The Bahamian brown face across the table from us held a mischievous, sly smirk – again for about the thirtieth time that evening. I still had two tiles left in my hand, Scott had two, and Gray had one. We’d been schooled again. Then we all sat back and laughed long and hard. We knew we were sitting with domino ninja masters and it was fascinating just to watch. It did not matter if it was Elliott, Zyndell, Donna or Coco, the local knowledge dominated the domino table.
It was our third night on the Sea Hunter. All worries and stress from work and the world in general were long gone, swept away by the sun, flats, bonefish, present company, Kalik and rum. And we had four more days and evenings to go. This was already an epic trip.
Morning would roll around at about 6:30am with coffee, tea and mouth watering breakfast smells created by Mike or Donna. Danny Sheldon, Gray Drummond, Steve Peskoe, Scott Sawtelle, Scott Heywood and I would stagger out at intervals. By 7am we’d fill plates with eggs, sausage, grits, muffins, bacon, ham, toast, fresh fish fingers, fruit, just about anything we wanted. Then we’d find our boots, wince as we pulled on wet socks and wrapped on gravel guards. Zyndell, Coco, Elliott and the rest of the crew would eat while we lined up rods and boat bags, and decided what we wanted to do and who would go with who. Danny, Gray and Scott H felt like doing some diving in the afternoon so they’d go with Coco and come back to the boat for their lunch. Doc, Scott S and I would go with Zyndell and take lunch with us. Our goal was to go somewhere Zyndell had never been before and find fish that had rarely if ever seen a bonefish fly. It wouldn’t be hard because we were anchored in a maze of unnamed cays and channels off the southwest corner of Andros. The choices were nearly endless.
So once coolers were loaded, rods and gear bags tossed aboard, off we’d go, each in search of today’s version of perfection. After a short ride of 10 – 15 minutes tops, we’d drop anchor and start walking into shallower water, already scanning for those furtive pale gray shadows and electric flashes that located the bonefish. They were there, every time, every day, all we had to do was find them. I think everyone caught at least several bonefish every day. Two exceptional bonefish over 30 inches long and weighing better than 10 pounds were caught, with many more in the 5 to 7 pound range. It wasn’t always easy but bonefishing shouldn’t be easy. That’s part of the reason you go bonefishing, for the challenge, to test yourself, see if you can measure up.
The two Scott’s left us on Wednesday to head to another island. Work they said, but we weren’t sure. We were sad to see them go, but by Wednesday, not much of anything really troubled us. Doc and I went with Coco; Danny and Gray with Zyndell. It was a partly cloudy breezy morning as we pointed the bow westward and puttered up a channel in an unnamed cay until we could go no further. We anchored the boat and then slogged our way into a back lagoon. The bottom got softer and softer and our feet sunk deeper and deeper. Boots, then ankles, then gravel guards disappeared in the muck. The suction would force us to stop and jerk our legs upward two or three times to pull free. We sometimes sunk unexpectedly to our knees and we'd hold our breath praying that we would stop sinking before it got critical. Drenched in sweat and breathing hard we got to the open water of a lagoon and found bonefish that were as tame as goldfish in an Asian bonzai pool. We immediately caught several that stitched our flylines through the mangrove roots so we had to flounder back into the muck to untangle the line and unhook the fish - laughing all the way. We could have caught bonefish until we ran out of flies back there but it was too easy. It shouldn't be like that. Plus a pair of small blacktips showed up sensing the struggles of the bonefish and figuring we'd make their lunchtime meal easy pickings for them. So we left the bonefish alone and slogged across the lagoon eyeing the next piece of open water. We sank deeper and deeper in soft silty bottom. We didn't see as many bones in the next lagoon. When I sank to mid-thigh trying to cross a channel onto the next mangrove we decided it was time to turn around.
Sure that we had just fished for bonefish that had in all probability never seen a fisherman or a fly, we slogged back to the boat and waded into the channel to wash off all the sand splattered all over our legs and gear. As we motored out through the channel I commented the turtle grass and 5 - 6 foot depth looked really tarpony and Coco said yeah, that's what he was looking for. So I rigged for tarpon and hopped up on the deck. There was a disturbance in the distance and as we got closer it morphed into a big shark. Coco said "it looks like it's eating a turtle". I said if it is it's a big tiger because tigers are the only ones that have the teeth to cut open a turtle shell. Sure enough, it was a 12 foot tiger shark. The turtle was about 3 foot diameter and still swimming but with a chunk the size of a dinner platter missing from his right quarter panel. Our approach caused the shark to lose track of the turtle and it swam off at great speed. It might escape but I'd lay money on the shark finding it again. Meanwhile, we were able to cruise along beside the big shark and I put my camera on underwater mode and lay down on the casting deck to stick my arm underwater to take some photos. I've seen alot of sharks but this one spooked me. Its head was as broad as my shoulders and its mouth was open just far enough to allow me to see the serrated teeth - a not so subtle warning of what it was capable of. I was staring directly into its face not 4 feet away as we cruised along beside it. There was no emotion in it. It wasn't afraid, it wasn't angry, it wasn't curious. It just swam along fully aware we were there. It was behaving like the big brother who tolerates his little brother pestering him for just so long until he finally hauls off and pops him one. And that shark looked to me like it could kill anything it decided needed killing and eating. And it would do so without anger, remorse, excitement, or any other emotion you care to apply. It would just attack. I was awestruck, almost hypnotized watching that fish. Without a doubt it was the alpha predator in that part of the sea. I decided to pull my arm back into the boat.
Friday Doc and I fished with Zyndell. We had a beautiful sunny morning and he wanted to take us to a huge flat where he'd seen a lot of big bonefish earlier in the week. We wandered apart and started seeing fish right away. I caught bonefish continuously for the next couple hours as the water drained off the flat. Cap said he never saw me without a bent rod and asked me if I needed a shoulder massage. It was crazy good. That evening on their way back to the Sea Hunter Danny, Gray, Elliott and Coco dove a nearby rocky reef and we dined on barbequed lobster that had been hiding in that reef not 30 minutes before. We had snapper fingers that had been swimming above the lobster and cracked conch and dirty rice. There flat out is NOT a better way to end a bonefishing trip than that. Well, except I finally won one hand of domino over Zyndell and Elliott that evening. A morale victory at best since I think it was the only hand I won the whole trip.
Written by Doug Jeffries