A few weeks ago, the Free Fly crew and a few friends were able to test negative for Covid and sneak out of town to make our way down to the beautiful Bahamas. Our goal was to meet the local guides, escape the cold, and get our good friend Anna her first bonefish on fly. Along the way, we got some tips on catching your first bone from local Bahamian guide, Alex "Coco" McKinney. Scroll on to see Anna's first bonefish attempt, and get some tips of your own for that next warm water escape.
What just happened?
The trip started off with a bang on day one. We stumbled into one of the craziest fishing situations we had ever witnessed. After pushing deep into a back bay, wave after wave of bonefish were being flushed out of the mangroves towards our crew on foot as the tide drained out. Schools of 5-10 fish came in hot weaving their way through a maze of dead mangrove branches, leftover from a devastating hurricane a few years back. The water we stood in was no more than 6 inches deep, exposing the back, dorsal, and tail of every fish.
Although the fish were plentiful and willing to eat, threading the needle between the mangrove branches and guessing which direction the fish would swim proved challenging. If you anticipated the fish moving to the left of branch, it would switch directions and move around to the right. If your cast was off a few inches, you were tangled in the mangroves. If you were able to get free, by then the fish was on top of you and already jetting off towards deeper water. It was a tough situation to be thrown into. Anna got the fly in front of a few fish, and missed a hook set. While she was disappointed, we were all beyond impressed at the progress. We knew she wouldn't miss the next opportunity.
The Next Opportunity
Little did we know how quickly that next opportunity would come. The next day brought some uncertainty as strong winds moved in across the island. Our local guides adapted, and had us in position to take some shots. Kenny, a Crooked Island native, gave Anna a rundown on casting with wind, and they trudged off scanning the flat for fish. Kenny's eyes somehow spotted a single cruiser, and Anna started casting.
This one was not getting away. The fish ate the fly, and Anna buried the hook and kept her rod down through the hook set, just like she had practiced. It screamed up and down the flat for a few minutes before Anna was able to fight the fish to hand. Anna could not stop smiling as the fish was unhooked and sent on its way - success!
Tips from the guide
For those venturing out this year to try their hand at these incredible fish, here are three tips from our guide to getting your first, or more bonefish.
1. Cast Cast Cast
Being able to cast seems like an obvious necessity, but you'd be surprised how far a little extra practice will take you. Accuracy and being able to adapt to changing situations will yield more success, and therefore, more fun. Find an open space to practice before your trip, and cast to specific targets. Once you're up on the bow with a tailing bonefish heading your way, you'll be thankful for the extra work.
Along with being able to cast accurately, laying the fly down softly on the water will avoid spooking this wary fish. This is part of the fun and frustrations of bonefishing. While they are a tricky and spooky target, they are willing to reward a well presented fly.
3. Fly Selection
The correct fly can make all the difference. Color and weight can be the two biggest factors in an eat, or a refusal. Match the color of the fly with the color of the bottom. Light tan or white flies for white sand flats, and darker tan or brown flies for darker bottoms won't be suspicious or unnatural. A variety of weights for your flies will also perform better in changing water depths. On shallow calm flats, a bead chain fly will sink fast enough and create less of a disturbance. In deeper water, lead eyes will get the fly in front of the fish quicker. A few favorite patterns include EP spawning shrimp, Veverka's mantis shrimp, Bonefish Gotcha, Crazy Charlie, and Squimps, but as always check with the local guides in the area you are fishing.
Finally, don't forget to celebrate
It all makes for some great stories around the bar at the end of the day.