The cold front we experienced giveth and it taketh away. While it saved us from the wrath of a late fall hurricane and sent Tomas spiraling out into the open Atlantic, the strong front also brought constant winds, chilly days and dingy skies to our little DX adventure. As the mercury plummeted, the water temps soon followed. So much so that on our second day, we measured the water temp at 69.8 degrees. BRUTAL for the Bahamas! All this cold air was pushed initially by 25, then on day two 30, and on day three, 35 m.p.h. winds.
On the first day of the cold front, the winds were out of the southwest and it was impossible to boat to any flat. Instead we hiked into a beautiful little bay where on both sides of the low tide, we were surrounded by tailing fish... tailing fish that would prove to be almost impossible to catch. They were extremely nervous and would blow up at the slightest noise... even the sound made by the stripping of a fly. We saw many 8+ lb. fish and could only inspire a couple to take our flies. But we had hundreds of shots. Despite this famine in the midst of plenty, it turned out to be an exciting day despite the brutal conditions.
The next day the winds rotated to the NE and rose to 30 m.p.h. While any far-flung exploration was once again out of the question, we were able to hug the shore line with our skiff and find hundreds of fish on two white sand flats. Under a bruised sky and with near gale conditions, we pursued hundreds of very bitchy bonefish. We managed to hook quite a few when all was said and done, but it was never easy and we worked very hard for what we got.
On Day 3, it got even tougher. The winds increased to 35 m.p.h. and things got really weird. On one flat, we were in fish all morning and we only got 3 to eat. We must have had a hundred shots. The only way we could get these big cruisers to eat in 69 degree waters, was to execute one long strip and then let the fly sit. Strip the fly again and the fish would blow up and move off.
On this our last morning, I swung my legs over the side of the boat, pushed off the gunnel with my arms and stepped into crotch deep water. It was an eye-opening moment to say the least. The water felt even colder than yesterday and as I waded into shallow water, the 35 m.p.h. winds made my legs feel almost frigid. I soon forgot about this slight discomfort as I saw bonefish inexplicably hugging the shore. The next hour was very cool, but also very weird. If I executed a delicate cast and stripped the fly very slowly (with long pauses between strips), I could get the bonefish to follow, but not eat. If I stripped the fly conventionally, these refrigerated bones would blow up and run away. I managed to get a few to eat, but only nicked them with my strip-strike. I have to assume they were barely picking up the fly. I was left with only an empty line hand and a swirl in the pewter morning light.
The winds bombardment brought a constant din to your ears. For awhile, I thought the wind had created a ringing in my ears and it was not until I waded into the lee of a copse of casuarina trees that I realized the “ringing” was actually music... organ music!
On this Saturday morning, we had met some older ladies from the village who were dressed in their Sunday finery. They told us they were headed south to a funeral that was being held at another small village. Now the ethereal strains of “Amazing Grace” made sense. We were well over a mile from that small settlement, but the strong winds carried this lovely hymn all the way to our small sand flat. It was a beautiful moment. In the warm lee of the trees, I was in another type of church, but the serenade was as powerful as any I’ve heard in any cathedral. I kneeled on the sand and took in the moment. I thanked my lucky stars that I was able to be here today. Then a tail popped up right in front of me. Suddenly, a bit of cold weather and lock-jawed fish didn’t seem quite so frustrating.
Upon my return, I looked up water temps and feeding activity in Dick Brown’s Fly Fishing for Bonefish. He believes feeding really drops off after 70 degrees and virtually stops at 65 degrees. We would certainly not disagree!
Those of us on this trip feel we have unfinished business with this area. The potential is amazing and with normal weather conditions, I’m sure the fishing is outstanding. We saw many bonefish and many big bonefish. This area merits our attentions and will certainly be the focus of future explorations.
Many thanks to Drs. Larry Towning and Brian Crock. It was great to see you guys again and all-in-all, it was a wonderful time! We worked hard for our fish, but I think I learned a lot about bitchy fish, retrieval techniques and strong cold fronts. I look forward to our next adventure!
Written by Scott Heywood