Eleuthera Bonefishing--Feb. 11-18
Back recently from a week on Eleuthera, with roughly equal time spent bonefishing and then doing other activites (snorkeling [Papaw Beach was very interesting, with an octopus and large schools of tiny iridescent blue fish], sightseeing (The Cliffs, Harbour Isand), swimming in the nice pool at our villa, eating grouper and “crawfish” [lobster without claws]). Here’s the fishing report:
Eleuthera has bonefish; getting them to take your fly isn’t easy. We went with one guide (Paul Petty) on our first day fishing (right in Governor’s Harbor, on the Caribbean side near the library and the church), and another (Denny Raskine) on our last (Savannah Sound, including some wading with the boat being towed along behind—great fun). In between we fished some really beautiful water and had luck catching on our own at Savannah Sound and Balara Bay. Final tally: 3 small to medium bones for me, same for my brother-in-law, several hooked then lost, misc. strikes without hookups. We each caught one the first day with Paul (a gentleman guide whose father is also a fly-casting bonefisherman, so how many years has he been at it? A lot, and he never gets rattled or makes you feel stupid, even when you are), then caught two on various flats/beaches the next two days. We then went two days straight without a fish or a hit. Our final outing with Denny was great, though basically fishless, since he is a very engaging guy and knows his home waters of Savannah Sound so well (born and raised there, now 40). The show-stopper on that outing was casting to a couple of fairly big tailing bones from Denny’s boat, then losing the fish to a broken tippet (see below).
Two hours before and after low tide turn out to be the best for finding tailing bonefish—tailing happens when they feed in very shallow water (not new news to experienced bonefishers, but new to us). Tailing bonefish appear to be easier to catch than cruising fish (contrary to what I’ve read in other places), especially cruisers in singles or twos and threes. My impression is that tailing fish are paying so much attention to eating that they forget to be as wary as they are all the rest of the time. Ease of catch, based on our experience: 1) tailing fish, 2) large schools traveling toward you, then 3) miscellaneous fish in smaller groups, cruising.
Bonefish can see and hear very well. As soon as they’re aware of something out of the ordinary, they tend to become cautious. Fishermen are not the only threat—barracuda make them very nervous, too, and sharks (when either or both of those are present, there is a lesser chance of hooking up). Best luck, therefore, is if they don’t know you’re there yet. So the premium is on being able to see them from as far away as possible, estimate their direction of travel, and then put a fly out in front of where you hope they’ll be. When they get closer to the fly, you do some very short strips, not too quick, to get them interested. I lost a fish stripping too fast and hard.
Drag needs to be set loose, then adjusted while playing the fish if necessary. I lost two fish to a drag set too tight, even though it didn’t seem very tight to me. Landed three fish on that setting, but then lost the two bigger ones when they made quick sideways pulls. Another factor may have been having my left hand lightly on the line as it was being pulled through the guides by the fish. A common habit for me when catching stripers, I think it cost me a really nice fish (the tailing fish that took our guide’s crab pattern, as described below).
Fish in really skinny water are very hard to entice. They’ll frustrate the heck out of you with their indifference; they seem to know you aim to do them harm. We saw lots of fish in 2-3 feet of water less than 10 feet from the beach. None of them wanted anything to do with our flies. Perhaps the word on Eleuthera bonefish is accurate—they’ve become very well educated.
The fish we caught were either ones our guide saw and had us cast to, or ones we caught blind casting as we waded flats and beaches—not the usual story for bones, I know. Best luck seemed to be in casting over turtle grass beds on the flats, far enough out for neither fish nor fisherman to see each other. These hookups were on moving tides well past low—higher tides that would make tailing impossible.
The most interesting, and frustrating, encounter was with 2-4 tailing bones (sometimes more, sometimes less) at a place called Balara Bay, who stayed in essentially the same spot for an hour. I cast near them, on them, behind them, for that whole time. Some of the casts spooked them, but they always came back after just a few minutes. I did get a couple of taps on the fly, but no takes. So, these hour-long tailers were clearly not interested in any of the three flies I tried using (bunny gotcha, sparkling shrimp, flats fly). My heart got a really good workout, pounding with excitement for so long. Maybe I should have changed flies with every cast……
The tailer I lost in Savannah Sound (south of the bridge, on a rising tide, from Denny’s boat) enthusiastically took a crab-like pattern (our guide’s fly, one that looked much like the fabled Del’s Merkin, a permit fly I think). In that case, the fly landed about 3 feet in front of the tailing fish; he turned and grabbed it, then took off--and then the leader, 11lb. fluorocarbon tippet, snapped and he was gone. Wish I had brought a crab fly, like the one he swam away with, along with me for the tailing bones at Balara.
Two of the fish I caught were on that “flats fly,” one that I purchased from Jim at the Natick Outdoor Store. Jim said it was a hot fly, and that turned out to be true, except for those tailers at Balara Bay that evening. I think the 11 lb. tippet may have been a mixed blessing; one angler said he stuck with 8 lb. and spooked fewer fish that way.
We talked to a few other fishermen in stores and restaurants, and met two on the beach (not a crowded fishery, obviously). One fellow had caught five fish over 20 inches one morning at Savannah Sound—he was fishing two days before we got there and had calmer weather than most of our fishing days. He found that his success slowed down as the wind picked up, so weather did play a factor in how successful we were, I believe.
If I were going again, I might go a little later in the year—March or April rather than February—for what is usually a season with more fish in the water. I’d make a more targeted effort to go fishing a couple of hours before and after low tide (though there is a definite early morning and then evening bite). I’d take garlic pills for a couple of weeks to ward off the no-see-ums that come out in the evening and whose bites itch like crazy for days. But I’d go back to Eleuthera pretty much any time at all, if I had the chance, for the beauty and simplicity of the place, and the thrill of seeing bonefish cruising and thinking they might want to play. Two of the fish I caught, though not all that big, were strong enough to take all 90 ft. of fly line and about 40-50 ft. more of backing. They made second and third runs with as much energy as the first, and fought hard all the way. What a thrill to be hooked up to such remarkable fish! Just imagine if they grew to the size of big stripers—probably could never land them at all.