While the bones were some thirty feet down tide, I cast a size 4 Gotcha some sixty feet across the tide letting it sit some twenty feet uptide of the hunting bones. A few minutes later those bones were within six feet of the fly. I gave an inch long strip which created a puff of sand. Immediately a bone turned away from the school. I gave two short strips, then let the fly sit. The bone turned downwards head to hell, tail to heaven. As it did so I gave another inch long strip. The fish grabbed the Gotcha savagely, I set the hook, the reel screamed as the silver bullet shot off a across the shallow water flat. I stuck the rod up high and watched the line disappearing in a blur. It was certainly great being back in the Bahamas!
My Cesna 10 seater aircraft banked sharply over Mangrove Cay before leveling out as the pilot made his final approach to the runway. A few minutes later I was waiting to collect my baggage in the warm morning sunshine. I was back on Andros Island in the sunny Bahamas to hunt the bonefish.
According to Joe Brooks in his book Salt Water Game Fishing, published by Harper and Row, the first recorded bonefish taken on a fly was caught in 1926 by Colonel Thompson fishing with veteran bonefishing guide J.T.Harrod at Long Key in Florida by accident when the Colonel was fishing for tarpon. The first tailing bonefish to be fished for deliberately were taken by Joe Brooks himself when being guided by Captain Jimmy Albright in Islamorada Florida in 1947.
In the 1950's I read an article by Joe Brooks on bonefishing which fired my imagination. I had to wait some 40 years before I caught my first bonefish on a fly. I have read many books on the subject by Brooks, Kaufmann, Kreh, Sosin, Wulff, Brown, Curcione and others. Indeed I have also been lucky enough to meet many of the authors. The book by Randall Kaufmann 'Bonefishing With A Fly' published in 1992 was for many months my bedtime reading, leading up to my first expedition after bonefish. Randall now has a second edition out which is bigger and better than the first. If, like me, you did read the first edition, you wouldn't have thought it possible to write a better book. But Kaufmann has done just that with his latest publication 'Bonefishing' which weighs in at 4.5lbs, the weight of a good bonefish! For further details Contact Kaufmanns by E-mail email@example.com
It's without doubt the greatest book on the subject.
Bonefish - Albula vulpes - is often called 'The Grey Ghost of the flats'. I call them the Silver Bullet. They are without doubt the spookiest fish or animal I have ever hunted, and that's what you're doing on the flats. You're hunting the hunted. Bones have a fantastic burst of speed, often reaching 30 to 35 miles an hour. The fish has incredible eyesight and hearing, making them a most difficult target to approach, especially by boat. They live in fear all their lives from the 'lean mean eating machine' the barracuda, the body crushing sharks, the quiet high flying Osprey with it's vice-like talons and of course we Homo Sapiens who hunt them with rod and line.
The bonefish can be found in many tropical and sub tropical areas spanning 30 degrees North and South of the equator. Some of the best areas are the Bahamas, Florida Keys, Belize Venezuela, Christmas Island, Bermuda, Cuba, Yucatan and Honduras to name a few venues. I have been told there are bonefish on the Gulf of Oman at Khor Fakkan among the mangroves, where bonefish like to hunt around for crabs and shrimps.
The best advice I can give European and American anglers wanting to escape the cold, snow and rain of winter is to visit a bonefishing venue where you get plenty of sunshine, pulled strings and bent sticks. It's known as fun in the sun! During the cold dreary winter months, bonefish venues are also the perfect place to take the wife, girlfriend or, dare I say it?, the mistress!
Moxey's Bonefish Lodge
My latest trip was to Moxey Town on Mangrove Cay where you will find a small laid-back bonefishing lodge. The name Moxey and bonefishing have become a legend in bonefishing circles. The Moxey family have entertained, hosted and guided men and woman bone fishers for more than half a century. In the 1930's and 40's many wealthy industrialists, bankers and socialites would sail their beautiful wooden yachts across the ocean from the United States anchoring in some quiet cove, bay or just a short distance off some mangrove lined sandy shoreline.
Leonard and Pearl Moxey, the parents of Joel and Londy, the present owners of the bonefishing lodge, started off the guiding service back in the 1930's and they are still around to offer advice. In fact during my stay Pearl cooked some of the most delightful snappers I have ever feasted on. Pearl's minced lobster is also something not to be missed. At Christmas the Moxey's host a big party and dinner for all the kids of Moxey Town.
Joel is a six foot, good looking guy who is a banker and investment broker in Nassau - though as Joel told me, he has to get back every week to have his fix of bonefishing.
His brother Londy, a former basketball and football player, manages the lodge. Londy tried his best to take off my accent without success. Over breakfast one morning Londy looked loving at the fried egg still left on the plate. As I moved that egg onto my plate, I suggested he could do with losing some weight. Perhaps an early morning run across a bonefish flat would be a good work out? He is such a nice friendly guy that I wouldn't like to see him another heart attack statistic!
When Leonard and Pearl were running the lodge back in the early days, one of the top bonefishing couples of the day were the Melons, Andrew and Tiny who were steel stockholders and bankers from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. They would sail their yacht into Moxey Bay anchoring in the deeper water then row ashore to take dinner with the Moxeys or invite the Moxeys to dine on board their beautiful varnished wooden yacht.
All the bonefishing in those days was done with spinning gear and the Melon's certainly caught their share of big bones. I have seen some of the pictures from those days, I can honestly say some were over ten pounds and some of these were caught by Mrs. Tiny Melon. In the bar at Moxey's there is a picture showing the head and shoulders of a very big bone after a shark attack. I reckon it could have gone fifteen pounds plus.
The two-storey white stucco lodge with yellow trim and shaded by a beautiful almond tree is situated a good bonefish cast from the warm waters of the Middle Bight, situated on the east coast of Andros island.
Two Great Guides
Guides Oscar Greene and Ezra Greene - who are not related but just good friends - are extremely good and experienced guides. They have years behind them of hunting the various species of fish from permit to bones, including huge tarpon and barracuda in the waters of Andros island - the largest island in the Bahamas, roughly measuring 100 miles by 40 miles. Oscar and Esra are fine people. When you're in Moxey Town take time out; go and sit under the palm trees at the waters edge with these guides and the other villagers Moxey Town. You will learn a lot, find them very entertaining, and no doubt get told the best bonefish bays. The people are quite poor but they don't complain, they just get on with life. I left Ezra a box of bonefish flies and my fly line cleaning kit. Next time I go across I will take some pens, note books and jigsaws for the youngsters. Moxey Town suffered badly during last year's hurricane Michelle but these people still keep smiling and offer a very warm and friendly welcome.
When not guiding Ezra and Oscar dive for sponges and lobsters, both these products being plentiful in the waters around Andros. Sponges are a plant-like sea animal which are harvested from the ocean bed. These are then left for a time in the shallow water before they are given a battering with a piece of wood, shaped something like a cricket bat; this is done to get rid of the dirt and minute bits of coral. Sponges come in several qualities, the wool and silk ones being considered the best.
The sponge industry is very important to the Bahamas economy. The British Government back in the 1920's sent Commissioners out to the Bahamas to control the industry, such as the supply, prices etc. During my stay I watched several sponge divers at work. From April through to August is the close season for lobster fishing which means no work, so the locals go in search of the Conch which is a big sea mollusc. It's very edible and very tasty. It can be eaten raw or cooked in various ways.
I met some divers who hunt the Nassau grouper - but not with a spear gun as these weapons are banned. They use a catapult with a six inch length of stainless steel rod which they shoot into the fish - and remember, this is done under water. No oxygen bottles, it's all free diving.
Tackle and Clothing
I feel the most important bit of gear in bonefishing is the line, don't skimp on this item, buy the best available. Remember these fish are fast and spooky, you have to make quick accurate casts, often into a twenty knot wind. In my book it's the Cortand Ghost Tip Tropic Plus Lazerline of 35 yards with a nine foot clear intermediate tip which gets my vote. The line has a hard outer finish to withstand the demands of the saltwater environment. The braided monofilament core has virtually no memory so the line stays untangled and ready to cast at a moment's notice. I have left the line on my reel for several weeks but its cast perfectly on the next bonefishing trip.
Before putting the line on your reel you need to have about 200 yards of 20lb backing. For joining line to backing I use the loop to loop system using a Bimini Twist on the backing which probably gives hundred percent knot strength.
Do not ever forget the job of cleaning your fly line! You must clean your fly line after every fishing session. It's without doubt the most important job you have to do on your return from a days fishing. I cannot stress too much how important it is to clean and polish your fly line. On my return from fishing I wash my fly line in warm soapy water then rinse it off in clean cold water before drying. I then dress the line with Cortland XL line dressing and cleaner. I leave the dressing on the line overnight then give the line a good polish before going off fishing.
For most of my fishing my leader set up is as follows: I nail-knot a couple of feet of 30 to 40lb monofilament to the fly line, then some seven feet of knotless tapered leader down to ten pounds breaking strain - to this I tie in a couple of feet of fluorocarbon for the tippet. If I am fishing flat calm conditions in skinny water with light flies, I will extend the leader by another two feet. If it's windy, I sometimes cut the tapered leader back from seven feet to five.
Reels for bonefish have to be of good quality with an excellent drag system, there are several good reels on the market, most are of American manufacturer such as Tibor, Able and Ross. From Sweden we have the Loop range of fly reels. In the UK we have JW Young's with their Sea Venture series of reels. Though I have a range of Tibor reels, I often use my Sea Venture model 3780 series with it's disc drag for much of my bonefishing.
My favourite reel is one that Richard Carter built for my 60th Birthday. It's proved excellent, not only for bonefish but big jacks, barracuda and snappers. On your return from fishing you must wash your reel in clean water, then take a tooth brush and give the foot of the reel a good clean, then dry off the reel. I coat my reels, but not the drag, with Boeshield T9 - it's also good for anything that corrodes. I have pair of Able pliers which are corrosion proof but I still give them a coating of Boeshield T9, it's excellent stuff.
There are many manufacturers of fly fishing rods. I should think the top models are Thomas and Thomas, Winston, Sage, Able, Scott and Loomis. To get the best out of flats fishing I feel you need two rods, eight and nine weights, both nine foot. On days of light winds I use an eight weight but for those windy days I choose a nine weight. I like a rod with a fairly fast action which will cast tight loops. It goes without saying that you should choose a rod with good stripping guides, snakes and a hay-fork tip guide with corrosion proof reel seat.
Don't purchase a rod with lined guides throughout, they cause resistance and cut down your casting distance. I have used Sage, Able and Thomas and Thomas. All three have been excellent for the job, I cannot fault them, but these days I am using the Thomas and Thomas Horizon models.
You will need some flies and crab patterns. Make sure your box contains Blue crabs, Rag head crabs and some Del Brown's crab patterns. When it comes to flies make sure you have a selection of flies in 2's 4's and 6's. My choice for starters would be the Gotcha, Crazy Charlie, Mini-puffs, Turd and Clouser Minnows in various colours. I would also want some Borski's swimming shrimp.
I carry a pair of Abel pliers and a good pair of nippers for cutting nylon. When it comes to tying nail knots you can't beat the Tie Fast. It's a simple tool for tying the perfect nail knot, you can join lengths of different thickness of nylon with back to back nail knots. It's bit of equipment I wouldn't want to be without.
Clothing and Footwear
First item for any bonefisher must be good pair of polarized glasses in order to see clearly through the surface reflections on the water and to reduce harmful glare. Forget cheap plastic sunglasses, you need top quality polarized glasses. If you wear glasses have your reading lens fitted to your polarized ones. I get my glasses from Optilabs Ltd 109b Stafford Road Croydon CRO 4NN E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020-8686 5708
The second most important item has to be your flats wading boots, I have been using the Marlwalkers from Patagonia for the past two years. I cannot fault them. They are wide, stable, well padded and protect your feet from coral and spiny creatures. It's so easy to scratch your feet and ankles on coral then end up with blood poisoning. Don't be without proper foot wear. Buy the best which do the job they are designed for, don't skimp on the cost and quality. Inside my boots I wear a pair of neoprene socks which I find most useful.
On a bonefishing trip I take shorts and short sleeve shirts, along with long sleeve shirts and lightweight long pants. The reason I take along the latter two items are the horse flies. If these critters are a problem I cover up, if not I wear shorts and short sleeve shirts with lots of P20 once a day sun filter, you will tan without burning. A good hat is a must. I carry two different hats, a peaked cap, and a hat with a flap which covers the ears and back of the neck. It's similar to the Foreign Legionnaires Kepi. Kaufmanns brochure feature a similar hat with their desert Rhat hat E-mail email@example.com for a brochure.
I also take a lightweight two piece rain suit, not because it might rain, but often you need to take a boat trip in rough water to the chosen bonefish flat which means you keep dry.
You can listen to the programmes I recorded in the Bahamas on BBC Radio Lancashire - frequencies 95.5 103.9 or 104.5 FM on the Thursday evenings of May 23rd and May 30th at 7-30pm and again on Saturday mornings. Also May 25th and June 1st at six am. BBC Radio Lancashire will shortly be putting my programme At The Waters Edge out on the internet.
In Part 2 you join me on the flats as I hunt for Bonefish. If you have any questions or need any advice please E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org