Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Since it's pretty cold all over the US, I thought I'd share something I put together for some friends telling the story of our honeymoon.  Yes, it's November, and finally we are hunting birds in Kansas, but a part of me still wishes I was on a flat somewhere in 80 degree weather.

We boarded a plane early in the morning on Sunday, and with some creative plane switches and good timing we were over the Bahamas early that afternoon. As we flew south over the Exuma Cays the flats were quickly apparent. There must be bonefish everywhere down there.

We were shocked, floored, completely surprised by our accommodations for the week. We had been upgraded to “the Castle” because of a broken pool pump at the other villa, and upgraded can’t begin to describe it.

We later talked with the developer and he told us this is the nicest house in the Exumas. Completed just three months ago, we were the first guests.

We spent Monday learning to drive on the left side of the road, buying groceries and booze, exploring the beaches and George Town, enjoying the private pool and hot tub, and whatever else honeymooners do. The weather was perfect and we always had the place all to ourselves.

The local beer is called “Kalik,” after the sound a cow bell makes. I bought a case and taught the wife to bring me another every time I screamed “we need more cow bell!”  (I get to use some artistic license, right?!)
Tuesday marked the day I was to receive my official wedding present from Hannah: a day on the Bahamian flats with an experienced bonefish guide. We met Martin Clarke, of Moss Town on Tuesday morning at a pier down a rough road. His house and pier were only a couple minutes from our villa, but we were still late. Long night, ya know.

We motored down a narrow mangrove-choked channel until the banks opened up to reveal the vastness of the ocean. The tide was up, but falling, and we checked out two small beaches in protected coves to the north. Neither yielded bonefish, but he asked me to cast for him, to size me up I imagine. I did my best impression of a double-haul and sent the new line flying through the guides and he smiled, “oh, okay, we going to alright then today.”

Further north we came to a flat that looked like it extended the rest of the western coast of Great Exuma. It just went on and on and on. The goal was to catch the fish coming out of the mangroves. Martin directed my casting and stripping and we got the skunk off early.

Then I got another.

I saw neither fish but both ate the gold-assed Gotcha willingly and pulled hard. Just as Hannah was falling asleep we came across a school of fifty fish, and I caught a few more. Soon the water was getting too low and we had to leave the flat or be stranded. We headed far south and anchored the boat in a channel bisecting two enormous flats. Hannah stayed behind to sun bathe while Martin and I left to wade the ankle deep flat.

It wasn’t long before Martin softly commanded “stop!” and pointed out tailing fish in front of us. And so it went for an hour or so, he’d spot fish, I’d cast and either hook up or spook them. After lunch we were motoring to the other side of the channel when Martin called out “that’s a big fish!” and pointed to a nine pound bonefish on the edge of the channel. Just as I sent my fly sailing he turned away, and just as I was picking up the cast he turned back and spooked. Damn.

We anchored and were into fish immediately, bigger fish, too. We saw a dozen fish in the nine to twelve pound range, but none were hooked. I did manage to land my largest fish of the day, about six pounds. I’ve seen it written that the average Exuma bonefish is about eight pounds, but my average was probably three or four pounds. Martin fished us a full day and we both had a great time.

The next day I wanted to find a spot to wade on my own. The highway that runs the length of the island is called the Queen’s Highway, and it’s really the only good road on the island. It runs the ocean side, which is more scenic and therefore where all the developments are. There aren’t any bonefish on the ocean side, they’re on the flats side of the island. But, an adventurous soul could brave the badly dilapidated secondary roads to nowhere in search of flats. So, despite Hannah’s pleas to turn around, despite my fantasies of finding a long lost tribe of pygmies, we pressed on and found our own private piece of bonefish paradise. Well, it was someone else’s piece; there was a small boarded-up house on stilts over a concrete pad, right there in the middle of no-where, and it’s backyard of lava-rock and mangroves was the only easy access to the beach and miles and miles of endless white sandy, muddy flats. Hannah sunbathed as I waded aimlessly. Unfortunately I was unable to spot any fish; maybe they were there, maybe they weren’t.

Hannah decided she'd rather fish again than go sailing like we had planned, so we booked the next day with Martin. This time we arrived on time and were slowly feasted upon by no-see-um’s until Martin arrived late. The tide was way up as we motored out and we hit the same two beaches directly to the north. The first one yielded a large school of bonefish that were gone as quickly as they appeared. The second beach was unproductive as well. In the higher water we decided on a yellow Deceiver pattern I had to get down quicker than a regular Gotcha pattern. But, there was a trade-off…the heavier fly often landed with a splash that would spook the fish.

After the two beaches we hit an area close to some mangroves. With the wind and the falling tide there was a strong out-to-sea current, and TONS of bonefish, and they were stacked up like salmon. We could see shadows and flashes for over and hour, mostly out of casting range, but some close enough. The first fish I hooked was taken by a lemon shark just twenty feet from the boat. I caught a couple more before we had to motor off the now much shallower flat. 

We hit several places that, to my untrained eye, didn’t look like the best bonefish water. The coast was perforated lava rock, and although the bottom was the white sandy mud, the water was still four feet deep. However, Martin directed my casting to fish and I was able to catch a couple more. Motoring across the open water was a little rough, and each time the boat fell to crash on the water there was a jolt that shot through my ass and up my spine like how it must feel to have a Mexican featherweight boxer go to work on your kidneys. We finished the day wading the same gigantic flat that we fished on Tuesday. The water was higher than last time, but dropping. We didn’t see any fish as we walked several hundred yards from the anchored boat and I could tell Martin was frustrated. We turned to walk back and started seeing fish. I caught a few, but something seemed off. They weren’t eating like they were the other day. Shadows from aerial line would spook them. They were picky. Martin thought maybe it was caused by the hurricane passing off in the distance to our east.

My greatest feeling of pride came on the walk back where I actually got to point out a fish to Martin. He had seen every other fish before me, up till that point. Dozens and dozens of fish. He would see schools coming directly our way a hundred feet before I could make them out. He would look out over a flat and comment how there were lots of fish out there, but all I saw was waves and sand. Anyway, to finally spot one before him probably meant I got lucky, but I hoped it meant I learned something.

On Saturday we went back to the private flats and Hannah waded with me for a couple hours, but still I wasn’t able to spot any fish.

Overall, it was an awesome trip. I will go back to the Exumas again.  It’s more affordable than you think.


Scampwalker said...

Great recap -- looks like a slice o' heaven.

Gary Thompson said...

Let's see....I woke up to 9 degrees this morning. All thing considered, I would have much preferred to have been where you were. There's something about the Bahamas in winter.