Bow time for Bonefish
So a little while back I got a phone call from my buddy, Johan, about a cool opportunity to fish and work with Oliver Rogers, who is an incredible photographer and filmmaker. (Find him here : https://www.oliverrogersphotography.com ) He has been contracted by huge names in the fly fishing industry as well as worked on killer films like the “Beyond the Horizon” shot in Honduras. You might have seen in the Fly Fishing Film tour. (Watch it here: https://vimeo.com/250590472 ). Anyway, he is a solid, down to earth dude as well as great with both a camera and a fly rod. Johan, calls me and didn’t make it through his first sentence about the plan and I said “ I’m in”. Don’t care when, Don’t care where, I will be there.
A little planning, weather watching, and group chat Bullshitting we finally decided on a place and time. South Florida was the destination and although I am not going to reveal the exact location you can narrow it down to about a 100 mile stretch of Florida. I rode down the night before so I didn’t have to drive all night for a 630a meetup at the ramp. At my 5am wake up call, it took about two seconds to cuss the weatherman. Cue the howling winds… but if you let that scare you, better stay off the flats. From all my times traveling, hosting trips or fishing, if you are chasing Bone, Permit or Tarpon you have to fight the wind, period. At times you actually come to appreciate the wind, although it can make casting a little more difficult, it takes the edge off those sharp eyed bastards on the flats. After a keep meetup at the ramp, load up all of Oliver’s gear we were idling out the cut and had Johan’s Chittum pointed to the horizon.
Plans were set to intercept some bonefish at a beautiful, turtle flat on the incoming tide that was due to start moving around 8am. We had plenty of time to get into position, get the drone up, and watch these bonefish arrive right on time. This location offered everything you need to succeed with bonefish and permit. We had the sun at our back matched with the tide so when the fish eased up on the flat, we would be there to nail’em.
Even with the perfect setup shit can go wrong, fish can refuse a fly or you can make a less than perfect cast. Well, both of those happened. I am not one to sugar coat my screwups. A weak shot delivered on my first opportunity wasn’t ideal but I sharpened it up from there. Next good fish followed to the the leader in the rod tip which although super exciting, something wasn’t just right. Now, some people will immediately change a fly if they get a refusal but that just isn’t how I roll. Whether, I am chasing Redfish, Bonefish or Permit, I don’t chase the right fly, if I don’t immediately get an eat. I want to make sure I am not the problem, whether presentation or retrieve, I have confidence in all flies I tie on, or I wouldn’t have tied it on in the first place. Unless I have fish scattering when they see the fly I will not swap it out with just one refusal. So, with a few quick shots, I felt like at least one of those should’ve eaten but that is how it goes. On to the next spot.
When you see fish in a location and it is time to move on, we always try and replicate that first spot in-regards to the bottom, adjacent to a channel or a point…etc. There is always a reason they are on each flat at a specific time. For me it is about all parts of the puzzle that make this game so rewarding when you get to fly The W. Our next spot we had to do a little photography in addition to fishing, so to get the light and scene right we had to setup a little different than we would have liked but business is business. Tide is still moving let’s get going.
The next stop was the one I was looking forward to all morning, I have seen plenty of fish in the area each time I have fished this place, on this tide. It is going to happen. We were not setup two minutes and Johan spots a group at One O’Clock, 80 feet. Johan spun the boat as we had a little room to give which allowed me to setup on these fish for a good shot. I hold a little more line in the air than I usually do when fishing for Redfish, as most of my Bonefish leaders in pressured water are around 14ft and turning it over quietly is a big part of this game. My Shrimp pattern lands, two of four fish turn to have a look and they are on it, one pins it as he is looking hard but just wouldn’t commit and we ran out of room before they turned off the fly. Hmm, maybe I need to speed it up a little. It was almost like the fly didn’t looked scared enough to make them commit. Keep in mind each fish we have seen so far is 7lb+ so they aren’t the 2lb dummies like in many tourist traps that eat bologna.
I almost changed the fly and went for my box but we spot a massive fish slow rolling the mangrove shoreline with his back out of the water. I had no time and had to take my shot. Fly lands, fish does not alter course, tracks right to it, noses down, I bump it once and he has it, he turns, I come tight…he is gone. I was shook. I had him, check the fly and its all good, still no idea what happened but I still think about that one. I have been very blessed to dance with a lot of bonefish on my fly rod but never a two digit fish. Good thing was, no need to change the fly! We had reached the end of the push and still had plenty of time for the tide so eased off to let those fish reset before pushing in on them again.
Thankfully, in our past experience, as long as the tide is moving, these fish refresh pretty good. We did a wide loop while I gave myself a little on the water pep-talk, because you can never let one blown shot cost you the next shot. As we eased into the crease, I had the line stripped out and was on point. About 80 feet out we see what looks to be a group of 6-7 good fish working our way, very little boat correction was needed and I laid one out their way. It was a good shot and two fish were on it immediately, but you could tell they wouldn’t instantly commit, so I wasn’t going to let them look at it long. A couple quick strips and they were back on it and interested. I quick stripped them and made them chase it, their competitive nature took over and in a few strips I had four fish hot on my shrimps tail. It was going to happen I could feel it, they just had that look. Well, I was running out of room and the leader was coming to the tiptop in a hurry when I dropped the fly, all four fish nosed down and one quick pop made one commit, I stuck him and next thing I know I was clearing line and we were on. Frustration when to laughter as both Oliver and Johan were cheering and although I was relived I had one we needed, this fight was far from over. The fish went from rod tip to the backing in a split second and decided to make one charge back at the boat but I had him tight the whole and in just a few minutes we had him boat side.
It was nice to have three on the boat so the second he was ready, Oliver landed him while Johan held our position. A few quick photos on the deck and in the water and the fish swam off strong. What a relief. Sticking a difficult fish is pressure enough but knowing you need photos certainly do not make it any easier. Right near the end of the tide we convinced Oliver to put his camera down and he hopped up on the bow but he never really had a clean shot even though he made some great casts at hard angles but we got what we needed with time to spare.
It is these ups and downs on the water with good friends that bring us back time and time again.
Although my bow time is limited and love watching others experience the thrill of a fish on fly, it is nice to kick the rust off and dance every now and then. Again, if you need a talented dude behind the lens, hit up Oliver, he never disappoints. Also, if you are in the Keys or South Florida, get with Johan(@tarpon_tails), he is a great guy and one fishy dude. You will have the time of your life in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.