Aug 11

GBI… deal

I subscribe to the Cheap Caribbean newsletter/emails mostly because I like to be reminded of the places I won’t be going.

Still, this stood out… 4 nights in GBI, air included, for $339.  That may be the best deal for bonefish out there. The deal may not even be on by the time this runs, but it is fun to think about.

Of course… you get there, you need a car, at the very least.  A guide is also a really good idea, at least for a day.  That tends to push the cost up dramatically (guides there run $450 for a full day). The fantasy of the idea is way, way cheaper, of course.

Grand Bahama

Apr 11

A little Bahamian fantasy

I’m not going here… there is no airline ticket about to be purchased… I am not tying flies for this trip… I am not scouring Google Earth… but if I were looking to spend a month in the Bahamas right now… a full month… I might look to this place right here.

I could stay here...

You can stay there for a month for $1,800.  A month.

It turns out I’ve had a fantasy very similar to this in the past.  One day I’m going to have to actually do this.  I guess I’ll do it when I need to do it.

There’s also a place in Exuma for $1,200. For a month.  Like… 30 days…

How well would you get to know a place after 30 days of fishing?  I’ve begun to get a feel for some places after just a couple days.  Thirty days sounds pretty damn good.  Very good.


Nov 10

How to get your first bonefish

If you are looking to get into your first bonefish, I have a way you can do it for not much scratch (ya know, relatively speaking).

Step 1. Go to Cheap Caribbean and look at either Nassau or Grand Bahama.

Why?  Well, you can get package deals, including air fare for as low as $300 a person.  Figure it usually costs $350 for air, and you can see the value here.  You might not get the most super awesome hotel, but you’ll get to the Bahamas cheap.  Sure, you can get to Miami pretty cheap too, but the fishing there is tougher and if you are starting out, it is good to have some success on your first outing… ya know… encouragement.

Step 2. Get one day with a guide.

Why?  If you are starting out, it can be really hard to find your own fish.  Bonefish have their own rhythms and their own environment, so, get a guide to smooth out the learning curve a bit.

  • In Grand Bahama, I recommend Captain Perry (although his website is down as I write this, he is still booking trips and you can call him at (242) 353-3301) who I used and who was just a great guide and a good person.
  • In Nassau, which is overall a bit less bonefishy than Grand Bahama, there are still options where the guide can put you in a skiff and get you to some fish.  Aaron Bain with Secret Soul gets some good reviews.

Now,  a day of guiding is going to set you back a pretty penny… about $400, plus tip, but really, you want to catch some fish when you go all that way, so you really should look into it.  It isn’t like fishing the Madison where you know the place is lousy with fish.  If you have DIY inclinations, you can go out on your own for the rest of your trip, like I’ve done a couple times.

Nassau and Grand Bahama are family friendly locations and you could make it a family trip, making it even more doable for the family-bound angler.

There… that’s the recipe.  If you fish for steelhead or large trout, you probably have something serviceable in terms of gear.  A 7 weight will work for bonefish and you can even get away with a 6 (ask Rich French).  You may need a new line and you might… might need a new reel, but you can get a reel that will work for under $200.

As I read in This is Fly long ago, and I’m paraphrasing here, “bonefishing shows up on a lot more wish lists than obituaries,” so go out there and get after them.

My first bonefish - go get at 'em

Jun 10

Interview with Vince Tobia

I first encountered Vince Tobia on the Fly Fishing Forum/Fly Talk message board.  He owns Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters. He has a wide range of offerings, from steelhead to bonefish.  His bonefish offerings have stood out to be due to their shear affordability.  He is trying to bring “Cheap” and “Bonefish” together and I like that. Vince agreed to answer some questions about bonefish, his trips and his experiences chasing the Gray Ghost.

Vince, I’ve drooled over some of the packaged offered through Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters for a couple years now… you offer a lot of what I’d call “DIY Plus” trips, basically setting out the logistics from folks do go to some great places for self-guided fishing. It is a pretty unique offering.  How did you come up with all those packages?

Ever since I went on my first DIY trip over 10 years ago and began exploring Eleuthera and Acklins islands, I thought that I could put together packages to assist anglers wishing to fish those islands on their own.  When I started going to these islands, I did the homework beforehand.  However, there is no substitute for time on the water, exploring and fishing.  The first time you go to an island to fish on your own, without a guide, there is a steep learning curve.  You have to find the best flats and fish them at the right times.  An angler’s experience level is also a big factor.  My goal is to assist the DIY anglers and speed up the learning curve on these islands.  When you only have one week to fish without a guide it helps to maximize your odds by fishing the right places at the right times.

I just love exploring remote flats and beaches on my own.  The more remote the better.  It’s an adrenaline rush for me to be in a remote area, searching for fish.  And of course when you find those fish, it’s the icing on the cake.  I feel like a kid again rafting down the creeks near my house, having the anticipation that around the next bend there will be a huge bass or pike, waiting to attack!

Of all the places you’ve been, has there ever been a place where the quality of the fishing actually surprised you, in a good way or a bad way?

The fishing in the Seychelles, on Farquhar Atoll, was awesome.  Of course I kind of expected that.

Each trip is different.  While on Eleuthera this past April, the best day bonefishing we had (where we saw lots of fish and had many good shots) was on the cloudiest day of the week.  It even rained on us for a while.  Still, we were fishing in the right spot, where you didn’t need to see the fish from 40+ feet before they spooked.  I’ve also had some tough days on both Eleuthera and Acklins, when the weather & tides were perfect for bonefish, and I was excited and thought we’d have a great day.

What’s the worst gear malfunction you’ve ever had out on the flats?

I’ve been pretty lucky with gear.  No major reel malfunctions.  A broken rod on occasion.  But we always carry extra ones so it never is a big issue.  Preparation is the key.

Do you have a bonefish that stands out in your memory?

While fishing Acklins island @ Grey’s Point Lodge and hosting two weeks there several years ago (a fully guided trip), I was waiting for the next group to arrive at the lodge on Saturday am.  The weather was windy and very cloudy–it was very dark.  The conditions were poor for flats fishing.  I went out anyway and walked the edge of the flat.  I hadn’t seen much all am.  On my way back I happened to glace behind me ( I often do this as fish sometimes approach from behind, or I may have missed seeing something at first look) and two nice fish were feeding, moving slowly along the shore in about 2 1/2 to 3′ of water.  I turned and made a 20′ cast and the bone immediately rushed the fly and was on.  It took a couple very nice runs and I landed it within 5 minutes.  It was 28 1/2″.  It pays to get out and fish, no matter what the conditions–especially when you are there anyway!  I’ve caught some nice fish in less than ideal conditions.

There are many other memorable bonefish.  Not all of them very big, but I remember some for the particular conditions they were caught under.

What’s your favorite rod/reel these days?

I love the Scott s4s 9′ 8wt.  I like my Nautilus, and sage 3400D reels too.

Do you have anything unique on your gear or packing list?

We’ll bring two way radios when DIY fishing, to communicate about what we’re seeing on the flats.  That way we can move if we need to, and not waste too much daylight in the wrong area.

I also like to wear a pair of thin surfing neoprene socks that Velcro tight around the shin. I’ll wear a gravel guard over the tops to further prevent sand from getting in.  One way to ruin your trip is to get bad blisters on your feet.

The more time you spend on the water the more you see things that others will never see.  What’s the weirdest, funniest or most frightening thing you’ve seen out there on the flats?

One time while motoring back to a lodge on South Andros in about 8-10′ of water, the guide suddenly slowed the boat down and started to turn.  When I asked him what was wrong, he said “shark.”  I’m thinking, so what?  We’ve seen dozens of sharks already today, no big deal.  The he says “big shark” and we motor up to a hammerhead shark that was as long as the boat!  Really big.  Biggest I’ve ever seen.  It was very cool to see it up close.

Another time on Eleuthera, we’re catching some bones along the beach, in thigh deep water.  One of my friends is about to land his bone, holding his rod high in his right hand, and bending down to grab the fish with his left, when all of a sudden there is a huge explosion of water.  He looks over at us thinking we are messing with him.  Then he sees the huge barracuda that has his bone, and it starts peeling line from his reel.  He was a second or two away from a very bad incident.  That ‘cuda would have bit his hand–it was that close.  I always caution people to be aware of their surroundings and land fish in shallower water.  And I always carry a first aid kit in the vehicle, just in case.

A funny story was when we were motoring thru some narrow channels in Mexico, near boca paila.  We’re moving at a pretty good clip and we startled a huge school of mullet.  I am sitting next to a friend and I see one of the mullet come straight out of the water from the side, and smack him in the side of the head!  The whole incident happened like it was in slow motion. He fortunately was not hurt, and it was pretty funny to see.

I know casting is pretty important when it comes to bonefishing.  I have my double haul down, but I think of my dad, who has a bit more trouble with casting in the wind for distance or accuracy. Where is the best place for someone like that to go if they want to get into some bonefish?

First of all that person should probably have a guide helping him.  Also, it would be good practice for him to fish to schools of fish in slightly deeper water.  Not classic bonefishing or the kind I prefer to do, but for beginners it can be very fun, and they can perfect the cast, strip and hook set.

For more traditional flats fishing, someone like your Dad needs a lot of shots at bones, so the Bahamas, Mexico or Belize would be good.  Or the Seychelles!  Beginners need to keep their interest up with lots of opportunities, and with each shot at bonefish they’ll learn something new.  The more shots the better.

Thanks Vince and good fishing.

May 10

Anatomy of Cheap Bonefishing

OK… since I’m not currently bonefishing, don’t see any on the calendar and the flats are fading from my memory like a homecoming banner left out in the sun for a month, I figured I’d rev up my fantasy life by putting together the details of trips that I simply won’t be taking.

I like cheap… cheap and I are friends… cheap would be like the brother I never had if I didn’t have a brother.  I could never be mad at you, cheap.

Cheap and bonefish are not so chummy… but I think it is all misunderstandings, maybe a cross-cultural communications issue.

It is possible to have a bonefish experience that is not too hard on the wallet.  Here is what that might look like.

Our fictional trip will happen September 9 to September 15.  The departure city is San Francisco and the destination will be Deadman’s Cay airport on Long Island, Bahamas.

Flight to Nassau = $401 (About $100 less if you fly from NYC)

Flight to Long Island = $200

Cheap, as it turns out, likes company.  If you like company and have a crew to go with, you can rent this SWEET pad at Salt Pond on Long Island for  $400 a night.  If the company splits the cost, that’s $50 a night for the 8 people that could bunk there.  That’s a pretty sweet deal… about as much as I spent for my one star motel in Grand Bahama last January.

Yes... I would like to stay here.

Sure, you’ll need a rental car, but you can get one. From what I hear, it is about $65-75 a day for a small car.  Maybe you’ll need two for your group of 8 and might need to ferry back and forth from the airport, but it is doable… put that at about $20 a day divided between everyone.

The vacation rental  above puts you about 15 minutes from the nearest fishable flat and it comes with a couple of kayaks for angling, which opens up even more water. (See below for a trip report from the owner of the rental, and yes, he said I could run this).

Sure, you have to buy food, but it is a widely known fact that a man can live on Kalik, crackers and gummi bears for at LEAST a week.

The best way to get bonefish and cheap to really cozy up, maybe even have a love-child, is to get the flight cost down.  That’s why you should take a page out of Ryan Bingham’s playbook and use any opportunity to get those frequent flier miles.

You play the miles right and your $1,000 budget, self-guided trip just became you $600 budget, self-guided trip.

The trip report from the vacation rental owner:

I just return from a week of fishing on Long Island. As many of you know I have a severe bonefishing addiction and after visiting most of the island in the Bahamas (including Acklins/Crooked) I fell in love with Long Island. I have recently completed a home in Salt Pond, which is about halfway between Deadman’s Cay and the North end, the primary flats areas. I traveled with 3 close friends with similar addictive personalities. We fished 3 days up north with Docky Smith and his brother “Big Dog”, and 2 days in Deadman’s with Colin Cartwright. The weather was clear, but the wind blew 20-25 mph out of the northeast for the entire visit, keeping the flats exceptional dry, and challenging our casting technique. Despite less than ideal conditions we caught alot of fish ranging from 3 to 10 lbs. On a day in Deadman’s, Carlos caught 18 bones.

While fishing the outer flat up north the “Big Dog” pointed out a 30 lb permit tailing in 2 feet of water about 200 feet from the area we we wading for bones tailing in 6-8 inches of water. Having never landed a permit on the flats I began my stalk of the permit. The outer portion of the flat had channels running into the turtle grass covered area, and the permit was working the edges of the channels, periodically present its huge forked tail, causing burst of tachycardia and hyperventilation. As I approached to a distance of 70-80 feet, it would slip back into the channel, but consistently worked into the tide which flowed across the shallows. Taking a course further up tide, I set up on the edge of the channel. As I watched the permit, it return to the channel and then vanished. I was crest fallen, and after 5 minutes was about to move on when a large green shadow appeared in the depth of the creek. “Must be a ‘cuda”, I thought, but as I watched the ‘cuda went to the opposite bank and tailed in a foot and a half of water. I quick cast of a large Mantis Shrimp, to short strips, game on. 25 minutes later the biggest personal bonefish for me was at hand. Sweeet!

Sep 09

Bonefish on a Shoestring a la Charles

Found a great little article in The Field (a British sporting mag).  The cliff note version of the article is this… cheap bonefish.  The author is a Brit, which makes me like him just for the high probability we could talk soccer/football (oh Newcastle, hope you make it back on the bounce).  The article is great, the writing is grand and the author seems like a guy you’d like to cast a line with.

This particular angler is Charles Rangeley-Wilson, an angler and writer of some reputation and maybe even a bit of fame over there in England (maybe even other places, as far as I know).  Awfully British of him to go by Charles… no Charlie, no Chuck… but Brits are Brits and he even packed chocolate biscuits with him on a shoestring trans-Atlantic bonefish expedition… something here about “you can take the angler out of Briton but you can’t take the Briton out of the angler.”

Turns out Charles has an addiction I can sympathize with…

All the time-bomb tension of the previous few seconds, the held breath, the frozen body, the eyes straining for information, is suddenly released when a bonefish takes. I doubt there is anything else in sport to rival that uncoiling rush. It’s like a drug and I for one am addicted to it. (from The Field article linked above)

Charles with a bonefish

Charles has made a movie about his obsession called “Bonefish: A Fishing Odyssey.” Now, I’d like to see this movie… I’d like to see it very much.  However, still stinging from the American Revolution, the dvd is not yet for sale in an American-friendly dvd format (although this is coming, and coming soon, as I understand it).  Keep an eye out for it, or, just check here and I’ll let you know when  you too can get your copy.

Aug 09

Three Bonefish Rods Under $200

It seems the most folks look toward 8 weights when going after bones.  Sage seems to be the rod folks talk about most often.  The Z-Axis looks great… and costs $690 or so.  If you are on the water every day, or if you have the scratch, it might make good sense.  I think there is a threshold of fishing days/year where it makes sense.  For me… for 95% of folks going after bonefish, I’m guessing we aren’t there, although “there” sounds like a lovely place where my wife would never be able to find a job that would pay enough to support my lavish and bonefish-centric lifestyle.  So… since I don’t live “there,” how about some rods that will ease the pressure on your wallet while still allowing you to put the right amount of pressure on the fish.

Echo – Ion – $190

The Echo Ion

Echo Rods… these rods are pretty durable and just might come with a tiny bit of the Rajeff fishing mojo.  I got to talk to Tim Rajeff at a fishing show and got to  play with one of these rods.  Medium-Fast action and a great price.  This is probably the best rod under $200.

TFO – Lefty Kreh Professional – $150

TFO Professional

TFO really started the low-price party a few years back.  I own two of these rods and a third TFO.  I’ve been consistently impressed with the quality of these rods.  I’d call them on the fast end of Med-Fast.  I can tell  you that their repair service is quick… broken my 4 wt. lots of times.

Albright – GP – $114 (the updated GPX)

Albright GP’s

This is a split weight rod… 8/9 is the one that just was dropped off at the house.  While the price tag really can’t be beat, the delivery guy did run over some of my daughter’s sidewalk chalk, so I’ll say this cost a total of $84.  This is not the world’s best, best piece of hardware… but it will do the job.  It’s on the slower end of Med-Fast, but if you haul, you can get the fly there.  Remember, guys used to do this with Bamboo and Fiberglass… this rod is certainly better than those options and it is the rod I’m going to take with me to the Bahamas when (oh God, please let it be) I go in Spring 2010.

Aug 09

The Math of a Bonefishing Trip – Part 2

I am not at that point in my life where I book a stay at a lodge.  My trips are going to be mostly un-guided, DIY, cheap digs, cheap beer kinds of adventures.  Cost is the key factor for me and when you look at cost, the single greatest factor comes down to the essential element of travel.  Airfare.

Looking at likely bonefishing locations for a Spring of 2010 trip, here are the high points of what I’m seeing…

  • Hawaii is just expensive to get to… with Honolulu hitting $657 and Kauai at $755, it remains more expensive to get to these beautiful places than  it really seems like it should.
  • The cheapest flight from SFO is, of course, going to be to Miami ($265), but everyone I talk to says the DIY plan for the Keys is also a CNAW (Catch Nothing All Week) plan… and,  not having DONE it, I can’t say if that is truth or a pack of filthy, dirty lies.
  • Cancun… attractive at $296, although it seems the popular bonefishing is farther south of that resort mecca.
  • Freeport, Grand Bahama hits a bit of a sweet spot… airfare is $382, which isn’t so bad… cheap digs are available and there are at least a few places for the DIY guy/gal to at least spot a fish.  Guides also don’t run the $800 for a full day that seems to happen at least a few other spots.
  • When you start looking at other places… Marsh Harbor, Providenciales, Treasure Cay, Deadman’s Cay, you find the price tag with numbers from $600 to $750.

Aug 09

Silly Priced Bonefish Rods

In my search to be as cheap a bastard as I possibly can, I’ve been intrigued by the Albright Fishing Company.  They have a rod (the GP series) that they are selling for about $80.  The one I have looking at is a split weight rod… 8/9, 4 piece.  I have not been a fan of split weight rods, but, at $80… my interest has been piqued.  It was for that reason that I asked my bro for that very rod for my birthday.  I have been informed that it will be making it’s way to the Bonefish Fantasy Capital of the world, here in the Sierra Foothills.

There are other great cheap rod companies out there.  Echo and TFO spring to mind.  The both have very serviceable rods for under $200.  The $200 threshold seems very reasonable, really and I’m sure that they compete well with the $500-$800 rods that sprinkle the pages of glossy ff magazines.  Breaking the $100 barrier seems excessively cheap… but that’s the kind of guy I am.

I’ll be taking the Albright Rod with me, I hope, when I go to the Bahamas in the Spring (2010).

In the end, I think it is important to remember that what is or isn’t a bonefishing rod is largely up to you.  An $80 rod will likely be slower than a $800 rod, the components will be lower quality, but remember that folks have caught bonefish on all manner of rods.  With modern graphite rods, you know they’ll work to a point.  If you are fishing in the Keys and are an excellent caster, you might get 20% more out of a really high end rod, I’d imagine.  For the masses in most situations, I don’t think it matters.

I ended up buying two new TFO rods for my trip and bringing the Albright GP along.  I only cast the GP a little bit, but one of those instances was casting a 1/0 popper with a wire leader and… the rod did very well… I was impressed.

I doubt I’ll own another $700 rod.  Personally, I don’t see the value there and I hate being charged for the label… that’s my impression/belief and I’m sticking to it.