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Biscayne Bay Bonefish

My love for Emerald waters on tropical flats has been well documented and honestly, if I could fish for one species the rest of my life, it would be bonefish.

The way they track across a flat, their shear speed and fighting ability can send anyone’s heart racing. Plus, bonefish don’t live in ugly places.

I make the drive as often as I can, when the wind, weather and tides create an opportunity to fish Miami or the Northern Florida Keys. It is a long drive, a grueling day really, but when we succeed, it is the highest of highs. The only downside is those water and the fish that live there can dish out heaping spoonfuls of humble pie.

This trip I was accompanied by the wife and birddog for a little mid-week getaway to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. My good friend Johan offered to push and we all loaded up in his Chittum Skiff so I did not have to tow mine.

Biscayne Bay Sunrise

It was calling for full and calm winds, which is always more predictable on a Tuesday rather than a weekend. The weather did not disappoint but made for tougher bonefishing. For those that do not get to chase bonefish and permit often, full sun is important. In addition, calm winds make for easy casting but it can also create frustrating fishing and spooky fish.

Either way, I am just happy we are here and stepping on the bow for a change.

As with any trip, we had a planned milk run. Taking into account the tides, sun angle and when we were going to break for margaritas and tacos. With the tide not quite high, we went scanning for permit. Which is really just like walking into a Victoria Secret afterparty and expecting to leave with one of the models. Moving on…

I had a great shot at a fish in the 25lb range and got the typical follow, hard look and escape. Honestly, I need to take some of the blame on that fish, I zigged when she zagged and got the yips as I was stripping. She knew something was up and was gone.

As we continue, a small group of bonefish approached from my weak side, I dropped a short backhand not thinking much of it. As luck would have it, one of them broke from the group and jumped on the crab fly. A short fight and quick release and he was back in the pack. “That is why you never pass on a shot”, Johan said. I agree. Even if you are targeting permit and only permit, sometimes a small eager bonefish can breakthrough the haze and boost morale.

The wind continues to die down… It is not making it easy today. With the changing of the tide we decide to move to another flat. Unfortunately, within 20 minutes of our arrival we get a visit from a qualified captain. He is running what appears to be a 25′ walk-around with twin 300’s and apparently no mapping software. The captain comes in hot, skids to a halt and I am guessing call Sea-Tow.

We leave.

A quick, unanimous vote and we decide it is lunch time. We stake out at Boca Chita and break out all the fixins’ for tacos and Mel’s Famous Margaritas. The bird dog was excited to take a dip and cool off as well. Nothing like a half-hour happy hour to relax and reset before the afternoon push. Honestly, we don’t do that enough. Rarely, if ever do we stop and really take a break. I suppose because we drive so far and always want to maximize our opportunities it never really dawned on me a quick break can be what the day needs.

Biscayne Taco Bar

Our next move was a pretty good run from our lunch spot but no one was complaining. It is nice to have a little A/C before the next flat. The wind is almost gone and I know the mirror is not going to make this next flat easy. I went through and lengthened my leader and dropped down in tippet size to give me a little extra advantage. Also, the this flat being slightly shallower than what we had been fishing I was able to throw a lighter fly which also helps when making long casts and delicate presentations.

My first look was a group of three that were approaching from one o’clock. Not ideal, but we spotted them way out and Johan was able to quickly able to make the necessary adjustments. Took my shot and the fly settled as they approached. The lead fish was instantly interested but would not commit. I was running out of room just as the second fish pinned the fly and he was on. Although it was hot and calm this fish did not play around. As the fish took me into my backing a couple times, Johan said, “I think this is a better fish than we thought.”

Biscayne Bay Bonefish

After we scooped her up, we got in the water to put her in the sling. Just a hair over eight pounds. I’ll take it! After a long but beautiful day on Biscayne Bay, this was a high note to end on before the long ride home.

I think we are at the point that the Magic City Hustle can now be called, a Saturday. I love it.

Bonefish with Foss and Johan

Before all this COVID-19 fun began, Foss and I were due to make a Miami run and the weather was lining up to be a solid day.  My good friend Johan, had a few open days and said “leave your boat at the house and just ride down and I will push”.  Did not have to twist my arm to get a little bow time.  Foss and I loaded up at 1am and we were southbound and down. 

It was a typical day for this early in the year, winds from the northeast  and plenty of sun. Thankfully there was a warming trend from a light cold snap so the fish were back to being happy. The excitement is palpable as we begin to see the guitar shaped Hard Rock hotel. Not far behind are the high rise building of downtown Miami. A quick phone call to Johan, “Hey boys, y’all are early!” he said. “Naa we are just ready”, I replied.  

We load up our stuff, catch a few of the boat ramp antics as we idle out before Johan puts her on plane. There is nothing like feeling those emerald waters beneath your feet as the warm South Florida sun hits your face. Love our Florida winters.  The run across was easy.  Just a slight roll and a tiny bit of chop. We were planning on hunting tailing fish early in the day and then move as the tide changed. 

Foss and I have spent countless hours on a skiff, panga, bass boat.  You name it, we have fished it. So although Johan was a little hesitant, he was impressed we could simultaneously fish on the bow. I took the high post on the casting platform as Foss hanged ten on the nose. 

My first shot at a large tailing fish was a no go. First cast was good but a little off the mark as I didn’t trust the wind.  A quick pickup and put back was right in the zone, “I don’t think he saw it”, Johan barked. I felt the same. The fish just never reacted, just kept on his way as he moved out of range. 

The next fish came in at our two o’clock.  Rather than spinning the boat, Foss took his shot with the spinning rod.  Good cast, two hops and the fish blows out. oh well. We stalked a few more fish over the course of the next hour or so and as we approached the edge we saw a small group of fish patrolling an old prop scar.  I passed the backhand shot to Foss and with a great cast he was hooked up.  Two strong runs and the fish was boatside, unhooked and on his way safely. 

Good time to move.  We made a short and an adjustment to the plan with the shifting winds. I was on point and had a nice shot at incoming fish. The fly lands, a fish shoots out of the group, pins the fly.  I come tight but only for a split second and he is gone. My follow up shot, went ignored. Shit.  No time to sulk.

A small pair are approaching just as the last group. It was an exactly replay of the last shot but once I was tight, he was mine. Certainly not the size we were looking for but just a little singing of the reel before a quick boat-side release and I was all good. 

Early Bonefish

After sticking a few fish we decided to go look at some new water we had been eyeing. It was a little bit of a run but no one seemed to care. We exchanged a little time on the poling platform just looking and getting a feel for the area. It is always nice to see how the water moves across the flat, the sun angle, bottom topography.  It all matters and something you have to see in person. 

We did start seeing some larger singles and once we got Foss in range it didn’t take long.  This was a little better fish and had the attitude of his big brother. Jason was pulling away at this point but no one is really keeping score.  

The last stop of the day gave me two shots at really big fish.  Admittedly, I botched the first one. Just misjudged it. We were nose to nose and as we were both closing in on one another.  The cast long and leadered him right down his back and the fly just past his tail. I wasn’t happy.  That was the big fish I wanted and blew it.

Thankfully I did get another chance but this one wasn’t to be either. It all lined up right, cast, angle, fly swung in and he just wasn’t having it.   As the sun was getting a little low we decided to make our way off and see if we could get one more shot.  As I mentioned earlier, Foss had been on, and this final shot was no different. Same shot, 2 o’clock moving to twelve…good cast. Great eat!  

As he was fighting the fish I call out a shark, he was a little ways out but knew something was up.  Thankfully, we were able to keep the boat in between the two and as Johan hustled to close the gap between us and the Bonefish, Foss added a little extra pressure that would either bring him in or break him off safely.  This is one of the reasons we carry a net. We got just close enough to net him before he decided to make another break for it which could’ve done him in.

We supported him in the net as we pushed off the flat to the point we could lower the motor and idle away. Once we moved to an area that was all clear Foss hopped out and got a quick photo before releasing him.  

Bonefish to end the day

Just another great day with even better friends. A long ride home but reminiscing about the day on the water guides us home safely. 

The Magic City Hustle

We are going to do a little flashback for this post. So for the past 18mo. or so I have been trailering down to Biscayne Bay in a little move I call the Magic City Hustle.

Alarm is set for 12am and departure from Oviedo is typically 1-130am, which puts us in Miami somewhere around 545a to 615a depending on time of year and sunrise. We typically fish 8-10hr day unless storms cut us a little short and head for home around 4pm with an approx. 9pm arrival home. It is not for the faint of heart or those that value a good nights sleep but I always enjoy a good adventure, so The Magic City Hustle was born.

Our first run down about 18mo. ago with with Foss. He has traveled to Mexico and Belize with me to chase bonefish and permit so he was a natural choice for the inaugural run.  Jason is my choice when I need to explore new fishing areas.  Our friendship goes back years and born through tournament fishing, so he possesses two of the best qualities in a fishing partner. He is an excellent angler and he keeps his mouth shut!

Our research was done via google earth and drawing on past experiences from times spent in Mexico, Belize and The Bahamas. We had a game plan and were just going to go for it. Weather looked good, winds appeared to be light(the Bay can get nasty quick)and Foss was armed with the famous Jig. #nochum #nobait

Upon our arrival is was about a 2 out of 10 at the ramp, thankfully we were there early as we know this ramp is famously featured on the Qualified Captain quite often and we wanted no part of that.

We idled out and hopped on plane and made our way to the first stop. It was what we had hoped for, the look and feel of a beautiful flat in Mexico. Honestly, I was good, I did not even need a fish at that point, to be able to be in that moment, the 12am wakeup call was worth it.

Being our first time in the Bay we surveyed the flat and the way the current moved across it from a distance before making an approach. Too many times people be anxious in a new fishery and run right up to a spot and hop up on the platform and start poling. This usually ends up with spooked fish and missed opportunities because of being too impatient to survey the location. Or, some just rely on others to show or give them spots and exactly how to fish it so they can look like a hero on Instagram. Such a shame.

After we had a quick look I noticed we were going to have to circle around and approach from a different angle due to the sun and current. This gave Foss a few minutes to get situated, check the drag and tie a fresh knot.

We had not been on the flat 15 minutes and here they come, a group of those black tailed devils that so many have nightmares about. The best part about them showing up virtually out of thin air is you have less of a chance at making a mistake. We have all been there, seen a group or single approach and as you are trying to get into position, they change direction, put you in a pinch and poof, they are gone.

Admittedly, I froze for a split second as almost in awe of seeing them plus, I had no where to go. We were in position, I called them to Foss and he seemed to seem them right when I did and his cast was on its way. Jason, who is excellent with the spinning rod was right on target.

He hopped it twice, the permit moved on it to take a better look and he reeled it in feverishly thinking we was off target. The part of the school he was looking at was slightly more to the right and didn’t see exactly how many fish were there. As the jig was on its way back to the boat I began to holler as there were five fish chasing it, and he was late to see them. Thankfully, his second cast was on target and those fish that had chased the jig to the boat, shot back towards the school just as Jason’s second cast landed and a permit ate it immediately.

 

It was 8am and we already had a permit on, life was good. His first run was impressive and although I probably did not need to get off the platform I hopped down and fired the motor just to be sure. We slowly worked closer as Foss fought his first “domestic” Permit, he caught one in Mexico on a trip we had the previous summer, coincidentally one year ago to the day. The fight was a nervous ten minutes and each blistering run is a shot to the heart and shortens your breath. The last 20 feet seemed to be the longest as they can use that wide body and just not budge. I typically 12 pound Fluorocarbon as a leader so we can pull pretty good but popping one off at the boat would just be heart breaking.

 

Finally, we ease her into the net and it is high fives all around! The long morning trip and early wake up call was all worth it. We took a few quick photos sent the beautiful fish back on her way and had a celebratory “nip” of bourbon! With the strong current we had drifted a pretty good way but we needed that idle back to catch our breath before moving getting back up on the platforms.

We made another pass but to no avail. Honestly, the next target was one of the other two slam fish, Bonefish and Tarpon. I had a few other flats to stop at that I had marked but tarpon really were not on the target list when we were planning this trip so that was going to be found on a whim. We certainly we not prepared for any tarpon over just a 8-15lb fish due to our equipment but Jason and I are only luke warm on tarpon anyway so we elected to worry about the bonefish first.

Our next stop was not too far but turned out to be a bust, the flat looked good but I believe we were just there at the wrong time. The next flat was the same, the tide had backed off and was about ready to change so we covered some water in anticipation of that switch. Our fourth stop paid off and found a few bonefish that were eager to eat. It was decision time, do we go look for baby tarpon or keep after bonefish. It was a quick decision and we kept looking for bonefish and wanted to look back at the first flat we caught the permit to see it on the opposite tide.

One more bonefish for Foss and the day was getting late. We had a bit of a bumpy ride in and as we were idling in the channel back to the ramp Foss says, “You know if you just want to drive home on this day’s high and not stay tonight and fish a 1/2 day tomorrow, it would be fine with me”. I hadn’t made any reservations as the place we were planning on staying had plenty of rooms. Thought to myself, today was great, if we strike out tomorrow, man it would be a long drive home.

We put it on the trailer and reminisced on the fish from the day the entire way home. It was a long day down and back but it was worth it.  Truthfully it means even more that we did it ourselves with no outside help.

The Magic City Hustle was born.

There have been quite a few more runs since this one.  Successful and not so successful but those that know me know, if I had to chase only one fish for the rest of my life, it would be Bonefish. Still maintaining my dream to expand into South Florida one day.

Bow time for Bonefish

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. 

Johan's Chittum Islamorada 18

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. 

Photo Oliver Rogers

Photo Oliver Rogers

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. 

Clearing Line

Photo Oliver Rogers

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. 

Headed to the Horizon

Photo Oliver Rogers

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. 

Good Bonefish

Photo Oliver Rogers

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.