A cool article from Fly Life Magazine lays out some of the findings when the question gets asked about what removes bonefish slime, does sun screen deter fish from feeding and more.
There is a lot of superstition around questions like this and not all of it stands up to rigorous examination. Ah… science.
Here’s something I know… keep those bonefish wet. Don’t pick them up if you can help it. If you are catching a bunch of cookie-cutter bones, no need for the 12th photo. It is a violent place out there if you are a bonefish, and a fish that is lethargic will simply become a meal for a predator.
First off, I didn’t expect that much traffic. I was staying at the Aulani with the fam for Thanksgiving and needed to get to the airport flat to meet Kenny at 7:00 AM. I thought 40 minutes would do it. I was wrong.
The bell staff were also wrong that it would be “about the same cost” for a taxi and a Lyft… it was, in fact, not about the same cost at all. It cost me $128 to get to the flat (vs. $38 to get back) and I got there 15 minutes late. I hate being late.
The flat, when we got out there, was glassy clam. No wind rustled the mangroves or the water and it took about 10 seconds to see my first tail waiving at us to say good morning.
Now, it must be said, these fish are kind of assholes. They are so very, very spooky and they’ve seen some stuff, man… they’ve seen it all. They were super skittish in the sheet of skinny water and Kenny let me know it wasn’t ME they were rejecting, but more an overall disposition. Having an almost teenage daughter, I understand the mentality.
We worked hard and didn’t have too much to show for it. I had maybe 10 shots through lunch and I had maybe another 5 after lunch. The shots decreasing as the wind came up and the tails stayed down with the changing tide. I hooked one nice fish that must have run around one of the many, many coral obstacles and cut me off. It was good to feel the tug, but I was still off the board.
The day was waning. My dinner reservations were on my mind as well as questions about exactly how much traffic I might have on the way back West. I told Kenny that, ya know, if it wasn’t going to happen, we didn’t need to keep after it. Kenny said he wanted to try one more spot.
The breakers weren’t being totally blunted and so the ride out on the last flat was a little wild, a confused jumble of swells from different directions meant everyone had to hold on from time to time. To make it a bit more challenging the water was both a little deeper and the bottom seemed to be the EXACT color green of a bonefish. I was seeing phantom fish everywhere. Luckily, Kenny was seeing actual fish and had me cast toward a fish he had picked out.
“Strip long again.”
Tight to a fish and it was lightning, streaking across the flat. Backing exposed and recovered. Smiles all around. When I saw the size of the fish I wondered if I had hooked it in the ass, but it was just a strong, ocean-side fish. Not the 10 pounder, but the right species in the right place and sometimes you just need to take what the fishing gods give you.
It was a day saver and we were both pretty relieved.
You can find guide Kenny Karas here, and I recommend a day on the water with him. He’s good people and knows his stuff. This is a solid recommendation, not an ad.
There are a lot of bonefish in Christmas Island, which you’ve probably heard. I found the bones of Xmas to be irrationally difficult, due in part to the weather (several days of that high cloud, diffused light that makes bonefish vanish on the white sand canvas) and in part to my inability to make it happen. Let me explain.
There are loads of bones there. I saw maybe 200 a day, even if I got shots only at a fraction of those. In the low light the shots were really, really close. I hooked and caught bonefish with just the leader out of the rod, as well as at 10 feet and 20 feet and 30 feet and, rarely, maybe 40. However, I also botched a much higher percentage of fish in Xmas than I normally do and that comes down to the strip.
The strip, for the lagoon bonefish, is much faster than anywhere else I’ve ever fished for bones. The bones are not picking the fly off the bottom, they are eating it as it swims. This may be because they are taking the fly not to be a shrimp, but as a milkfish fry (that’s Shane’s theory and it is as good as any I could come up with). If you are used to a short strip, pause, short strip, pause, or if you are used to a strip-and-sit kind of retrieve, this is going to be hard to adjust to. I certainly found it difficult to adapt to.
On the ocean-side flats (the Korean Wreck) you may find a school of bones. I saw one of 30-40 fish, a school I took 3 fish out of. Inside the lagoon the bonefish just don’t seem to school up. If you see more than 3-4 fish together there is about a 90% chance those fish are actually milkfish. Milkfish can look frustratingly like bonefish and they share the same flats habitat. In deeper water the milks will be higher in the water column and the bones will be on the bottom, but in skinny water those fish can look very, very similar. When tailing, milks have a tail with some black on it, looking more like a permit tail than a bonefish, so that’s a giveaway.
Don’t get me wrong… I caught bonefish, having one day with ~15 and there were so many other fish to go after. I had one day without a bonefish, but that was the milkfish day and my cup was pretty full with that experience, so I didn’t mind so much.
The last day I had one particularly difficult morning, going 1/25 on legit shots. I was seeing the fish very well, but couldn’t make it happen. I don’t know what was wrong. That same time another angler in the group was going about 25/35… so, it wasn’t that people weren’t smashing it, it was just that I wasn’t smashing it.
Maybe it was the wrong strip and maybe it was my fly selection. Maybe it was the UV flash that has a purple tinge to it that isn’t maybe what’s called for. Maybe I was just having a temporary mental block. I don’t know what my problem was, but I wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
The bones of Xmas ran from 1-6 pounds with a few bigger fish around. I’d say they average 2-3 from what I saw.
I’d tie differently for this trip, knowing what I do now.
I never used a worm fly.
I never used a green fly.
I would have tied more plain Christmas Island Specials.
I would have tied more orange Christmas Island Specials.
I would have tied more #8s with small barbell eyes.
I would have used regular crystal flash, not UV crystal flash.
I would have left off any funky eyes (heavy eyes with actual eyes painted on)
I’d add… my crabs were on point.
I caught some nice bonefish and I had some decent bonefishing days. The days that were a bit more frustrating on bonefish were mitigated by other species (bluefin, GT, triggers, milkies).
So… bones, bones, bones galore, but for me it proved difficult to break old habits to adapt a new mentality to fish for them. Many good bonefish days were had by those in our group, so my issues were not universal or signs of a “problem” with the fishing. Just had some of my own shortcomings exposed… but that’s what learning looks like and I’m not disappointed.
Here is Elliott’s second part of the Bahamas trip podcast. In this part you’ll here about conservation efforts in the Bahamas and you’ll learn a bit about the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and you’ll also come along with me as we deal with the aftermath of a dead bonefish. Yup… I killed a bonefish. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I did. We’ll explore some of the ethics around that and where I may have, momentarily, fallen down.
It is possible to have a lot of thoughts about where the line is… but sometimes… sometimes is it a little hard to see.
Bonefishing is a blood sport (the picture below isn’t from this trip even… if you fish for bonefish, this is going to happen, sooner or later). Fish will die, even when you do everything right. That’s why it’s so important to get everything right that you CAN control.
The day had been pretty good and this our sixth and final day fishing out of East End Lodge on Grand Bahama.. We had waded a couple of lakes you couldn’t get a boat into, although there is no way I could point you to them on a map. Cecil knows where they are.
I had caught a few fish, the winds were low, the sun was high and the clouds were few and far-between. Basically, it was a great day for bonefishing.
The third to last spot we were fishing from the skiff and found a small school of really picky fish. The lead fish would spook easily and the rest of the school took their cues from those spooky fish. Eventually, I got the cast in well ahead of the fish, waited for the jittery fish to pass over and then gave a couple slight twitches and got an eat.
I lost that fish.
Next spot and it was the kind of bottom you have to have bionic eyes to see the fish on. Cecil had me casting at fish and often I only had the vaguest notion of where they were. Still, I got eats. Three, to be exact, and every single one of them came unbuttoned.
Last spot and it was a nice looking flat with a small island in the center. As we drifted I told Cecil to give it 20 more minutes and then we’d get back. It was the end-of-season party at three and we’d be getting in close to that time. I didn’t see any fish and my mind was starting to go through what I needed to get packed up and how long it might take to get to the airport. After ten minutes I told Cecil that we should pack it up.
He said “Just wait. Let me pole you for a couple minutes here.”
About a minute later he had me casting to a bonefish. One strip and I was tight. I landed the fish.
Last cast of the six days of fishing was a fish. Hard to argue with that.
I got back home just a few hours ago from East End Lodge. This is the second week of July and it closed out their season. After six days of fishing this last week, here’s what I can tell you about fishing the Bahamas in July (experiences may differ).
There are trade-offs in everything… opportunity costs. To get thing A you give up thing B.
What you get by fishing in July is silky smooth conditions, the only breeze being the boat ride from one spot to the next. Previously, I think I had seen one day of flat conditions and in the six days of fishing I had there was only a half-day of light wind.
Glass is forged in heat.
I didn’t know it could be like this.
The last morning
That’s what you get, but what do you give up?
The July sun without wind is a baking kind of heat. It is a “Your phone is too hot to properly function” kind of heat. If you can deal with the hydration-stealing, sweat-dripping heat, and there are those who simply can’t (I’m looking at you dad), it may be the most wonderful time to fish (I’ve heard conditions are similar in October, but I haven’t fished that month).
You also have storm cells which build in the heat of the day and can unleash torrents of rain and sheets of lightning. We were driven off the water a couple times, ending the day an hour or two early, but that seemed a small price to pay.
We did find some water which was simply too hot. When water temps get to 85 bonefish will find cooler, usually deeper, waters. There were plenty of places still getting a good flush of tidal water.
The geography of Grand Bahama and the alertness of our guide, Cecil, meant we simply dodged the storms. We could go North or South and weave our way around the dark clouds. We got rained on for a grand total of about 45 seconds, which is all credit to Cecile.
If the fishing is so good and the conditions so inviting, why do pretty much all the fishing lodges close down? Hurricane season? Maybe, but while we were there Rob, co-owner of East End Lodge, turned down several trips for August. People are still willing to come. So, what is it?
One word… lobster.
It’s pretty much about the lobster. All the guides will be out checking their lobster condos come August 1. I’d be surprised if there was a guide in all of the Bahamas who won’t be out collecting lobster once the season opens. It is a critical component to a Bahamian’s income and even more so a part of Bahamian culture.
If you are a wind hater and enjoy hobbies like smelting or glass blowing, July just might be for you.
The weather was… well… less than ideal for my day of fishing with Kenny Karas in Oahu. That’s how it is, mostly. The trade-winds do their thing and the island creates its own weather (read “clouds”) and that’s how it is more than it isn’t. The winds blow, the rain rains and when you have one day to fish out of 7, you just never know what you’ll end up with. It’s an adventure.
Dark and stormy
We started early, meeting at 6, and were out on the flats a few minutes later. It isn’t a long haul, no 45 minute ride here. We waded out on the un-sun-soaked flats for a while before we found our first bone, which was uncooperative. These fish tail, which is great, as I’d have very little luck finding them with the lights out. Kenny, on the other hand, sees fish. He just, ya know… SEES fish, man. The first three opportunities I did everything right and the fish were not on the same page.
After that, I reverted to putting the fly too close to the fish and freaking them the F out. This is the land of the 9 foot lead. Eight feet doesn’t do it. Nine or nothing.
Our first pass through the flat didn’t produce and we went around to hit a different part of the flat, walking the long and skinny ridge of flat some of you will know well. By this time our early morning wind advantage was over and the clouds were unrelenting. We’d get a window of sun every 20 minutes or so that would last for 3-20 seconds. As we were walking Kenny spotted a fish, in fairly close (a 20 foot cast) and walked me into the fish.
I never saw it. It ate about 15 feet in front of us and I never saw the fish. At all.
The eat did happen though and the fish ran, dutifully avoiding a bit piling, and came to hand. It was a nice, solid and fat five pound bonefish. We were on the board.
A nice o’io on a cloudy day in Oahu.
The rest of the day was mostly Kenny seeing fish I only had the faintest notions of. We walked the edge of one flat where Kenny must have spotted 5-6 fish that I never saw. I have plenty of excuses. The lights were off, the wind was at about 20 mph and the edge of the flat was a but churned up, but despite all of that Kenny kept finding fish. Sometimes I’d see just that faint light green bonefish back, sometimes I’d see nothing.
I had maybe 3 or 4 shots that seemed like they were going to come tight, but in the end it was just the one fish that ended up in the W column.
That one fish was hard won and I’ll take it.
This was a family trip, not a fishing trip and the family part was pretty much kick-ass.
Chilling at the pool.
Much respect to Kenny. He worked hard for me and found me fish on a tough weather day. I’d bet I had 20 shots, maybe even 30 if I round up. I went 1/1 on hooked:landed and it was still a triumph.
On Caye Caulker at the Sea Dreams dock, the dock light makes things just work. Once the sun is down the bonefish mill around and they can be caught. The last night there I caught six before deciding to call it a trip.
However… in the daylight those fish are a different story. It is the same school of fish, or the same few small schools of fish (maybe 30-40 fish total), and when the lights are on they just won’t be fooled.
I tried some of the Hawaii tactics from last year. I tried going small, but the current would just carry the fly away before the fish could even see it. I tried taking out the flash and going neutral colors, but it seemed any fly, of any color or shape, would send the fish scurrying for cover. I tried leading the fish by 9 feet, but as soon as the fly line landed on the water the fish would just turn around and swim slowly away from the offending line.
So, size didn’t matter, color didn’t matter and you couldn’t cast within 9 feet. They really were pulling out their inner permit.
I, after a few hours of trying over multiple days, finally gave up.
Those same fish would eat a heavily weighted tan shrimp at the fringes of the dock light’s glow with savagery usually reserved for barracuda eats.
I’m going back. I’m going back to the Bahamas in 2018… July.
I’m going to spend a few days at the East End Lodge, very close to the waters where I caught my first bonefish. This is the place I’ve spent the most time of any one place in the Caribbean. This is a place I kind of love a bit and want to know better.
I’m excited to be going back. I’m excited to stand in those waters again and look for something moving toward me there in the shimmering shadows of currents and water.