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The Bahamian Rhapsody I
Let's chill… Paul's intro
A couple of months ago the 'gang of 4' as Tomaz puts it enjoyed 'Bonefish Trip' to the Deadmans Cay area of Long Island in the Bahamas. It was Tomaz' first and I know he couldn't wait to write his report. He asked me to add a few comments but as this is Tom's report I'll keep it as brief.
I love bonefishing, for all the reasons you read in the books and then some! Let me state here that as far as Im concerned, there is no better quarry to persue with a fly rod. Furthermore, for me, the term 'bonefishing' conjours up images and experiences to warm me in the coldest winter months. Im also 100 per cent in agreement with the late Leon Chandler, one of my early bonefish mentors, who once told me that he liked bonefishing because he liked the places they live. But, there is something more to add to the melting pot, its true of every trip, bonefishing or not, and that is the people you go with and the people you meet. And for this reason, the folks made this trip one of the most enjoyable and memorable of my experience.
For my part Id like to start at the end and list a few of the things that stick in my mind as simply as possible. So here goes...
Fishing with Tomaz again who I know, from long experience, to be an expert flyfisherman and watching his self education in the fine art of bonefishing, a more dedicated, focussed and skillfull sportsman I've yet to meet.
The Gang of 4
Simon, Ian, Tomaz and Myself gelled perfectly within minutes of meeting up.
Inch and Champ, great guys. Patient, competent, knowledgeable, flexible, reasonable, and with a great sense of humour 10 out of 10.
Calm, sunny, not too hot. Perfect spotting conditions. Could not have been better. 10 out of 10
Classic wade fishing for lots of very spooky, average size fish. I fished the whole week with a 6 weight. Absolutly superb. 10 out of 10
The bargain of the century!
There you go, just re read the above and you have the makings of a great trip But... THERE IS MUCH MORE.
Species Caught (are you ready for this?)
Bonefish of course and plenty of them.
At least 3 species of Jacks
Lemon Sharks to 5 feet long
Spinner Shark to 8 feet long (t-shirt winner) and I'll never forget the look on Ians face when I told him what he'd hooked
Yellowfin Tuna (actually half of it, the rest went with the shark)
Barracuda to 5 feet long
Favorite songs of the trip
'Mama Dont Like No Rakin And Scrapin Round Here' and that other Bahamian classic! 'Call The Fire Engine'. Whenever I put on the Island Jams CD I took home with me it all comes flooding back.
New food experiences
Land crab with peas and rice!
Freshly caught and BBQ'd Mahi Mahi (Yeah Mon!!)
Many and varied, BBQ's, parties and "rake and scrape"
One (Lemon Sharks run a lot faster and harder than bonefish)
Apart from those Tom mentions I'd like to add:
- The Cartwrights Bay Special.
- The Bonefish CDC and Elk. Don't be fooled by this one its not what you think;-)
- The Long Island Tutti Fruitti.
And finally watching the sun set with a cool beer in hand as we gently sailed across Thomson Bay in a traditionally rigged Bahamian Sloop. Unforgettable.
The Bahamian Rhapsody
By Tomaz Modic
...seemed to be the most important local commitments, but I just had to break the rule #2 a few times after so many accumulated problems last week, such as canceling three seminars, two sets of antibiotics, possible pneumonia if not in bed for a week, rescheduling first flight and getting all the papers for my Bahamian Visa, but it all kind of setteled down when I checked in for the flight No.1 at the Venice airport.
Jaypee (AKA sponsor :-) was very kind and drove me over, so the family was left on our coast enjoying the warm spring weather. (the main reason for that was the Simms 40-50 SPF pants and waterproof lumbar bag that we picked up on the way at the office in Trieste, but we never tell just everything, do we ;-)
So… soon I was in Bristol, recovering from the week in bed, desperate to get Paul on the phone because believe it or not, Easyjet managed to land there 15 minutes ahead of the planned time! Before I managed to get my mobile phone to work, I was in the diesel SW, practicing English again. (Usually it takes about 2 days for me to accomodate to it and start "thinking" in english*) Later I will go deeper into that language mess from Slovenian to Italian, then from our mostly "american" English to "english" English and finally to the "bahamian dialect"! that is really something to experience.
As usual, Paul never lets you down with his organizing skills, so my only concern was that I will get that "10 minute TBC-like cough" while asking for a visa in the Bahama's house in London.
Luckily Cherylin (by then after all that visa mess, we already called ouselves by first names!) asked me to give her an hour and come back later to pick the ready passport. Great timing – I thought. Not to mention the opportunity to visit the big flyshop in the neighbourhood (again*) and buy some, you know… "stuff"
Everything ended up well and we went to Simon's place to prepare for the big bird next day.
Strangely three of our four bags had the exactly the same weight! (29 kilos or just about 60 lbs. – we must have followed the same bonefishing trip check list*) and since we were 1 kg under the weight limit, after about 10 hours and something "the gang of four" started sipping the first few of many Kaliks (local beer). This time not in the Forbidden city in China (youngsters see Google for "gang of four"), but in the hotel in Nassau, chatting with some other anglers and hardly waiting to wet their lines. (Actually just a litlle later, Ian's new rod was tested right in front of the hotel, just to make sure that there was no fish.)
Night was short. That happens easily when you wake up at 3 am and start walking around under European biorhytm taking some night/early morning photos and trying to figure out why the video camera doesn't work. Before I got through the manual it was time to check in for the fligt #3.
I still don't know how we got to the right gate and plane because I am sure none of us really understood well the announcements by the local clerk. I think we just followed the time scheme of the flight (actually we followed the best looking employee of the Southern air or better the Nassau airport – easy! (that BTW charged us extra for carrying that much weight…) and there was only one gate open at that time.
I thought the Adria Airways uses the smallest jets, but now I can confirm 100% that I was wrong. It is kind of obvious when you have to tell your body weight before you can get the ticket…! When the bottom of your seat is supposed to help you swim!*!?… When passengers must use the stairs "one at the time only"! and the height of the machine is about 1,4 meters or about 4½ feet (poor Paul)…
Everything went smoothly and after about an hour we were on the spot - unpacking. Unfortunately my Sony digi video didn't want to work and the "moisture" sign kept on blinking for the whole trip and even few more days after my return to Ljubljana.
House looked great and in less that 30 minutes Paul was already in front of the house, casting to something he believed was bonefish. It was actually a small cuda, but I got the first idea how difficult it will be to spot fish in that kind of water.
Since I'm already talking about fish, I think it's time to start the real-fishing part of our report.
Sun, warm weather, light breeze… great!
Comparing to the rest of the gang it took me a bit more time to prepare for the first bonefishing afternoon in my life. Boat was there, Inch was there (that would be guide #1 from now on) and I got in somehow too, constantly thinking that I forgot something.
Lesson #1 was not to be afraid while planning with 30 mph+ in what seemed like couple of Inches of water. After some high speed boating (and a bit of engine trimming) we came to "the spot" which was a simple flat - nice, big but not huge like some others later. Paul and Inch pushed me in front of the boat and I was there - bonefishing. WOW!
Couple of pieces of advice from experienced Inch on how to prepare, stand, etc. and we started to look for bones.
Funny thing this poling and searching...
After few minutes Inch whispered:
"Bones... 2 o'clock... get ready, Tom, still far away tho..."
"Yup, said Paul... see'um"
I tried to see the fish, but nothing there...
"There, 1 o'clock now... moving to the left", said Inch, starting to position the boat.
Ooooo... now I got it... I thought! That's just another of Paul's way of joking with "Bloody Russians" again... and this time he combined forces with Inch to fool the poor novice to stare in the water looking for fish that are not there like some idiot.
It wouldn't be the first time and not the last either and besides it sounded almost like logical explanation to me... so I checked with my eyes under my darker polaroids without turning the head too much if the blokes are laughing their ****es off.
They seemed kinda focused... was it just a good team job of acting or what?
The game went on for ages. At least it seemed that way. Were they fooling me or not?
Normally I see fish very well and there were NONE!
"Coming up, can you reach 'em?"
Reach WHAT? There were no fish in the range of a fully stretched fly line and definetely none in my casting range (don't worry, I never ever managed to cast a whole line... yet)
"1 o'clock mon, 20 yards, cast!!!"
To what? I was still not sure if they were fooling me.
And then shock-BAM!
"Holy -censored-, now I see the -censored-!"
I went from fully stretched to low as I could - fish were coming right at us!
Finally I saw at least 5-8 dark lines moving at us about 17 meters away and managed to cast Paul's proven gotcha about 1 meter in front of them. They came closer and when I did my first "bonefishing strip" in my life!
One of the fish took my fly. The famous hesitation that happened almost every time later too, made me think that it was a small fish.
While my fly line and backing was out and going, Paul was laughing and talking about that we were not ready for it (my first bonefish – podcast for Martin etc.).
Anyway the fish turned back towards me, and I started retrieving the line as fast as I could, but the barbless hook helped the first fish produce the first LDR of the trip.
But that wasn't it yet: I reeled in and said that it was "nice" Ok I should have been far more enthusiastic and thankful, I admit.
After all without them I'd never be able to see and cast to those few fish in that big place.
"How many of 'em were there?" I asked.
"Mhmmmmmm, 'bout hundred!*" Said Inch.
That was it for me until the evening when we were wading and I finally did everything right.
Most of the fish before were lost because the "freshwater style of setting the hook" as Paul said. I was also using my version of gotcha, just a bit smaller and with clear V-rib over the body. That evening I managed to land my first bonefish (three altogether) and I'll remember that day forever.
I can say now that my favourite style of bonefishing is wading and stalking fish and that was exactly what I did there for the rest of the trip.
Believe it or not that's also exactly what Paul predicted in one of his emails that helped me get through our last winter.
Bowing to the king
Next day looked perfect. No clouds, no wind and that’s about all we needed. Again I was combined with Inch and this time with Ian. Big surprise was when the guide asked us if we want to go after tarpon first. I didn’t have to be asked twice for that.
We picked the heaviest rigged rod at that time which was #9 and off we went. Inch spotted fish first (no wonder – if youre standing 1,5 meters higher than the clients). It was much easier than bones, at least the seeing part. Big dark fish swimming in small schools like small submarines. Funny, each time they appeared I heard music from "Jaws" in my head and it just kept on coming also with every bonefish school coming right at me later in the trip!
So seeing was easy but not the rest. They were spooky just like bones and they refused all my darker flies.
I suggested Inch that we changed the fly and try the favourite fly of my friend and guide from the Keys, John O’Hearn. That move payed off immediately. The fish took the fly on the first cast and before I tried to set the hook “the saltwater way” the fish was running and jumping all over the place.
I never had anything on my fly rod doing things like that so far. Inch was giving me advice from the back to "bow to the King" while in the air and I tried to follow it. Remembering one old Billy Pate video and that I haven’t really set the hook yet, I tried to do it from the first moment when fish finally did some swimming IN the water and my rod tip was in perfect (low) position. Somehow the hook was well in where it should be and after some more explosions – fish was landed. "15-16lb" said Inch. Small one, but huge for me!
My first ever tarpon in my life. Carefully the fly was cut off and dried, because my good friend at home will frame it for me, together with my improved Gotcha, that helped me land my first bones the evening before.
Ian had his camera ready and some pics for the record were taken, but like a complete greenhorn I forgot to take my hat off. So the shiny silver king is about all we can see in that picture with my face fading in almost complete darkness. Lesson learned? Well, almost.
BUT! Ian also informed me that he had some nice pics of me and the fish while the tarpon was jumping! He took them in the “sports” mode! Now THAT is something you can’t have every day and I am very thankful for his equipment, work and abilities. Great job!
Completely relaxed I was ready for the whole day of bonefishing that was about to happen after the first hour of this beautiful Sunday morning - a dirty job indeed, but someone has to do it. Even on Sunday.
Not long after the first tarpon, Ian and I had a privilege to see what bonefishing in the "muds" looks like. First one was a bit small, but the second produced fish almost on every cast. The most important thing was to land the bonefish ASAP or with other words - before the sharks get to them. So we used leaders only (no tippet!) and broke some world records in landing and releasing the fish in seconds. Clousers worked best but we soon ran out of Paul's "donations" and had to improvise – use my chartreuse Bunny Clouser like flies. Finally I had a chance to use some bigger heavy flies that represented a majority in my boxes. When sharks became just too nasty it was time to do some "real" bonefishing again.
So we went in front of the mangroves where I think we saw the biggest bones of the week. I landed one fish after tangling the line and hooking every bush in sight but the tippet held and it was my biggest bonefish of the week. Well, later I finally hooked one of the really big ones, but it broke me off in about 5 seconds, well before it even reached the secure shelter in the mangroves. Tough fishing I tell you!
The big ones (the ones that would probably produce the prize, which was X-tra rare Patagonia bonefish T-shirt that Paul somehow got after calling half of the world by phone!) just didn't want to take my flies anymore. Unfortunately I have no pics of the situation but I sneaked out of the flats boat, behind the first mangrove bush and cast the fly just by letting the leader out of the tip top of my rod. Fish were feeding not more that 10 feet from me and I had flies in front of their noses! (Did I mention that I am the trout fisherman?).
Oh yes, I heard Inch and Ian whispering about the big shark cruising around and that they wouldn't tell me, otherwise I could panic.
I just pictured myself on the top of the small bush that happened to be my cover from bonefish and that they would probably start shouting well before the beast got too close. I was just, you know, in the zone. Now when I think back, aren't they really fast swimmers?
While comfortably casting from the boat to the big ones, I forgot that in the meantime Inch was doing his poling job in the back of the boat and when I saw one of them coming from the other side, my fly hooked the poor man's shoulder on my full #8 weight double hauled forward swing. Oops!
Tough job - guiding me. Of course, I apologized.
He got me in front of my first tarpon and bonefish, poled his **s off the whole day in the heat and this was how I paid him back!
PS: he got my stand up rod and reel "cheap as hell" later and now we're cool…I hope
Well it was no luck for me after that break off and definetely even worse evening for poor Inch. But the fly was out in seconds. It must have been one of my barbless ones since I changed dozens of them for those "mangrove giants".
Time to quit seemed to be the best decision for all and we were back even faster than normal. I had a theory why... There were moments, when I expected to see some smiling stewardess coming to fasten my seatbelt before we hit the sky.
Bad day for the rods/Small inventory damage
Morning started just like being with my friends sailing the lower Adriatic, only the weather was much better.
South of the river
"You get a shiver in the dark, it's been raining in the park but meantime", peedum peedeedumdeedumdaam "South of the river you stop and you hold everything"... pararaaaaaam...
The band was blowin dixie and we'd all been sultans of swing in seconds! Except Paul under the shower. Singing to the sound of Simon's small but loud enough MP3 piece, holding whatever wooden kitchen tool we could grab and pretending it was microphone! That's THE way to start a bonefishing day, right? If I count the "English" breakfast made by two of my new UK friends - should I say it using their (exact?) words: "this the loif o'wa?" (translation: this is quite pleasant)
This time I was selected to share a boat with Simon and Champ (aka "Cheef"). That would be Guide#2, but since it sounds quite boring using letters and numbers for naming second guide in the report, and beside that he was somehow resembling the famous caracter from "One flew over the coockoo's nest" being so big and quiet and all.
Cheef was great guide too. He knew where to go, when and had a lot of respect for the fisherman's personal approach to fish. I, for instance, always enjoy fishing on my own, trying to figure out things and using my flies and techniques. Learning local tricks is also one of the best things of each trip but doing it your own way with success is always most rewarding for me. Of course I'll use and ask the guide if things won't work but normally I just want them to show me "where". The rest is my job.
Cheef didn't need more that 10 minutes to realize all that and to know me and my wishes completely. I don't think we exchanged more than 10 words in a whole week. It seems to me that eight of those were "bonefish" and two were "there!".
Anyway, it was Simon’s turn to try to get a tarpon. We were in a little deeper part of the lagoon than boat #1, that was doing the same thing – looking for “poons”.
I picked the fly that I thought would work from Si’s flybox and it was a Clouser with just about right colour and size. That was the “experienced” tarpon fisherman talking – but hey! - I managed to persuade Simon with the confidence I guess. He’s not only listening to good music, but also to other people. Good boy!
Soon after that Cheef spotted a school far off to the left of the boat. That meant trouble for Simon who is lefthanded, but when the fish were within the reaching distance he produced beautiful “backhand cast” and the fish in the front went after his fly immediately.
Unfortunately there was noone to capture my “did I tell you or what” look that I was giving away for free. In a short blink, the fish was all over the surface and Simon’s rod was reduced to 20 inches! For few more seconds the fish was still on the line, but it broke the leader and just kept on jumping, obviously trying to get rid of the painful thing in the lip. In the meantime, Ian heard our preparations from the other boat and while he was ready for Paul’s hookup, he again managed to capture the very best of the possible moments of our action on his camera!
He got the “rodbreaking” moment, loose line with fish still on, making a mess on the surface.
In surprisingly good mood we went for some “gray ghosts of the flats” again, discussing the possible reason for breakage, which was probably some material failure, because the fight hadn’t even started yet when the top 7 feet of his 11 weight rod was off.
Cheef’s secret spot produced a few fish for me and two LDR’s after decent fights and we didn’t see many schools that morning.
I walked the endless flat stalking "nervous" water or "tailing" fish (sometimes even sharks !/%&/%$&/%$/(&%$ for minutes). The best fly for that spot and that kind of bottom appeared to be the one I got from the friend in one of my Winter Inspiration fly Swaps. It is called Martin Westbeek’s Oostvorne Shrimp - MWOS.
Good thing is that as a swapmeister I got a few extra. So I had two versions of that fly. First was the original and the second was a small modification with small camouflaged eyes (added by me) on the front for a little weight and to make it swim the bonefish way - upside down. I also used Airdales there and took a pic of one fish with it underwater.
The outside flats were also home of "blue warriors" as I call them. Some crabs that are not scared of people and defend their territory. These agressive creatures always expect you with their weapons ready and you should stay away from them, believe me. Sometimes while in the fishing trance I forgot that I was barefoot and stalked fish without any caution. After that I woke up and started looking around me with more caution. It can and it will happen to any flyfishermen but everybody should always at least try to keep an eye on the front bottom there.
Conditions there were a bit special. Maybe I should say almost Paul’s favourite! Soft bottom with lots of holes with water not more than 2 feet deep was bad for flies with too much weight, because they tend to spook the fish bigtime, they can get lost in the hole and the fish don’t see them very well.
So the ones that were more neutral swimmers worked best. Remember that you can’t cast on the fish, not even very close to them in order to see your fly. Casts a little in front of the leading fish with light flies didn’t spook the fish and those MWOS seemed just about perfect flies for the job.
Paul had his own secret fly for that spot and other shallow ones and did very well with it. (I could tell you the name of the fly, but this would then be my last bonefishing trip).
We changed the spot and found our friends fishing at some nice small blue hole in the middle of the shallow water.
The water there was not over 1.5 meters or 5 feet but the blue colour was clearly giving it away. They were just leaving after having some fun with sharks. Yep, that's right. There were some bones in there too but apparently they didn't want to cooperate.
Cheef anchored the boat, Simon had lunch break and I decided to get those bones from there no matter what.
Changing flies was the name of the game but fish acted strange and were making spooky moves. No wonder, because our second couple had previopusly chummed all sharks in from miles! They told us that over dinner that evening.
After about 20 minutes I hooked the first one on Paul's Bunny Fry, a great minnow imitation. Second was from the deepest part of the pool and it inhaled one of my shrimps that I had put most of my money on before the trip.
After that there were some fruitless minutes when Cheef suddenly said "Try pink" while lazily enjoying one of Kalik's that I gladly traded for Gatorade during the midday.
I remembered I had something just right somewhere. I found four flies that I tied from some pike fly materials and they had no name at least till then. "PeePee's!" Came just out of me.
Flies from pink&pearl stuff. Simon still thinks that the name is more connected with emptying the bladder.
Anyway that fly produced a fish right away and I even saw Cheef's corner of the mouth going up for a short while – I swear!
The good thing is that the fly actually worked and the bad one is that from then on I only had three of them left, because 25% of them (OK, one) had to be redirected to Simon's flybox immediately. "VAT" or something, I guess...
Later that afternoon and early evening we didn’t see many fish anymore and the (goooood) decision was to run back for the local BBQ dinner. We were also told that the spining rod was also broken on one of the sharks that the other two had caught. Bad day for the rods indeed.