Stories and Photos by Kevin O'Connor

I met Matt at the Sailloft on the waterfront of Boston for lunch one day in January.  We were reminiscing over the fun we had last year going after stripers at the mouth of the Ipswich River.  Over fish and beer he said, “Hey, what would you think about going down to the Bahamas to do some bonefishing?”  Being a relative newcomer to flyfishing throughout the last three or so years, I hadn’t yet gone after the “ghosts of the flats”.  For that matter, I hadn’t been to the Caribbean yet either.  Matt, a former guide in Montana, had bonefished in Costa Rica but hadn’t been to the Bahamas.  It sounded like the makings of a great adventure.

We each enlisted a friend to come along.  I had to “twist the arm” of my ten-year fishing buddy Steve.  Matt tagged his friend Clay who had been a client of his years ago.  They’ve since grown to become good friends.  I enlisted the help of our own Juro Mukai for the rental of a salt rod, his Sage 990RPXli - and we were ready to make it happen.  I hope you enjoy this journal of our bonefish adventure on the flats of the Bahamas.

We began poking around the ‘net, learning what we could.  Even posting on our forum here.  (Thanks to all who responded!)  We were looking for something a bit remote with nearby, walk-able flats.  Initially we were drawn to Crooked Island and the Aiklins.  The lack of nearby air service deterred us a bit.  We settled on the little island of Spanish Wells off the north end of Eleuthera (translates to "freedom").  We had a nearby airport, a small (and apparently the only) lodging called the Adventurer’s Resort, and a boat rental to get us to the flats.  It promised to be a winner.

On the appointed day, Matt, Steve, and I met at Logan at 6:00am for the trip to Ft. Lauderdale where we met up with Clay and our flight on Island Express to North Eleuthera.  Although we hadn’t all met before, we hit it off right away.  We crowded into the 10-seat Cessna for the hour’s flight to the islands.  Once there, we asked for Calvin who would taxi, then ferry us to Spanish Wells.  We were told that we didn’t need to know Calvin’s last name, everybody knew him, and sure enough it was true.  It was our first experience of many that revealed the essence of life on a small island.  We picked up some beer and rum on Eleuthera (Spanish Wells is dry) and after landing on Spanish Wells, did our shopping at the local grocery store.  We got another ride to complete the remaining half mile to the Adventurer’s Resort.  It proved to be quite comfortable with a wonderful host named “Bea” at the desk who ran the place during the week.  

Bone Voyage! (click to enlarge) We quickly unpacked our stuff and headed down to the marina where we could pick up our boat and head out for a late afternoon’s fishing.  Our boat was a nice little sixteen-foot Whaler, plenty of room to ferry us around the area.

We loaded our stuff onto the boat and headed off to a flat on the leeward side off the north end of Eleuthera, which we had seen during the ride to Spanish Wells.  The sun was shining; the wind was low, but blowing enough to create a little chop.  What more could we ask for on our first day on the island?  The tide was falling at the time, and we stepped onto the flats.  As we spread out across the flats we quickly learned firsthand what guides had suggested to us in our research.  Matt had the only experience seeing these mysterious fish, but that was some time ago.  We had to develop our senses.  All was not lost however, even on that first evening, and the author landed our first bone of the trip, a small one, at the edge of a channel between the flat and the island.  It was a neat fight, but one that only hinted at what these fish could do.

We strode the flats until the light began to fail.  We didn’t have running lights on the boat so we had to head back to port before it got too dark.  We watched the sun begin to set over Spanish Wells and knew that no matter what we’d have a great time.  When we returned to the marina that evening, we talked with some of the locals.  This was an interesting experience.  Many of the natives of Spanish Wells itself are descendents of Tories that left the colonies at the time of the American Revolution.  These folks are considered the newcomers.  The others are from a group of English colonists that missed the main continent in the 1600s.  Spanish Wells is a fishing community, not a tourist destination, so it hasn’t acquired a vanilla Caribbean tourist feel.  Their accent seemed to be a combination of Cornish and Cajun.  I think we only caught every third word or so of those initial conversations.  We did manage to pick up that there would probably be slim pickings for us over the next few days. A “blow” was coming in.  It would bring a north wind in that would not only whip up the surface, making spotting bones difficult, but keeping most of them off the nearby flats period.  Oh well.

A “blow” in the local parlance is not a rainstorm (at least this one wasn’t), but it is a wind.  The next three days were nearly fishless.  The choppy surface made spotting the devils nearly impossible, but we did begin to learn.   We spent two mornings canvassing a large white sand flat off the west end of Spanish Wells.  Mullets and rays tantalized us, but very few bones were in the area cruising around.  We often returned to our first flat, which acquired the name Squishy Flat for reasons that should be self-explanatory.  We spent several afternoons on a relatively small flat just south of Squishy Flat.  It became known as Steve’s flat as he decided to chase the small ‘cudas that darted in and out of the mangroves that lined the island side of that flat.  A large expansive flat tantalized us just across a channel from Steve’s flat, but more on that later.

We gradually acquired the ability to see the ghosts as they cruised, but there were not many of them out and the ones we saw were being picky.  We managed only one more, though a nice one, by Clay, on Saturday afternoon.  I suppose it should have been frustrating, but standing in seventy-five degree, azure blue water under a beautiful sunny sky in March, would make up for just about anything. Fish on! (click to enlarge)

We certainly had our own little adventures along the way as well.  The most memorable was probably from our first full day fishing.  We were up at 5:30 and out on Squishy Flat at about 7:30.  It was our first full day so we were still getting our legs.  This was also the first day of the north wind.  We arrived at the flat and tossed the anchor out.  Matt, Clay, and I pulled on our flats boots and hopped over the gunwales and began to wander off where our fish senses led us.  Steve was putting a new tippet on his line in the boat.  Clay and I looked back at one point and were quite surprised at how far we’d trudged in such a short time.  Suddenly we realized that the boat was free.  The anchor was not tied to the anchor line!  We were unbelievably lucky that Steve had had to change that tippet.  Then we found that, of all of us, Steve was the least experienced with motorboats.  We had trimmed up the motor to bring the boat on the flat and he wasn’t familiar with the controls on the whaler.  To top it off he could barely hear our instructions shouted over the wind!  Finally he managed to get the motor trimmed down and the balky key turned over.  Steve motored over, saving us from our vision of the boat blowing south down the west side of Eleuthera and us swimming the channel between the flat and the island.

Interestingly, the second story I’ll relate also involved Steve.  Saturday we decided to explore a fascinating cut just across the channel from where we rented the boat.  We had floated through to a lagoon the day before and it looked very promising.  As we came through the mangrove-choked entrance we saw a hole ahead.  There, swimming just by the edge of that hole was a good twenty-four inch fish that looked like a bonefish.  Then another swam into view, poked around that hole and headed off into other water.  Steve was already strung up and hopped out of the boat to go after them. It turned out the bottom of this lagoon was very, very soft.  Steve sunk in halfway up his calves.  He could hardly move, but we had seen fish and he prepared to lay out a line to them.  Suddenly, out of the corner of our eyes, we saw a huge barracuda swim toward the hole.  The fish was close to four feet long and swimming in knee depth water. Matt had a spare pole stringed up for ‘cuda with a green popper on it.  He threw the popper in the direction of the monster.  It spooked and took off straight for Steve.  He saw an enormous silver torpedo heading straight for him out of the corner of his eye.  Matt, Clay, and I yelled to him, but he couldn’t move his feet for the life of him.  The beast nearly ran into him before veering off for deeper water.  Steve was shaking for minutes after.

We celebrated our last evening at one of the two restaurants on the island.  We talked about how much we enjoyed our sojourn there on Spanish Wells.  The island was as non-commercial as it could be. Their reliance on fishing rather than tourism made it a great place for us.  While the fishing hadn’t been the best, we had a lot of fun.   As we left the restaurant, however, we noticed something that we hadn’t since the first night.  There was no wind!  We resolved to get out at first light as we could get in several hours before being picked up for our rides to Eleuthera at 10:30.

The morning dawned enticingly.  It was dead low tide, not a cloud in the sky; flags hanging limp.  We hightailed it towards Steve’s flat.  As we entered the channel leading down to it, however, we glanced to the south, to that expansive, tantalizing flat we’d noticed earlier.  

Calm flats and bonefish (click to enlarge) There were schools of tailing bonefish!  It was the first time we’d seen this on the trip.  They were everywhere.   We anchored the boat and spent the next three hours in heaven.  We could stalk the fish.  They let us approach within ten yards as they fed.
We could watch schools, oblivious to us as they wandered and fed, upper tail and dorsal fin broadcasting their whereabouts.  When they spooked, they pushed head wakes for thirty yards until they settled down to feed some more.  As the tide came in they broke into groups of twos and threes that wandered further afield. yeehah! (click to enlarge)

We landed close to twenty in that couple of hours.  That put an amazing cap on a terrific experience.  We hardly spoke as we lounged in the back of the ferry from Spanish Wells to Eleuthera.  We soaked up the last of the Caribbean sun and gazed at the flat that made a perfect ending to an excellent trip.

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