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Bahamas: Inagua Island 05-23-2007

As a way to get to sleep after a long day of fishing, I often go over the day in my mind. I go in chronological order reviewing each significant moment. I review shots, hook-ups, wildlife sightings and remarkable or unusual moments. I rarely make it through the whole day before sleep overtakes me. It is this angler's version of counting sheep. After our first day on Inagua, I literally had nothing to review for my fall-asleep reverie. Dr. Alan Manas, Jeff Rodenberg and I visited a here-to˝fore prolific flat on Inagua's south shore only to be completely and utterly skunked. That's nada with a big zero! After seeing a tail as we dropped anchor upon arrival, we saw virtually nothing on or near this extensive flat other than a few boxfish, an osprey and some pelicans. It was weird...even eerie.

Prior to our arrival on the island, guide, wild hog hunter and conch salad impresario, Ezzard Cartwright, had experienced two weeks of cloudy skies, consistently strong winds and up and down fishing. Ezzard hesitated to predict how we would fare, but on this first day, all looked good. The skies were relatively clear, the winds were moderate and the flats looked beautiful. Still, we found no fish on a flat that had always produced good, if not spectacular, results in the past. On our past trips, this flat had often generated double-digit days of what Inagua is famous for... hefty singles in shallow water. As crummy a day as we had, little did we know that this would be the best weather we would experience during our week.

Our compatriots, John Potter and Peter Litwin, went to the north side of the island with Ezzard and fared a bit better. They saw fish, caught some tailers, but also thought it was a weird day with far fewer fish on the flats than one would expect. This was especially true for John who had visited Inagua before with memorable results.

Day Two announced the onset of a weather pattern that would dog us through our week and was obviously responsible for yesterday's mediocre to dismal results. For Ezzard, the dark clouds and unpredictable strong wind were old news, but as if to further irritate Ezzard, into that mix of winds and overcast now came rain. By rain, I don't mean sprinkles or the on and off showers that one would expect for this time of year in the Bahamas, I mean rain that saturated huge high-towering thunderheads that rolled over the island like an invading army. Theses storms soaked and slammed the flats leaving gear dripping and anglers chilled. When the thunder and lightening overpowered our courage, we tossed our graphite lightening rods in the skiff and scuttled to the mangroves to wait out the worst of the rain and wind.

These storms rolled in one after another, day after day. Visibility was often tough, if not impossible. For hours at a time, we could only look for tails and when it did clear, it was quickly apparent there were not many fish on the flats... certainly not in the numbers we had experienced on previous forays to this magnificent island. What fish we did see were nervous, skitterish and reluctant to eat. If they tailed, it was only briefly and then they might move 10-20 feet before tailing again. This made it very hard to track a tailing fish and our efforts were made all the more difficult in the post-storm low light.

It is a testament to, not only the angling skills, but also to the pugnacious, never-say-die spirit of this group that we caught any fish at all. And yet we did catch fish!! On some days only one or two and on some days maybe as many as eight, but each fish was tough and we never felt like we got anything going.

Ezzard felt that the wildly changing wind direction and velocity caused most of the fish to hold in deeper water off the flats. Ezzard has noticed in his 50 some years of observing bonefish behavior, that when wind direction and velocity is more consistent, the bonefish eventually filter in greater and greater numbers onto the flats. Given the conditions we experienced and the conditions Ezzard detailed prior to our arrival, it seems apparent that most of the bonefish had moved off the flats to huddle, I suspect, in deeper water where they fretted and swam in place in a true bonefish neurotic tizzy. As a way to corroborate this, we did see numerous muds in 6-15 feet of water and one local diver reported seeing "four tousand bonefish mon" massed just inside the reef that surrounds the island. Now why there were at least some fish on the flats, I do not know. I do know the ones that were on the flats were extremely nervous and often held on deeper turtle grass areas just feet from where they would slink to briefly tail. These fish would often blow up at the slightest of wading miscues on our part... sometimes from 50 or even 80 feet away. If we were to achieve any success at all, being stealthy was essential... so between the thunder and lightening and the need to be absolutely quiet, we were a little nervous ourselves!

Now I have a theory on why the fish that we saw on the flats were so nervous and this is it: Even when the sun made a rare appearance following a deluge, the fish were hard to see. There was a diffuse, let's call it an out-of-focus, quality to the water. This water was not gin-clear, as one would expect typically in the Bahamas. Instead it was like looking through a slightly frosted window or maybe a faint smudge on your eyeglass. The water was not milky or off color... it was just out of focus. Now, if we were experiencing this visual phenomenon, perhaps the bonefish were too. Imagine what it is like to try and feed in a world of barracuda and sharks with eyes that can't quite pierce the pale turquoise potholes or the white sand flats for signs of danger. If a human experienced a similar visual impairment, we would rely less on our vision and more on our hearing... like we do at night when all our senses become acute. Have you ever walked around in grizzly country at night? If so, then you know why these bonefish were nervous as hell! So what caused this frosty, smudgy, out-of-focus problem? Let's try this... Saltwater has a specific density, add on top of that a few inches of rainwater that is significantly less dense and the freshwater will stubbornly remain on top of the saltwater until wind and waves eventually mix it. Initially, only the interface between the two densities mix and this interface causes a blurring for both the angler and the "anglee", in this case bonefish. If there are any optical physicists out there who are also fly fishermen, I would love a yeah or nay on this theory!!

The upshot of all this bad weather was that by the end of the week, we were sick of cloudy skies, tired of being wet and frustrated at being so limited to places we could fish on the island. We had to go to flats where fish could tail. We often couldn't see on any flats deeper than a foot or two and going to the "pond" for tarpon was out of the question, as it absolutely requires sun due to the lake's dark bottom. So, it was a tough week... very unInaguaesque. A first time visitor might be tempted to slam the island... that would be a big mistake! One week's sampling can never define an island potential. We had bad weather... that's the whole story!

So there is the bad news... now here is the good news: We had a great time with each other. Meals were relaxing, drawn out affairs peppered with lively conversations on everything from fly-fishing ethics to NASCAR to Bass Masters tournaments to bird hunting and beyond. These guys had an indomitable spirit. They fished hard and to my amazement, caught fish! So to Peter Litwin, John Potter, Dr. Alan Manas and Jeff Rodenberg... and to our guide Ezzard and our boatman Austin, I say thank you for a weird yet strangely wonderful wet week on Inagua!!

Written by Scott Heywood








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