It is never a comfortable feeling to be totally new at something while surrounded by those who already know the score. To be the only newbie is much like the dream where you wear your pajamas to school. It feels like every eye is on you and you have to act as if you are in complete control when inside you are just praying that you don’t look as foolish as you feel.
That would sum up my trip to the Bahamas in a nutshell. Almost everything I knew about fly fishing was put into question. I am a trout guy. I fish trout streams. And here I stood on a sand flat, in the middle of the Bahamas looking for bonefish.
Our hosts for the trip was Long Island Bonefishing Lodge, and they do something called DIY bonefishing. They load you up on a boat, take you out to the flats, hand you a radio to communicate and then they leave. It is then up to you. That didn’t seem like such a good idea for me…at first. To catch a bonefish, you first have to SEE a bonefish. If you have never done this before, let me try to explain. A bonefish is so shiny and clean that they are a mirror of the bottom which means that when you are looking for them, you might think you see sand when in truth you are looking at the fish. What you have to look for are shadows, tails, unusual movement. And all of this is going on while you try to move as quietly as possible while also dealing with a wind that at times pushes you around.
So there I stood on the flat. My nearest fishing buddy was maybe five hundred yards away. I looked out at the water and the shimmer from the relentless sun, staring into the flat wondering if I will ever see anything at all. The whole flat looked empty. This is the first battle you have to face in that the place itself is so foreign to a trout angler. No riffles, no plunge pools, no risers. Maddening!
Then I see something that looks different, just a flash of a shape. I think it is a fish but I cannot really tell because every time I try to lock in on it, the shape vanishes. Then I see a tail jut up out of the water and I see the fish. It isn’t an easy spot. You actually are looking for a part of a fish. Then I spot another…and another. Maybe five or six bones are feeding thirty feet from me at maybe ten o’clock. The wind is whipping across my left shoulder.
I feed out twelve good strips of line and make a cast. The aforementioned wind grabs my fly line and pushes it to my right, well out of the path of the fish. I strip in some line and try again; only this time I move my cast to compensate for the breeze. This time I get it close. Not spot on…but close.
Then as the fish move in my direction I begin stripping in line. Feeling the take I set the hook and feel pretty good about the fact that I didn’t trout set. Hook up. I feel the frantic shake and raise my rod. As soon as the rod is in the air, I look down at my reel. In seconds, I am already into the backing and the spool is generating some serious RPMs. Then…nothing.
I start to reel the line in thinking that I have lost the fish when it runs again. More backing races out the rod tip. I reel. It runs. I reel. It runs. Then finally, the fish tires and is close enough to grab. I pull the bone out of the water and it is maybe two feet long and solid muscle. This fish is built for speed.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had drawn a crowd. Setting the fish free, I get high fives and hand shakes. I am now part of the club. The club of the adrenaline fueled sport of bonefishing with a fly rod. And I still have no idea what I am doing.
A mountain trout angler. Out of my place. Out of my element. Using a rod that is more than double the rod I usually use. And I am having a ball.