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One person in my stable of blog characters is Capt. Baz. No, don’t worry, this one isn’t about him. However, it started with him.

Hi Jonas – my little brother Dave is in town, and he really would like to learn to fly cast, was the gist of our phone conversation, followed by and it is on the house too!” I am fine with the work is your rewardphilosophy if I am teaching something. However, Baz, manual labour is a straight no no no.

Capt. Dave
Dave – you see what I am up against!

Dave showed up, and he was an exceptional student from the outset. When I am teaching raw beginners I find one issue in them all. It doesn’t have to do with the movement, but rather lack of it, i.e. they just can’t stop the hand/wrist and rod when they make the backcast. So, their backcast will look like the picture below.

Poor stop and/or too much wrist bend.

The motion we are trying to teach starts with our upper arm vertical, and under arm horizontal (90 degrees). Then the hand is moved up and back with constant acceleration to an abrupt stop until the underarm has reached the vertical position with the wrist firm. This movement should be smooth, and the acceleration constant, but the stop must be abrupt. There are some issues with the constant smooth acceleration, but that can be ironed out rather quickly. However, the abrupt stop on the back cast is very hard to accomplish in the beginning. The drawing below shows a good backcast.

A good stop.

This near universal inability to stop the hand/wrist and rod is a bit baffling when you come across this first when teaching (conveniently forgetting how I myself struggled). We use our arms and hands all the time to do all kinds of complicated tasks. We certainly can stop a forward moving hand hard (think fly swatterhammer). But, when you think about that particular backward motion, we do not use that often in our daily lives, if at all. When we gain the ability to stop our hand on the back cast – the backcast will be straight without slack – setting up a good forward cast. My task as a teacher is pretty much wrapped up when my students understand the importance of the abrupt stop and straight backcast. All the rest is tweaking this or that.

But returning back to Dave, it turned out that he could absolutely stop his hand wherever I wanted him to stop it, while keeping the wrist firm. On top of that, the constant acceleration part was there, too. This piqued my interest, so I asked him what his work was. Oh – this and that in business was the answer ” and I am a drummer (i.e. sort of a musician).” Now this was very interesting to me, and sure enough the musculature of his underarm was exceptionally well developed, and precisely those puppies control the wrist movement. Biceps and triceps have to do with flexion and extension of the elbow.

Underarm of a drummer
Underarm of a certain drummer – or Popeye?

We had two short sessions, and at the end he was double hauling, and shooting line with ease. A week later he calls “How long are these fly lines?” It turned out that he was casting into the backing (fly lines are around 100′, some shorter some longer). That is a very long cast for even excellent casters.

Since then, drummer Dave has shed his skin, and found Capt. Dave within – and is running a guide service. https://gulfbreezefishing.com

——————————

Last January Capt. Baz, Odell Mullis and I went to the Bahamas to escape the Florida winter, that is, what there is of a winter. This was Dave’s first encounter with bonefish and he had been told that they would be very hard to catch. We don’t go to a bonefish lodge, so it is low key and self guided. The Bahamian flats are just stunning. Vast flats become dry on low tide and then the tide comes in, and the bonefish follow to get to the smorgasbord of the inundated flat.

The flat at low tide

Yup, you guessed it, Dave with a bent rod became a recurring theme. Bent rod when I only almost had a strike!

Same flat with the tide in – Dave with bonefish

The bonefish subsequently released. Needless to say, Dave caught numerous bonefish on his first trip with us.

Release of a bonefish

I gotta go now – the UPS guy is at my door delivering my set of drums.

Pictures; Jonas and Odell

English consultant; My good retired neighbor Joe.

Jonas waiting for the moment

You can look, but don’t touch! Oh, how wise that advice is. We start out looking at the opposite sex – but beware!– we can’t resist! Then it seems we end up looking at cookies we shouldn’t touch, but then we do. Same goes for ours life savings.

I took a trip to an undisclosed Bahamian island in January with some of my friends. It is not a famed Bonefish destination. There are Bonefish there, of course, but they are very hard to find. The trip is about escaping the daily grind (feeding the dogs and cats) and enjoying mild weather as the winter rages in the Florida Panhandle. The company of friends is great, of course, up to a point (see picture below). 

Baz and Snead
Snead and Odell

This time around the weather in the Panhandle was truly nasty, and the Bahamian weather was mild but very windy, with real tough fishing conditions. I seem to be fixated on the weather and I blame my roots in Iceland for that. The weather there is erratic and nasty as a rule. The wind is constant and brisk and it has shaped the way we walk.  All really adapted Icelanders lean into the wind as they walk. When there is no wind, they still lean, and once I spotted one of my friends on a busy street in Stockholm just by the way he walked. There is something about the national style of walking that is a dead giveaway. All telephone conversations between Icelanders start with – and you could be at the Taj Mahal – how is the weather? Living at 66 North affects one. But back to the flats…  Previously I have touched on the moving parts of Bonefish chasing – so I will not regurgitate that part.

Bonefish are a very exciting fish to chase. Hard to spot – finicky, and if hooked, tremendously fast.  In the Bahamas they are protected, i.e., you have to release them.  How best to do that?  I am guilty of having handled fish and posing for an egotistical picture with the fish and then releasing it. However, the best way to go about this is to let them stay in the water and try to release them without touching them. The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust have a very good web page on this. 

https://www.bonefishtarpontrust.org/education-outreach-bonefish-catch-release/

There is one reason additionally to not take a fish out of the water. In water they weigh very little (Archimedes’ law), but when out of the water the effects of gravity are stronger than they are used to. This can lead to internal bleeding when the internal organs experience this. 

Here is a short video on how I managed to unhook Bonefish.

https://vimeo.com/313914630

Jonas

Bonefish being released

Last November I fished for bonefish in the Bahamas with three of my friends. They are all experienced bonefish anglers, but I am not. I was very much looking forward to this trip to learn more about bonefishing. As it turned out, this trip was great and surprisingly the company, too.

My fishing buddies

My fishing buddies – Baz (checking the stock market) – Mike (note his tender cradling of the bottle) – and Dave

Our destination was Water Cay on the north side of Grand Bahamas. This location is off the beaten path with low fishing pressure, but with a reputation for big fish.

Water Cay - arrow points to lodge

Water Cay – arrow points to lodge

To get there we flew into Freeport, where we were picked up at the airport by our guides. From there to the marina where the skiffs awaited us is about a 40 minute drive. Our gear was stuffed into the skiffs, and we reached our destination in 20 minutes. From where I live (Florida Panhandle) I got there in half a day’s travel.

Loading the gear

Loading the gear

The lodge sits on the south tip of Water Cay with a small jetty. There are 3 double occupancy rooms on the left side for the anglers, and the ambiance is pleasant. The cooking and housekeeping was in the capable hands of Kay and Syd. The meals – both plentiful and good – were served in the dining room in the middle of the house.

The Water Cay lodge

The Water Cay lodge

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonefish

Bonefish are a very challenging fish to catch. To do so you have to spot them. If you hook one you are in for a surprisingly fast run that will take you into the backing. If fishing from a skiff the angler should take a ready position at the bow. The guide is up on a poling platform in a better position to spot fish. When he does, he guides you to their position and if you are lucky, the fish can be reached with a cast. The skiffs used are shallow draft, very light, and with a poling platform. Bonefish can also be caught by wading the flats. Spotting them from a lower position is more difficult, but doable. Sometimes after finding a fish, the water is too shallow for the skiff. Then you try to get into a position by wading.

There are endless flats around the lodge and plentiful of mangrove thickets. These flats are a veritable smorgasbord for the fish as the tides move water onto and off the flats. Crabs and shrimp also move in, and the bonefish like to feed on them on the bottom.

Low tide mangroves

Low tide mangroves

The mangrove system (red mangrove)

The mangrove system (red mangrove)

Bonefish use the mangroves to escape and love to tangle you up by swimming through them.

https://vimeo.com/245833488

The three guides: Sidney was the headguide, and Greg and Esra were very good guides too. They found fish everyday. Unfortunately,  only some were caught, but that is on the angler. The wind was a factor, and there were two cold fronts that came through during our stay.

Our guide Sidney

Our guide Sidney

 

Our guide Greg

Our guide Greg

 

Our guide Esra

Our guide Esra

https://vimeo.com/245751730

What I liked about their approach to guiding was their teaching. They spot the fish, and then you were guided to the position by “Point your rod – left -stop – 45 feet,”  for instance. After you had totally bungled it, there was a brutally honest post mortem. “When you took that clumsy step up on the bow you scared the fish away.” Or “When you slapped that line down it scared the fish.” And “Nope that is a Barracuda.”

Small Barracuda

Small Barracuda

You get the picture. There were many more variants of my ineptitude, but when I did everything right the fish took a look at my fly and sometimes grabbed it.

(This is the Anna Karenina principle of fishing. Its first sentence: “Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему.” The standard translation: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Paraphrased: you succeed at bonefishing in only one way, but you can screw up in multiple ways.

After this trip I am confident that my skills have improved, thanks to their excellent teaching. We all caught fish, and I lucked into a 7.5 pounder that is my personal best in bonefish.

Baz hooked up

Baz hooked up

 

Mike hooked up

Mike hooked up

 

Jonas hooked up

Jonas hooked up

I did not fish with Dave, so I have no picture of proof, but he caught fish, too. This sums up our time there, and I plan to be back there next fall.


Chasing Bonefish

is difficult but exhilarating. Their runs are spectacular, and they are sneaky and run into the mangroves and out again to tangle you up. It is not a given that you land the one you hooked. However, that is in itself the most exciting part. To catch one you need several aspects to be aligned. First off you must see the fish, then can you cast to it and on and on. I have broken it down to the following parts to clarify my thinking and to give you an idea of the complexity involved.

The moving parts of Bonefishing

1. Sun position and its movement across the sky

It is always best to have sunshine, then they fish will have a shadow that you can spot, and that will lead you to the fish. It is best to keep the sun behind you so you do not have to look into the glare from the surface. How the sun is moving and how you are moving is important, and the guides set up their poling paths to take advantage of that. So trust your guides to do that part – you are in their home waters. On an overcast day the fish can still be spotted, but it is much harder.

2. Clouds and where they are moving

Pay attention to the clouds and how they are moving, since this directly affects visibility. If you are under a cloud, but there is sunshine “over there,” you move over there.

3. The wind

Be prepared for the wind. You might have to cast into a stiff breeze. The wind might be blowing onto your casting side, pushing the line into your body. You might have to make your back cast into a hard wind, and you must be able to solve that. Very rarely is the wind direction “right” and the wind light. The only advice I can give is that you should practice the “wind” casts before you go there.

https://vimeo.com/245725367

Baz in the ready position

Baz in the ready position – line between the leaning poles

Line control is important in the wind. Mostly you can let the line loose on the deck if you take care to get it into the lower well of the skiff. There your fishing buddy can keep an eye on it and clear tangles. It is advantageous to place this line between the leaning poles – it seems to help control the line. One day it was blowing so hard that I had to hold the loops tight in my left hand. A very big loop on my pinkie, a slightly smaller one on my ring finger, and a smaller still on my middle finger, similar to what one  can do when using a two handed rod for salmon. Then you shoot it out when opportunity arises.

4. The tidal movement

As the tide inundates the mangroves, bonefish move into that maze to feed. When the tide falls the fish move off again. So, it is vital to be cognizant of the tidal movement. However, reading a tidal almanac is not enough. Wind can block the water from rising and conversely can block its egress from the flats. Local knowledge is the key, and the guides are tuned into this.

5. Travel line of fish and speed

Bonefish rarely keep still. I saw countless bonefish that turned out be sticks on the bottom. “Not moving – bottom,” was the guides refrain. When you see a fish and it is moving, you must place the fly in front of him. For that you have to gauge the speed at which the fish is moving. You assume they go straight and try to intersect their line of travel. It is preferable that the fly sinks to the bottom before the fish gets there. The correct weight of the fly  in relation to the depth of water must be spot on.

6. Movement of boat and disturbance from it

I was skeptical about claims that the fish could sense the boat at 60 feet, but I came away a convert. Just by rocking the boat slightly is enough. Once I stumbled slightly and put my foot down a bit too hard and the fish in my sights bolted. This is one moving part we can have control over. Move slow and do not make any noise that is unnecessary. Barefoot on the bow is probably the best option, otherwise wear something soft on your feet.

7. Your surroundings

One needs to pay constant attention to the surroundings because the mangroves will happily eat your fly line if you place your back cast close to them.

How to prepare for a Bonefish trip?

It is tempting and easy to buy all the paraphernalia of fishing and equate that with success. That is not how it works. Most of the “moving parts” above are outside your control. What is under your control is your casting prowess, your movement in the boat, and using correctly weighted flies (get the fly to the bottom before the bonefish arrives). Your casting is by far the single most important point. I have never met a person who casts too well. I have met a lot of fishermen who could improve their casts with simple corrections. You cannot buy a cast!

 

That’s the way the cookie crumbles….

Waiting for the sun to pop out

Just returned from the midwinter Bahamas wade fishing trip with my friend Captain Baz. Our destination is a band of coral islands at the edge of the horizon. We get there by flying out of Ft. Lauderdale but have to land somewhere in the Bahamas to clear customs and immigration and off we fly again.  Where we are headed there are no fly fishing guides and no other anglers. This is a self-guided trip and it is not easy.

Bahamian islands - gorgeous colors

Bahamian islands – gorgeous colors

We drive down to south Florida, about 10 hours drive with short pit stops. Overnight in a hotel and next morning we fly out into the archipelago and settle in to our little fishing nest. We rent a small cottage and full meal service and a small boat (13´), which can be upgraded (to a 17´boat) at a reasonable charge. A marina and a bar are on site and it being windy was full of boaters waiting for the wind to subside. The atmosphere is laid-back, people are friendly and we are on island time.

Our cottage

Our cottage

The resident nurse shark

The resident nurse shark

The local scenery

The local scenery

On arrival at noon all the bigger boats were already gone and we only had available a thirteen foot long skiff. A 13 ´skiff for one grown male and another a bit overgrown in the Atlantic is not ideal. The wind was blowing from the east with occasional whitecaps. Our target for this day was down wind of us so we sallied fort downwind in excellent spirits and found our flat. The wind was supposed to die down anyway.

The thirteen feet 30 HP skiff

The thirteen feet 30 HP skiff

Bonefish will come up on flats to feed when the tide is rising and vice versa will leave on falling water. They are maddeningly hard to spot and years of experience are needed to see those fish. There needs to be a sun otherwise you will not spot them at all but they cannot hide their shadows but are working on it. We have to figure out the likely spots where they will come on to the flat and likely leave by the same place. When on these flats they can be found in very shallow water and go into the Mangroves and disappear there in that thicket. So it can be difficult to find these fish. When spotted they are very skittish and the fly has to be placed in front of their traveling line. Thus lots of moving parts and much to go wrong and it does. Fly has to land softly otherwise you might spook them. In short very difficult fish.

Bonefish two feet away

Bonefish two feet away

Bonefish noir version

Bonefish noir version

The tide is up on the flat

The tide is up on the flat

A Mangrove outpost on the flat

A Mangrove outpost on the flat

 

Flats and Mangroves

Flats and Mangroves

 

The first day Captain Baz caught a good size Bonefish on a brand new high-end rod. It is always a good omen that a new rod catches fish. Now if you look at the picture of the Mr. Bone you see that dapper little pencil mustache he is sporting. He looks a bit French to me or maybe Belgian – there it is Monsieur Hercule Poirot? Baz’s  fish spotting vision is legendary and I rely on his spotting the fish. It is like hunting with a pointer and sure enough when I see him bent a bit and his butt sticking out I know he has a scent of a fish. Then he gives the coordinates for instance 60 feet ten o’clock from him and I triangulate and it works out pretty well. I am starting to spot those fish but nowhere near where I need to be.

Bonefish with pencil mustache

Bonefish with pencil mustache

Baz with a nice Bonefish

Baz with a nice Bonefish

 

Bonefish being released

Bonefish being released

A released Bonefish

A released Bonefish

A released Bonefish

A released Bonefish

Now time has come to return to the marina but the wind has picked up and the waves are now 2′ high. Our small dinghy is not built for such waves and underpowered (30 hps). Baz sails the boat into the waves and I sit on the center thwart* clutching the rods watching the waves. You see where this is going? A wave throws the bow of the boat up and then it comes down obeying Newton’s law. I on the other hand am airborne flying up and back having torn the thwart off and crash down on my back in the boat in front of Baz a bit later. He managed to pull his feet from boat zero. Landed flat on my back and my first question was understandably  “Did I break the rods”? Of course I broke Baz’s rod setting me up for a predictable “I sure am happy I got to break it in before you broke it” from Baz. Oh well that is why we carry backup rods on all trips.

The tide is up on the flat

The tide is up on the flat

Folks generally have no clue how we go about wading flats chasing Bonefish. This is how we do it. Wading boots are needed and I like to wear neoprene socks. On top of the boots we have a gravel guard to reduce the sand and grit that will invariably find its way into our socks and boots. The gravel guards just decrease it a lot. We don shorts and it is best to wear something that dries fast when we get out of the water.

Wading boots socks no gravel guards

Wading boots socks no gravel guards

Long sleeve shirt for sun protection and fingerless gloves and a buff is called for. We top it off with a cap where I like the underside to be black to reduce the glare. Polaroids are vital otherwise fish will not be spotted in time. For fly line management I recommend a stripping basket. I know it looks nerdy not dressy at all but by Jove it works.  Then you can have ready line to cast and you are in better control. It is also nice to place the rod transversely in the basket when waiting and looking for fish.

Baz with a stripping basket

Baz with a stripping basket

We like fast rods if we can load/bend them. If we cannot they are useless to us. My recommendation to anglers is to use a 7-9 weight rod and pick the one that is your fastest and the one you can load comfortably. Do not fall for the marketing craze that wants you to buy the latest fastest rod absolutely a miracle yada yada yada. While I am at it there is no need for a Bonefish rod or a Bass rod or any specific rod for a certain type of a fish. The fish do not know and do not care. You need a rod that can cast your fly reasonably well and can handle the targeted species that is all there is to it. The line to use is a floating line and there are many excellent to choose from. I favor lines that are true to their size meaning I do not want it half or a whole step heavier than the standards set. Now when my casting has improved that is just what suits me. If you are a fledgling caster and load your rod better by over lining that is just fine and no cosmic rules have been broken by doing that. We use twelve feet long leaders and this trip a #8 Gotcha carried the day.

Gotcha #8

Gotcha #8

If you are in a situation where the leader does not turn over shorten it. We cast the line straight and lay out the leader straight (stiffer leader is better than a soft one for that). Then it is a good rule to strip once to get all slack out of the system and then let the fly sink to the bottom. Then you play with the strips and retrieve. All the usual casts and deliveries need to be mastered but there is one that Baz is a wizard at and actually his loops are sharpest when he uses that cast. When he has a fish to the right of him and feet set 90 degrees he does not turn his body he just sends the line out by this sidearm backhanded cast.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5NLo7nTwnw

This type of fishing is physically difficult, to say the least. We did six – seven hours of this every day, wading looking and just being one with nature. However it does a lot of good in the psychic department of our bodies. When a big fish takes your fly and you feel its power and speed you realize the force of life. There is then the pulling and giving back and forth and I am reminded that I am also an animal of the same nature and I need to be humble and cognizant of that fact.

Now as we wade these flats the ocean is warm and no waders are necessary. Sometimes the bottom is firm and sometimes muddy and you think that this is it you are being sucked down. Sometimes you are wading in an area where there are lots of depressions with a 5” hole at the bottom. Needless to say your imagine all kinds of creatures living there and they are just waiting for you to make a mistake and then they will act. Vedius Pollio comes to mind and his pool of lampreys.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedius_Pollio

In the series on my colleague Dr. Lecter there is a scene like that.  Then there is one in the deliciously decadent Borgias series (season3). This mucking around invariably leads to sand and grit accumulating in you shoes and socks. We ignore it just a part of the deal.

No need for pedicure

No need for pedicure

Now I have to cancel my monthly Pedicure as my feet are now scrubbed clean of corns from all that friction and sea water.

https://vimeo.com/202311347

* Thwart is the board that runs between gunwales and is used to sit on. I could not use the word boat seat cause it was just too lame. In Icelandic the word is þófta and I am indebted to my linguistics adviser Professor Joe Mozur friend and neighbor for digging this beauty up.

 

Regal Princess

Now there is a crazy idea. Can this behemoth navigate a lagoon or a flat? Absolutely not. But it can take you somewhere close.

My wife loves the relaxation these cruise trips can provide. No internet and no phone if  you so choose and you get away from the treadmill. With the crazy hours she puts in I understand completely and I am willing to provide valuable service as a Sherpa.

When this trip was decided I started looking for fly fishing opportunities during the port days. I came across a positive report on Carlos´s Vegas flats fishing operation.

http://www.cozumelflatsfishing.com

The die was cast and the day booked. I received all the info I needed from Carlos on which flies to bring and all the minutiae we love in fly fishing. Instruction were clear, be first off ship at 8am, take a taxi to Puerto De Abrigo Banco Playa (20 min) and I did. Meet up with Captain Enrique who is going to guide you and I did that too.

Captain Enrique and Juan

Meeting Captain Enrique and Juan at Puerto De Abrigo Banco Playa

The boat we used was a so called Panga boat wth a narrow beam and relatively high bow. Lunch and drinks are included and all was ready. Off we went to Rio de la Plata lagoon. Capt. Enrique drove the boat fast on the open sea and we stayed dry the 40 minutes the drive took. The other boat from the service was clearly trying to beat us to the lagoon and did. It figures it´s Captain Mike, Enrique´s son.

The race to the lgoon

Capt. Mike driving his boat to the lagoon beating us to it

The Lagoon Rio de la Plata is in the top North East corner of Cozumel with the inlet facing west.

Rio de la Plata Lagoon

Rio de la Plata lagoon from above

When I noticed the size of the inlet to the lagoon I did not realize how big it was.

The inlet to the lagoon

Enrique driving the panga to the inlet of the northernmost Cozumel lagoon Rio de la Plata

The passage was shallow but passable and when inside I realized how wast this lagoon system is.

The lagoon and the outlet

On the northernmost Cozumel´s  lagoon Rio de la Plata

Things were looking pretty good at that time and we went as far north as we could get. When there the wind was steadily picking up and clouds were covering the sky. Only occasional sunshine. The important fact about Bonefishing is that you have to be able to see the fish to be able to cast to it. That possibility was out because of the clouds. Now it happens that Bonefish sometimes tail. Meaning that they are standing on their heads rooting on the bottom and their tails can be seen above the surface. That was our best bet and the boat was left at anchor and we went searching for tailing reds but alas none were found. We were walking for hours in water to our waists.

Jonas searching for Bonefish

Jonas wading for hours searching for fish

Jonas searching for Bonefish

Jonas wading for hours searching for fish

Jonas searching for Bonefish

Jonas wading for hours searching for fish

This situation is a nightmare for a guide. His job is to find the fish and my job is to catch them. These circumstances were very tough for Capt. Enrique but I knew that and I know that the guides are not the Gods of the Weather.

 

Enrique driving the panga

Enrique driving the panga on the northernmost Cozumel´s  lagoon Rio de la Plata – looking for Bones

As it happened Capt. Enrique suddenly stopped and indicated that I should cast over a certain area. Of course I got some hits and landed 2 Bonefish on Moana´s Chili Pepper Gold #6. How he knew there were fish there was not clear to me. In the end we both did our jobs and I was very pleased. We were far from the boat in water to our waists and it is not recommended to carry cameras when doing that. I can not produce any pictures to prove my catch but when does a fisherman lie?

Moana´s Chili Pepper Gold

Bonefish fly assortment – arrow Moana´s Chili Pepper Gold #6

That was that and we tried for some Snook on our return without success. After returning to the marina I shared a Taxi with a young couple starting out in this fly fishing madness. “How did it go”? they asked.  “Well I managed to land two Bones (now I pretend I am an old hand at it) wading all day”. “how did you do”? They saw some life but did not catch any fish and “No no no we did not leave the boat. Didn’t you see the crocs”?

Next time in Cozumel I am certain that I will be found in the lagoon chasing Bonefish guided by Capt. Enrique.

(The Crocs in Cozumel are not aggressive to humans. Found only one incident of a croc biting a human when searching the internet).

http://www.everythingcozumel.com/