How about living on a remote atoll in the middle of the South Pacific? Sounds intriguing, no? That’s exactly what Butch Leone does on the atoll of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands where he guides anglers to some really big bonefish. Atoll life sounds pretty interesting.
Aitataki is a long way from anything. How did you find yourself living there pursuing bonefish?
I first came to Aitutaki 13 years ago and just fell in love with the place. How I decided to come to the Cook Islands is a bit funny. I was just a kid and just spun the globe and put my finger down. It landed on the Cook Islands so I figured that someday I would go there. It took 30 some years to make the trip but it was certainly worth the wait. When I was planning my trip here for the first time I saw all the sand flats and thought there must be bonefish in the lagoon. I tried to do some research on the subject but nothing was written about bonefishing on Aitutaki at that time. I just came down with a 9wt rod and started throwing flies at everything with fins. I loved it. Once I got back to where I lived in Bend, Oregon I booked another trip and was back on Aitutaki 6 months later.
What’s the most difficult part of living somewhere that is so isolated?
People ask me all the time what I miss most while I am down here. I have to tell them honestly, “nothing.” My lovely wife and little daughter supply everything I could want in life on the island. With modern technology and the internet I can stay in close contact with my family and friends in the US.
Do you have a particularly memorable bonefish?
If I had to choose a memorable bonefish I would have to say “my last one.” They are all just so much fun to have run my backing out that it is hard to choose which would be my most memorable. I guess if I had to pick one it would be my 37 inch bonefish caught in the main channel in town while I was fishing for trevally. It was quite a surprise to hook a big bonefish on a fly that was just under the surface of the water while stripping as fast as I could. All I saw when it hit the fly was a slab of silver and I figured it was just a big trevally. As soon as it started to come back at me after the first massive run I had an idea it wasn’t a trevally. The size of the thing had me shaking in wading sandals. I haven’t landed another one that large but seen them plenty of times.
I would imagine that you don’t have a lot of fly shops there, how do you get gear and flies? Does the remoteness of your circumstances force you to be more careful with your gear?
If you lose gear here you better have back ups because you can’t just run down to your local fly shop and restock. I have most of my fly tying materials sent in from The Patient Angler Fly Shop in Bend. Peter Bowers, the owner has been more than accommodating sending my supplies. For my leaders I just get big spools of the stuff as I go thru so much of it. I use the RIO Saltwater F/I lines and order right from RIO. They also have been great and have taken care of me on numerous occasions. No I am not cautious with my gear. I’ll toss to anything. If you get cautious you don’t take the chances that can land a great fish. My gear is meant to be used and I use it and put it to the test as often as I can.
Do you have a favorite rod/reel these days?
Right now my rod of choice is a 9wt Pieroway rod from Pieroway Rod Company of Calgary Canada. It is probably the smoothest casting rod I have ever used. It offers great finesse on short shots and has plenty of power for the long shots. I would put it up against any of the top rated rods that are much more expensive. It has helped me land many bonefish in all kinds of conditions. I also use a 9wt TFO TiCrX that I like and have landed plenty of great fish on.
When you are out on the water a lot you get the opportunity to see things that other people simply will never see. You see unique things, funny things, frightening things. Is there something you’ve seen out on the flats that is memorable like that?
I guess the strangest thing I have ever seen out here on the lagoon has to do with a bonefish that we saw one day. As we were poling along the edge of one of the little islands in the lagoon looking for bonefish, we saw this fish snapping at the tail of an eel. We poled up close and saw that it was a bonefish and it was just nipping at the eel’s tail end. This was up on the surface of the water. My friend Mark and I just kind of looked at each other not sure what we were seeing. We kept trying to put a fly between the bonefish and the eel but the fish wanted nothing but the eel. Finally the eel got under a rock and that was the end of it. These bonefish here are a different fish not only are they big but they just don’t act like normal bonefish, what ever that is. I know people here that have picked up bonefish trolling. These fish have the brain the size of a breadcrumb but they still outsmart me all the time.
Thanks Butch. Hope you enjoy Aitutaki. Sounds like a special place.
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Tags: Aitutaki, bonefishing, Butch Leon, flyfishing, Pieroway Rods, Temple Fork Outfitters
This is great and sounds like a lot of fun. Nice way to spend a day.
wow! seems perfect butch! sounds like the perfect life..i am happy for you
I will add that 90% of my bonefish are caught on a yellow-white clouser on a size 2 hook. These fish just love those clousers. So if you plan on coming down to fish with me make sure your box contains plenty of that fly.
My famous brother is international now. I hope this interview helps brings in some more customers so you all can go out and play.
Butch: I work with your brother Pat and he is a very good friend of mine. He has told me about your life there in the Cook Islands. You need to get him down there and show him around! I don’t imagine that you eat bonefish so…what do you catch that is tasty down there?
No I don’t eat bonefish. There are plenty of other fish in this lagoon to eat that taste a whole lot better and have many less bones. Yeah Pat you should get down here.
Aitutaki Lagoon Secret is out……. (just Google map it)
Anyone reading this gets the idea of what a truly blessed life being a bonefishing guide on a remote and romantic Pacific atoll chasing potential world records can be when living a dream. Aitutaki bonefishing is idealic because of the potential not only to cast to world record fish but to do it be in a tourism oriented local town environment. Ok, there’s a lack of microbrews and pizza there.
I’ve fished Aitutaki there nearly 3 months time over the last 4 years and spend two weeks all inclusive of airfare, lodging, meals and guiding for less than $3000USD from my Northern California base. I stay right on the lagoon for around $100USD per night looking over flats with these bonefish just steps and a cast away. Then a scooter takes you to other self guided locations even the Channel Flat Butch references). Warning: Be sure to know your tides and currents with fishing near or around the port channel and flats. From my cabin, I can walk miles on flats for trevally and bonefish. Better yet with Butch, you can get around all of the lagoon on Butch’s converted Hobie Cat (10hp Honda) in a spirit reserved for a dedicated fly fisher.
I have fished top rated bonefish destinations in Christmas Island and Los Roques since 1997. They, as well as Belize, Mexico and Bahamas, offer quantities of fish per day in small to moderate sizes. Aitutaki offers the ‘die hard’ ‘experienced’ fly angler with moderate to giant bonefish. This needs consideration when looking at this type of bonefishing. Are you looking for 20 two pound fish in one day or hopefully, a few ten to fifteen pound fish over two weeks? One day fishing on Aitutaki with 4 Aussie friends, we casted to bonefish between 35 and 40 inches with only a few follows and one grab. But as any ‘bonefish on the brainer’ would know, both you and Butch’s feet were shaking in your wading sandals as well as other parts of your anatomy.
Illegal netting for bonefish on Aitutaki cannot go unmentioned here because it is becoming a tragedy. Butch has been at times the single lone advocate against illegal netting of bonefish on Aitutaki Lagoon even at personal risk. Even after immigrating to Aitutaki and the Cook Islands and having a lovely locally decended family, he bravely sounds out for the protection of the bonefish populations on Aitutaki for obvious reasons. Tribal subsistance netting (similar to that on American Rivers) is not the issue, but, illegal nets and netting”for the sake” is. This issue has made its way to the Parliament, but, the local officials and their relatives continue to strive to hide the obuses making their relatives ‘so called’ bonefishing guides using governmental resources. Then still, other relatives continue to spread their 500 meter gill-nets across the lagoon.
Until the local officials ban netting of bonefish or regulate catch rates, the problem will continue to threaten this resource. They avoid looking at the real solution of making the lagoon a protected park and using a user fee for everyone (not just fly fishers, one local idea being touted to discriminate) to provide for its protection along with prosecuting offenders. This is an approach that the premier bonefishing areas such as Los Roques utilize most successfully. But who is going to prosecute their family relative(s). So in the meantime, the ‘offenders’ will be looking to make the money grab off of this resource at our tourism dollar expense. So if you plan to go to Aitutaki, then be sure to voice your concerns to your hosts related to protection of Aitutaki’s bonefish. Remember as with any conservation, fly fishers are part of the solution.
Butch represents what is expected in all aspects of professional fly fishing guides anywhere in the world. Therefore in all his modestness with the interview, he fly fishes nearly everyday and is most knowledgeable than anyone who fishes or guides on the waters he guides. In fact (although there may be representations by others), Butch is truly the only bonefide expert fly fishing guide in the Cook Islands.
I hope you have a chance to get there some time soon I surely will ….
[…] look around and see what I could find on the intertubes about Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, home of Butch Leone, our interview from this last […]
dear Butch, Just gave your Dad a copy so he could read it. Iknow he will enjoy it as much as I did. I’m back on skype. MOM
I’m guessing that you honed your fly casting perfection on the Rogue River. I fished the Rogue many years ago with with my Uncle Walt Kilroy who lived near Bend. I’m an avid fly fisherman who knows only the high country of the Colorado Rockies. A lot of anglers from around here travel to your region to bone fish. I have not tried this game fish yet. If I ever get the chance to fish in your neighborhood. I will look you up.
Hello Butch, I am trying to reach you at your email address?? If this is the address GREAT but if not can you forward one to me as I would like to fish with you next summer.. I fish bones here on Lanai year round.. and have fished bones for 45 years…… but would like a shot at a good fish over 12 pounds to try for a 2# tippet shot at the world record.. I have taken good fish here to 12 pounds but there are too many rocks that cut me off on the lighter tippets.. so.. I am thinking if I can walk the flats there one day I might have a far better shot??/ I am NOT sure of the best way to fly there from HNL.. and was thinking you may know?? Might it be best to fly Air NZ to Auckland then fly back up to Raro..then over..?? Aloha use to fly to Raro but they are no more?? PLease let me know one day if you have a email address that we can discuss things further when you have free time.. Many thanks… Terry
Please let me know the proper email address for Butch.. Many thanks.. Terry
Terry, you know the bonefishing is the best on Andros Island! Give me a call or email. I am coming to Hawaii 7 Apr.
Hey Butch…..LOVE YOU…this is Mike Kelly on a friend’s computer…thinking of you, and wanted to share you/our friendship and you life experience!!! We want to keep in touch and within months hopefully myself and or our friends can come to visit your beautiful Island…..my email is firstname.lastname@example.org Mike Kelly cell 949.290.9268 Please keep in touch…….B
My friend is Brian and Becky Hilgers…we have known each other since kindergarten, and we live in Hermosa Beach CA. this is Brian Hilgers I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW MORE ABOUT connecting fly fishing and the Island experience…Mike has sold me……
Rhilgers11@verizon.net Or me Bnorthdakota@gmail.com…949.337.8986