Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish
A few years ago I was on Lee Stocking Island (on Exuma Sound) for a coral reef research workshop. I know what you’re thinking – sounds rough. But it was a pretty intense workshop, and there wasn’t much time for fun in the sun. I didn’t even go fishing!
At that time I was in the early stages of a Caribbean-wide bonefish study of genetics and growth rates (for details on this study, go to the Research page). Then, like now, I was in search of bonefish samples. I’d been in email contact with Bob Hyde, owner/operator of the now defunct Peace and Plenty Bonefish Lodge a number of years prior. We were both members on an online email discussion list, and exchanged information about bonefish (Bob from the Bahamas, me from the Virgin Islands). Since I figured I would be pretty close to Exuma for the coral reef workshop, I contacted Bob at the outside chance he might be willing to help me out with the research. I needed a place to stay, and a guide to take me fishing so I could get bonefish samples. Bob came through like a champ. He put me up, fed me, and gave me a break on fishing. I was able to get a bunch of samples in the two days I was there.
Of course, I arrived late – the boat left Lee Stocking Island late, it was tougher to get a taxi to the Lodge than I thought, and the drive was nearly an hour. When I arrived, I got a brief hello, stowed my bags, and jumped on the boat for a half-day of fishing. Figures, but this was the best day of the trip. We had clear skies and a light breeze. We found a caught some nice bonefish before heading back in.
One bonefish, about 5 pounds or so, headed for the shallows with a small shark in hot pursuit. The bonefish pushed ever shallower, eventually coming to rest on top of a shrimp mound that was exposed at low tide. The shark circledthe shrimp mound as the bonefish flopped around. I asked the guide if he minded if I waded in after the fish (the boat could go no shallower). He said no, but I could tell he thought I was a bit nuts. I wanted that fish for a sample!
I waded the 100’ or so across the semi-soft sand, reeling in my line as I went. I slowed to a crawl when I got close so the shark wouldn’t here me. Each time the bonefish would flop on the shrimp mound it caused a vibration, and the shark would lunge at it, sometimes coming partly out of the water. Once I got close enough to the fish and shark, I slapped the water on the other side of the shrimp mound with my rod tip. When the shark went to investigate the noise, I hopped onto the exposed mound next to the bonefish. When the shark felt me make that jump, it turned and came racing back. I grabbed the bonefish and stood as still as I could while the shark circled the mound a few more times and then slowly headed off. Once the shark was out of sight, I headed back to the boat.
As you might imagine, the bonefish wasn’t in great shape after all that time out of the water, so I was unable to revive it. Fortunately, the fish did make a contribution to science – I collected tissue for genetic analysis, otoliths (earbones) to determine how old the fish was, measured it’s length so I could calculate a growth rate, and examined and recorded it’s stomach contents. I can’t remember if I gave the rest of the fish to the guide to take home or not. I always offer.
For the other fish we caught that day, I just took a clip of fin tissue (for genetic analysis) and let them go. The fin tissue grows back within a couple weeks.
The second day I had a different guide. It was blowing a solid 25 knots. Not pleasant, but at least it was sunny. We found plenty of fish, overall not as hungry as I expected on a windy day. And although I hooked a bunch of fish, I only landed a few. The reason why was simple, but it was stupidity that it took me so long to realize why – my 10 pound tippet was bad, rotten, whatever you want to call it. Once I realized the problem it was easy to fix, but by then the day was nearly over. DOH!
That evening I was able to give Bob and a few of his guides a PowerPoint slide show on my bonefish research. I think they thoroughly enjoyed it.
My final morning, my taxi wasn't due until 11am, so I woke up early, packed my bags, and grabbed a kayak. A flat-channel system across a deep channel from the lodge was perfect, and I caught a few more fish before heading back to meet the taxi.
The guides were fantastic, as were the food and accommodations. I’d certainly recommend it. Once again, Gotchas did the trick. And there are certainly plenty good size, hungry bones on Exuma.
The Fisherman's Coast approach focuses on how coastal gamefish interact with their habitats and prey. The more you know about the gamefish you pursue with a fly rod, the more often you'll be in the right place at the right time with the right fly making the right presentation. It's about catching more fish.
Our sister site Tribal Bonefish is all about conservation through responsible fishing. Tribal Bonefish shows you how to become a better steward of our coasts to protect our fisheries today, and ensure future generations get a chance to experience these fisheries.