Mar 15

Lies and Statistics

There is a new-to-me on-line fly fishing magazine called Tail that I got turned onto to see an article by Michael Larkin (yeah, he’s a Ph.D.). The article is all about bringing statistics to break down the elements that influence if you are going to catch a bonefish or not.

Fishing is good.

Fishing is good.

It is an interesting read, looking at data from Keys fishing tournaments over a number of years. This may, or may not apply to your average day on the water, but it does provide some food for thought.

What are the elements that matter the most? Experience of your guide? Your own experience? Wind? Cloud cover? Moon phase? It all gets put into the mix.

Check it out. (I think you have to register to see it, but you can do so for free)

Feb 15

Nicklaus loves the bones

“I think that bonefishing combines hunting, it combines calculation of where the fish could be, what the tides are, what the moon is, time of day,” Nicklaus said. “It forces you to figure out what’s going on.”

Turns out, Jack Nicklaus loves bonefish too… and for many of the same reasons I do.

I’m not a golfer… in fact, I tend to think along these lines:

“I am not against golf, since I cannot suspect it keeps armies of the unworthy from discovering trout.” – Paul O’Neil

Maybe I’m just a hater, but it really isn’t my thing… and then there’s the runoff and the way people have of taking some bit of natural beauty and thinking they can improve upon it by putting in 18 holes and a clubhouse.

Maybe you fear what you don’t know and I don’t know golf, but I do know fishing and have fallen in love with bonefish over these last few years… OK, and tarpon a bit too.

Jack seems like a good guy… like for this –

Earlier this month, the foundation pledged $60 million to support the growth of the Miami Children’s Health System. In recognition of the grand gesture, Miami Children’s Hospital will now be known as the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

Good on ya Jack… go get some bones.



Jul 14

The going away shot

The line is flying.

The line is flying.

Let me paint the picture for you.

You are on the flat. The fishing has been maybe a bit slow. The shots are few and far between and the fish are not happy fish.

You see a fish, it is coming closer… maybe you get a shot in, not dice, the fish turns, slowly, not spooked, but now headed away. Maybe it is turned 45 degrees away. Swimming slowly.

In this situation… do you make the cast?

Points to consider.

1. Bonefish really hate it when flies move toward them. Prey does not sacrifice itself to the predator and a shrimp does not swim into the mouth of a bonefish. A bonefish that gets an uncomfortable feeling is a bonefish that swims away very, very fast. Sometimes, bonefish turns again and comes back if he isn’t freaked out. So, best to not fire off the Hail Mary and wait and see if it comes back around.

2. Things happen. A bonefish might, just might turn and pounce on the fly and gobble it up. You can’t catch the fish if you fly isn’t in the water and if the fish was moving away, it probably was going to be a shot you weren’t going to have again anyway.

Where do you come down on this?

Feb 14


Trips seem to come at inflection points. They mark the passage of time.

The trip to Andros marked the end of my first marriage.

My second Hawaii trip was freedom.

The Cuba trip coincided with the start of the relationship with my current wife.

My second Belize trip was my honeymoon.

My last Bahamas trip was maybe the last trip we will likely have had with my mom with us and it was when we first found out we were pregnant with our son.

This upcoming Bahamas trip takes place with her home, fighting cancer.

Trips… I look forward to each and every one and as I look back, I plot the arc of my life by the coming and going of those experiences.

I’m eager to get out there on the flats… I’m already packing.

Three rods in there already, one to add.

Three rods in there already, one to add.

Dec 13

Where you are thinking about going

I thought I’d share a little bit about what is getting the search traffic here at BOTB and what that reveals about you, the angling public. Below are the 10 top locations searched for on Bonefish on the Brain.

10. Kauai – I’ve been there. I’ve seen fish. I’ve cast at them. Sadly, I haven’t caught them there and I doubt I’ll be back. Kauai is part of my past. Beautiful place though.

This thing was cool.

This thing was cool.

9. Costa Rica – An odd one, since there are very few bones there, so far as I know. I guess people are searching for bones there and so they find this blog in the search.

8. Water Cay Lodge – A very specific search. I’ve been there and certainly have written a bit about it. Grand Bahama is a very, very fishy place.

I'll be walking onto this dock in February.

I’ll be walking onto this dock in February.

7. Andamans – I had to look this up. I have written a post about the Andamans (Indian Ocean), but it certainly isn’t top of mind.

6. St. Thomas – Another disappointing search for people, I’d think. What I’ve written about St. Thomas (mostly an interview) said there were bones there, but they were few and far between, the structure wasn’t ideal and there were many more tarpon there than bones.

5. St. Brandon’s – Not a surprise. I’ve written a lot about St. Brandon’s and I think about that place often… very often… like now.

4. Christmas Island – Another place that is top of mind for me as well. If you are a Pacific Coast angler, this is likely where you will look to get your Geet.

3. Andros – The search term was actually “flies for Andros,” but I’ll count it as Andros. I’ve actually fished Andros and think about that experience often.

Nice bone, tagged and ready to go. Photo by Cameron Miller.

Nice bone, tagged and ready to go. Photo by Cameron Miller.

2. Culebra – A bit of a surprise. Culebra is not a big place, but it sounds very, very lovely. This Puerto Rican island is fairly undeveloped at this point, although I wouldn’t expect that to stay true for long.

My top location search… drum roll please…

1. Grand Bahama – This is the place I’ve fished the most for bones. It is easy to get to, has a wide range of lodging and angling options and is the place I caught my first bonefish.  Awesome place.



Sep 13

From the Archives – First Day of Bonefishing for Mrs. BOTB

(Originally posted September 20, 2012)

She’s a sport. This was our honeymoon, after all.  It was also her second day of fly fishing ever. That’s jumping into the deep end, pretty much.  Still, I figured if it was going to happen, it stood a good chance of happening here, out of El Pescador in Belize.

I would routinely say that what I wanted, out of the day on the water, was to share with her what it was that I loved, out there on the flats. It is an obscure concept if you’ve never been out there and maybe the selling of it is a bit challenging.  “Hey, let’s stand on a boat for a few hours, looking for fish that are really hard to see, in the sun without shade. Oh, and you can’t have a beer until you land a fish (OK, that’s really more my rule).”

She was kitted out for success. She came walking up for breakfast like she belonged.

Ready for action

We got out on the water and headed up to the park.  It is a nice ride up there and the day wasn’t too hot while we were running. Soon after we paid our fee at the park we went in search for baby tarpon.  This wasn’t maybe the best first stop. First, it wasn’t going to be something that would put her up on the deck and secondly, back in the mangroves it was stiflingly hot.

I was also having a case of the sucks. I couldn’t seal the deal on the baby poons. I swept the rod on the first fish. I cast on the head of the second. I cast behind the third. The fourth wasn’t interested. All the time it was really, really hot. She suffered through it all though without a complaint, which just goes to show what a trooper she is.

We went out into a slightly bigger lagoon, a place with a bit of a breeze, and I managed to blow one last fish. On this fish I made a good cast, got the take, set the beejeezus out of things and managed to just break the fish off. That was surprising because this same set-up had landed my 85 pounder in Cuba. Same knots, same spools of material. Go figure.

Me, casting.

We then left to find some bones and the Mrs. got up on deck. Cesar, our guide set about helping out with her cast.  This was her second day fishing, period. It is a tough place to start. Cesar got her up and running and put in into position to catch fish.  There is a lot to remember though, and it was tough for her to carry it all in her mind.  There is so much we carry in muscle memory and when you have to pick it all up and have to keep it in the front of your mind, well, things are going to get dropped, and plenty of things got dropped. She was unfazed though, mostly because of her awesomeness.

Mrs. BOTB actually hooked two bonefish, which I thought was simply wonderful. She got to feel the fish a bit, but put too much slack into things and both bones managed to get off. She did, however, manage to get a little snapper, so was not blanked on the day and got to enjoy a Belikin.

Earning the beer.

The day ended with Cesar and I out on foot chasing down several schools of bones. That was a fun time.

Another one in the books.

She got to see what I love out there and she understands me a bit better because of it.  That was the goal, so, mission accomplished. She may need a few more days of trout fishing before we head back to the flats, which I’m happy to provide for her.

She’s game, which is just simply wonderful.

Sep 13

From the Archives – My -2″ Cuban Grand Slam

(originally published May 9, 2012)

The tarpon was first and that was clearly the pig of the trip.  After we finally released that fish we went looking for some bonefish.

We found them.

Really, I think the guides could likely produce bones pretty much all day, but they like chasing the tarpon when they are in, since they don’t stick around all year and the window is about three months long.

The bones weren’t big, maybe 3 pounds, but they fought well and we even had one little cluster Fuque where I got a knot in my running line that went through the guides.  Jim worked on getting the knot undone and I hand lined the fish, which meant it had PLENTY of slack.  The thing turned around and started swimming leisurely back toward us. The thing came so close to the boat that I just figured I’d wait and pull it’s head out of the water. That’s exactly what happened and we managed to land the bonefish pretty much without the rod.

The next flat we went to was ocean-side and as I got up on deck Jim asked the guide “you ever see any permit here?”

“Sometimes” was the reply, although it should have been “Sure, in about a minute.”

There was Mr. Permit cruising right toward us.  No time to switch rods, the bonefish fly would have to do (a Peterson’s Spawning Shrimp). The fish lit up on the fly, started chasing it down doing a little erratic dance behind it. I SWEAR it ate, as did Jim, but I was tight to the fly and there was never any sort of resistance on the line. Just like that it bugged off and I was left, about 2″ from a Cuban Grand Slam.

Kind of cool to come so close.  I know it is mostly luck and “right time/right place” that gets you those Grand Slams and I was pretty damn close to getting it right.

That’s why we keep fishing.

Photo by Jim Klug, Tarpon by Cuba

Really… I can’t complain at all.



Aug 13

From the Archives – FIBFest Day 1, the rest of the story

(Originally posted in 2011)

I said more details would come out about Day 1 from FIBFest, but I never really put them out there… the Outdooress beat me to it, putting up her version of that first day of fishing… you can read it through the link below, and I’ll give my own account below that.

One single cast, a few panicked strips of my line, one marginal strip set and BAM….I caught a bonefish on my first try. As my line peeled away I distinctly remember Bjorn behind me saying, “clear your line!” followed quickly with, “beginners luck!”

via And Sometimes, A Fly Fisher Must Self Time Out..while Bonefishing | The Outdooress.

On day 1 of FIBFest I was paired with Rebecca (aka the Outdooress). Rebecca had never been saltwater fly fishing before.  It is safe to say that she had some anxiety about the whole business.  I tried (for a solid 20 seconds or so) to give her the deck first, but she insisted she needed a little time to calm her nerves.

Her nerves were not promptly calmed when we stopped the boat only to see a 5 foot lemon shark (she’s not totally on board with the whole “sharks are cool” thing).  I got up on deck, took line off and stood in the place I most enjoy in the world… the bow of a flats boat.  Ahhhhhhh…

My favorite place

Soon, our guide, Ellie, had spotted the first fish.  I got a follow and an eat and missed the fish.  I missed the second fish.  I missed the third fish.  I was apologizing to Ellie a lot at this point.  Number 4 and I missed it.  I think I hooked a couple of these fish, briefly.  My strip set had about 20% tout set in it and it was just enough to botch the job.

Number FIVE stayed on.  I was on the board, the boat had the skunk off it and we were in business.

Staying on… first fish in of the trip.

It was Rebecca’s turn.  She got up and started getting some line out and doing a little practice casting.  It was not going well… I couldn’t tell what exactly wasn’t going well, but it, in general, wasn’t going well. I could see Rebecca getting really frustrated.  After a few minutes she realized that the help she had received the night before from someone around the Slack Tide Bar in setting up her rig had backfired.  In a Kalik haze, someone had missed one of the guides.  Rebecca was going to have to re-rig.  I was up again.

It didn’t take me that long on the second fish, as I recall, but soon, Rebecca was up on deck again.  I told her that I was sure she was going to stick the very first fish she cast to.  That’s the way these things work.  Beginners Luck is real and I was sure she was going to be dipped in that magical pixie dust to get her first bonefish.

Oddly, I was pretty much spot on.  The first fish she had to cast to she stuck.  That was a very nice thing.


I was back up and whacked #3 and it was Rebecca’s turn again.  This is where things started to kind of come unraveled a bit for the Outdooress.  There was some wind and when it came time to make that 40′ cast into the wind the Outdooress hit a wall of frustration and I could see the downward spiral that would take her off the casting deck and install me back up there.  Now, it should be noted that I tried to have her keep the deck, to get through it and stick with it, but it was clear to both of us she really needed a little breather to get her head right.

I’m a pretty good cheerleader and reminded her this was her first day in the salt, that casting like this is not a skill set that most trout anglers can really claim and that it takes time and that she needed to be more gentle with herself.  Bits and pieces of this made it through, but she was having a tough time.

Confidence is a tricky thing.  We build our confidence as anglers by putting in the time and and seeing results.  Most of us do that on rivers and lakes before we try to take it to the salt and when we get there, we often find our skills are related, but not totally what is called for.  We have defined ourselves as anglers and here is something we can’t do.  It is a real “wtf” moment.

The day progressed… Rebecca started cutting herself a little slack and spent more time up on the deck.  She landed three bonefish on her first day fishing in the salt.  I’d call that a good day.

I managed to get some good follows from some lemon sharks on a gurgler, but no eats.  The fish would accelerate on the fly, raise their nose right to it and by that time they would be about 15 feet from the boat and they’d peel off.

One unlucky bonefish became a snack for some of the lemons post release.  Poor bastard.  We were shadowed by lemons with three sharks visible at one time on occasion.

I had one fly we named the 50/50.  I’d cast to one little pod of fish and they’d follow and then bolt.  Ellie would say “Maybe we should change that fly… wait… bonefish, 11:00, 40′!”  I’d cast and this other group of fish would crush the fly.  The fish either loved it or hated it in equal measure. Go figure.

The 50/50, retired.

So… that’s the tale of the first day of FIBFest.

Mar 13

Interview with Capt. John O’Hearn

John O’Hearn is a Key West Guide. That wild, beautiful little island has a reputation, some earned, some more folklore than fact, but it is an interesting place, for sure. I went there as a kid and remember fondly the Mel Fisher museum and my dad eating conch salad (and me thinking he was crazy). I loved it there, and I haven’t been back since. Reading John’s interview, I want to make it back there and I likely will.

John with a Redfish

John with a Redfish

Key West has a reputation for being a really colorful place. How deserved is the reputation?
Key west reputation as a colorful place is well deserved.  It all stems from the undercurrent of the island’s (and the whole lower keys really) attitude.  down here no one cares what you do with your life.  So long as personal decisions don’t greatly impact the lives of others, you are good to go.
This manifests itself in a variety of ways.  It might be the 60 year dude who jogs ever morning wearing only shoes tiny bright red shorts and a woman’s red sun hat.  Or it might mean that bartenders end up becoming close friends.  Or it might mean the city holds a week long party where all forms of debauchery are encouraged (Fantasy Fest).  Or might mean you wake up at ludicrously early hours, get in a tiny boat, run for an hour in the dark and try to catch prehistoric fish with a hook in a shrimp costume.   
I was in Key West when I was about 10. I wanted to be Mel Fisher and find sunken treasure. How do you think Key West is or has changed?

This same “I don’t give a shit what you do with your life” attitude is attractive to the larger world.  Many people just come here to have a week of it, before they return to their “reality”.  Sadly, this same attitude opened the door for some to “commoditize” this attitude and sell the place out.  Essentially, trying to make the place into some sort of Debauched Disney World.

Take for example a recent debate over the widening/dredging of the harbor in key west so that mega cruise ships can fit into port.  Despite the fact that the harbor is part of a marine sanctuary that prohibits dredging.  Despite the fact that the majority of lower keys residents are against the idea.  Despite the fact that dredging would displace or destroy endangered species of coral.  There is a very real chance it might get pushed thru.  It is the same old political story, that those in power stand to profit from it, so they are trying to make it happen.  
In Oct. of this year, there will be a referendum held to decide if the first steps (a feasibility study) should be taken in the dredging process.  This referendum only includes key west voters, despite the obvious effects it will have on all residents in the lower keys. This feasibility study, of approved would be paid for by the cruise ship industry. And this feasibility study will be done by the army corp of engineers, the masterminds behind the destruction of the Everglades and the Mississippi River gulf outlet (MRGO) that led directly to the flooding of New Orleans in hurricane Katrina. Troubling thoughts all.
I guess that is a long way of saying key west is perilously close to selling it soul.
Google Image Search says this is John with a Cuda.

Google Image Search says this is John with a Cuda.

When you are on the water a lot, you see interesting things. What’s something really odd you’ve seen out there on the water?

Weirdest thing on the water:  adults dressed in oddly colored shirts swinging expensive sticks, with line and costumed hook attached, at prehistoric fish and accompanied by micro managing masked fascist on elevated platforms holding bigger and even more expensive sticks.  
(Well played on that answer, by the way)
Also weird is that Google Image Search says THIS is John O'Hearn, but I'm thinking maybe not.

Also weird is that Google Image Search says THIS is John O’Hearn, but I’m thinking maybe not.

 You have a favorite bar in Key West?

 My favorite bar in key west would have to the the Conch Republic Seafood Factory.  It is on the water and had all the looks of a tourist trap, which it us if you eat there.  But slide up to the bar for happy hour, make friends with the bar tender and enjoy the 2 for 1 drinks.  Regulars get a lot of comps.  My favorite bar in the keys is Coconuts on Big Pine.  It is definitely not a tourist trap.  Mounted fish on the walls, drunk fishing guides, and pool tables.

There is a lot of history out there when it comes to saltwater fly fishing. How does that history influence you as a guide?
I am fascinated by the history of this place, but your average keys guide/fisherman is pretty tight lipped.  I love the code names for places; the eccentrics, the snack bar, the monkey box, the animal farm, the bongos, the list goes on.   As a tip of my hat to those who laid the foundations of this sport, I am religious about fishing igfa legal ( more a concern with poon leaders than anything else).  I licked into an old wood tarpon stretcher box owned by billy pate, that is a prized possession, and used daily.
In a place where the fish see a lot of flies, do you think the Gotcha still works or do you start to need to start throwing other patterns?
For everything but the largest of the downtown Islamorada, most any pattern will work, provided it is weighted correctly for the water being fished and it is drab-ish in color.  I have caught many bonefish on Gotchas.  The only drawback, it is too hard to tie.  Lead eyes, a tan ring and a colored head is all you need.  Strip them right and most flies work great.
 What’s your go-to rod/reel for bonefishing?
My all time favorite setup is a 4px G Loomis cross-current glx 8wt, a Loop speed runner and a Sharkskin line.  Cherry!
 What are your concerns when you look at the KW fishery from a conservation standpoint?
My biggest concern is for the future of the fishery.  Literately I am concerned that we are running out of bonefish to catch.  We had an historically cold winter in 2010, and our fishing has not been the same since.  Bonefish are managed well (catch and release only) but I fear habitat loss and water quality issues might prove to be insurmountable obstacles.  I hope I am wrong.
Thanks for your time John and I hope the Keys remains a magical place for years and years to come.

Feb 13

Smooth as Keith Stone

I thought we’d start off the week with a cool little story from Scott Heywood over on the Fly Paper blog.

A day like this is a rare gift. These islands own a hot sun, making wind a constant companion for the bonefisherman. Learn to live with it or quit… it’s your choice. But this morning had dawned calm and it was still dead calm. There was not the slightest exhalation coming off the big island of Andros. These are the kind of days you dream about… a few wispy clouds, a few small thunderheads way off on the horizon and a sea as slick and quiet as a marble slab in a morgue.

Glassy days. I haven’t seen many of those, but I did have one in Belize for my honeymoon. I know the conditions he’s talking about, even if he actually had good fishing that day and I got skunked.  Still, calm days can be really tough. The fish see you from a mile away and the lack of wind, that same wind we curse when it blows in our faces, makes the air bake, and you with it.



Scott’s story is from Andros, which, among all the islands in the Caribbean, is special for the miles and miles of mangroves which serve as a nursery for all manner of species.

Love this place.