Reading in poor light was one of them. Curiously, my mother lectured me endlessly about the Sin of Onan (who was punished by God because he spilled his seed upon the ground) but failed completely to mention the damaging effects of bonefishing in the tropical sun…
On this sunny day in the Bahamas, I had forgotten to bring my polarizing shades and I was on a flats boat, no more than a few hundred yards off the coast of Green Turtle Cay. The reflection off the surface of the water was astonishingly harsh and by 10.00AM, I was already ‘snow blind’.
"Be ready boss," Ronnie Sawyer kept intoning, like some kind of mantra, gently raising and lowering the long pole into the sand to move the skiff so that I was always able to cast down wind. "Get your line sorted boss," he repeated every so often, because my line was constantly wrapped around my feet, or sliding over the side of the boat into the water. Ronnie is one of the finest guides in the Bahamas and has the eyes of an Osprey.
Just when I was trying to sort out the tangle, he said in a rising tone: "Man, you better be ready quick. Throw the line, 20 yards man. You gotta cast boss. Now throw it!"
"I see nothing," I said, not for the first time, feeling rather like Manuel from Fawlty Towers.
"Fahhk boss, shitty cast."
Last Spring, my family and I spent two weeks at Bluff House on Green Turtle Cay, part of the Abaco group in the vast Bahamas chain of islands and I am in love with the place. The island is only three miles long and if there are more friendly, gentle and smiling people per acre, anywhere in the world, I want to go there. There are only a few cars on the island and most tourists hire either an electric golf cart (from Ronnie’s lovely wife), or a small Boston Whaler outboard dinghy (from Ronnie’s brother) to get around the island. If you want night-life, casinos and bars, don’t go to Green Turtle Cay.
The Bluff House hotel turned out to be exactly my kind of place, partly because it is family-run, a term that is nirvana to a hard-bitten traveller like me, because it is rare to find so much genuine charm in any destination these days. Our room was up on the hill overlooking the sea, equipped with air conditioning and cool interior decoration. French windows slid open onto a wide colonial veranda from which I could see shallow sandy flats where the bonefish lived and a few minutes’ walk away, a quiet marina bar served a dangerous rum cocktail called The Goombay Smash.
One of the great joys of bone fishing is the fact that you can stalk the the fish in clear shallow water and, believe me, the sight of a ghostly shape weaving its way across the flats is one of the greatest sights in the angling world. Far better anglers than I have said that if there was only one fish they were able to catch before they died, it would be a ‘bone’ and I am certainly not going to disagree.
The day before, I had seen at least two bones over the magical ten-pound mark and caught five fish that fought like Exocets. The best weighed only seven and a half pounds, but left me trembling with their sheer speed and stamina, all of them caught on an 8-weight fly rod, with size 4 Crazy Charlie flies and 10lb tippet.
As I stretched my back and sipped a cold beer, waiting for the next moment of excitement, it occurred to me, not for the first time, that Ronnie’s ability to see fish was quite mystical. His eye was so highly attuned to detect minute differences in the aquatic landscape that he had become one with nature and I admit to feeling a pang of jealousy, not to mention a storming headache from the glare of the sun.
I’d have to say that my ability to see bonefish had improved greatly over the years, partly with experience, but also with the new breed of astonishing polarizing lenses and I’d like to share a small piece of advice in the shape of a new American manufacturer by the name of Kaenon Polarized. Before anyone questions my motives, I must add that I don’t work for the company and neither do I receive any personal gain from their existence, apart from the fact that I can now see more fish than before.
I have been using three different lenses, depending on the conditions, one with a yellow tint, which maximises the contrast on a cloudy day, so that even the lightest shadow appears exaggerated. The other has dark grey tint, perfect for the searing sun of the tropics, with wrap-around style that keeps out any ambient light from my peripheral vision. The third is my absolute favourite all-rounder, the amber lense. If you can only afford one, get this one, because it will cope admirably with most situations.
I found Kaenon via a friend, whose customers include some of the finest fishing guides in the States, as well as an array of superstar sportsmen and women from speed skating and yachting. Of course, the Americans have led the field in sports technology for a couple of generations, no matter what the Eastern Block might say, but we have been very slow in adopting their methods. I have posted their contact details at the end of this article, but I know that they haven’t yet started selling these shades in the UK, so you may have to get your local optician to try to order some in.
If I have one key piece of advice for anyone who likes the idea of sight fishing – and it doesn’t matter if it’s on the River Wye in Herefordshire or the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico – there is no substitute for great lenses. They do cost decent money and by that I mean between £50 and £120. But the difference is amazing. Ideally, I look for patterns that have a non-slip nose-guard, because when I’m stalking around, crouched down, in hot conditions for long enough, I know that it is irritating to have the glasses slipping down my nose. Equally, it makes sense to invest in some that have sides that wrap around so that the light doesn’t scatter into my field of vision.
My other top tip, was given to me by a sailing friend, who totally understands the damage you can do to your eyes when trying to stare into the glare of the sun. He has destroyed more glasses in the process of wiping the lenses clean on his shirt, than his bank manager cares to know. He now always licks the lenses clean with his tongue before wiping them on a cloth. That way, he knows that he won’t be grinding any grit into the lenses.
Anyway, by the time Ronnie dropped me off at the Marina Bar, I was tired but happy and terribly thirsty. The tide had dropped off the flats and with it, the bonefish had moved into deeper water, invisible to the naked eye. I had caught another four bonefish, each of them over five pounds and stalked by sight in gin-clear water.
I was wondering what my family had been doing in my absence and like any proud father, slightly worried that they had not been having enough fun while I was out for the day. Back on the beach, I was greeted by the sound of laughter. My two daughters were dancing with a deliciously plump Bahamian waitress and my wife, Kate, was at the bar, still in her bikini and glistening with suntan oil. I overheard the barman say: "Another Goombay Smash ma’am?"
All was right with the world.
If you are interested in the excellent polarising lenses by Kaenon Polarised, their contact details are as follows:
1607 Babcock Street
Tel: (949) 574-7918
Fax: (949) 574-7916
Web site: www.kaenon.com