Apr 14

Deep Water Cay Monster

Normally, I’d be doing some sort of measurement to dispute the weight, but I don’t think I need to here. Meeko, guide out of Deep Water Cay, put this fish at 14.6 pounds and it certainly looks it. That is a beast.

Big, big bonefish.

Big, big bonefish.

This is why I kind of have a crush on Grand Bahama. There is no overnighting anywhere, no flight out of Nassau and a day burned in transit.

You are very unlikely to find a fish bigger than this anywhere. You’d be fortunate to cast to a fish this big in your whole life. Congrats to Jim Easterling of Houston, who landed the Beast of Deep Water Cay.

Mar 13

Tying up some meat

In Belize I threw a lot of #6 flies, and even some #8’s. As I look forward to the Florida trip, I’m tying up some meat for any Biscayne Bones we might come across. That means tying up flies up to a size 1/0.

That’s kind of mind boggling.


I shudder thinking about the size of a bonefish that would eat a 1/0.

One… frigging… ought.

Big ole flies

Big ole flies

What’s the biggest fly you’ve thrown at a bonefish??

Feb 13

Interview Captain Tim Mahaffey

When I asked for anglers to interview about bonefish, Capt. Tim Mahaffey’s (www.flatshead.com) name came up quickly and, after looking over what he has to share, I can see why. He’s got a long and distinguished track record where it concerns the Grey Ghost (the guy has won the Islamorada Spring & Fall Bonefish Fly Invitationals 6 time) and he even wrote this article about hunting for big fish. Tim has some good stories to share.

That is just massive.

That is just massive.

You have a pretty impressive tournament resume. For a West Coast trout guy like myself, tournaments aren’t something that really exist. What is it that you like about fishing tournaments, what makes you keep coming back? 

It is like any other sport, competition raises skill level, and it makes you work harder and prepare longer.  I started fly fishing at a very young age, 5, and it has been my life’s passion ever since.  Tournament fishing pushed me to get better and to take my fishing to a level I didn’t know existed.  It’s really the great thing about fishing which is somewhat unlike other sports – it can be enjoyed by everyone no matter your skill level.  Fishing from a bridge, or competing at the highest levels in Islamorada chasing downtown bonefish.  It is all fun.

When you are on the water a lot, you see really interesting things that most folks probably don’t know about. Is there something particularly interesting you’ve seen out on the water?

Since I concentrate most of my bonefishing chasing the huge, downtown fish of Islamorada, I certainly see some bonefish behavior that you don’t see in the Bahamas or even in Biscayne Bay.  One of the funnier things is what we call the “positive confirmation”.  Many times when we spook these giant bones, and I’m talking about fish 10-15 lbs, they don’t tear off the flat looking for deeper water.  They come to the boat and look at us, not in panic, but in confident posture, taking that “positive confirmation” of “oh yes, that is that idiot in the white Maverick Mirage who just hit me in the head with his pathetic shrimp imitation”.  I’ve seen this over and over again and clearly it is an evolved behavior inherent in these older, mature fish.

Florida has a reputation for being a tough place to fish, for being a place where bonefish are really hard to catch. How deserved is that reputation?

It is deserved for the big fish for sure, but well worth the effort since many days we’re casting to world record caliber fish.  I wrote an article about fishing for giant bonefish quite some time ago (see below), and really nothing has changed.  There are very specific techniques as to how you feed these fish, unlike anywhere else I have fished.  You have to slow down, less is better, in how you strip, how close you throw to the fish, etc.  I use the heaviest fly possible for the situation, they want it hopped short and quick and on the bottom.  Most of the big fish we catch when the fly is not moving.   The bottom line is that they are very catchable, but you have to do everything right and do it the way they want it.  There is no room for error.

Tim M Big Bonefish 2

Is there a fish that you lost that haunts you?

Yes there are a few.  It’s funny, combined I’ve won the Islamorada Spring & Fall Bonefish Fly Invitationals 6 times, but I lost a significant fish in 3 other tournaments that easily would have been enough to win those too.  One was in Biscayne Bay, and I hooked this giant, single mudding bone in 5 feet of water, and he literally screamed drag off to the bottom of my reel.  We had to start the motor and give chase.  At the end of the second run the line went slack, and when I pulled in the fly I discovered he had completely crushed the fly closed.  I’ve landed 3 bones over 14 lbs in my life, and this fish was in that class and perhaps a pound or two more.  It seems I remember those lost more than those caught.

Is there something happening conservation wise that has you hopeful about the fate of bonefish there in FL? Is there something that has you concerned?

Just like everything else, we always say it’s not like it used to be.  But sometimes it is, which gives us hope.  Some days they are there, in great numbers and the shot count exceeds 30 and it is like nothing ever happened.  So the hope is that yes, the fish are still there and when conditions dictate we have great days.  The elimination of septic sewage in the Keys brings us hope for the future, and continual policing of our flats to be marked as no motor zones I believe helps ensure our fishery will survive and thrive.

What is your go-to rod/reel set up?

For Downtown Islamorada bonefish, I use Loomis GLX Classic 9 weight 2 piece rods with Abel 4N reels.  On big windy days I pull out the 10 weights.

Yup... another big, big fish.

Yup… another big, big fish.

Did you learn how to be a guide through a culmination of experience or did someone teach you how to be a guide and what do you think is the key attribute a guide should have?

Being a competitive angler / paying customer on the bow of several great guides’ boats for many years helps you understand the expectation of a client and what is going through their head.  There are several key attributes.  First and foremost, the job is to provide opportunities to catch the fish.  You have to have the knowledge to be able to do that under all conditions and seasons.  Secondly, you want your customer to not only catch fish, but have fun doing it.  Guides sometimes lose themselves in the catching part, and forget about the fun part.  I want my customers walking away wanting more, more casts, more fun.  Lastly, you have to enjoy teaching and coaching, and be willing to do it all day every day.  I find beginners and experts alike all want to learn more and improve, and they are looking to walk away from the day thinking, “I got better today, wow I learned something today”.  Understanding the customer’s expectations is so important and adjusting your style to that is extremely critical.  The way I fish and coach one guy may be totally different than the next based on what they want out of the day.

The Bahamas has Kalik. What do you drink after a long day on the water?

Two gallons of water a day on the boat, but, once home, Ron Zacapa 23 Year Old Centenario Rum – the best rum in the world.

Do you have any superstitions on your boat?

Not really, I’ve tried them all and they don’t work!

 Thanks for your time and attention to the answers here Tim. Cheers!

Feb 13

How not to handle an 11 pound bonefish

I would love to catch an 11 pound (and 12 ounce) bonefish. I’d really, really love to. My largest fish is maybe 7 pounds (I was told 7.5, but that means it was probably 6). At some point I might actually achieve this dream if I keep after it and fish in places where hogs like this live.

I can imagine that this guy was really very happy to have crossed paths with such a magnificent creature, to have hooked it and to have landed it. I mean, come on… that thing is huge. It is the fish of a lifetime.

So, I was kind of bummed to see this fish held up by a boga grip.

Damn nice fish and damn poor idea to boga that damn nice fish.

Damn nice fish and damn poor idea to boga that damn nice fish.

Boga grips are bad news for bonefish. They should not be used.  It is likely an education issue. People see fish being gripped with a Boga and they think “well, this must be how things are done.”

It isn’t.

Knowing is half the battle. Spread the news.

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Oct 11

18 pound bonefish… whoa

Here’s the story from Orvis.

I really can’t add much to this photo…

Sep 10

How big do HI bones get?

Saw his today… a 16.5 pound bonefish caught in Hawaii. It was caught on bait, so the task was a little bit easier, but when they put the boca (not recommended, encouraged or endorsed) on it, it went  to 16.5#, which is really, really frigging large. I’ve seen some big bonefish in Hawaii and I’ve heard of some real pigs. A 16.5 pound bonefish is just a pig.

The report was on the Hull Truth.

That's a really, really big bone.

Captain Mike was the guide.

Jul 10

Itu’s Bones

You may have heard of the new film project from the folks at On the Fly Productions called Itu’s Bones.

You can read the story of the genesis of this film project at their website.  It is worth reading.

There’s a twitter feed to follow if you are into that sort of thing… like, right here.

The players supporting this project are some of the key players; Patagonia, Sage, Costa Del Mar and Rio.

Itu lives on the island of Aitukaki in the Cook Islands.  There is an ex-pat American (Butch Leon) who has been pioneering bonefishing out there at Aitutaki Blue Lagoon Fly Fishing.

A fish from the folks making Itu's Bones

This should be a great story to see unfold and a wonderful movie.  Looking forward to it.

Jul 10

El Pescador, Buccaneers and Bones

More news on Buccaneers and Bones from the filming down in Belize and El Pescador.

…this past week Ambergris Caye was host to some heavy weights in the entertainment industry as they filmed “Buccaneers and Bones”. El Pescador (Lodge) was chosen from three locations in Belize to host Orion Multimedia, Michael Keaton actor/director, Tom Brokaw news anchor/author, Yvon Chouninard founder Patagonia, Bill Klyn director Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, Zach Gilford actor, Thomas McGuane acclaimed author, Lori-Ann Murphy director of fishing at El Pescador, and Aaron Adams, scientist, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. According to Ali Flota of El Pescador, this was the “Coup de grace of fly fishing”, and truly an honor.

via El Pescador hosts Stars, Belize News, San Pedro Sun.

Don't you wish you were there? (photo from San Pedro Sun)

May 10

Interview with Louie the Fish

Louie the Fish not only catches bonefish in those oh-so-difficult bonefish hunting ground of Hawaii.  Louie has been at it a while and he also does some pretty outstanding fish carvings.

Louie agreed to do a little interview for Bonefish on the Brain.

Louie, can you tell me about a particularly memorable fish?

I have so many fish that stand out in my memory, from my first 6 inch native brook trout in Connecticut at about 10 years old, right up to great catches 50 years later.

Here in Hawaii I have been a bonefish fanatic for about 10 years. I got my first taste of what this amazing fish can do while on holiday in the Florida Keys. I was wading around behind a friend’s house on the gulf side of Islamorada. Bonefish were everywhere, right at my feet, and they all had lockjaw. I tried every fly in my box!

Finally, in frustration, I decided to tie on a big green wooly bugger with palmered red hackle, and I waded out to the edge of the marl, and began blind casting, stripping it back, cast after long cast.

Like a cannon going off, I got a strike, that within a millisecond ended suddenly in a balled up mess of line, and a big break off.  I was clever enough to repeat the whole fiasco a few minutes later….smoked by my first encounter with bonefish!

But that experience was prophetic. A few years later I began fishing here in Honolulu, and doing what most bonefishers do, stalking bones in an attempt to catch them sight fishing. Three weeks went by fishless, and then a light went on in my brain. I remembered that blind casting got me my first bonefish bites, so I became a dedicated blind caster. I discovered many hot spots, and began catching many big bonefish. I even wrote articles about it, and word got out, and I found myself guiding anglers for bonefish. I had it down to a science, where to fish, how to cast and how to retrieve, and designed special weedless flies meant for blind casting.

A blind casting Aloha Bone

Joaquin, Louie's son and a guide, with another monster blind casting bone.

Of course like all want-to-be purists, I still leaned toward sight fishing, and when conditions were good, I did that as well. This is all leading up to my story about my most memorable bonefish.

One day I was on a flat we called Ross’s flat, since friend and fly fisher Ross had recently landed a 37 inch bonefish, estimated at about 18 pounds, an easy IGFA record, had he not released it. It was late afternoon, the easterly wind was strong, and the sun was in the west. I was wading slowly upwind, since I could only spot fish in that direction. I had many, many shots, but it was hard to cast into the wind, and I spooked bonefish after bonefish. I finally got to the top of a long stretch, and decided to turn around. Downwind it was all glare, so I couldn’t see fish, but it was easy to make long casts. The water was only about knee deep, so I put on a lightly weighted fly, my Leeezardfish fly. Three casts later, a small thump was followed by a run which gradually increased in speed and distance, until that bonefish was out of sight almost, and had almost reached the distant, coral lined reef edge.  Well several shorter runs later, and I slipped a hand under a 32 inch, very fat bonefish, maybe 13 or 14 pounds.

The battle had attracted Ross, who had a camera that got this shot, before I released my biggest, and most memorable bonefish, made even more memorable, because blind casting had succeeded where sight fishing had not!. This was just one of many double figure bonefish I have landed here blind casting. Of course by now I have landed almost as many sight fishing, but when conditions demand a change, go with the conditions!

I'm pretty sure that's a whale (actually, it is the fish from the story).

If you happen to come here to try your hand at our elusive bonefish, stop in at Hawaii’s only fly shop, Nervous Water Hawaii, and those guys, Sean and Clay, who have fly fished for bones here all their lives, will readily attest to the fact, that in Hawaii, due to the nature of our reef flats and prevailing conditions, bonefish are most easily caught blind casting.

Well… blind casting… who knew?

May 10

Interview with Coach Duff

If you have been paying attention to the Bonefishing News the past few years, you’ve probably heard something about bonefish in Hawaii and you’ve probably seen Coach Duff referenced a few dozen times.  The Coach agreed to do an interview and it is worth reading.

Coach, how did you end up in Hawaii as a bonefishing guide?

I had heard rumors of big bones for years in the Pacific Northwest, where I was more or less a steelhead bum.  I came here to coach for June Jones at the University of Hawaii and was lucky enough to join the program as it was coming into its record breaking 2007 Sugar Bowl Season.  I went out on the North Shore my second day in Hawaii with my wife and kids to barbecue.  My wife is a local girl and liked this certain beach.  Well about 30 blind full line casts into deeper water with a big Clouser I hooked and landed a 9 pound Hawaiian Bonefish (Abula Glossodanta) that ran like it had a rocket shoved up it’s ass.

That was it for me, and I soon was pouring over charts, maps, Google Earth and anything else I could find to locate flats and get to the real business of sightfishing for these pigs.

Nice Aloha Bone

Do you have a fish that stands out, one you remember more than others?

Mark Hopkins landed a 13 plus and a 10 in less than one hour one day.

He is a great angler and a great guy to fish with out of New Mexico.  I was with Blake McHenry one day and he hooked a pig on the North Shore which took us 150 yards into coral heads.  He  free spooled the fish and it took us 20 minutes to pole after it painstakingly getting line back that was tangled in a complete cluster#$%^ all over the reef.  We finally got back to the 20 pound leader and damn it that monster wasn’t still on the hook!  It was pretty defeated but in 8-10 feet of water so I jumped in headfirst and swam down following the leader underwater and netted it under the surface.  Then I swam up and handed it to Blake who was dancing on the casting deck of my Andros 18 footer and in his complete fired up state, kicked his feet out and landed flat on his back laughing his ass off.  We looked like little kids dancing around and screaming and whooping.  You know, these are the moments I like the best.  There are alot of great bonefish guides out there Bjorn, hell I can’t hold a candle to some of the great ones but when you can be a kid again, when you can scream and jump and let flyfishing really take over, take you to that place we all search for every day, it makes this stuff special.

The Hawaiian mentality when it comes to fish, as I understand it, is “Catch it, Kill it, Eat it.”  How do the locals react when they hear you are practicing catch and release?

I want to make it clear once and for all, that there are some great conservationists in Hawaii, gear fisherman who DO practice catch and release.  Sure there are plenty of the “kill everything mentality” they are by far the majority and we are trying to reach each one of those guys and gals one by one.  It will take time.  I’ll never surrender, you can bet on that.  Overall the reception may be a bit guarded and suspicious but as I said earlier there are some great catch and release anglers here.  Being Hawaiian isn’t a blood line thing, it’s an overall love of everything Hawaiian, including it’s wildlife.  When  locals realize you are putting “THEIR” fish back, they love you for it and respect it even if it seems crazy to them.  Notice I said “THEIR” fish.

Far too often we take the “missionary approach” in all forms of conservation.  That is we blast in and beat our chests and tell locals with thousands of years of certain practices how fucked up they are and start ramming legislation up their asses.  Good or bad, right or wrong (and it’s often right with science backed data) that never works for anyone.  I am asked that alot in my boat guiding and usually I ask the angler where his home river is.  He’ll answer “The Skagit” or “The Gunpowder” or whatever it may be.  I then ask him/her “Do you have any poaching problems on that river and the answer is always 110 percent “Hell yes!”  Well then let’s remember this is an issue world wide in every culture, every body of water, every type of fishing.  We may have a little bit higher mountain to climb here in Hawaii but also remember that we live in a special culture here and to jam our views learned on catch and release Western Rivers is not only insulting but will be met with hostility, deservedly so.  I grew up on the Skagit/Sauk rivers and I saw more illegal netting on those rivers than I do here on our flats.

So yes the inshore fishery has been hit pretty hard due to lack of regulations but the bonefish has prospered in the wake of the destruction.  It ain’t over and we will continue to do our part to educate each angler, each netter, one by one and maybe we can turn it around.  These are beautiful people and they do care about their islands, we just have to reach them by walking the walk every day in front of them.

A Coach client with a nice bone.

Talk a little bit about gear considerations for the unique aspects of Hawaiian bonefishing.

I like a top notch 9 weight saltwater flyrod with a 10 weight Monic clear floater and a 10-12 foot 12-20 pound tapered leader (depending on how much coral is around for abrasion resistance) and always tie on my flies with a small Lefty’s Loop.  If it’s good enough for Lefty, it sure the hell is good enough for my hack ass!!!!  LOL I like tan, brown, Olive, Orange, Pink and Yellow flies in sizes 8 through 2-0 depending on the area fished and the fish I am hunting.  I like crabs on soft bottom flats with some mantis shrimp imitations and on heavy inner reef areas or coral rock areas I go to mantis imitations matching the color of the bottom.  I like one long slow strip with a mantis, (sometimes we’ll pop or jump it if they are really active) and one strip (smooth) with a crab and then with the crab we leave it alone!  With smaller fish and smaller flies we will go to a shrimp type retrieve, “POP POP POP POP pause……  POP POP POP POPpause…. but those smaller fish (2-5 pounds) are very forgiving and will often take the fly out of your hand like a Westslope Cutthroat.  The big boys and girls, the 8 pounders and up give you no feeling, no line movement, no “take” you have to witness their stopping on the fly, and then you look for the lifting of the tail, the “backshake” or the “fin dance” and hit em with a good long strip strike.  Far too often our anglers have Mexico and Belize as their bonefishing experience and they keep waiting for the “strike” which never comes here on our big fish.  I call it the “Jedi mind strike” You have to see it, believe it and “hit em”!  LOL  And then of course there are those times when Mr. Hotshit guide yours truly blows it,  reads the whole shooting match wrong, yells “Hit em!” and they are not there on the other end, but we don’t talk about about that………..LOL

PS Practice your casting before you come to Hawaii boys and girls.

15-20 mile an hour trade winds are the norm, not the exception and if you can’t double haul your asses off, it makes it tough.  Find a good instructor, get some brews and hit your favorite park.  You get better casting in the park, and better and hooking fish on the water.  A little something from the Coach because I care.  This is a tough fishery and casting is everything.

For the size of the fishery, Hawaii has received an amazing amount of publicity as of late.  There are a number of places around the range of the bonefish that have been really adversely impacted by too much pressure. Is there too much pressure on the flats now?  Is that a concern?

No, there is not too much pressure.  You have to remember there is no real flyfishing culture here.  It is slowly growing but it will be some time before there is too much pressure here.  I have a custom flats boat and that triples or quadruples how much flats areas you can fish.

Someday there will be pressure here, but it’s not here yet.

Hawaii is known for big, monster, unreasonably large bonefish.  How likely do you think it is that Hawaii will break the magic 20 pound mark?

It’s here, I’ve seen it.  Dave McCoy and Doug Cambell just saw a fish two months ago that was 20 easy.  But it’s gonna be really hard to land one those pigs.  Lots of coral, rock and other obstacles make it pretty unlikely to happen on a flyrod.  It’s possible in a couple areas but………… pretty unlikely due to terrain issues.  Plus when I got here a few folks who constantly claimed they were seeing all of these 20 pound fish were flat out full of shit.  I now know that alot of those “20 pounders” they claimed to see where big milkfish.  I’ve landed fish up to 14 pounds now and let me tell you that is a damn monster of a bonefish.  Plus these guys were only wading and I am floating the flats in a quiet flats boat most of the day.  I see fish pretty commonly in the 12-16 pound range, but a 20 pound bonefish is a damn freak.  In 3 hard years of fishing here, I’ve seen maybe 3 fish I think were over 20.  One with Florida Keys legend Jim Bokor, one with Tom Brokaw’s ranch manager Doug Cambell and my good buddy flyfishing photographer and guiding pro Dave McCoy and one while out with former Keys ace guide and IGFA world inshore guiding champion Captain Chris Asaro whom now lives here and guides with me.  All of these fish were well over 38 inches in length (one close to 42-44) and big shouldered.  Remember this species Abula Glossodanta is 28 to the fork uniformly to be 10 pounds and you can add a pound for each inch.  So a 20 pound fish has to be 38 inches long with this species which is completely different than the Florida species.

Some tail.

When you are out on the water a lot you tend to see some interesting things… funny, strange, weird or frightening things.  Is there something unique that you’ve seen out there on the waters of Hawaii that really stands out?

I saw a 15-17 foot tiger shark swim right up to my boat last Labor Day as I was standing on my platform coming off of a flat into deeper water and just about pissed myself.  Man, my boat felt SMALL that day!  I know, there’s no way he could have gotten us, but the mass and power of that big boy sure put my piss ant place in nature in perspective.  We really are sharing THEIR water with them out there.  It’s too bad we can’t see it that way some times.  What an awesome, awesome creature.

I know you developed a fly called the Lunch Plate Special, a crab patterns specifically for the big bones of Oahu.  Was there something specific you wanted to capture in the fly?

A big calorie filled swimming crab imitation that had some “mojo” some life, some “Ha” as it’s called in Hawaii.  I wanted big bones to see it and know they needed it now, with little or no stripping, little or no angler induced movement.  So far it’s working pretty damn good.  But for every monster that eats it, another one turns the other way, so as with any other trophy flyfishing, I do not believe in “magic patters” or “flies that work all the time”.  Bullshit I say to that.  Presentation is everything with big bones and if the fly looks right, the picky bastards will reward you……………..  Sometimes!  LOL

By all accounts the least bonefishy island is Maui.  Are there bones on Maui for all those poor souls that don’t head to a more bonefish friendly island?

You could find some kayaking in deeper water but overall Maui is pretty tough inshore.  You best bet is to get on a plane and come fish with the Coach, Captain Chris Asaro or Captain Hennessey (a good friend and a great guide in his own right.)

Anything else to add?

Mahalo Bjorn and keep on hunting those bones.  No matter how good we get at this sport, how many big fish we land, how far we can cast, we are just grown up versions of  little boys and girls sitting on a grassy knoll watching a bobber in a pond or in a small creek our daddy sat us down on and said “Right here son, this is the spot I told you about”.

We may use a flyrod as adults but in essence that’s all we really are.

I try to remember that every day, that special feeling of wondering what that pond might hold, and why it catapulted me as a little tiny guy on Sumas creek with my dad and uncle chasing 6 inch cutthroat to a life of beautiful places, incredible cultures and the best people in the world.

(Flyrodders)  We take ourselves far too seriously in this sport and it hurts us far more than it helps us.  Aloha!!!!

Thanks Coach.  Hope to see you out there one of these days.