. Then we flew back to Nassau ending the "conventional" segment of this adventure. He returned to NY and work and, two hours latter, I connected with two other friends and was in the air to Marsh Harbour on Abaco. This was an "Invitational", shirts with custom logo and all, from an outdoor journalist friend from Texas. Six of us in total of whom I knew two converged in a small settlement where we had arranged for independent guides. By now the tides had improved dramatically.
Stone Crab claws. One is harvested then the crab released to regrow it.
A fly caught Rainbow Jack...also good to eat.
We don't eat the bonefish though.
After a first half day fun shake out, the next morning dawned with mild breezes and mostly sunny skies and off our three boats went to make a 45 min. run to a remote Cay. Our guide motored into a bight and we started seeing fish immediately. It was a low incoming tide and bonefish in big schools, smaller groups and singles and doubles too were coming from the adjacent deep onto the flats. There was a white, hard sand edge to the big flats western edge and we could see schools on it from a distance. My partner got out of the skiff and waded in this bonefish highway while we poled south east of him. Every time we glanced his way he was casting. We picked up some fish too as groups tailed toward us over a mottled bottom of turtles grass and sand. Then the guide said to me, "Look at the single fish over that white spot at 12"O'clock maybe 125 feet". It looked black over white it was so clearly visible and it was undoubtedly big, 10 or 12 pounds perhaps. My guide turned the boat to give me a better shot as I wanted to present the Sideways Crab to him from as far as I could accurately cast. At approximately 75' I showed him the fly but I was off by at least a foot and he turned like, what was that? The second cast was worse and now he was alert to something not being right. My third and last cast was the best and were it the first we might have hooked up but by then he'd had enough and put up an impressive wake as he streamed away. We motored back up the flat finding fewer fish so we picked up my pard and had lunch.
Our next flat was an large interior lagoon carpeted in turtle grass and, as we poled in we saw little. But towards the mangrove encircled back end we started finding fish, lots of fish mostly in schools and my partner got one quickly, then I got up and got another then my friend again. This flat was not only rich in bonefish but there must have been at least 30 turtles in there of all sizes, poking their pale heads out of the water to check us out then streaking off at speed.
The afternoon was waning and the wind was kicking up but our guide wanted to fish one more big flat in the first cut through the island on our way back. We found a few small groups of bones but it was not loaded with them and we commenced to pole toward the cut to open water. It was my turn to fish when the guide said, "Hey, Mon, get ready, I see a fish." We slowly closed on this solo fish and, when in range, I cast a Shrimp Cocktail which I had tied the evening before after dinner. Two short, slow strips, a pause and drop and the fish was on it, streaking deep into the colored string. Once able to regain the backing and a little line and I said, rhetorically, this fish is not done, it is going to run again and, on queue, off it went, sizzling into the backing again. Then something went wrong, I picked up a mass of seaweed on my line causing awkward and fish landing limiting excessive drag and, all but simultaneously, a large fin showed above the flats surface. A big Lemmon, perhaps bigger than six feet, had sensed the bonefish's alarm signals and charged...but accidently attacked the trailing weed instead, boiling massively on the surface, not cutting my line but dislodging much of the weed. I brought the fish to the skiff as quickly as possible while instructing my friend to prepare my Nikon and just fire away while the guide grabbed the leader and scooped up the bonefish to capture a few frames of us with the fish and, yes, the grey bearded guy is me. He then had me hold the fish in the water on the non-shark side of the boat as he wisely poled to skinny water against the mangroves. There, protected form Mr. Tooth, we were able to fully revive and safely release this fine fish. A successful but adventuresome bonefish encounter which gave us a warm glow to aid in sustaining us through the pounding and soaking ride back to camp over seas churned by the oncoming wind we would spend the rest of our trip hiding from.
Guide, bonefish and s&s.
I knew there was a massive "Polar Vortex" up North that might reach us and our last two days found us hiding from the wind. Bahamian guides know where the fish live and what the wind will do where and they successfully as possible found sheltered flats for us. I am into conservation even preservation thus opposed to Bahamian exports of conch to the States lest they wind up like our Conch Republic in the Florida Keys. But, when in the environment, I am grateful for the local bounty of oceanic wild food and we came upon the biggest shoal of conch I've seen in many years. Taking what was need for his wife to prepare us a feast, conch destined to be fritters followed by cracked conch, were collected with a promise not to share their location with any local fishermen.
A fine flat in the lee.
Conch for dinner!
My tackle worked fine, in fact I really only fished two rods the whole trip, both 8-weights. Now I would have loved and tried to get a loaner Sage SALT #9 for this trip but being back ordered due to popularity precluded one being available for me. NRX, mounted with Nautilus NV Giga 8 and an SA Textured Bruce Chard Grand Slam line was the Sideways Crab rod and Scott's S4s #8 rigged with a new-to-me Ross F1 with an Airflo Tropic Ridge Bonefish had the Shrimp Cocktail knotted to it. Both had hand knotted Fluorocarbon 12' leaders tapered to 15# tippets. The host of our trip besides being a fine writer is also an expert caster and fly tier. He likes tradition and ties classic flies with history and stories about their developers. Coming to maturity as an angler during the "Match the Hatch" revolution; I eschew Crazy Charlies and Gottchas favoring fur, feather, Mylar and silicone legged crab and shrimp imitations based on observations in nature. They work and I rarely have a guide say (though he may think), "What's dat? No, knot on dis Gottcha". Both rods did everything I asked of them, smoothly and with lots of line speed...as long as I had enough line out the tip-top to load them up. A 30' shot at fish materializing out of the glare next to the boat is not the forte of a quick and powerful bonefish rod, especially with a long leader. I can't say enough good stuff about Nautilus's NV; it looks, feels and sounds just right, is perfectly proportioned, has gobs of capacity, the drag is smooth engaging, has more stopping power than I need and I favor a stout drag setting and it has never let me down. It looks like it was made for NRX. Well, Ross's F1 looks like it was made for Scott's S4s too. Built in the same town, Montrose, CO, its matt anodized aluminum color is all but identical to the rod's reel seat and, like NV it features lots of sweep area in a sealed disc drag. It too is exceptionally smooth and strong and does not get the attention it deserves. But it does have a draw-back; it is 1.35 inches in width compared with the Nautilus's 1". Some have read my rails against too wide, too shallow spools on performance oriented reels and, though I never came close to jamming a pillar, I found myself putting twice the attention to regaining backing and line uniformly on the F1 than on the NV. Build an "F1 Mk.II" larger in diameter and narrower in width and Ross will have a truly great reel at a reasonable price.
Hosed down rods and reels.
The rod room.
We all had fun, caught plenty of fish, drank four cases of Kalick and a prize bottle of aged rum. We tied flies each evening, modifying in size and or color in ways we though would improve their effectiveness...I found adding a hint of pale olive sparkle was an asset...and we all caught bones on our own flies, a good feeling. I determined to my satisfaction that the textured surface (not Sharkskin but Textured) does NOT spook bonefish on the strip as believed by a couple of experienced guides I trust and fish with, however, the SA, Chard designed, Grand Slam textured line I enjoyed using will now be offered by Airflo with their quit Ridge and non-stretch core technology which may be better than the SA in this application anyway. Returning home from wind and then rain too in the Bahamas to the cold of the north east was uneventful and simply a real life necessity to thoroughly clean gear, edit photographs and learn that the World is in worse shape than when I left it for the "Better in the Bahamas", engaging suspension of what passes for reality at home.
Washed and drying reels.