Travel Spotlight: Bonefishing in the Bahamas When You Aren't a Pro
Love at First Cast? Nope.
Growing up I couldn’t think of a more boring activity to do than spend the day fishing. You want me to what? Sit in a boat all day with my grandma and drop a line in the water and….wait? Then around the age of 14 I was introduced to fly fishing and I still wasn’t sold: the tangled fishing lines, a flying hook in the air that felt like it was 2 inches away from taking out my eye every time - yeah, no thanks.
Sometime in my 20s I stopped being so stubborn and gave fishing a chance. Maybe it was the days spent floating with friends in Wyoming drinking beers and their constant coaching. Maybe it was the incessant competition with my sister to be a better angler (she’s still better). But something changed for me, and all of a sudden standing in a river or sitting in a boat no longer was comparable to watching paint dry. More often than not, I started finding myself on friends drift boats and making sure my weekend plans included a day on the river, especially after moving to Colorado in 2015.
Fast forward to 2018 - our family has decided to spend Christmas bonefishing in the Bahamas. As someone who still hooks themselves (and every twig in the river every now and then) I knew this trip might be out of my league and I might come up empty handed - but it didn’t matter, it was an experience, a bucket item fishing trip, and something we were all looking forward to.
For those who are not into fishing or are not familiar with this type of adventure, queue up the images of wide open horizons of shallow, crystal clear turquoise water with a few small fishing boats gently poling around while you stand on the bow with your guide pointing out the fish and telling you where to cast. Generally, if the weather is on your side, you aren't throwing your line in until you've spotted a school of fish. And even then you've only got a shot or two to nail where your fly lands but if you do it right the fish will reward you. Otherwise, they spook and you're back at square one. It's a challenge, but a fun one - and even with the sighting of sharks and barracudas, it is a very peaceful and beautiful setting.
Bonefish are named bonefish because of all the tiny little bones in their body (yes I know, seems obvious, but this was news to me), which makes them primarily a catch and release fish. They are typically in schools, spook easily and are insanely fast. When looking for bonefish, you are looking for a faint shadow. Their silver coloring makes them camouflaged on the bottom of the ocean, even though you might only be in water up to your mid calf, giving them the nickname "the ghosts of the flats" and if you’re like me, you won’t get used to the sight of them until the second or third day. There's a reason they are a member of the elusive "Grand Slam", which is when an angler catches a permit, a bonefish and a tarpon in one day.
We booked through Yellow Dog Fishing and went to Deep Water Cay in the Bahamas - a small island right off of Grand Bahama. If your priority is fishing and you want a lodge that is centered around the fishing culture in the Bahamas with amazing local guides, Deep Water Cay is your spot. If you want to sit on the beach all day and have someone serve you unlimited daiquiris, this isn’t your spot.
Other Tips & Tricks.
If you can double haul, casting those long distances and against the wind that can come across the flats will be 10x less frustrating. I can’t do it. To me it was like trying to pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time. A double haul is when you are “pulling” on the front cast as well as the back cast allowing yourself to load the line more and battle the wind and the distance more effectively.
As someone who is used to fishing for trout, I was used to pulling up on my rod to set the hook once I had a fish on. This is not the case with bonefish. Out of habit, I kept making this mistake - trust me, it doesn’t work. For a strip set you are keeping the tip of your rod pointed at the fish/your line and essentially you are stripping the line in just like you would if you were pulling the fly into you. Day one on the boat - shake the trout instinct.
Yes, the bugs are getting their own shout out here. By the end of the trip I looked like I had come down with the chicken pox. The no-see-ems are particularly ruthless and I was getting to the point of swearing that I was sleeping in a nest of them. One of the other guests, who is an avid angler and has visited the lodge multiple times, gave me the insider trick. Bounty dryer sheets. Dead serious. Instead of bug spray, rub a dryer sheet all over your ankles and the bugs will keep their distance from you. Cherry on top - you smell better than if you doused yourself in DEET.
After five days in the Bahamas, four of which were spent on a boat - the three most important tips of all though that I learned during this trip had nothing to do with the technicality of bonefishing.
First, it doesn’t matter if you are a newbie to bonefishing or if you’ve gone 500 times - listen to your guide, don’t assume you know more and take their advice. They do this for a living, these are their waters, their fish - and their goal is to get a fish on your line. Assuming it's yours too...
Don’t be selfish. You are in a boat with a guide and one other angler. But only one of you is fishing at a time (typically). Don’t hog the rod. Growing up trout fishing I was used to my dad letting me sit in the front of the boat, or even putting down his own road to untangle mine, multiple times. He had fished more, so he would take a break from fishing to teach us. But at age 30 and 65 we were both bonefishing for the first time ever, together. Go shot for shot, or fish for fish, or flat for flat - whatever makes sense for that day. I promise seeing your fishing buddy hook a bonefish is just as much fun as you hooking one yourself.
And secondly, like Joseph said, if the fish aren’t coming around - crack a beer, it tends to be good luck. Considering Joseph, William and David were able to guide a family of 6 "non-pros" without anyone getting skunked - I’d say their tricks work.