Of Bones and Birds, and Shrimp of Course

Wade fishing Cayman, low tide, dusk.

May 5, 2004

Went fishing today, walked a country mile to catch a bonefish… but catch one I did.

The tide was dead low, and half the bay was uncovered. I saw a flat I’d never walked before, only barely suspected was there. I walked through mud and soggy turtle grass, around mangroves and across shallow pools where snappers darted beneath my feet and stood out there with nothing but the wind in my ears and not a fish to be seen. Yet, it was beautiful: light northeast breeze, clear skies, and birds resting on the dry flats. I thanked God for it all.

It was the birds that did it, flying off like they do. They flew over a school of bonefish that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. I heard the splash when they spooked and turned to see the wake as they swirled around before settling down again. I trudged through the muddy grass to reach them.

I fished them well, I thought, but they wouldn’t eat. I had on a chartreuse fly, which may have been a mistake. Certainly they saw it, but it just seemed to make them nervous. If they’d been feeding they may have eaten it, but these were laid-up fish, resting in the shallows on a slack tide. I changed flies. Still nothing, and by then the fish had moved so that I had to cast with the wind over my right shoulder. Not good. And the new fly also seemed to make them uneasy. Must not look like food, I guess.

I waded out to get a better casting angle and changed flies again. This time I tied on an old, beat-up shrimp fly. It was missing one eye and of its original four legs had only two, both on the same side. I had good versions, but I refused to use a fresh one for myself—I needed those for my clients. This was partly laziness—they’re a pain in the ass to tie—but also a move to keep the odds against me. More and more that’s how I like my own fishing. Just the fact I was here, in a place I’d never fished before when I knew there would be fish on other flats—less muddy, easier to reach flats, where I know what the fish wanted to eat—well, that sort of says it all.

I worked out a cast and let the fly sink. The school approached and I gave it a slow strip. There! A wake followed. Suddenly I came tight and my leader went sheering through the water. Bonefish scattered like birds.

Within minutes I removed the hook and gently rubbed the head of a bonefish I’d never seen before. It swam away and I checked my beat-up fly. I sure wish there was another pattern that worked so well.

The fish were gone I didn’t feel the need to find more. Time to head home, back over the miles of grass and mud; I would walk and think about shrimp flies, birds, and bonefish and how sometimes you have to walk a bloody country mile to learn something you already knew.

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    […] it takes flocks of birds, new water, and a beat up shrimp fly to show you something you already knew, as Davin Ebanks finds after “walking a country […]

  • Reply

    Very nice – as usual.

    Question from a bonefish know-nothing. Do you know or get the sense that the fish coming onto the flats in a particular area are the same fish or is there a continual turnover of populations/individuals?

    • Reply

      I think a bit of both… or rather, it’s usually the same dudes in some areas but in others the fish move around more. This is particularly true in closed-off areas like the ‘lagoon’ flats we have down here, and also truer (I think) of younger fish that tend to school together on certain flats day after day. So, broadly, not a continuous turnover, but just because you see a big girl on a flat today at low tide, don’t mean she’ll be there tomorrow.

      • Reply

        Thanks for the reply Davin. I ask because of some reading on C&R I’ve been doing. There have been a number of C&R studies on bonefish recently, recovery rates following capture etc. I just wondered what the recapture chances might be like. I suppose I always assumed that with a huge ocean at their backs it would be virtually nil but perhaps not given what you say.
        Anyway, thanks again

  • Eric English

    Good story. I liked looking at the messed up flies the Bahamian guides pulled out last year. They probably work better than new ones. Maybe you can show a photo of your broken fly so tyers can make an replica! Or is it that only a bonefish has to mangle it to prove that it works or you have a story to tell?
    I hate “post-holing” in deep sticky mud! Reminds me of my mountaineering days.

  • sensitive soul

    “a move to keep the odds against me”..

    because when it all lines up in your favor, you know it was not just luck.

    Ya made me smile today D.

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