BREAKING EVEN: A Month in Bonefishing (Pt. IV)

Hooked Up!

June 2004

I was once fishing a favorite flat with a new fly, a killer pattern I’ll say I discovered. I’d already taken several schoolies with it from South Sound and figured I’d try it on the big boys. It was a tough morning. Intermittent light and high water made for tough fish spotting conditions. Whenever we got a gap in the clouds we’d hurriedly scan the area for puffs and muds—sure signs of feeding fish. I think either my dad or I took a fish early that morning but, though I’m sure it was a nice fish, it doesn’t stick in my mind.

What I do remember was the fish I hooked while casting to what I half thought, half guessed was a series of puffs in a narrow channel. I cast and retrieved with no luck but instead of picking up for another cast, I simply let the fly sit on the bottom. It was tough fishing and not believing we’d do much more that day, I was making some comment about the poor fishing to my dad. In mid-sentence I started to pickup the fly for another cast, but my fly fouled on the bottom. I was in no mood and stripped hard, looking to pull the fly loose or break it off. But, the bottom moved… and then shook its head. It was a fish, a big fish. One so big it didn’t even know it was hooked until I had given it that hard pull. It began to move off, slowly at first, but when it became sure of my pressure it bolted so fast that I had fly line jumping around my shoulders. When the fish came to the end of this I felt my rod being pulled from my hands. A loop of line had caught around the butt of the rod! The drag gave a short, unceremonious screech as the rod buckled and the leader snapped [6].

I’m still not sure I’m over that.

My dad once told me of another big fish experience that left him holding a bent rod and looking like a fool. He was fishing with a buddy—a newbie to the sport who just wanted to see how it was done—and he saw a pair of fish coming in from deeper water. In the angle of light he could see them distinctly, not just their puffs and fins when they tailed and fed. He cast and when they got near the fly he made a long, quick strip. Both fish surged forward and one pinned the fly to the bottom. The hookup was textbook—now that is how it’s done—and in seconds the fish was on the reel and running.

Now, this flat is covered in rich turtle grass with no mangrove shoots, stumps, or coral that we knew of. There are deep, grassy flats all around and mostly those big boys take the fight out there, maybe with the thought of  hitting the nearest coral heads. However, with the nearest of those a couple hundred yards from shore, this is one of those beautiful situations where if you hook a big one your chances of landing it are quite good—apart from angler error or knots failing, and my dad ties pretty good knots.

That first run ended with the fish gradually slowing and holding solid about a 200 feet out. My dad couldn’t budge it, in fact, couldn’t even feel a kick or a shake on the end of his line. Very un-bonefish like. When he hooked up my dad had called his buddy over to watch how it was done. Maybe he missed the hookup but he could still watch the fight and help land it, or at least shoot the obligatory hero pic. Instead he just stood there watching my dad hold a bent rod that appeared fastened to the ocean floor. After a minute or so of this stalemate—neither fish nor fisherman seeming to gain advantage—my dad realized something was wrong and decided to investigate. Keeping pressure on the line he reeled in and walked toward what he hoped (without much conviction) was a stubborn bonefish.

Turns out he was connected to the ocean floor after all. That fish had bolted for the only rock on the flat and swam right around it. Dad’s knotless, tapered leader had been pulled into a crevice in the rock, but it hadn’t frayed or cut. Instead, the line had jammed as the thickening taper was pulled through the crack by a bonefish doing about twenty miles per hour. Eventually the thickening leader could be pulled no farther and the fish broke off. It then swam away leaving my dad with a bent rod and nowhere to go, his leader jammed tight into that coral head.

My dad later told me that the section of leader that had been pulled through the crack in the rock had been squeezed flat. Several feet of it was hanging out of the other side of the rock; the force of that bonefish’s run had essentially extruded the round monofilament into a ribbon.

“Must’a been a good knot,” I said, “to hold up to that kind of pressure…”

“Yeah, at least it was the leader, not the fly line.”

“Yeah, at least.”

6 Yeah, it’s funny now but at the time it was hard to be philosophical about losing what was undoubtedly the biggest bonefish I’d ever hooked. (Remember, the ones that get away are always the biggest. SOP.) [back]

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