Back to the First Bonefish Contest

OK… I’ve kind of let the whole “First Bonefish” contest slide a bit and I need to get back to the business of giving away some Skinny Water Culture gear.

(To review the plot here… send me your story and I’ll draw a name here soon and you’ll be able to go over to Skinny Water Culture and get what you want, in whatever size you need it… pretty nice from some great guys.)

I got a couple first bonefish stories from the This River is Wild blog.  Both are worth a read.  #1. #2 (even better).

Here is the story of my first bonefish as found over on Deneki Outdoors.

Here’s a story from Vince Staley, I dare say one of my first regular readers, about his first bonefish.

Vince, with his first bonefish on.



My guide, Kevin Faulkner, was more excited than me even though this was my first shot at fly fishing for the “ghost of the flats”. Well, almost more excited. I flubbed the cast, as I couldn’t see the Bonefish, all 100 of them. I had traveled to the British Virgin Islands to fish the fabled flats of Anegada Island. The name Anegada is Spanish for drowned island, an apt name as the top of the island is a lofty 28 feet.

To the north of Anegada is Horseshoe Reef, upon which hundreds of ships lie broken. Storms and poor navigation caused these vessels to pile up on the jagged coral rocks. One ancient Spanish wreck delivered the island’s population of free roaming cattle and gave name to Cow Wreck Bay. The island is eleven miles long and two miles at it’s widest. It has a year round population of 175 souls most of whom are related. There are no single women on the island, but many eligible bachelors.

The southern coast is a broad expanse of salt pond, mangrove swamps and sand flats mixed with turtle grass which makes it a perfect environment for Bonefish. Albula vulpes is a very primitive fish that dates back to the Cretaceous period (125 million years ago). It is the perfect game fish; it takes a fly, has lightning speed when hooked, lives in beautiful tropical areas around the globe, is almost inedible (a dinner of desperation) and feeds in very shallow water on anything edible.

Only man finds the Bonefish unappetizing. Barracuda and sharks avidly pursue them which accounts for their incredible spookiness. Example: I made a cast which the wind caught and carried my fly line leader over the lead fish (lined the fish). It spooked and simultaneously the entire school of fish erupted and disappeared in seconds. Rats! Spooking Bonefish is a common thing while pursuing this game fish.

My first day out we had great conditions; wind from the north, sun from the rear and flat calm to rippled surface. Kevin gets real excited when he spots fish. His excitement led me to flub some casts. I had to get him calmed down so I could be more effective. The first hook-up turned out to be a bad barrel knot failure. My next hook-up ran 50 yards and then got some slack: end of ball game. Third time was a charm with a 4.5 lb. fish. This speed merchant ran off the 105’ fly line plus 150 yards of backing. All told the fish ran fives times. Nice. I caught a second fish later that day: 3.5 lbs.

The second day I hooked my first fish by blind casting while we waited for a big cloud to pass. You need lots of sun to see the fish even with polarized sunglasses. As the morning progressed, the wind came from the E-SE which caused too much noise from the waves slapping the boat hull. This noise spooked the Bonefish as we drifted toward their feeding position. We had to disembark and wade across the flats to approach the Bonefish. The bumpy, uneven bottom and crab holes gave me fits. My flat boots were too flexible and lacked ankle support. I had a great chance at a nice school of Bonefish, but just as the lead fish pursued my fly, a little Horse-Eye Jack took the fly inches in front of my target fish. Curses! I got another fish on the way home by blind casting into a big mud (Bonefish stir up the bottom as they feed almost exclusively on benthic organisms).

My last day was really tough as we found no big Bonefish schools, just onesie-twosies. After a morning of frustration we went to the big mud again and I caught a 3 pound fish by blind casting a Dell’s Merkin (crab fly) into 6’ of water. Some fly fishing folks consider this “unsporting” (sight casting snobs), but I still had to present my fake crab fly in a natural manner to get the fish to bite.

Many saltwater fly fishers dream of making the perfect cast to a “tailing” Bonefish”: The subtle take, the hook set and then the mind crashing first run, your reel screaming, the rod throbbing and your heart racing as though you were running beside the fish. Me too, and now I’ve been there, done that, and can’t wait to do it again and again.

Sunburned, bug bitten, and very content; for now.


Here is a story from reader Steve:

Early April 2004 was my first trip to Exuma. My wife and I were expecting out first child in August of that year and we were invited to spend about a week with her parents and cousins on the island. I kept hearing about what a special place Exuma was from her parents; days spent walking along the beach and lounging in the sun for the women and hours and hours of bonefishing for the boys.

I had heard bourbon addled tales of bonefish from my father-in-law for a while and was a bit skeptical as to the veracity of the stories. Most of the stories started off with “these are some of the craziest damn fish I know of…” and “It’s really hard to explain but take everything you know about trout fishing and forget about it.” I soon had first hand knowledge of what he was telling me.

I remember spending the first days of fishing with my father-in-law John and wife’s cousin Stephen on Rolletown flats getting my “eyes” in shape and practicing casting.  I couldn’t figure out what the hell theses guys were seeing in the water. All I heard was “Here they come” and “You see ’em? Out there, about 80 feet; headed straight at us.” I thought they were just screwing with me until there was a gigantic explosion from a school of spooked bonefish about 10 feet away.

As the days went on I got the hang of spotting fish and seeing the “nervous water” but became more frustrated with my casting ability, tired of watching fish after fish disregard my fly and returning from the flat with little more than a sunburn and a sore right shoulder.  It was during this time I was given the moniker “Sheppard of the Flat.” All I was doing was herding bonefish from one end of the flat to the other.

On the last day of fishing we headed out to the flat in the morning before flying back to Miami that afternoon. I was trying not to get disappointed as the first 2 hours went by without any luck and watching my father-in-law laugh while his reel screamed in bursts and a tight line was drawn across the flat from his line and backing.

I was focused on my pursuit. I saw a school headed toward me, cast out ahead of them, lightly stripped the fly and watched the lead fish and his buddies cruise right on by. I thought that was it until I felt a tug and happened set the hook on my first bonefish. I finally got to watch and hear the line disappear from the reel from one severely frightened bonefish.

I had done it! Finally, after days coming up empty handed I had my first bonefish on the line.  As the rod curved against the Bahaman sky and what looked like 250 feet of line stretched across Rolletown flat, I felt like I was in God’s pocket. That is, until the explosion. Approximately 250 feet away from me water erupted from the flat, the rod straightened out and that was that. I retrieved the line only to pull in a bare leader without any sign of bonefish anywhere.
I left for the airport a little disappointed and incredibly addicted to bonefishing. It took three more trips to Exuma until I was able to put it all together and land my first bonefish but this was the one that started me on my myopic pursuit.

First bonefish from Nate:

I caught my first bonefish on my recent trip to Key West.  My wife wanted to go somewhere warm, and I was wanting to go duck hunting in Saskatchewan.  The comprimise was that I would get two guided days of flats fishing if we went to Key West.

The weather was incredible all week.  85 degrees, sunny, and a slight breeze.  That changed on Thursday and Friday, the two days I booked my fishing days.  The wind picked up to Northern 15mph steady wind.  Still sunny and hot at least, but it eliminated most of the prime bonefish flats, and my opportunity to catch my bonefish on a fly.
I left Thursday morning with high hopes, and a nervous excitement of a journey never taken.  We hit the permit grass flats first, anticipating the fall of the tide for the bonefish to move onto the sandy flats.  We never spotted a permit, but I did get a shot at a lost tarpon.  He was not interested in the crab I threw at him unfortunately.  The sighting was still enough to get my blood pumping.  We moved onto the sandy flats a couple hours later and imediately came upon a group of 3 bones.  The chop created by the strong wind made it very tough to spot the fish at any range, and casting a light bait in a cross wind was extremely difficult.  Needless to say, the opportunity was lost.  That trend continued the rest of the day with the exception of my setting the hook prematurely on one that did find my bait.  My trout fishing habits hurt me in learning to let the fish set the hook when they turning and ran.  We had about 7 or 8 shots at bonefish the first day, but no fish hooked.

We went straight for the bonefish flats the next morning with a mission.  Unfortunately, the fish were not to be found at first.  It took about an hour before coming accross our group, but they spooked by the splash of the bait landing too close.  I feared the wind would ruin me, and my casting.  We finally spotted a group of 3 fish straight down wind, and coming towards us.  The cast was perfect.  6 feet short, right where they would be.  One made straight for it.  I saw him tilt up on it and I knew I had him when I felt the line tighten up.  At the same instant he bolted.  Screaming off 150 yards of line in seconds.  I have never felt that kind of exhilaration from hooking a fish.  Not even a 15lb steelhead on a fly got my blood going like this fish did.  The fight lasted about 5-10 minutes, though there was no telling as it felt like forever to me.  A mix of happiness and terror that it would get off.  I almost collapsed when I saw my guide seal the deal with the net.  It was a beautiful fish.  A very respectable 5lbs.  A fish I will not soon forget.

First bonefish from Dan.

We arrived at noon and by two PM I was happily flogging the water in search of my first bonefish. I was on Little Corn as the result of a conversation with Steve Jennings, a fishing guide from Kamloops, BC. In a conversation with him in his fly shop in Little Fort I told him of all the places in the world I had tried and failed to catch a bonefish. They included Fiji, where the bonefish are as big as stovepipes, Grand Cayman, the Sea of Cortez where, as far as I know they don’t even have bonefish, Florida, and others. Steve told me if I came to Little Corn he’d get me into bonefish. That first afternoon I was just practicing for my big date with Steve the next day. About four PM I returned to the beach where I had started where my wife was waiting for me. While I was talking with her she reported she had seen several bonefish while bobbing in the water. I blind casted a few times and gave up and returned to talk to her with a few feet of line still in the water. I looked down and a small bonefish picked up the fly and took off. He never got to the backing and he only made two short runs but I had my first bonefish. An accident. I’m still sorry I got the first one by accident.

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