Bermuda Boonefish Encounter
Last week I was on an extended family excursion to celebrate a 50th anniversary with my wife's parents in Bermuda. With the exception of a few hours there was no fishing but I made the most of the time I got.
Checking into the situation on Bermuda, the following tidbits came to light:
Another long rickety ride later the bus driver informed me I was at the Long Bay stop. Judging by the way he waved at everyone in Somerset I assumed he was from the area and he knew exactly where I wanted to go. I thanked him and hopped off to make good just as a lightning storm descended on the area. The area was far enough from touristopia to start showing signs of ill repute as piles of household appliances and neglected homes became the rule. Three locals on their bicycles were swapping small packages for cash, giving me cautious looks. I walked by them demonstrating my interest in the water, keeping my eyes straight to the shore the way I was taught to walk past a barking dog.
Aside from the riff raff, the streets were lined with an explosion of flora and fauna, unlike some of the arid islands further toward the equator. Big flowers like the kind you pay big bucks for up north grew profusely in thick green groves amid the palms. Anoles scattered about and rivers of red ants flowed on the tree trunks where I ducked under to avoid the warn drenching downpour as I put all my valuables into a ziplok bag to avoid soaking them - my passport and ship boarding pass, bus pass, wallet, etc. The park was about 3/4 mile up the road and clearly marked and I hurried to see what the azure waters would hold.
The heavy black skies cleared into patches and the sweltering sun re-appeared as quickly as it had left. I began to string my line thru the guides when I noticed a tent city in the trees behind me. A boy came over to ask questions like "why is de line so fat?" and "what are you trying to catch?".
"Bonefish" I replied, trying to look serious and optimistic; inside looking out from the steelheader/striperhound reality inside my brain at this image of a rain-drenched native boy, feeling every bit the stranger with a dream of an exotic fly fishing experience in this youth's backyard.
"Oh Booonefish!" he replied, as his eyes lit up. "They love chicken" he added, reporting that while handlining for snapper they occasionally hook big Bermuda bonefish that rip the handlines from their hands. He also held out his arms to scary proportions and said as they snorkel along the beach they see "really beeg boonefish" at Long Bay. He also said that the fancy boats come but "they never catch de boonefish, but they really love chicken, are you going to try chicken?" - he asked with a generous smile as if he wished me to succeed. I smiled and appreciated the boys enthusiasm. I felt a little less like the stranger after talking to him and the faces checking me out from the tarp city got bored with looking at the stranger in the flats shirt with the 'fat line' and went about their way. And so did I.
Bermuda might not have a lot of bones, but they have fewer HUGE bones. I wasn't there 5 minutes when I saw two grey shadows gracefully cruising along, thinking mullet? No, too big, confident and missing dark tail tips... cuda? No, wrong head shape and body motion... can't be... hmmm.... they continued to glide along on to the pink sand edge not more than 18 inches deep... sure as **** they are! "BOOONEFISH!" and easily ten pounds each! I didn't get a shot at them but as they moved away I saw the mercuric silver highlights along their lower flanks and the single dorsal, and the unmistakable head shape and eye of the grey ghosts of the flats. I started to mumble to myself, hoping it was not just a fluke, and praying there would be more where they came from.
I immediately changed the uncast crab fly I had on to a small sand colored shrimp pattern and added a longer flouro tippet. I marked the spot on the beach and started to stalk slowly up and down the beach. Sure enough, another one came along from right to left and I let fly... way too close, sending the ghost off like a missle. ARGGH! Three seen, one shot in the first 15 minutes - and I totally lined it! Had to settle down.
Cuda... don't cast. Pod of mullet. I cast anyway, but yes, they are vegetarians - waste of time. An hour passes, another sudden lightning storm erupts and I run under a broad-leafed subtropical tree to relax, bide time and drink some water, thinking "man I could get used to this".
When the sun came back out, the angle has lowered dramatically and visibility was getting poor. Hordes of aquablue "fry" start to get pounded by 'cuda, houndfish and an occasional jack. I am tempted to switch over to the sure hookup, but instead take a tiny sand colored deep eel and trim it down to an inch with my nail clippers before tying it on. I walk along feeling the pressure of time slipping away and the long ride back to meet dinner plans.
Wait - there's a pair, maybe three just a tiny bit more grey than sand color and gliding toward the forebeach - I cast about 8 feet ahead and lightly. Let it settle. Yes, they are coming to it... twitch.... yes a definite advance, still coming, strip.... two are on it, twitch... the fish are now in about 14 inches of water and are definitely checking out the fly! At this point I can see every feature of these huge Bermuda bones and they are just about jamming me they are so close! One rushes ahead and twists it's body in the shallows at it, making a false take but there is no grab - damn they wanted it! But to no avail.
After another quick chat with a fisherman I decide to hike up to the point on the western edge where there are a couple of visible beaches, about 1.5 miles. With little time left, I hurried up and cut through a beautiful resort area on Daniels Head Beach that was vacant for some reason. From the road I could see cuda, mullet, damselfish, triggerfish, parrotfish, all kinds of fish cruising the beach. Then the busting began and I hustled down to the water, put on the wire and a long shank silverside pattern and had a blast hooking 24-30" cuda in the shallows. An occasional houndfish would connect (they hit it a lot) and provide the "poor man's tarpon" fight. Didn't see any bones out on the head but had some fun before hopping back on the pink bus for the l-o-n-g ride back to the love boat.
It wasn't much of an outing, a few hours at best - but it was a revealing peek into what the island can offer. Sure I spent more time on the bus than on the water, but it was a blast. As the rest of the week unraveled I found that cuda were pretty much everywhere and the tides run hard and strong on Bermuda. With huge amounts of bait around in August, any hard running tide gets the fireworks going in a hurry where the current is constricted. I saw some big fish busting in the channels in the strong currents, although I didn't have a flyrod with me at those times.
It might not be the Bahamas or Belize, but Bermuda is a place where you can have shots at some really huge "boonefish" on your own. One of the (perhaps many) spots where this is possible is Somerset Long Bay on the Northwest end. Can't wait to go back!
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