Fishing for Bonefish in the Windy City

A fishing trip report, should by its very nature, be the antithesis of creative writing. It has been suggested by a number of my friends that my reports routinely blur the line between objectivity and my irresistable urge towards a little embellishment, designed to simply enhance the telling of the tale. Any alterations of small details such as fish size or numbers are merely meant to augment the reader’s enjoyment. Despite this, I shall attempt to recount my recent trip as impartially as possible. I retain the right, however, to refuse a completely dispassionate narrative.

Any sane angler would jump at the oportunity to take an all expense paid trip  to a tropical location, well known for its bountiful flats fishing. When my partners offered such a trip to me ( and my wife as well) as a retirement gift, I did hesitate momentarily. Being frugal, some might say parsimonious, in my approach to business, I was uneasy accepting such an extravagant gift. After some reflection on my previous trips to this location and on the encouragement of my partners, I finally acquiesced and allowed them to make the arrangements.

I had fished at Pelican Bay, in Freeport, on Grand Bahamas Island, a number of times before. The fishing there is as predictable as any and adds the attractions of being a modern, comfortable resort, complete with pools, spas, and all the usual amenitites of any tropical resort. Located only a hundred yards away is the Lucaya Square, a tourist attraction ( “trap”), featuring a number of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. All this makes Pelican Bay an excellent choice for anglers travelling with spouses who may not share their passion for casting flies on remote spots many miles away from the nearest powder room.

As sometimes happens, the weather was uncooperative for much of our trip. The first fishing day may have been the least desirable conditions this angler has yet encountered. Greg Vincent, director of fishing operations at Pelican Bay, remained behind at his command post monitoring his operation that day. Jason Franklin, his affable partner and sometime guide, placed my rather voluminous body on the front of his small flats skiff and launched into the fray from the ramp at Dover Sound. We bravely set forth into winds unlike any into which I have ever attempted to cast. We faced a double dilemna that day- winds which, according to Greg’s weather station, varied from a low of 23 mph, to a high of just over 30 mph. On top of that, heavy, thick clouds blanketed the normally bright blue Bahamian skies, reducing visibilty in the clear shallow water to a maximum of perhaps 10 feet. As anyone who has fished for bonefish is aware, it is a game of both hunting and fishing. The bones must be visually identified by the angler, then the cast and presentation of the fly is made. The double jeopardy of high winds and limited visibility made the task nearly impossible. Predictably, my scorecard for that first day showed a big fat goose egg.

Given the choice, most flats anglers would choose strong, constant sunlight over the aggravations of wind. Typically, guides can work around wind, finding spots that both hold fish and offer some shelter from the cast destroying winds that can blow unobtructed across the flats. Although heavy cumulous clouds occasionally form and concentrate over the land mass of islands, anglers can sometimes escape by moving further away from the main island. The strong cold front that moved slowly over Grand Bahama Island obscured the sun from horizon to horizon for the next two days, making sighting the fish a nightmarish task. I was quite frustrated by this, despite the fact that the wind had began to dissipate slowly. All day, as I searched for the fleeting dark forms of bones, my mind began to paraphrase Shakepeare’s Richard III– “Light, light, my kingdom for light!!!”

I did manage to bring a few bones to the boat those next couple of days, averaging 6 to 8 fish per day, but the crown jewel of the trip proved to be Wednesday. My bride and the love of my life ( other than coming fast to a ten pound bonefish, of course) joined me on the boat. Along with our veteran guide and all around bone vivant, Ish, we once again launched at Dover Sound and headed east, in search of our quarry. Unlike the character in Melville’s epic tale, Moby Dick, our guide never uttered those famous opening words, “Call me Ishmael”. He, in fact, preferred the abbreviated moniker “Ish.” A native Bahamian, Ish had been born and raised in the idyllic setting of Water Cay, where he learned from an early age the intracacies of bonefish behaviour. I never ceased to be amazed at his ablity to find and predict the behavour of these wonderful fish.

I realize that in time, my days at the bow of a flats boat, fly rod in hand, must come to an end. I have given some thought to what person with whom I might most want to share that final flats fishing day. The complete exploration of the last bonefish day is worthy of a separate post, but suffice it to say for now, that person would be Miss Sheila, my wife and best friend. She manned the camera whilst I fished, and she was able to capture some wonderful images, a few of which I will add to the present post. The weather had morphed into a chamber of commerce day. Brilliant blue skies were complimented by dead calm wind. Ish again displayed his uncanny knack for finding fish and we saw hundereds of the silvery ghosts working the shorelines of the many small islands on the outside of Grand Bahama. The water was a turquiose blue that mesmerized me. After catching a number of bones, Ish pulled the boat up to a sandy beach for a shore lunch, where we enjoyed our sandwiches and a Kalik, a local beer. That memory will reside permanently in my mind, and I will relive it for the remainder of my days. Feeling the power of the bonefish and enjoying the satisfaction of a sucessful presentation form the essence of the bonefishing experience, but sharing a meal with my bride on a remote uninhabited island, while looking out over pastel waters no painter could recreate, is something that almost brings a tear to this old man’s eye.

We captured a number of bones as well a greater number of memories that day. The fish themselves will fade into the mass of similar fishing days I have been blessed to have over the years, but none can match my only day on the Bahamian flats with Miss Sheila. I discovered a treasure that day, one that I have deposited in my memory bank. Like Martin Luther King , I have a dream as well. Mine would be to spend another day on a flats skiff with Sheila, but this time watching HER cast and bring to hand a ten pound specimen.

Prior to the trip, I spent multiple days tying flies for the journey, including the new Wonder Fly known as the Avalon Fly. It was created by the Italian guides working the southern reaches of Cuba specifically for that most elusive of flats fish, the permit. Circumstances precluding my presenting it to a permit, but the bones devoured it with abandon. Ish was highly enthusiastic about it, and I hope to find time to tie some for him in hopes he can show it to a permit in my stead. As I had made a couple of minor modifications to the fly, Ish suggested that I name it as a separate new fly. So, in his honor, I will call it the “Ish Fish Fly”. It really is quite effective for bonefish. We saw quite a few actually turn around and eat it. I had but a single opportunity at a permit, and of course, I had a different fly on my line at the time. As is typical, the permit turned, followed, then sped away to the safety of a nearby channel.

I did have the pleasure of demonstrating to Sheila and Ish, a phenomenon I observed in the Abacos, hypnotizing a bonefish. A guide at Sandy point once showed me how to perform this trick. Once the fish is at the boat. you can remove the fly, and then stroke the fish’s head repetivively in a back and forth motion, and it will lie motionlees until the rubbing ceases. I have included a short video demonstrating this interesting behaviour.

Consulting my word counter, I see that I have not completely recounted our trip, despite using nearly 1500 words. There is so much to tell, dear reader, and so few words. Perhaps, another day and another post will be required to complete the task. Please leave a comment if there is further interest.

                                                             The “Ish Fish Fly”


About castingawayblog

I am a retired orthopedic surgeon with fly fishing in my bones! Living in coastal South Carolina, saltwater fly fishing is my passion, though I also love to use the long rod in freshwater. I have been known to use conventional gear as well.
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4 Responses to Fishing for Bonefish in the Windy City

  1. jess williams says:

    Loved it Dad! 🙂

  2. Sheila says:

    The highlight of the trip for me was being out on the flats with you! Looking forward to our next fishing trip when I actually fish…and catch!! 🙂

  3. Steven Thomas says:

    Good article hope you have some extra Avelon flies, I have not been able to find the beads to tie up any. Let’s hope the weather is bright blue and calm for next weeks trip.

  4. Paul Sasser says:


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