Feb 19

Triggered in Christmas Island

I’m back from a week in Christmas Island on the trip hosted by my friend Shane through The Fly Shop.

It was a good trip with some good people and some tough weather. Conditions were overcast on our first few days of fishing and that’s one reason I was particularly pleased with the trigger fishing.

People say trigger fishing is like permit fishing. That is something I’m not sure I can totally agree on, as I’ve now caught three triggers and have only caught one permit (although I’ve had about 20X the trigger shots than I’ve had permit shots). I think permit get the edge in difficulty and I’m happy to let them have it because that leaves trigger fishing as more enjoyable.

Sure, I blew plenty of trigger shots, but they are pretty easy to find, even on overcast, windy, rainy days. They let you get fairly close, if they don’t spook when you look at them. Also, I had a good sense of what I needed to do when casting at one.

First fishing day greeted us with rain, wind and thick grey skies. My guide (ee went by “T”) and I found some bones, but we found many more triggers. I had caught one trigger in Mexico with Nick Denbow, but these triggers were more colorful and more plentiful. I was happy they were there.

I had maybe 20 good triggers shots on the first day and had three eats that I didn’t come tight to before it happened.

This is still my largest trigger. I was surprised by how hard he pulled.

Nice looking trigger.

I had heard the main thing you need to do is keep them out of their rocky/coral homes after they get hooked. That in mind, I put the stick to the fish, knowing I had 20 pound tippet to play with. S/He made a couple of nice runs (not to its hole), but we managed to get it in. Lovely fish. Cool eyes. I was stoked. Day was made.

Now… you’ll notice where my rod is in the picture above. So… when I lowered the fish to the water… well… this happened.

uh oh

It held on for probably 2 minutes.

Um… now what?

Finally, it let go. The rod, a Redington Predator 8 wt., was, to my shock, totally fine. It had bitten the ferrule, maybe the strongest part of the rod. No damage was done. Helped that the teeth didn’t get it bad at all.

So, that was day one.

The rest of the week I cast at several more triggers, but didn’t get any to seal the deal. I had some follows, some interest, maybe some eats, but no more triggers to hand.

On the last day we had GLORIOUS LIGHT. Despite the light I was having a crisis of confidence as I went 1/25 on bones in the morning. I was seeing them very well, often before the guide (thanks, 6’3″ frame) but I just couldn’t get it to them how they wanted it. I was dejected. After lunch, I had some redemption, going about 5/15 with two coming unhooked and one lost to coral. Then… the second and last trigger of the trip.

I loved it. One cast and it was on. The cast was perfect and I needed a perfect cast to help salvage some dignity.

Last trigger of the trip

(Yes, that’s what passed for great light on this trip)

This guy even ate a bonefish fly. Go figure.

Not really fishable any more.

I’ve grown quite fond of triggers. They’ll hold a special place in my heart for a while.

More to come on the trip.

Dec 12

A day fishing with dad

My dad turned 70 earlier this year and for his gift I got a day on the water for the two of us to fish together. That was back in April and a lot went down between then and yesterday. One of those things was a health scare with my dad that threw this and pretty much any trip in question. That fear seems to have abated (dad’s doing great these days) and so it was time to get fishing.

We were going to fish the Lower Sacramento out of The Fly Shop. I love this river. It is big with big, big fish. We met at the shop, got all our stuff together and headed to the river.

Um… WTF? You can’t go fishing in Chocolate Milk!

Pretty much no one could predict that the river would blow out overnight for no readily apparent reason. We got to the boat launch, got out of the car and it was clear, within seconds, the Lower Sac was pretty far from fishable. The river had looked good the day before and there had been no rain for several days. The river had been clearing, not silting up. No explanation, just 4.5K of chocolate milk. So… on to plan B.

My dad and I headed to some private water accessed through The Fly Shop which my dad had fished (and enjoyed) previously. We didn’t need the guide for that, so he went his way and we made our way south to a private lake called Luk Lake.

It was cold and foggy, but there were fish. It was fun to row around the little lake and catch some fish with my dad. He actually caught more fish than me, which is one of those things that doesn’t happen too much these days. Another late birthday present.

My dad, hooked up.

My dad, hooked up.

While I was behind on numbers, I did manage to catch the biggest trout I’ve landed in a few years. Now… I wouldn’t say this is a wild fish, or a pretty fish, or a spectacular fish, but it was big. Sometimes you need a big, ugly, frankenfish and that’s pretty much what I got. This thing was fat with a broad back. You can see the tail is a mess and it has one of those snub noses indicating it grew too quickly. Still, it is a thrill to see that big, broad flash in the water when you see the flank of the fish for the first time.

Frankenfish trout.

Frankenfish trout.

The day was about fishing with my dad, something I get to do too seldom these days. You can never fish too much with your dad (I hope my daughter feels the same).

Here's to you dad.

Here’s to you dad.

Jan 11

Sup with the Seychelles?

I’m going to spend the next couple days talking about the Seychelles and what is and isn’t happening there.  I’ve had some good emails from some of the outfitters and booking agencies and I want to make sure y’all get the goods.

Um... not really this kind of pirate, unless she also has an RPG.

Argh!  There be pirates on them seas!

Sadly, there actually ARE pirates out pestering the traffic on the High Seas off the coast of the Seychelles, but they aren’t all busty and blond… just relatively poor Somali’s with RPG’s and they are screwing up the fishing something fierce.  The Seychelles are an epic destination… big and plentiful bones, GT’s and all sorts of other stuff… yeah, I want to go.  The outer atolls, fished with mother ships, are now off limits due to the Jolly-Roger-less Somali Pirates.  The government pulled permissions for mother ship operations, at least until Fall 2011.

However, you can still go to the Seychelles to fish, as there are land-based operations continuing to fish for and catch all those sweet silver Seychelles species (that’s called alliteration… see what I did there?).  There are also other options that might… just might… be BETTER than the outer atolls, but I’ll talk about that more tomorrow.  Today… the Seychelles.

While mother ship operations have been brought to a hull-screeching halt, there are land-based options that can get you your Seychelles fix.  Bill Marts, of The Fly Shop, sent me information on Farquhar Atoll and… yeah… it sounds kind of sweet.

There is no disputing that Farquhar offers some of the finest flats fishing in the Seychelles, the diversity of species, quality of the ecosystem and spectacular beauty making it any angler’s dream destination. Situated 700km southwest of the main island of Mahe, Farquhar Atoll is the most southerly atoll in the Seychelles chain. This world class fishery consists of countless flats, channels and surf zones. The flats consist of hard white sand, turtle grass and broken coral which make for comfortable wading for a vast array of flats species.

Yeah… that sounds like a bit of alright.

That GT would crush most of your bonefishing gear... just say'n.

So… don’t completely write off the Seychelles just yet.  You can book a trip to Farquhar through The Fly Shop, among others. The trip is through Fly Castaway.


I had to have a cigarette after watching this youtube clip and I don’t even smoke.

Jan 11

Interview with Mike Michalak from The Fly Shop

Mike Michalak makes the third person from The Fly Shop that I’ve interviewed.  It isn’t really hard to see why… I used to live in Redding (at least for a couple of years) and in Northern California, The Fly Shop is a dominant presence for fly anglers.  In fact, The Fly Shop is the world’s largest fly shop, in terms of revenue.  They’ve been in the international travel game for about thirty years and played a roll in opening many fly fishing destinations that  anglers dream about.  Mike is the owner of The Fly Shop and he has a passion for bonefish and has traveled the world in pursuit of the Gray Ghosts.

As owner of The Fly Shop in Redding you’ve been in the fly fishing game for a long time and you’ve kicked around the globe a fair bit. Do you think there are still bonefish fisheries yet to be discovered?

Good question.  Ya know, our travel company has been in business for over 30 years and for a great part of that my one dimensional focus was bonefishing.  We were the first licensed anglers and the first people to really fish Los Roques legally in 1988.  We helped open up Christmas Island with the Frontiers team and Bob and Carol Faro (sp), but honestly I don’t think there are any bonefisheries yet to be discovered. I do think that there are probably three or four (parts of Cuba, the South Pacific, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, maybe one archipelago in South America, some of the coast line of Venezuela) that are yet to be fully explored and fully developed as bonefisheries.  Having said that, I don’t think there is anything left to be discovered. Lefty Kreh in his book Saltwater Fly Fishing made the comment once that there are no bonefish found south of a particular latitude.  I don’t want to be that definitive because I’d probably be, and I hope I would be, proved wrong. I hope that someone finds something really great, but I don’t think they will. I think that the best of it has been discovered.  I don’t think the best of it has been completely explored or understood.

An example, we found some phenomenal fishing in French Polynesia, but it was in the middle of the summer.  It wasn’t when anyone would think of going there. It was incredibly consistent int he middle of the summer.  What we were told was that if we thought it was nice then, we should really see it in January, February, March, April, when everyone wants to come to French Polynesia. So, we promoted the hell out of it and fell flat on our face because what happens is that the waters were entirely too warm in French Polynesia, but we didn’t know it.  We put out a lot of effort and Polynesia got a bad rap because of it and because of us. We hadn’t done enough due diligence.

Cuba is hardly new, hardly undiscovered, but it has yet to be developed and anyone with a brain in their head is sitting on their hands instead of going to Cuba and they are waiting for normalization of relationships.

If you fly the coastline of Venezuela, it is just incredible. It looks like an exponential map of Florida, but it is totally undeveloped as a fishery.

Another question there is why would anyone want to go there?  To go two-thirds of the way around the world when there is fantastic fishing within a single day’s flight.  Whether it’s Christmas Island to the west or going to the Bahamas to the East.  It just isn’t necessary to go to the other side of the world to have great fishing.

Think about your favorite bonefishing flat.  What makes that place a special place for you?

For me the best of bonefishing is the chance to wade, the chance to do it on your own without some guide peering over your shoulder and saying “Bonefish at 11:00, mon.” It is the wading experience.  In my mind’s eye, there are those evenings walking some flat in the middle of nowhere, especially in the early days when we were at Los Roques and seeing schools of 4, 5, 7, 10,000 fish.  Tails that look like gillions of pieces of cellophane that stretch to the horizon. Those were the best of the best days I’ve ever had.  On foot.

Do you remember your first bonefish?

Absolutely.  You remember your first trout?

I don’t know if I remember my first trout, really.  That was a long time ago.

I remember my first trout.  I remember first bonefish and my second and third and forth.  Years ago I took my wife on vacation to the Inn of the Sun on the island of Guanaja of the coast of Honduras.  What an incredible place that has long since changed.  It was an absolutely breathtaking resort.  A country boy like me, I’d never been treated like that. It was just incredibly historic. It was where Columbus had made landfall on his second voyage. Tiny little island about 50 miles off the coast of Honduras.  I could definitely remember my first bonefish.  It wasn’t very big.  It was on foot, all wading.

I’m more than a fisherman, I don’t want to say that, being a fisherman is enough, but I absolutely enjoy the hunting experience.  I don’t entirely enjoy the killing experience.  I enjoy the hunting experience, I enjoy the shooting experience.  Bonefishing is hunting.  Wing shooting ducks, leading bonefishing, bonefishing encapsulates every skill as a hunter and as an outdoorsman.  It is something primal.

In bonefishing there is the 80/20 rule. In bonefishing it is easy, really, when you do it right.  If you do it right you’ll have an 80% chance of success on your first cast.  You have a 20% chance of success on your second cast.

I can remember the first time I saw a fish before the guide. That was almost as much fun as catching the fish.  We opened up Nettie Symonette’s on Abaco when she opened up the Marls.  We went down as her guests and I took down a couple dozen pairs of cheap sunglasses because they were all just getting started. The guides were all excellent “waterman” as they say down in the Bahamas, but they didn’t know anything about guiding.  Netti laughed and she said the guides would never wear them because the head guide, the guy they respect the most, Donny, doesn’t’ wear them. He thinks they aren’t necessary.  I said “give me Donny the first day.”  I said “Donny, your tip today is $100,” and Donny said “Wow, that’s great Mr. Mike.”  I told him, “But wait… there is a caveat.  Every bonefish you see before me I’m going to give you another $5.  Every bonefish I see before you, I’m going to subtract $5 from the $100.”  At lunch time he said “give me a pair of those glasses.”  There he was, up on the platform, he had the advantage.  Experience isn’t all of it… it’s tackle and everything else.

Throughout our fishing lives we often meet people that have a particularly big influence on us.  Can you think of someone who has really influenced your bonefishing?

Easy question.  The two people, it wasn’t so much that they influences my bonefishing, but they influenced the whole idea of travel.  Before I opened The Fly Shop as a single and reasonably successful young man, I used to spend the vast majority of my disposable cash traveling to fish. I did it because Bob Nauheim and Frank Bertaina, who owned Fishing International, gave me a love of travel.  They got my juices going about fishing travel.  I spent every cent I had on travel. They were huge and got me pumped up to go places.

I can remember going to a cocktail party in Pacifica.  I’m going and doing a lot of travel and I’m at this party and I’m listening to Frank Bertaina talk about this bonefishing trip.  He’s standing behind me and I’m holding a margarita trying to listen to his conversation. He’s got me all jacked up and I’m trying to pay attention to the conversation in front of me and I’m listening to his conversation and then I realize… wait… I’ve already been there! And it was nothing like how he was describing it!  He had such a great way of painting a picture and getting you juiced up about things.  They were wonderful about that because of their own passion for angling.

When you are out on the water a lot, you see things that others just don’t see. Is there something you’ve seen out there on the flats that stands out?

I used to lease a yacht off the coast of Belize for six or seven weeks a year and I’d invite down friends and we’d just bonefish and permit fish and dive.  From San Pedro down to the Honduras boarder.  One day we had gotten out of the skiff, probably around the Turneffe archipelago, and the guide runs over to this great, big bale of marijuana. It was the size of a kitchen table. It was all wrapped in plastic and had floated up against this island.  The guide said “Mr. Mike, would you mind if I take some of this?” and I told him I didn’t care.  He cut a great big x on the top of this thing and he dug down in it.  This was a long time ago.  It was all full of seeds, really low grade dope. He took the skiff and went back to the boat and came back with a big black garbage bag of his own.  We had this guy on the trip, I won’t give his name, but I was a kid at the time and we had this middle aged ex-marine along.  When the guide had gone back to get his bag the guy came up to me and asked what was going on.  I told him “put your nose down into that.  Don’t you know what that is?”  There was this big hole of marijuana where the guide had dug down inside to make sure it was all dry. The guy said “I don’t know man. It smells like my kid’s room.”  That might be the most memorable thing.

When you are out there, it is the other things in nature, besides the bonefish, that you remember.  It’s the 80 gillion little bait-fish jumping out of the water right by your boat and the backdrop is perfect.  The more you fish, the more you get them.  I’m lucky enough to have seen a lot.

What rod and reel is your go-to right now for bonefish?

Easy question. Winston BIImx and a Nautilus. It’s just an incredible powerhouse, a great rod that lets me deliver flies out at distance.  One thing I do that might be different from a lot of the answers you get is that I tend to use a 6 or 7 weight rod.  Even when I’m in Andros or the Keys, fishing for larger bonefish, I think it’s the reel. Delivering the fly is important, but once you’ve hooked the fish the reel takes on an awful lot more importance than the rod.  There are a lot of good reels out there.

I like Nautilus reels too.

So many of these reels are so much better than what you need, but I say “So what?”  I don’t fill my nose with coke for pleasure.  I spend my money on things that give me real pleasure and equipment is part of it.  I like the Hatch.  I love these Nautilus reels.  Flawless.

People make a big deal about weight, but you aren’t making a thousand casts.  Weight isn’t important. You need an incredibly reliable drag with enough capacity.

Thanks Mike.

Sep 10

Saltwater Fly Fishing School in Belize with Shane Kohlbeck

Well, look at this…

Over the years, The Fly Shop®, has built one of the premier Fly Fishing School programs in the country, and starting in 2009 we expanded the program to include a Fly Fishing School devoted entirely to Saltwater Fly Fishing, held at Belize River Lodge.

via (Link to the school) Saltwater Fly Fishing Schools with The Fly Shop®.

My good friend Shane who will be coming with me to El Pescador in Belize in a couple months will also be down in Belize to help teach at The Fly Shop’s Saltwater School at Belize River Lodge.

From the days when I sucked played basketball and soccer, I know that you get better only when you play with and against good players. Shane is one hell of an angler, so I’m glad I’ll be fishing with him in November. I can imagine how good this class would be at the Belize River Lodge.

Shane taught me how to do the single handed spey thing on the Lower Sacramento River back when I was coming off my first/last full season as a trout guide and I had moved to Redding to work for a small community foundation. Shane didn’t need to show me the ropes, but he did. He’s a great instructor, one hell of an angler and a mean fly tier.

For the overwhelming majority of folks out there, Shane could probably teach you a thing or two (dozen).

Buddy Shane sticking a fish on the Lower Sac at dusk.

Jul 10

Interview with Shane Kohlbeck

Shane Kohlbeck is a friend of mine, working as a guide out of Redding, CA, which is pretty much Trout Central for California.  Shane works for The Fly Shop, one of the biggest fly shops anywhere.  Not only does The Fly Shop guide on the Lower Sacramento River, a river that is fishable almost every day of the year, but they have the physical shop, an on-line catalog, private waters… even a real estate venture.  As you might expect, they also book international travel… a lot of it.   Since Shane is one of the better anglers you could ever hope to meet and because he has some saltwater credentials, he was sent to evaluate the fishery on a remote, very remote fishery in the South Pacific.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Turns out to be a great diet plan.

Here’s my interview with Shane about that experience.

What was the name of the island you were on?

Two names, Penrhyn, and the local name is Tongareva. It’s north of Rarotonga and  south of Christmas Island.

Not a bad looking place.

What’s the main challenge in getting there?

Once a week flights, and that’s it.

From where, how long does it take?

From Rarotonga, the capital island of the Cook Islands, it was probably about 4, 4.5 hours in a little duel prop plane and we had to stop and refuel on Aitutaki.

Is that a little scary, the travel there?

Yeah.  There’s not much dry ground and what’s there is frigging tiny.  The islands are all pretty small, so it’s a little sketchy.

How built up is the fishery there?

It’s not, that’s why I went.  Originally, only a few guys had ever fly fished there, some guys out of Australia.

What do you think the potential is for a Penrhyn to develop as a fly fishing destination?

Not so good.  That was pretty much the conclusion after I came home.  I got sent there to fish it for two months straight to figure out if it could handle a groups of 6-8 anglers a week at a time fishing throughout the season or for an extended season.

The water temps were critically warm by noon on a lot of the days, on the decent weather days.  On shitty weather days we had good water all day.  But when the summer came and the storms were all gone and the heat showed up and stayed, especially on neap tides were the worst when we didn’t have a lot of tidal fluctuation, it wouldn’t circulate the water enough in the lagoons, there’s only two places water came in and out of the lagoon and the lagoon was 9 miles by 12 miles approximately… so it needed a good tidal flush to keep the water in the lagoon cool… and that’s what happened on those hot, sticky calm days, especially during the neap tide weeks, not enough tidal flush and by 12-1 the  water temps on the flats were hitting 90, 91.  We would catch  fish up to 87, 88, after that, we wouldn’t get them.  They’d take off.

The flats themselves are just on the inside rim of the entire  lagoon.  There really weren’t any pancake flats or separated flats.  It was all on the inside of the lagoon. There were zero  flats on the outside, all hard coral and pounding surf.

Where there other species you could target beyond bonefish?

You can catch Bluefin Trevally until your arms fall off. There were Bluefins all over the place.  I never did see GT’s, they are around, I just never saw them.  They are usually on the outside.  The Bluefin were a lot of fun and then there are a lot of little snappers and a little fish called the sweetlips, and goat fish with the little whiskers coming off their chin, on the outside I caught wahoo, yellowfin tuna, sailfish, shark, African pompano, barracuda… I never did get dogtooth tuna, but they are out there a lot.  On the outside we had a lot of fishing opportunities.  We’d have to go out there pretty much every couple of nights to fill the coolers because, ya know, there were no stores to go shopping.

Nice Bluefin

You get sick of seafood in a situation like that?

Yeah, I lost 20 pounds.  Rice and coconut products and fish. Once in a great while we’d get some chicken or something like that flown in, but lettuce or fresh produce?  Out of the question.  None of that.  Lot of rice, lot of toast… peanut butter and jelly… stuff that doesn’t spoil.

On a good day, when everything came together there, was the fishing remarkable or was it so-so?

I had  probably one of the best days of my bonefishing career there… next to one of my better days on Christmas. As fast as I could get ‘em in and get ‘em off the hook and recast I’d get another  one.  They were coming from all directions.  Multiple fish caught with less than five feet of fly line out of the tip of the rod. To where you couldn’t stip anymore, you had to jerk the rod to keep the fly moving to get them to eat it and there weren’t spooky.  I had fish come up to me, and I’d play stork, freeze, and they’d swim around me, usually twice and then start veering away and I’d put a fly five feet to their left or right and they’d  charge it and eat it.  As long as you didn’t make any rapid movements and spook ‘em.

Penrhyn Bonefish

There were a ton of blacktips in there. A Ton.  To my knowledge I only lost one bone to a blacktip and that was post release. We figured out, I was always fishing with another Tahitian guy named Bara that I was training, we figured out how to call the blacktips.  If he had a fish on, and we noticed the blacktip getting aggressive, sniffing out the water, ya know, they can sense something is wrong, you can take your rod tip and put it in the water in front of you and thrash the water with the tip of the rod and they’d pretty much make a bee-line for it and they’d bite the tip of the rod off if you  didn’t stop doing it when they got there.  You could call the blacktips off the bones, unless they had a visual of the fish and usually they didn’t until the last second. They are just sniffing stress and they can feel it. You can call them right in… it was cool

One day I was walking the boat over some reefs, sloshing my legs and one fucker came right at me, I had to jump up in the boat.  Literally, between my legs, about a 3.5-4 foot blacktip. It wouldn’t have killed me or anything, but it would have tore my skin up a bit.

I’d imagine you were a little far away from a hospital there?

Yeah, there’s nothing there.  There’s two little communities and that’s it and I was living across the lagoon on a little private black pearl farm. There was nothing there… just us.

Is there any possibility that someone will build out a fishing operation there?

I don’t think it’s a place where a fly fishing lodge is ever going to get built.  Not with the warm water problem. It’s in the middle of nowhere, it took me 36 hours to get home.

Do you have a favorite rod and reel for bones at the moment?

Galvan Torque 8.  I’ve never had a problem with my Galvan Torque 8.  I’ve landed all kinds of shit on Torques.  G. Loomis GLX Crosscurrent 8 wt. (editor’s note, I think that might be Shane in the pic on the G. Loomis page for the Crosscurrent).   That’s what I’ve been fishing about 5 years, that Crosscurrent. It’s got the recoil guides so I don’t feel too bad about throwing that rod around a little bit.

As far as tying go, do you have anything you are liking now that’s new?

I saw an article in Fly Fishing in Salt Waters about using Fox Fur.  My Psycho Puff has had a Fox Fur wing on it since I designed it five years ago.  I also tie a little bit with badger.  It’s got some really cool qualities to it. It’s got some guard hairs with back tips what look like antennas and feelers.

I tie my own bitters and I purposely don’t use epoxy.  On spooky fish on Los R. I feel like the epoxy head on the bitters contributed to the loudness of the splashdown or set down of the fly when the fly hit the water so I purposely didn’t tie a ball of epoxy on head of my bitters in LR, I just used extra small chain bead eyes and tied the fly around that and feel like the fly landed lighter and didn’t make a big “Kabloop” like the Bitters sometimes do.

Beyond the blacktips, what have you seen out there on the water that was really unique?

One thing I’ll always remember about Penrhyn was at night, once in a while we’d have to run across the lagoon at low light and the coral heads glowed.  There were greens and blues and reds and they’d glow, in the middle of the lagoon.  It was pretty cool.

Coolest thing that happened there was probably a double hook up on sailfish… that was pretty badass.

You can hardly see that fish... perfect for its environment.

Thanks Shane.

Apr 10

Interview with Bill Marts from The Fly Shop

There is a fly shop in Redding, CA simply named “The Fly Shop.”  It is one of the largest fly fishing operations around, although if you aren’t from California or Southern Oregon you might not have heard of it.  They sit near a river that can be fished probably 340 or so days a year and they are an hour away from some of the best steelhead, freestone trout and spring creek fishing that California has to offer.  They have grown to be one of the largest catalog operations (both on-line and the paper kind, although they launched an e-catalog this last year as well), have many private waters, a guide service and an international travel business (they even recently branched out into real estate too).

A guy you might not have heard of there is Bill Marts.  Bill is a Destinations Specialist and the resident saltwater destination guru with The Fly Shop.  He’s had the good fortune to fish for bones all over, catching his first in the Keys in 1982 (I was 8 and it would take me 26 more years to catch my first).  Bill agreed to answer a few questions about his bonefishing life.

Bill, as the saltwater specialist at The Fly Shop, you’ve had the opportunity to fish all over the world for bonefish.  Is there a location that you still are itching to explore?

I am itching to explore any saltwater knee-deep or less.  I would love to go to the Mauritius.  I would give my next to the best fly rod to be able to go back to the Cook Islands and Tuamotu Islands to poke around.  Not because the fishing was so outstanding, but they are such wild places and you can walk for miles without seeing anyone (and sometimes without seeing any bones either), and just walking the flats is an enjoyable pastime.  Don’t get me wrong, I DO like to catch fish and it always adds to a trip or outing, but it can still be a good trip without “off-the-charts” fishing.  I like seeing new places and finding what it has to offer.  Maybe it is not bones, but another fish roaming the shallows.

It seems that there are big fish locations and many fish locations.  Would you rather have shots at fish all day long or would you rather hunt the really big bones?

I am not single minded, but I would normally rather fish for fewer big fish than a lot of smaller ones.  But more important is the actual fishing for them.  If there were hundreds of big fish in a mud, and even though they are big and you could catch a lot of them, it would not be fun.  But an 18” tailing fish that has to be stalked and the wrong cast will spook it, now that is fishing!  So what I really like is the hunt, the circumstances, and the surroundings.  When looking for a place for clients at the office, these are the kinds of things I like to find out about him or her.

Of all the places you’ve fished, is there one fly that pretty much works everywhere (or do they all pretty much work everywhere)?

In addition to working in The Fly Shop Travel Dept, I am also a signature tier for Idylwilde Flies and I like nothing more than to tie up new patterns and color combinations and take them for a test run.  But one fly goes to every flats destination I go to and that is a Gotcha in sizes 2 through 8, and heavily weighted to hardly weighted at all.  I do find that darker or olive or mottled flies tend to do better over grass flats and the whites, browns and tans work well over sand.  Flies should be chosen for their color and characteristics (lots or no movement, rubber legs or no legs, weight or no weight, big or small).  I also like a little pink or orange in the fly somewhere on some flies.  I say “you can’t take too many flies on a trip.”  So, I try to cover all of the bases on the flats, over reefs or in the blue water.

Do you have one fish that really stands out in your memory?  One special fish, for whatever reason?

Yes.  I was fishing with a guide named Alvin out of Kamalame Cay, on Andros Island.  We’d had a good morning of wade-fishing and I wanted more, so Alvin put me on a shoreline flat that was also a bay with rocks scattered throughout the its mouth.  The boat with Alvin sitting in it was anchored and I was standing outside of it leaning up against it having lunch, eating a sandwich and drinking a beer.  We saw a good sized fish slowly making its way toward us and very close to the boat and we both thought it was a small shark.  After it got within two rod lengths of us and head away, we both realized it was a big bonefish.  Alvin started going nuts claiming its size to be about twice what it really was.  But he was at one time praying, yelling, whispering and stuttering.  I followed the fish and cast and cast and cast and kept following it for over a hundred yards.  I could hear Alvin following along behind me.  I saw the fish was heading to a shoreline where I hoped it would take a right and follow that shore.  So I started cutting it off.  I made my last “hail Mary” cast.  It landed behind and off to the right of the fish, but I was using a big fly and the fish saw it, turned, cranked up the speed and ate it.  I really couldn’t believe it, but it was on and heading directly for the boat and the ANCHOR ROPE!   So Alvin took off running across the flats and turned the fish before wrapping the line.  It then took off for the rocks.  Alvin really wanted this fish.  He took off after it again and turned it again, finally toward me.  I did get it in and was reaching for it when it slipped of the hook.  I couldn’t believe it and I hung my arms and head down.  I looked upon hearing Alvin running across the flats, yet another time.  He was after the fish, AGAIN.  I had to get a picture of this.  As I was getting my camera out I heard a big splash (Alvin is well over 6 feet tall and WELL over 200 pounds).  He was lying on his side in the water.  I was getting closer to him to take a picture of him and saw the most satisfied grin on his face and he pointed under him.   Then he pulled out the fish.  No, it wasn’t as big as he first thought, but it turned out to be a very memorable one.

Great story with the picture too. A rarity.

Beyond the most obvious things (rod, reel, polarized glasses), what’s the one thing you never leave for a trip without?

It is a small thing, but makes casting (and catching fish) easier and more accurate.  I always take a fly line cleaner and use it often.  Even if the line mfg claims it doesn’t need it, I still use it.  When wading, the line stays floating behind me and therefore picks up off of the water easier, making a longer more accurate cast easier.  It shoots through the guides easier and is less likely to tangle.

When someone calls The Fly Shop and wants to catch a bonefish, do you match them up with a location based on what they are looking for, or do they come to you already set on a destination, even if it might not be right for their skill level or expectations?

The biggest reason I went to work for The Fly Shop a little over five years ago was its attitude towards its traveling clients.  It is drilled into our heads that we work for them (the clients), not the lodges.  But by doing this we are also doing the best thing for the lodges.  We always try to match up our clients with the exact right fit regarding their destination.  My best tool is asking questions.  Even if someone calls and wants to go to a specific location, I still ask away.  I like to find out why and how they came to this conclusion.  I would only send someone to a destination that I didn’t feel right about if the clients insisted and I said what I had to say.  There are good and unique qualities to all of our destinations and we try to line up our clients with the one that meets their expectations.

Do you have a favorite bonefishing rig?

I like a #7 or 8 fairly fast action rod (like the Sage TCX #7, or Xi3 #8), floating tropic line (Rio Bonefish or Sci Angler Redfish) and 9’ – 12’ fluorocarbon knotless leader (I prefer no knots because they can catch on coral or grass and cause breakage).

Many people think of long casts and accurate presentations when it comes to bonefish.  What’s the SHORTEST cast you’ve ever made to catch a bonefish?

When fishing in Los Roques in the late ‘80’s, I was getting ready to get out of the boat and my fly was dangling over the gunwale, maybe 2 feet under the surface.  You guessed it.  A bonefish ate it and I landed it before getting in the water.  At another time and in another place I was wading the flats and was changing my fly.  Just as I knotted the new fly on and was getting ready to start working out line, I saw a bone making its way to me about 15 feet away.  I didn’t dare cast or move too much or I would spook it.  So I tossed the fly with my hand to the water in front of me (3 feet from my feet).  I froze and when the fish got close I just twitched it slightly.  The fish jumped on it right away.  It took off, wrapped me around some coral and broke me off; about that quick.  So, although a long cast isn’t necessary to catch fish, I maintain that the farther one can cast accurately, the more fish will be caught.  This applies to windy as well as calm days.  This does not mean that one has to cast far to catch fish only that more fish will be caught with longer casts.  But, we all know that numbers don’t make the trip, so no matter how far one can cast, there is no excuse for not going to a bonefish destination.  I always advise clients heading to the flats for the first time to take some casting lessons from a qualified instructor (one who has fish the flats).  Even if the client has fish for decades in fresh water, a lesson from a saltwater casting instructor will improve their chance on the flats.  Flats fishing is different that freshwater fishing.

Where are you headed for your next bonefishing trip?

I don’t know yet.  Probably the Bahamas.  There are a lot of islands and flats I haven’t waded there, yet.

Bill + Bone

What happens when you go to a place to fish bonefish and they just aren’t there, for whatever reason?

Take the blinders off and look for other species.  Almost all flats (or close to them) have a good barracuda and/or shark population.  They will attack a fly and give a good account of themselves.  I discovered the fun of fishing for and catching triggerfish on a recent trip to Christmas Island.  I would never over look them again.  A great gamefish.  I may have my mind set on a certain path for catching a single species or size of fish or whatever restrictions I may set on myself for a certain trip.  Sometimes this works out.  But one thing I’ve learned is that the narrower the agenda you set for yourself, the more likelihood of failure.  If one says “I am going on a fishing trip” and goes on that trip, it is a success.  If the agenda is to catch a ten pound bone and one isn’t caught, the trip is a failure.  I have widened my agenda tremendously in later years and I have had so many successful trips.

Thanks Bill!