It seemed appropriate to end the trip at the same spot where it started for me seven days ago. Behind me was a vast, now dry, bight. Endless small white sand mounds corrugated the bight. The fish that were on this huge flat with the flood had now moved out into the bay. They seemed to like the corner where I was standing. Here, the mangroves that marked the boundaries of the bight gave way to an ancient coral strip that jutted out into the bay. It was a good landmark and as such, a good staging spot for the bonefish. On our first afternoon, I had caught 4 or 5 big bones here. I had eventually quit the area when large lemon sharks got wind of my good fortune and came in to collect their share of the profits. Then, as now, the Sea Hunter sat in the shimmering late afternoon sun of Jackfish Channel. It had taken us only a few minutes to reach the boat after our first great day that had eventually led to so much carnage.
Now on our last afternoon, I was back in the corner again. After waiting out the usual lack of productivity at slack low tide, I began to see sign as soon as the tide turned. Initially I saw only flashes, but before long there were tails. I hooked a good fish almost immediately and saw a really big tail during the release. This fish was sneaking in toward the bight. When a small shark moved too close to the bone the surface water shuddered almost imperceptibly. This big bone had good reason to want to be in the pimpled area behind me; almost every divot held a small crab. When walking through this area earlier, these tan crabs would stand their ground with claws up like quarter-sized prize fighters. A sharp hook on a crab fly must not seem so bad to a bonefish feeding on these little tough guys.
My big tail eventually worked to within casting range. I could tell he was big. In length... in the upper 20’s, in weight... almost, but not quite, double-digits. The fish on South Andros had been impressive on this trip. With a 28.5 and a 29.5 fish already caught and photographed, it was clear the the enforcement of the bonefish no-kill, no-netting policy by the government was having the desired effect.
I whipped a 40’ cast five feet in front of the chunk. I let the fly settle to the bottom, then made a long slow strip. The fished dashed to tail behind the fly. He did not take it. He hovered slightly tipped down and not moving a scale. Soon, he drifted back inches, I bumped the fly a bit trying to remember exactly how those crabs behind me had fidgeted when confronted by me. The big bone charged. I knew he was now eating my little nickel-sized tan fly. I stripped. He was on. I threw line into my guides hoping to reach my reel soon. I was not disappointed. The fish went thru my fly line and half my backing before I could make a plan. I dropped my rod to the left trying to stop the run. Eventually, it worked. I pulled the fish back to the shallows eventually reaching 15 turns of the sky blue line on the reel. I was anxious to see this fish and didn’t notice the big lemon until he was 20 feet away and throwing water as he shot through the shallows. Damn, somehow I had forgot about the sharks!
I quickly took the tension off my fish. He ran back towards the bay. The shark, was all juiced up. With back humped he turned towards me obviously thinking I was the big bone. He made a straight line towards my feet. I charged the shark kicking scoopfulls of water trying to let him know my size. He turned off, but when I stopped, turned back. He immediately accelerated and rammed my foot. I stomped on his head. He was a solid 5 feet. Doing the scared shitless shuffle, I alternately hopped and stomped. For some reason, the shark wanted no part of the chicken shit I had become and flashed away. After a few deep breaths, I regained my composure along with a restructuring of my priorities. I hoped there was still a chance to land this fish. I reeled in 200 yards of slack backing before I came tight to my bone. I pulled hard surfing him towards the safety of my now dry perch. I could see the bonefish and he was big. Maybe my best fish of my trip. Just when I thought I might make it, the shark reappeared. Shit! I took off the pressure, but it was too late. The bonefish took off, but soon I saw the big shark’s tail thrashing in 4 feet of water.
I signaled to our guide George to come with the boat. I’m sure he had been watching my histrionics. Suddenly, I wanted no part of this. This was not catch and release. This was catch and feed a shark. Even though I could see more fish flashing, I really didn’t want to kill anymore bonefish, especially another exceptional fish. I hopped in the skiff, muttering to myself. I could see the big bone’s head flashing on the bottom as the shark dined. What a great trip, but I needed a beer.
We had a terrific trip this year on the Sea Hunter. We had great fishing from about half low to half full tide, caught lots of fish and some big fish (saw lots more 8-12 lb, bones), saw some beautiful flats, spent from sunup to late afternoon or dusk fishing, went snorkeling, reef fishing (where we caught hogfish, groupers, snappers, jacks and barracuda), enjoyed Captain Mike’s superb dinners and great organization.
Back to the dinners for a minute: we had hogfish with a Thai BBQ ginger, sesame sauce, a superb pork loin, Anson Mills grits with snapper (at my request as my favorite meal from last year was Mike’s AM grits and shrimp... man it is good... I’ll get some of Mike’s recipes for seafood and we’ll post them!)!...to continue: a wonderful barracuda we caught on the bank side at Fish Cay, (Thanks Anna!), hand-rubbed steaks, grilled snapper etc. etc. I can’t even remember all the wonderful evening meals we had, but suffice it to say, we did not suffer. The guides (George and my old friend Stanford a.k.a Chicken Johnson) did a great job of always being ready to go and putting us consistently on fish. He also taught Paris Fleezanis of This is Fly how to play dominos Bahama’s stye. Not only was this a great fishing trip, but this was also a trip of truly remarkable events. For instance:
While on a fast plane in Stanford’s skiff on our way back to the Sea Hunter late one afternoon, a pair of $180.00 sunglasses whipped overboard in 4 feet of water. The bottom was peppered with sponges, debris, sea fans and other items all of which looked exactly like sunglasses. We decided we had to at least take a look. We turned around motoring back 150 feet to where we thought they have gone overboard and looked... and looked. One sponge looked long and thin. I jumped overboard, dove under and low and behold it was the sunglasses. What were the odds?
John Riggs hooked a big bone. He couldn’t stop the run and when the backing melted down to his spool it soon broke at the arbor knot. The knot jetted through the guides tangling on one of the last guides on the way. John was sure it would rip off a guide or two and was prepared for the worst. Apparently, when the pressure came off the fish, it stopped. At that point, John quickly grabbed his backing, threaded it back through the now naked guides, reattached it to the spool and landed the fish. Whew, what are the odds?
I hooked a big fish in a channel. I thought the fish was a shark, but had seen enough sharks morph into big bones on this trip that I waited prepared to cast. When the dark form came close enough sure enough it was a bone. I cast, the fish ate, and immediately broke me off at my tippet’s knot. Just a subtle “tink”. The fish probably never felt it. I should have inspected my knot and line after the last fish. Oh well, I lost my fish and the crab fly I was using. I had one of these flies left so I tied it on. An hour later and the good part of a mile away on the other side of the cay, I saw another large bone. He was big. This would hopefully be redemption for the one I lost earlier. I made a good cast, hooked the monster and landed the guy. I measured him at 27 inches at the fork. I took a few photos and when I reached down to take out the hook. I saw some tan silli-legs sticking out the other side of the fish’s mouth. There sat a fly exactly like the one I was removing. Fifteen inches of tippet was attached. I pulled out my fly and my other fly and sent the bad boy on his way, but not before a stern lecture on gluttony and making good choices in life. What are the odds?
Again Many thanks to all! To John and Anna Riggs, Jay Hillerson, Scott Sawtelle, and Paris Fleezanis... what a great group and what a good time! Thank you all! Here are a few comments from the trip members:
Many thanks for another great trip and group. Really learned a lot about the bones this week regarding patience and seeing fish and them seeing me. Most I've ever caught and biggest. Hope to spend another week with you to learn about where they should be in relation to islands, channels, tides etc....Jay Hillerson
Sea Hunter was one of my best fishing trips ever. You da man!... Scott Sawtelle
Scott, I wanted to tell you what a fantastic trip South Andros was. Everything was just really fantastic! I can't think of anything I would've had different. The group was really fantastic and I enjoyed fishing with every single one of them. Thanks for including us in the group!!!... Anna Riggs
If you would like to read more on this year adventure, Paris Fleezanis will be writing a story on our trip for the upcoming December issue of This is Fly. To see it go to thisisfly.com. We will also post his story on our website under recent adventures.
And to Mike, Chicken and George thanks again!
Written by Scott Heywood