I’ve been traveling, so haven’t posted more about this, but I’m sneaking a few minutes here at work to get some more news out.
The Bahamas regs put into place earlier in the year are still on the books, but won’t be enforced until a thorough review can take place.
That’s the long and short of it.
So, you can go to the Bahamas and fish however you are used to fishing. For the short/intermediate term, things revert to how they’ve always been.
This makes me want to put the Bahamas back on my travel list for 2018. The uncertainty caused by the regulations have hit the Bahamas hard. Business is down, for most lodges, between 25-50%. That’s a big hit for some places that eek by to begin with. What the govt. of the Bahamas wants to do now is encourage their anglers to come back. So… consider it. I know for me a cold Kalik would go down pretty well.
Here is Beau Beasly’s recent article from MidCurrent.
It is almost certain a license will remain part of what happens down the road, but not until you get get that license on-line, easily, and without having to go to a govt. office that isn’t even open on weekends.
I think most everything else is up for review and I hope it is a thoughtful, inclusive process and produces an end product that puts the Bahamas at the top of resource management. One can hope.
You want your bonefish to live long and prosper after you release it? Well, here are some thoughts. You’ll notice I’m not immune from making bad decisions. I do, from time to time, but I want to be better. That’s the goal.
The risk to the fish by our poor actions is not insignificant. Here’s a postfrom years ago about that very thing.
For best results, the angler should minimize two things.
Air Exposure – How long the fish is out of the water.
Handling – How much you touch the bonefish.
This is important because when you release a bonefish back into the salt, there are other things waiting to eat them. They don’t get a chance to catch their breath or recover. A bonefish survives because it can swim faster, react quicker than the sharks and cuda’s trying to eat them and if they are impaired when you let them go they stand a decent chance of becoming food for one of those predators.
Here are the grades of handling for bonefish.
You have hooked the fish and fought it to the boat. You admire the fish while it is in the water, still swimming, on the end of your line. You reach down with your pliers and simply pop the fly out of the fish’s mouth (since you are fishing barbless).
Air Exposure = 0.
Handling = 0.
(This is WAY easier to do after you’ve caught about 8 fish.)
You have hooked and fought a bonefish. Getting the fish to the boat you reach into the water and cradle the fish in your hands. Maybe you take a picture of the fish in the water, maybe even underwater. You unhook the fish and let it swim away.
Air Exposure = 0.
Handling = A little.
You hook the fish, fight it in and you quickly bring the fish out of the water for a picture. The fish is out of the water for just a few seconds.
Air Exposure = A little.
Handling = Not that much.
South Andros Bonefish. Photo by Andrew Bennett
You hook that fish and get it in. You bring the fish out of the water and hold it, mid-air, out of the water, maybe sitting in the middle of the boat, while your friend or your guide snap a bunch of pictures.
Air Exposure = Too Much.
Handling = Too Much.
That’s an o’io.
You hold that fish up with a boga, in the middle of the boat for a bunch of pictures.
Air Exposure = Too Much.
Handling = Way, Way, Way too much.
That green hat, my first decent bonefish and some horrible fish handling.
We all can do better. As I looked through my own pictures I was bummed to see my picture from Hawaii, just recently, that was poor handling. I think it was faster than it looked like, but I could have done better. It is harder to always be in the A camp. I think as long has you have an A- average, you are doing pretty damn well.
Other considerations you should keep in mind are to limit the duration of the fight (get that fish in as soon as you can) and never touch a bonefish with a dry hand (or dry anything).
It really is about education and the more we spread the word and encourage other anglers to learn about how to do things right, most will opt to do things right.
This part of the story will have fewer relevant photos for two reasons. Firstly, my GoPro battery died, because that seems to be the alternative purpose of the GoPro and the second reason is we missed the shot of the hand-caught redfish.
So, that story.
James and I were paddling into some really skinny water and finding fish to cast at. Sometimes their backs were out of the water, sometimes they’d just disappear, which seemed impossible given how shallow this water was.
James had just pulled up along side me and was saying something like “You wouldn’t believe how shallow these fish get.” when it all went down. As he came up to me, his kayak effectively blocked the outlet of a very small branch of the bayou. A redfish was sealed off and kind of freaked out. It tried to charge past James’ kayak and you could hear the slap-slap-slap of the tail against his kayak but we were too shallow to get under it and it was too long to get past. The thing was just trapped.
James reached down and just picked up a decent sized red. There was a fair bit of laughter at this, but before I could get the camera on, the fish flopped out of his hands and was on his way.
I ended up picking up a couple more fish, which was great.
I picked up my first redfish on a top-water fly. At some point we had turned back around and were heading back toward the water we had started on and I went back to the little cut where I had seen the giant bull red. In that pocket I found more redfish and I put on a fly that is part shrimp, part Gurgler. I wasn’t really sure what speed or action to put on it, but I figured it should be shrimp-ish, whatever that is. I saw the red follow on the fly and then he opened his gullet and tried to eat it. He missed or I got over-eager and pulled it away. Either way, I missed the first eat.
Further down the cut I saw water moving around and I cast again. I made a cast and was retrieving when something distracted me. I looked away, but heard the take, and came fast to my second red. It was a decent fish, unrecorded for posterity due to my now dead batteries in the GoPro.
I later picked up one more red, in the same cut, but on a Kwan (which may actually be the first fish I’ve ever caught on that particular patter as I just don’t tie or fish many of them).
By the time we got back to our starting place the current was ripping back in and the wind had picked up slightly (so, from 1 mp to maybe 5 or 6 mph). James and I wound our way through some more skinny water on our way back out, but the light was getting harder and the water muddier and I didn’t get another fish.
I ended up with three redfish and one trout for the day and James ended up with 7 reds to and and one BY hand. That’s some Jedi level stuff there.
Don’t you love the hazey GoPro pictures?
The paddle back to the launch was not too bad, despite the current and the light wind.
I got back first and got some beer for the guys. I subsequently left the beer at the launch, thus donating to the fishing gods.
We loaded up the trucks and headed back to the house, avoiding the speed traps and thus refusing to contribute penalties to the local economy.
It was only one day of fishing in the marshes of Louisiana, but it was a good one. I learned I can, in fact, stand up in a kayak and get it done. It was a great experience.
I have been to NOLA a lot over the last 16 months or so. My average is about once a month, all for work, and the trips are packed pretty full of meetings with a quick return flight. In on Tuesday afternoon, meetings Wednesday, meetings Thursday and then the last flight out of MSY that evening (7:40 PM gets me into OAK at about midnight). Not a lot of time for fishing in that mix.
I did get out last December with guide Ron Ratliff for a half-day. That was my first trip for reds in Louisiana and it was pretty awesome.
Part of the work crew, doing work at the conference in NOLA.
This year I had a big conference in NOLA (#KidneyWeek2017), so I was going to be around for a while. On top of that, my wife had a conference in Indianapolis. So… I had a day in play to find another fishing opportunity.
Guides were pretty booked, it is prime time after all, so, I called upon the power of the internet and asked if anyone wanted to split a boat with me. I got a response fairly quickly from James who said he had ~20 guys coming from Alabama to DIY it, an annual gathering, from kayaks. He could get a kayak for me if I was interested. It was an experience I couldn’t pass up, so I took him up on the offer.
The group had two houses rented about a 2 hour drive from New Orleans. After the exhibit booth and flooring was pack up I hit the road. I managed to get down in time to steal some of their dinner (I brought rolls though). I met the crew, saw the kayak I’d be fishing out of, got attacked by mosquitos, had a couple of beers and managed to harass all the white trout under the dock lights (which was more fun than was reasonable).
A bit of serendipity next, as my friend Peter from Copenhagen happened to ALSO be right where I was going. After leaving the AL crew, I made my way over to where he was staying with Jesse and Brody. We put some additional hurt on some white trout and caught up a bit.
The next morning I got back to the Alabama crew an hour later than intended, because, see… the clocks changed and my alarm got me up at 5:45, which was more like 6:45 the day before… so… I was both late and on-time. After breakfast, we headed off.
Heading off was short-lived, as I left my rod at the house and we had to return to get it, because I’m sometimes forgetful. This would be a fast trip were it not for the obvious speed traps and the ever vigilant police (sheriffs?).
Now, the only time I’ve ever fished out of a kayak was in Maui a couple years ago, and that was a peddle kayak and you didn’t have to stand up in the thing (I mostly got out to fish, although we did throw some spinning gear sitting down and trolled some flies). Turns out you DO need to stand up in these kayaks, at least when you get where the fish are. I was… not steady. I have a high center of gravity and a lot of other excuses if you are interested, but man… I just felt like I was going to fall in pretty much every time I stood up for the first couple of hours.
Amazed I’m not falling in. Photo credit James Eubank
While there were about 18 guys, only four of us took to the trucks to hit different water. It was James, Ben, Drew and me. We launched and paddled out over some open water to some islands not far away. James and I went one way, Drew and Ben the other.
I need to point out I was just plain lucky on conditions. The wind in the morning was non-existent. In saltwater fishing I just expect there to be wind, sometimes a lot of it, sometimes too much of it, but very seldom is there none. That’s what we had when we started the day. The fishing gods were smiling down on my. Thanks buddies.
Within minutes of reaching the first island I immediately saw some sheepshead, but was way too close and WAY too unsteady to get a shot in at them. It took me a while to figure out where everything needed to go. How do I get my rod ready? Where do I put the paddle when I reach for the rod? How do I do all of this without flipping over and sinking to my waist in the muck? I had questions and it was going to be a trial-and-error kind of day.
One of my favorite sayings is “Sucking at something is the first step to becoming good at that thing.” I was at the first step toward kayak fishing greatness, very much in the sense of that quote.
I soon started seeing redfish, but I was not all put together yet and the fish would either be gone by the time I got sorted out or the kayak would have drifted on top of them when I was ready to cast. I’m glad I took my spinning rod out of my gear bag because it would have been really, really tempting to just sit down and fling things without risking tipping over and feeling foolish. Sometimes it feels like we can live our lives in a pretty much constant quest not to be embarrassed. Glad I took the chance.
I found a little cut out of the main channel that had some identifiable redfish in it. There was also something sticking out of the water in the middle of this side pocket which I took to be a log. As I got the kayak in the side pocket the log started slowly swimming out. It was a bull red. It was just massive. Biggest red I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. I was going the wrong way by the time I realized what it was. No casts were made at it and I’m sure that salty old beast was way too smart for my novice redfishing skills (and meager kayak fishing skills).
Out in the main channel and in some slightly deeper water I was seeing fish-sign. I cast at it and was tight to a fish. This was to be my first ever speckled trout. A decent fish and nice to feel the tug of something to compensate for my feelings of inadequacy in the kayak.
That there is a crappy, gopro picture of my first speckled trout.
Soon thereafter I got on the redfish board. As I was paddling along a mangrove edge I saw water pushing, coming toward me. I could see the shapes of several fish, moving deliberately. I managed to get the rod ready (minor miracle), to get the cast made (also minor miracle), before they were on top of me. They were REALLY close when they ate, but ate they did. I was tight to my first DIY redfish.
My first DIY redfish
It was a nice fish. I was feeling pretty good after that. I had picked up a red on my first day really fishing out of a kayak and my first day DIYing for redfish and I was dry.
This whole time James was working up the other side of the cut from me and he was getting into fish as well. He’s been doing this a while and never looked like he was about to go in the drink. James was a pleasure to fish with and I’d do it again.
This is now one of the longer posts on the whole blog, so I’ll pause here and put up Part II in a day or two, which will include the story of James catching a redfish with his bare hands (no kidding).
On a side note… thanks guys. The Alabama group welcomed me in straight away, made me feel comfortable, lent me their gear, let me snag a couple beers and fed me and, overall, were just a solid group of guys. It reminds me of the Northern California Fly Fishing Message Board Bashes we used to have, way back in the day. Nice to have a fishing crew.
I have now spent more than five hours fishing out of a kayak for redfish in Louisiana, DIY-style. This, I’m confident, makes me somewhat of an authority on the subject.
In the picture below you can see me fishing Southern Louisiana with James from Alabama. Being the internet star that I am, I was quickly able to take all of James’ knowledge and feed it right back to him. I was so successful at this that James out-fished me, out paddled me and didn’t once leave his rod back at the house after having driven all the way to the end of the frigging island through the various 25 mph speed traps (I may have been guilty of the latter).
Here I am, spreading my expertise.
Here are the overly broad, sweeping generalizations I’m prepared to make on the topic.
There is almost no wind. Yup, from my vast, vast experience (see above) there is almost never much wind in the bayous of southern Louisiana. This makes fly fishing much easier than windy places, like, for example, everywhere else.
Only magic and dark forces keep you in the kayak. I have been told it is the design of the kayaks that make them stable-ish for an angler standing up, but I am convinced it is a combination of dark, unseen powers and magic. I constantly felt like I was going in the drink, but didn’t and I think the supernatural is the only plausible explanation here.
Redfish will eat topwater. Yup. They will.
There are bull reds and they look like logs. Like… they look a lot like logs and you should cast at them, not wander over near them only to find out that it WASN’T a log, but the biggest redfish you’ve ever seen.
There are a lot of guys from Alabama fishing Louisiana. Specifically, around Grande Isle, once a year, and they know how to cook and have a good time.
I’m sure there are more lessons to impart, but I haven’t slept a whole lot in the past few days and I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, I should.
And… because I know you are thinking it… you are welcome.
Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
The BFFIA was making noise about a possible repeal of the fishing regs, because, ya know, that is possible.
If you want to help with your own shovel full of sand to bury this horrible pile of regulation, there are some things you can do (from the AFFGA).
Please let your voice be heard TODAY by writing the Hon. Renward Wells, Minister of Fisheries, with a copy to Dr. Hon. Hubert A. Minnis, Prime Minster, and Hon. Dionisio D’Aguilar, Minister of
Tourism and tell them that:
I FULLY SUPPORT The current flats fishing regulations being suspended immediately UNTIL A LICENSE CAN BE PURCHASED ONLINE AND SENSIBLE REGULATION IS REWRITTEN that actually protects the fishery via conservation measures, protects Bahamian guides, and welcomes visiting anglers to the Bahamas.
PLEASE also mention that the attempt for a national fishing organization was a complete and utter failure and BFFIA needs to be wound up as they have made a colossal mess for the Bahamas and they are not recognized as a reasonable nor credible voice in the fly fishing industry.
You may also add your own anecdotal evidence but keep your letters short so they are more likely to be read.
Dr. Minnis’s administration wants to do the right thing but they have joined us in the middle of this journey. Your input will let them know how their constituents and the angling public feel about the matter.
Kindly address your comments to the Minister of Fisheries and cc: the rest of the government authorities below as well as me.
I’m going to get my email out today. It will read like this.
Dear Hon. Renward Wells,
I am writing today to lend my support and voice to the many other voices asking you to suspend the current flats fishing regulations until they can be re-written and until a license can be purchased on-line.
I got pulled into the debate about the regulations this last year in part because of the politicization of the process the produced the current regulations. The president of the BFFIA divided the industry and alienated the anglers to the harm of the both the industry and the nation of the Bahamas.
I love the Bahamas. I’ve made several trips to the Bahamas from my home in California. I’ve visited Grand Bahama, Andros, Long Island and Abaco. I’ve made some of my most enduring memories in the Bahamas. The last family trip I took with my mother was to Abaco before she died of cancer. The memories of the Bahamas are good, even when the skies were cloudy and the wind was fierce.
It was for those reasons I opposed the regulations, which I knew would hurt the people of the Bahamas, who sometimes have very little material wealth to set next to their immense natural wealth. I knew this would hurt. I knew the rhetoric coming out of the BFFIA would hurt and the protectionist xenophobia behind many drafts of the regulations would alienate anglers.
I urge you, as you look forward, to not follow the straight party-line process that the PLP and the BFFIA did. Include other voices. Include other view points. Listen to the scientists. Listen to the economists. Listen to as many as you can. Learn from the experiences of your neighbors. In short, do all the things that didn’t happen the first time around.
It also might sound a bit like I’m asking you to do what we in the US aren’t doing too much of in our own politics at the moment, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Aim higher. Serve your people, all of them, regardless of party.
I look forward to seeing what you do here and I wish you only wisdom and success. Sorry this is such a long email.
Editor of Bonefish on the Brain, passionate angler.
So… Fly Fishing Chief says the sky is falling and those “special interests” are behind it. Something like that comes from this story about the possibility that the fly fishing regs put in place earlier this year could be tanked.
I mean… am I the only one who thinks the guy has something in common with Trump? He says “Watch out for special interests!” only because, ya know, he’s got his own special interests he’s interested in peddling?
He proclaims the ecology of the flats as under-threat and a sacred thing and then he bulldozes a bunch of mangroves to put in a fuel station.
He decries the poor handling of bonefish by the unwashed DIY anglers, literally saying poor handling was decimating bonefish stocks, and then does crap like this?
Mr Conservation, demonstrating proper handling of a bonefish.
The fly fishing regs were brought about purely through PLP channels, excluding and ridiculing all other voices. The legislation was brought in through back channels, not through a vote in the Parliament, where it never would have succeeded.
Then, this weird thing happened. The PLP got their asses handed to them in the recent elections. The FNM won. With such changes there were bound to be changes in the fishing regs, maybe keeping the one or two good ideas in the regs and getting rid of the protectionist tripe that comprised the rest of it. I mean… did anyone think anything else was going to happen? I’m just wondering what took so long.
Let the Emperor of Bad Ideas complain. He’s like a walking sermon of contradictions and hypocrisy. How anyone is still listening to that guy is beyond me. He can’t be the guy to carry the flag for the Bahamian fly fishing industry and I can’t wait until more Bahamians actually catch on to that.
I’m going back to NOLA, because, of course I am. This time it is a conference (anyone else going to Kidney Week???) and I have a day at the end of things to get on the water. Last year I got out there in December and managed a half day with guide Ron Ratliff, who was booked when I asked, about fishing this time around.
My first redfish, photo from Derek Rust, in the Keys.
Ron taught me everything there is to know about fly fishing for Reds in the 3 hours we had on the water, meaning that now I am not only the world’s leading bonefish expert, but I’m also, like, one of the top experts when it comes to redfish too (if you are taking any this serious, then it means you are why we can’t have nice things).
So, no Ron this time around, I was looking for time on the water. Somehow this has turned into me getting on the water on a SUP in the marshes of southern Louisiana doing some DIY redfishing. I am sure some comedy is going to ensue.
Looking forward to it, although not the falling off the SUP which is about a 50% bet.