My early days of bonefishing were all about frustration. Multiple trips to locations in the Keys went unfulfilled. As I contemplated the myriad reasons for my failures, it appeared difficult to pinpoint a single cause of my woes, so manifold were my deficiencies. It was impossible to untangle the web of inadequacy I had woven as my quest to become a saltwater fly fisherman began. I learned quickly from my first guided bonefish trip that my casting skills, of which I was unjustifiably proud at the time, were adequate for fishing tiny trout streams, but totally inadequate for chasing bonefish. I was a victim of the trap so many people fall into in many areas of life. I simply did not know enough about the flats environment, and the wonderful fish they hold, to know how much I did NOT know. One of my first trips ended prematurely when the guide, frustrated by my ineptness, put away his push pole and motored us to his nearby house, where we spent the next three hours in casting lessons. He demonstrated that essential element of basic saltwater fly casting known as the double haul, but he was casting his pearls before a swine that day.
Ultimately I did assimliate the double haul technique. I recall purchasing a VHS videotape ( remember them?), and watching and re-watching the instructor teach his method of double hauling. The routine was watch, pause the tape, run out to my front yard, and try to replicate what I had just seen. Typically, I ended up wrapping myself in a cacoon of fly line and backing, and being completely frustrated. Ultimately, it all clicked and Eureka! I remember thinking “Oh! That’s what he is talking about.” it was like I entered a different dimension of casting, a world where gravity did not exist and the laws of physics had been suspended. I was now ready to boat my first bonefish.
Someone had told me about bonefishing in the Bahamas. I was told that it was actually possible to catch one of those silvery apparitions on the abundant flats there, particularly Abaco. Off I went to “Different of Abaco”, an establishment run by the colorful and flamboyant Miss Nettie Symonette. Suffice presently to say that being a guest at her now defunct lodge was an experience deserving of its own story. I will simply,as they say, cut to the chase today, by relating a brief synopsis of my first day bonefishing at Abaco.
The weather, as I recall, was not quite ideal, as there was a moderate wind. I suspect, as I look back at it, that it was what today I would consider, light and variable, but at the time, I thought I had arrived in Abaco during hurricane season. Of course, I had further handicapped my fledgling casting skills by bringing my Winston 8 weight, a rod of which I was errantly proud. Now, that rod was a fine choice for casting to bass on my local waters in Carolina, but its lack of any backbone at all, reduced it to a strand of al dente spaghetti as a casting tool, useless in the hands of a novice such as myself. I was reduced to a mass of quivering frustration, as my guide Jimmy, another of Abaco’s colorful inhabitants, showed me fish after fish.
By the second day, I was actually casting a bit better, and was able to at least get the fly in the vicinity of a few fish. As advertised, the Abaconian bones were big and dumb, a trait which had attributed to yours truly on a number of occasions, so I did feel a certain bond with them, even before actually holding a specimen in my hands. Incredibly, my first couple of presentations were refused, even by these eager eaters. I was throwing a fly given to me by a guide in Florida, billed by him as the world’s number one bonefish fly. I suspect that, in reality, it was a fly destined for his trash heap, but gifted to me, an ignorant newbie grateful for this secret “treasure”.
Jimmy asked me to bring the fly to his position at the stern, where he inspected it, and then made one of those guide sounds indicating his displeasure with my Keys guide hand tied, world class fly. His thin, nicotine stained fingers dug into the breast pocket of his tattered shirt and produced a fly which I had never seen. He managed to tie it on my tippet, despite the unsteadiness of his hands, and told me to try this one. On cue, a school of about fifty bones approached the boat from dead ahead. Conditions were ideal at the time, and I managed a cast of maybe forty feet. It dropped ahead of the school. Jimmy instructed me to let the fly sit. As the lead fish crossed over the fly, the order to strip was given. I bumped the fly slightly, and miracle of miracles, I was tied fast to my first bonefish. Once landed, I looked the fly over. “What is this thing, Jimmy?”, I enquired. ” A Gotcha”, was his response. Obviously, I was unfamiliar with that type of fly, but it was all I used for the remainder of the trip. I caught many, many bonefish on that Abaconian adventure. I felt like I was finally a real bonefisherman and a flats man. Intially, I thought the designation “Gotcha” referred to the fish. Now I know better.
Above is a photo of one of the dozen Gotchas I tied yesterday for my upcoming trips to the Bahamas. Sometimes simple can also prove to be most effective. that is certainly true in the case of the Gotcha. If I had but a single species to pursue for the duration of my days, it would clearly be the bonefish. If I had but a single fly to offer them, it would be the Gotcha.
Here is how to tie it:
1- Hook of your choice- I use Mustad 34007, size 4 and 6
2- Pink thread wrapped eye to bend
3- Small mylar tubing with the inner core removed, tied at back of hook, left protruding maybe half the length of hook. Once secured to hook with thread, fluff the fibers out
4- Wrap thread back towards eye. Stop about 1/4 shank length from eye.
5- Add eyes. It is best to use a variety of weighted eyes- bead chain, small lead, and heavy lead eyes, to match the water depth you may be fishing at any given time. I usually tie a couple of “blind Gotchas” with no eyes at all for super skinny tailing situations where the bones can be extremely skittish.
6- Wrap back to where you tied in mylar and tie in crystal braid and bring the thread back to hook eye, suspending bobbin on thread holder of vise.
7- Wrap crystal braid back to the eyes you aded. Figure of eight around eyes.
8- Tie off crystal braid beyond the eyes.
9- Invert hook and add a clump of craft fur with a couple strands of crystal flash.
10- Whip finish. I prefer to coat wraps with Clear Cure Goo.
I have created a variation of the Gotcha which I especially fond of. I call it the AV fly. The AV is an abbreviation of its scientific name, the Argent Vulpes. As we know, the scientific name of the bonefish is Albula Vulpes, or white fox. The AV is the silver fox. Its wing, instead of craft fur, is tied with an increasingly rare material , very hard to find. I have a supply secreted away in my tying drawer.
How about a nano-contest for my readers? The first person to guess what this rare tying material is will recieve a custom tied fly using that precious commodity. Just leave your guess in the comment section. Put on your thinking caps, boys and girls!