When I asked for anglers to interview about bonefish, Capt. Tim Mahaffey’s (www.flatshead.com) name came up quickly and, after looking over what he has to share, I can see why. He’s got a long and distinguished track record where it concerns the Grey Ghost (the guy has won the Islamorada Spring & Fall Bonefish Fly Invitationals 6 time) and he even wrote this article about hunting for big fish. Tim has some good stories to share.
You have a pretty impressive tournament resume. For a West Coast trout guy like myself, tournaments aren’t something that really exist. What is it that you like about fishing tournaments, what makes you keep coming back?
It is like any other sport, competition raises skill level, and it makes you work harder and prepare longer. I started fly fishing at a very young age, 5, and it has been my life’s passion ever since. Tournament fishing pushed me to get better and to take my fishing to a level I didn’t know existed. It’s really the great thing about fishing which is somewhat unlike other sports – it can be enjoyed by everyone no matter your skill level. Fishing from a bridge, or competing at the highest levels in Islamorada chasing downtown bonefish. It is all fun.
When you are on the water a lot, you see really interesting things that most folks probably don’t know about. Is there something particularly interesting you’ve seen out on the water?
Since I concentrate most of my bonefishing chasing the huge, downtown fish of Islamorada, I certainly see some bonefish behavior that you don’t see in the Bahamas or even in Biscayne Bay. One of the funnier things is what we call the “positive confirmation”. Many times when we spook these giant bones, and I’m talking about fish 10-15 lbs, they don’t tear off the flat looking for deeper water. They come to the boat and look at us, not in panic, but in confident posture, taking that “positive confirmation” of “oh yes, that is that idiot in the white Maverick Mirage who just hit me in the head with his pathetic shrimp imitation”. I’ve seen this over and over again and clearly it is an evolved behavior inherent in these older, mature fish.
Florida has a reputation for being a tough place to fish, for being a place where bonefish are really hard to catch. How deserved is that reputation?
It is deserved for the big fish for sure, but well worth the effort since many days we’re casting to world record caliber fish. I wrote an article about fishing for giant bonefish quite some time ago (see below), and really nothing has changed. There are very specific techniques as to how you feed these fish, unlike anywhere else I have fished. You have to slow down, less is better, in how you strip, how close you throw to the fish, etc. I use the heaviest fly possible for the situation, they want it hopped short and quick and on the bottom. Most of the big fish we catch when the fly is not moving. The bottom line is that they are very catchable, but you have to do everything right and do it the way they want it. There is no room for error.
Is there a fish that you lost that haunts you?
Yes there are a few. It’s funny, combined I’ve won the Islamorada Spring & Fall Bonefish Fly Invitationals 6 times, but I lost a significant fish in 3 other tournaments that easily would have been enough to win those too. One was in Biscayne Bay, and I hooked this giant, single mudding bone in 5 feet of water, and he literally screamed drag off to the bottom of my reel. We had to start the motor and give chase. At the end of the second run the line went slack, and when I pulled in the fly I discovered he had completely crushed the fly closed. I’ve landed 3 bones over 14 lbs in my life, and this fish was in that class and perhaps a pound or two more. It seems I remember those lost more than those caught.
Is there something happening conservation wise that has you hopeful about the fate of bonefish there in FL? Is there something that has you concerned?
Just like everything else, we always say it’s not like it used to be. But sometimes it is, which gives us hope. Some days they are there, in great numbers and the shot count exceeds 30 and it is like nothing ever happened. So the hope is that yes, the fish are still there and when conditions dictate we have great days. The elimination of septic sewage in the Keys brings us hope for the future, and continual policing of our flats to be marked as no motor zones I believe helps ensure our fishery will survive and thrive.
What is your go-to rod/reel set up?
For Downtown Islamorada bonefish, I use Loomis GLX Classic 9 weight 2 piece rods with Abel 4N reels. On big windy days I pull out the 10 weights.
Did you learn how to be a guide through a culmination of experience or did someone teach you how to be a guide and what do you think is the key attribute a guide should have?
Being a competitive angler / paying customer on the bow of several great guides’ boats for many years helps you understand the expectation of a client and what is going through their head. There are several key attributes. First and foremost, the job is to provide opportunities to catch the fish. You have to have the knowledge to be able to do that under all conditions and seasons. Secondly, you want your customer to not only catch fish, but have fun doing it. Guides sometimes lose themselves in the catching part, and forget about the fun part. I want my customers walking away wanting more, more casts, more fun. Lastly, you have to enjoy teaching and coaching, and be willing to do it all day every day. I find beginners and experts alike all want to learn more and improve, and they are looking to walk away from the day thinking, “I got better today, wow I learned something today”. Understanding the customer’s expectations is so important and adjusting your style to that is extremely critical. The way I fish and coach one guy may be totally different than the next based on what they want out of the day.
The Bahamas has Kalik. What do you drink after a long day on the water?
Two gallons of water a day on the boat, but, once home, Ron Zacapa 23 Year Old Centenario Rum – the best rum in the world.
Do you have any superstitions on your boat?
Not really, I’ve tried them all and they don’t work!
Thanks for your time and attention to the answers here Tim. Cheers!