Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Advantages of Trailers and 'Yaks in Bahamas Bonefish Camps

It's been a week since my trip to Water Cay Bonefish Club on Grand Bahama Island, and part of of the fishing experience there has lead me to a new form of advocacy. I believe it has become essential in all the linear, "crescent- shaped" Bahamian Islands- such as GBI, Abaco, Eleuthera, Cat, Long- that bonefish guides utilize trailered skiffs or preplaced or trucked kayaks to access lee side shorelines in times of sustained frontal or weather cell winds. Unlike Andros, which is a squared-off huge island with loads of creeks, bights, and interior bays to "tuck into" into to avoid high sustained winds, the crescent islands may lack the landmass and shoreline complexity, and hence take a wind pounding, with their opposite lee shoreline as only sanctuary. For instance, last weekend on Grand Bahama Island saw high pressure cell winds after a cold front that sustained at 35 mph from a NNE quadrant. Water Cay Bonefish Club sits on the North side of the island and was taking the winds "right in th teeth."

My feelings about these conditions- and the flexiblility of owner Iram Lewis Jr. and guide Sidney Thomas-formed a fishing strategy to utilize Sidney's trailered skiff to launch and fish the leeside Southern coast beaches- and the bonefish were there in very large numbers! Unless there was the opportunity to trailer the skiff to the lee side, fishing would have been poor as well as slightly hazardous! All bonefish camps and lodges are stationary, but they can diminish their windward side vulnerablity with trailers and trucked 'yaks. For instance, many of the bonefish guides in Marsh Harbor, Abaco stay permenently portable and have their skiffs on a trailer in their backyards intead of stuck in the water. This way, they are free to fish either side of Abaco in times of high sustained winds. This gives their arriving anglers more fishing time, and less vulnerablility to windy conditions.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

What Takes A Tarpon?

Although the silver king has an upturned mouth, that does not mean it always strikes upward. Often, tarpon live just off the bottom, and Boca Granders and Government Cutters know an artificial or natural bait bottom -bounced is just the ticket for getting tarpon to strike. Hard-rolling tarpon in deep water refuges are almost always on their way back to the hold and to feed. Although my first choice is to use fly in ultra-shallow conditions, or next, plug tackle with suspension baits in deeper flats, I'll use what I need to catch and release tarpon. If you are needing to fish the bottom, when those tarpon are holding there, be sure to bump the bait up and down off the bottom makes a huge difference!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Thanks, Water Cay Bonefish Club!

Although 30 mph NNE winds knocked us around on the North coast of Grand Bahama Island, as well as rogue-waving a big cruise ship off North Carolina, we prevailed on the bonefish. Owner Iram Lewis Jr., guide Sidney Thomas and I strategized to fish the South side of GBI with nonstop bonefish results. More on this story later. Yours truly went 5 for 8 and Photographer Art Blank tweaked 7 fish for a daily tally of 12 releases. Look for the those that made it possible at


Monday, April 11, 2005

A Bonefish Jog around the Virgins and Leewards

Keeping things straight to the record, this whole area is not exactly Bonefish Central. The two islands that have viable fisheries have sizeable inland Salinas, or saltponds. These are Anegada of the BVI and Barbuda of the Antigua/Barbuda nation. Because these islands are not on the short list for outfitters, some excellent bonefishing can be had, since pressure on the fish is still minimal and the netting seen in the Pacific is not present here. However, decent guides are in short supply on either island, and self-guiding and wading may be inevitable. These islands do not get hit by the fronts of winter- a great advantage- but are smack dab in the risk path of African-born Hurricanes in summer and early fall. In fact, this entire Northeast island portion of the Caribbean are mountain tops featuring deep-drop shorelines. Flat coral atoll structures are not the rule, like Los Roques way to the South.

Do people report some tailing flats in the British Virgins? Yes, they do, near Beef Island of Tortolla and Mosquito Island near Virgin Gorda. Yet the fact remains that these areas are not vast, and provide minimal habitat for the bonefish that would be there in huge numbers if there were huge habitat, like the Bahamas. So you'll find some reports of bonefish caught here and there in very specific places, generally picked up in website forums and loads of research. I fished Jost Van Dyke of the BVI after debarking from my ship for the day, The NCL Spirit
(, and searched around the island fairly thoroughly. Despite some prior advice and directions, I was not impressed by viable bonefish habitat. However, when I adjusted my sights to have fun and cast for whatever comes along- I find this easy to do- I loaded up on finny action. Using an 8 wt. flyrod and white clouser type fly, and a 4 lb. spinner rigged with a tiny rubber swim jig, I hooked up with an excellent variety of fish. The action around the island occured either around the ever-present minnow schools or around shoreline reefy structure. I released loads of palometa, lane snapper, blue runners, jacks, houndfish, sennets, and got spooled by a big bonita that shot into the area to hit the minnows. The action was so much fun, i didn't give the bonefish a single thought.


Saturday, April 09, 2005

Once Upon A Time In Cozumel

The year was 1967. I'd been living in Marvelous Mexico that summer. The first leg of the journey involved Mexico City, which reminded me of Paris mountainized..many sights, sounds, experiences. A month later, on to Oaxaca and then a magic voyage to Huatla in search of mushrooms and curanderas. After a series of descents in all possible senses of the word, and experiences, a flight into Merida, both old and new. I was now on a flatter Peninsula, water-surrounded, Maya land, and embedded in the tri-states of Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo. But best of all, I knew in a couple of weeks, I'd be on Cozumel Island to the east, and finally, finally fishing. That made my stay in this wonderful city both shorter and longer...I longed to fish the Caribbean Sea, but the splendorous squares and pretty parks soothed and calmed me in shady greens, and the time passed. Lunches stayed the same- I was obsessed with a zest for meat and cheese enchiladas and icy Carta Blanca beer, something i'd loved since living in Dallas.

The time came soon enough and the plane touched down near San Miguel. Cabs abounded at the time-and still do- and in no time, I was standing in the shimmerlingly hot city square. I could see the mainland in the distance over water that was a sapphire blue beyond words: it was as if the Gulf Stream came to play at the surf's edge. I made my way to a cantina through a sea of hawkers and merchants eager to sell me their wares. I politely refused in Spanish, a language I had spoken for over two months straight....after all, I was in their country: why be so arrogant or provincial as to force my English on them? I'd hoped I'd left my gringohood back in Miami International Airport, but at six feet tall, I clearly was different.

After two Carta Blancas, and then, yes, a salty Margarita...I was a celebrant, no?..I made my way over to the rows of fishing boats. Back in the sixties, there were no avenidas of gleaming Gringo billfish boats. The Yucatan Channel's spring billfishery was not yet established, but the fishing on the island was reputed to be prolific beyond words. The year before, I'd boated a striped marlin off Acapulco. Though I'd loved the battle, I yearned for "drop"fishing, or just plain casting from a small boat just off the Beach.

In fifteen minutes, I'd settled on an old salt named Miguel, who looked like a character straight out of Hemingway's Cuba days. His boat seemed able, and we settled on a price. I was pleased to see plenty of cold water, and a large assortment of island fruit for lunch. He cranked up the engine, and we headed south. In only ten minutes, he put the engine in idle, and handed me a light conventional rigged with a drop sinker, hook, and lisa for bait. Though we were barely a football field offshore, the bait went deep. The strike was instantaneous. I reared back and struck hard. A see-saw battle begun and in ten minutes, a gasping twenty pound black grouper lay on the sapphire surface. Miguel was very pleased by this, and gaffed the fish instantly. He unhooked the fish deftly and rebaited the hook with another chunk of lisa. I grabbed the rod, and let the bottom rig stream down to the bottom again. Moments later, a hard thump, and I struck again. The fight was shorter, but the rising colors of yellow presaged a more desireable prize of what was indeed a huge yellowtail of about five pounds...Dinner was assured: pargo frito would now join the enchiladas and beer. This action would go on and on for the better part of an hour and I was jazzed! Miguel tapped me on the shoulder while I was hauling in another fish, and pointed South. He said , "quiere barracudas y tunas y cavallas?...muy grande!!". I shouted "yes!" as I pulled a medium mutton snapper over the rail.

I set the rod down and he pointed the boat south in search of new adventure..but that's another story.


Friday, April 08, 2005

A Quick Thanks To Key Largo and Abaco

Fond recollections this fronty day include a high-five to John Neo. general manager of Abaco Beach Resort ( for not just being last year's guardian angel and hurricane hero of Abaco, but also for the quickest storm recovery turnaround to getting this fabulous resort up and running for Marls flats anglers and blue water specialists. Hats off also to General Manager of Mariner's Club Key Largo ( Frank Rego to picking up my bonefish challenge on a blowy November day last fall- he involved captain Tad Van DerMark ( to help us nail a trophy bone when the frontal winds seemed to say, "guys, stay home." Stand-up managers like this are beloved by the travelling angler, because they go all the way!


Cold fronts, Flats Fishing, and Countless Opinions

Thanks to the "tail" of a frontal system producing pouring rain, thunderstorms, and waterspouts over Miami, I am in front of the computer instead of rolling tarpon. Though I've been flats fishing since 1962, I've only seriously studied the anatomy, effects, and geographic "reach" of cold fronts for the last thirty years.

WHY STUDY FRONTS? For lots of reasons- as an angler, I am weather-attuned. Firstly, because I love the study of weather, but mostly because it has such a huge impact on flats fishing. Weather systems- in this case cold fronts- penetrate shallow water more effectivley than deeper water. Cold fronts affect the flats of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cuba, Florida, and the Bahamas as well. The overall effect of fronts on flats fishing is negative. Tarpon and permit like warm, stable, balmy weather. Forget what you've heard from "experts" about bonefish feeding binges just before a front....this simply does not happen with predictable regularity. Though bonefish do not have the "wind sensitivity" of tarpon, they sense the "changes" occuring with the passage of a front, and most anglers acknowledge that storms, temperature and barometric drops are off-putting to bonefish. Contrarily, bones feed just fine on super windy days, provided the water temperaures are high enough, and the weather has some high pressure stability.

Fronts make it tough to see into the water- this primarily deals with the approach and leading edge of the front that has the clouds and rain of contrasting air masses. After the front, the skies clear up in the presence of dropping temperature changes. As the front approaches, the wind first goes into the South, and pinwheels clockwise around the compass to a Northwest to North direction. The return of non-frontal weather sees the wind shifting back to the East in our region. Flats fish like tropical stability-hence the constancy of Christmas Island.

The geographic position of flats will determine what weather systems affect them, including cold fronts. If you are planning on fishing the Bahamas from November to April, it's best to choose those islands in the extreme Southeast portion of this Island Nation. This year, the fronts have reached deep into the Bahamas, going as far as Long Island. Today, for instance, radar indicates the bottom of Long Island missed the mass of rain and clouds, but certainly not the weather effects. My research indicates that cold fronts generally do not reach the islands to the South of Long Island, and this "sanctuary" begins with Crooked and Acklins Islands as a general rule. Ditto for the extreme Southeastern part of Cuba's Southern coast-this may be of interest to non-Americans who are permitted by law to travel and spend money there. In our hemisphere, the best-postioned flats fishing areas are far South in the bottom of the Caribbean Sea-namely Los Roques and Bonaire off the coast of Venezuela. Then, no one has to debate the frontal "reach" areas of the Bahamas!


Saturday, April 02, 2005

Miami 'Tween Front Extravaganza!

Although a late-season front approaches, yesterday in Biscayne Bay was one for the books. With SE winds under clear skies, the Northern reaches of South Biscayne Bay were hot, hot ,hot! Tarpon fishing has been phenomenal- I relased another pair of fish, each over one hundred pounds by 8 a.m., and jumped a smaller fish of sixty pounds about a mile south of Rickenbacker Bridge in the ICW. Also present in the catch-and-release action were spanish mackeral, bluefish, loads of large ladyfish, and plenty of jack crevalle. Although a few tarpon were taken on fly, most of the fish were taken on live shrimp and twelve pound spin and plug tackle. All of this action has been spurred by rising water temperatures, and possibly the spring silver mullet run, which is starting to trickle into our waters.