Dick agreed to do an interview, which is much appreciated.
Dick, I really enjoyed your book on bonefishing. I thought it was really well written with passages that bordered on poetry (to me, anyway). Are there things you’ve learned since writing that book that you wish you could have put in there?
I’ve learned a lot since I wrote the original edition of Fly Fishing for Bonefish, both from others and from my own time on the flats. In fact when, Lyons Press asked me to do the new 2008 edition of the book, one of the primary goals was to update it with the most important new skill enhancements I had learned over the years. If I had to pick the top ones, I guess I’d say learning to handle wind and clouds better and learning to see fish more accurately and read their demeanor. To this day one of the most telling traits of a really good bonefish angler is how well he can read when to strike a fish—knowing how to interpret its body language to determine when it actually has the fly. And the other thing about seeing bones better is you not only see more targets, you present to them better and strip your fly more effectively when you can see the fish’s reactions.
Is there a particular bonefish that stands out in your memory?
There was a fish that nearly ran me out of backing twice that had more will and stamina than any bone I’ve ever encountered. He wasn’t all that big–maybe nine pounds at most–but he had an enormous will to live. And he fought that way to the bitter end, still struggling all the way to the boat . And just as my friend Joe Cleare was about to scoop him into a net, he turned his big head and the fly dropped into the water with the quietest little plip you ever heard, and he faded off into the turquoise glare reflecting off the surface as the great ghost he truly was. I still dream about that fish.
If you are out in nature longer than the average person you see things the average person just doesn’t see. Have you seen something out there, on the flats, in the tropics, that was strange, unusual, frightening bizarre?
I remember once when I was fishing the Abaco Marls with Donnie Sawyer, we saw a stand-off between a big blue crab and a sizeable bonefish. The crab kept backing away from the bone in an exaggerated defense stance with its claws held out in front of it and the bone kept lunging at the crab. Just as the crab looked like he was going to skitter sideways into the mangroves, the bone charged him and ripped his right claw off. The crab darted for cover, and the bone turned and headed for deeper water with his prize claw between his crusher plates.
When it comes down to it, how much of it is presentation as opposed to fly selection?
Funny you should ask—I was just writing about that very question for a new edition of my second book Bonefish Fly Patterns book that Lyons Press will release next spring. There are days when one dominates over the other, but over the long haul you have to get them both right with this fish. Clearly if you find dumb bones on remote flats, you can throw most any pattern you want at them and you can likely get away with some sloppy presentations too. But if you want to catch smart fish or spooky fish or fish that have keyed on the dominant prey du jour, you want to perform your very best at both presentation and fly selection. If I HAD to chose one though, I’d pick presentation—but I would sure feel compromised if I were limited to a single fly.
The bonefish world seems to be divided fairly well between places with big fish and places with lots of fish. Given the choice, would you rather have a lot of shots or a few for really big fish?
I guess I have reached a place in life where I’m just happy being on any bonefish flat with fish on it. Catching a big fish is always an extraordinary thrill, but this species has so much heart that even the smaller ones make for one heck of a thrilling day of fishing. And the excitement of the hunt and of watching a stalked fish detect and engulf your fly is about as good as it gets in fishing–regardless of whether it’s a four pounder or a ten.
When I think of bonefishing I also think of cracked conch and a cold Kalik. Are there any non-bonefish associations you make when thinking of pursuing bones?
Your question reminds me of a day when Carol and I were fishing with Ricardo Burrows out of Sandy Point on the southern tip of Abaco. We’d had a spectacular day fishing out at Moore’s Island capped by landing a 20lb permit on the edge of the bonefish flats. When we got back to Pete and Gay’s lodge where we were staying, there was Stanley White the lodge manager standing on the dock with two cold Kaliks and a bowl of conch fritters. It was one of those died and gone to heaven moments.
Thanks for your time Dick, and thanks for your book, which I treasure.
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