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.
Butch with a nice Aitutaki Bonefish
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.
A Pieroway rod and Cook Bonefish
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.
Butch poling along the atoll.
Thanks Butch. Hope you enjoy Aitutaki. Sounds like a special place.