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

Sunset, island style... that's the way you end the day.

June 27, 2004

Occasionally, just occasionally circumstances and luck align in favor of the angler. Lord knows anglers get enough bad luck, it’s only fair that it swings the other way every once and a while. Call it bad luck for the fish, I guess.

Yesterday I was wading the Head of Barkers waiting for fish to show up on Skinny’s Flat. I think it was a rising tide, but tides run strangely in that area since it’s a point of shallow bars surrounded by contrary currents. It’s also near enough to a couple channels in the barrier reef that predicting tides there is almost impossible. The best you can get is within a couple hours or so and wait it out. It’s got to turn sometime.

Things were quiet out there, so I decided I’d wade out and check the deeper fringes. Sometimes you’ll find a few singles and doubles working the edges on no particular tide and for some reason these are usually good fish.

Northwest of Skinny’s is a shallow bar composed mostly of small corals and other scattered bottom growth—sponges, sea fans, sparse grass. There are also a couple sandy patches that make for good fish spotting windows, the dark shapes of big bones easily silhouette over the white sand. Thing is, I’d fished this little bar several times in the past week and saw nothing but boxfish on it. Which is fine. Nothing wrong with boxfish, provided they’re big enough to take the fly. They fight well and take pinpoint casting, just the right fly, and a delicate hook set [7]. The main frustration is that, viewed head on, a boxfish at twenty meters looks a lot like a big bonefish—same color, same pointy head. Not until they turn sideways can you see the characteristic squat body and tail markings that tells you it’s not a bone. It can be quite humiliating to realize you’ve been hunched over holding your breath trying to talk a boxfish into eating your fly.

Of course, the first thing I see as I wade up to that flat is a big boxfish moving my way. It looked like a bone at first, but by the way it was poking along I knew it was a boxfish. Still, it was a slow day and I just wanted a tight line of any kind, so I cast. The fly dropped a couple meters in front of the fish and in its direct line of travel. I let it the fly sink and gave it a short, quick strip. The fish seemed to see it so I gave it another short, slow twitch—you can’t move a fly too fast or the boxfish can’t catch it—and waited for the fish to swim over. It was blowing like eighteen knots, gusting to twenty, so I was fishing an intermediate tip line and short leader to cut through the wind better. That meant my fly was now dragging across the bottom instead of bouncing along it. I could feel tick, tic as it occasionally caught on coral or weeds. It would snag any moment and the game would be up, but the fish was still following the fly’s halting progress in that slow cautious way boxfish have. Finally the fly stuck on the bottom. Damn. I gave it a sharp pull to free it, the fly jumped forward a couple inches, and the fish darted forward and ate. It all happened so quickly that I was taken by considerable surprise, my strike more a reflexive response than anything. The line came tight and as it did so the ‘boxfish’ turned broadside to me and, bloody hell, it was a bonefish!

I landed that fish several minutes later—after a breathless, high-stepping run straight at it to keep from being cut off on the hard edge of the flat. That fish took almost a hundred yards and would probably have gone seven pounds if I had chosen to weigh it. It was a 27-inch bonefish anyways, and one I would never have caught had I not been tricked into fishing it properly. Ok, it wasn’t perfectly huge, but it sure was big enough for me [8].

I learned a lot from that experience. First, move the fly less, not more, if you want to fool the big boys. Second, fish every fish like it’s the only one you’ll see that day. It just could be. As it turns out, I drew a blank back on Skinny’s Flat but I had a good fish under my belt and didn’t mind so much.

Later that evening as I lounged on a beach chair up at Driftwood Village and watched the light show of the sunset hour, I reflected that if we are often robbed by circumstance and ‘bad luck’, we are occasionally graced by fate. That seems to even things out somehow. I also reflected that the mudslides tasted especially good this evening, what with the damp southeast breeze on my face, salt spray in the air, and a big fish fresh in my mind. Felt like breaking even to me.
7 A boxfish you say? Well, if you haven’t caught a big one then you’ve no right to judge, so keep your opinion to yourself. [back]
8 And if a seven-pound bone isn’t big enough for you then I’ve gotta ask: “Just who the hell you think you are anyways?” [back]

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  • Reply

    Yup, for the most part. Some days it’s hard to see beyond the fate of your situation, but then you wake up one day and just see things differently.

  • sensitive soul

    I like the lessons you got from this experience. Do you still feel luck and fate are breaking even?

  • Reply

    PS. Love the paintings… especially the landscapes. I wish more artists would bring that kind of sensitivity to fish/fishing paintings.

  • Reply

    Yeah, bonefish of any size are a blast! I remember fishing in Ascension Bay for those little guys in like no water with my 6-weight. Tooo much fun. Glad to hear you’re hooked.

  • Reply

    Awesome. I just returned from my very first bonefishing experience. My wife and I went to Cozumel. There are some really nice flats on the north end of the island. I hooked a couple and spooked about 300. There are lots and lots of small (7 to 12 inches) bonefish there. They travel in schools of maybe 7 to 20 fish and when you cast to the tailing school you line the traveling school in front of them! Anyway, it was a blast and I can’t wait to try it again.

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