Craig Matthews has a life that many of us might aspire to. He started and runs Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone. He’s written books, put out fishing videos and has fished all over the world. While wadding out chest deep in the fly fishing industry, he’s also been a real force for conservation, co-founding 1% for the Planet with Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard (see them talking about 3 Dollar Bridge here).
Craig, just back from Mexico
There are big fish and numbers of fish. Would you rather have a day full of bonefish or a few shots at the real monsters?
I like to have the opportunity to see a bunch of bones during the course of the day. This gives me the chance to observe their behavior; feeding, cruising, sleeping, milling, etc. I like observe and then do what the fish tell me to do. If they are feeding I try to imitate what they are feeding on. This comes from spending a lot of time snorkeling with them, etc. I carry fins and snorkel when fishing. If the fish are sleeping, which I find many of them are when tailing, I like to wake them up with a cast into them to watch what they do. Often once woke up they will grab most anything. I could go on and on here but with lots of fish and as much time as I spend fishing, observing and snorkeling with them, I can learn more with every minute I spend with bones. If I have but a few to fish it does not allow me this opportunity. Don’t get me wrong here though, I like big bones too!
I watched your instructional video a while back about bonefishing. Since that was made are there new nuggets of information you wish you had been able to include?
Take snorkel and spend time with the fish. they might let you into them if you quietly snorkel and you can learn so much in such a short time underwater, in their world. Do what the fish tell you to do…they read like an open book!
I have read that you were behind Pop’s Bonefish Bitter. In recent times there have been a slew of alternatives to epoxy that have been rising in popularity. Have you started to migrate away from epoxy at all?
Myself and guide Pops Cabral from Turneffe Flats lodge in Belize came up with the Bitters in 1991 after much time spent searching what bones feed on. I still fish the Bitters and am a fan more of hot glue than epoxy but I find myself tying more and more patterns with soft materials like natural and synthetic dubbing blends, polar bear, etc.
Is there one bonefish that stands out in your memory above others?
One bone, a female over 8 lbs, Pops and I fished for over an hour as it circled and fed around a small caye at Turneffe. We finally fooled this fish on a #10 olive Bitters. When it was landed the hook had penetrated behind the upper crushers and died on us. I have not had this happen since. We opened it up and checked stomach contents and it was full of tiny olive crabs, size #10. One important lesson where fly pattern can really make a difference!
OK, not a bone, but from his most recent flats trip.
Do you find yourself returning to the same places year after year or do you go looking for the up-and-coming locations, new environments?
I like to fish the same venues a lot as you can learn so much from visiting the same flats and reef yearly rather than hit and miss. Too, Turneffe Flats presents some of the toughest bones anywhere in the world to fool so I like fishing there each year. I also like some places in southern Mexico’s Yucatan with lots of fish and so many places to snorkel with them.
If you are able to answer this, what is your favorite bonefish rig?
I like a 9 foot Winston B2x 8 wt rod, Able Super 8 Reel, Rio Bonefish line,. Rio 12 foot bonefish leader tapered to .012 and I add at least 4 feet of 1 or 2x fluoro tippet
Being out on the water a lot you have a chance to see unusual/unique things. What’s the most unusual thing you’ve seen out on the flats in your fishing life?
What I believe to be spawning, pre-spawning bones. I snorkel into them and watch as they rise to the surface with mouths open and quiver and shudder.
Thanks Craig and keep up the good work!