Against the wind
SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS
with a winter bonefish from South Andros Island.
Josie Sands, jacket zipped tight under his chin, looked more like a captain on Lake Michigan than a Bahamian bonefish guide as he piloted the Dolphin skiff from the dock at Little Creek on South Andros Island. It was early November and strains of Bob Seger’s 1980s rock and roll hit "Against the Wind,” ran through my mind. Overhead, palm tree fronds stood at 90-degree angles from their trunks, like flags stiff with starch. The day before the largest cold front to pass through the Bahamas in two years brought clouds, rain, gusting winds and plummeting temperatures to the area. The morning had broken bright and clear, but it was cold, with sustained 25-mile-per-hour north winds.
As the boat jumped to a plane, my partner Ramsey Smith and I were wondering if the other guests, who left the day before, might have been the lucky ones. Even Sands would later admit that he hadn’t given us much of a chance. Fortunately the bonefish didn’t share our dim view of the conditions, and flooded the flats throughout the day. At times the fishing was so fast that Smith and I would strip line off our reels for another cast as the other unhooked his fish. On a day that most anglers would consider impossible, we landed 15 bonefish and cast to hundreds of others, including two dozen that Sands estimated at 12 to 15 pounds.
We were fishing at the Andros South Lodge on fabled South Andros Island and Smith was first up that cold November morning, an incongruous scene that reminded me of a fall day in Maine, superimposed on a Bahamian background. Fortunately the long pants, rubber boots and wind breaker didn’t keep Smith from landing a bonefish moments after we began poling the edge of our first windswept flat.
Casting to bones is challenging in itself. Making a split second presentation to fish that showed up anywhere in a 360 degree arc, in a stiff wind, was a real test One of the ways we minimized the effects of the wind was by dropping the tip of our fly rod right after a quick speed up and stop unrolled a tight loop toward the target. I learned the technique from Lefty Kreh who showed me that a fly will always travel in the direction the rod stops. After it’s on its way, dropping the line to the water reduces the winds drag and prevents a large belly from forming in the line. Casting side arm at a 45-degree angle or less also helped get the presentation under the wind which had less velocity near the waters surface.
I learned my first and most important lesson about casting into the wind early, on my first visit to the Bahamas, over a decade earlier. After that experience I made a point of fly fishing no matter how hard the wind blew, realizing that if I could get it done on the bad days that I would be golden on the good ones.
Weather is almost always a factor for the fly fisherman. Wind may be the biggest hurdle, but lack of sun and even too little wind can make a trip challenging. It’s important to have all the fundamentals in top form, as there are very few "easy" casts when you’re fly fishing the salt.. My experiences bonefishing in the Bahamas, beginning with that first trip to Long Island, had been during the prime spring months of April, May and early June, traditional months for chasing the "gray ghost" over the vast flats that surround the largest islands of the Bahamas chain.
Savvy anglers know that the winter is the best time to target big bonefish in the Bahamas. It can also be a lot more comfortable. While wind is a constant most of the year, it became obvious that winter weather patterns can present some special challenges. Andros South’s location, approximately 30 miles north of the extreme southern tip of South Andros, the largest and least populated Island in the Bahamas, can spell great fishing even after strong fronts. The Lodge is a 10-minute bus ride from Little Creek where the lodge’s 18-foot Dolphin skiffs are moored. The location gives access to the southeastern side of the island with its myriad cays and creeks as well as a "direct" route to the unpopulated and vast west side. This is the kind of destination I refer to as the "real" Bahamas, an area that has none of the trapping of the "American Caribbean," the luxurious resorts and Four Seasons pampered mentality. On the final two days of our trip the weather steadily improved, but the winds never dropped below 15 miles per hour. Whether you’re traveling to the Bahamas, Belize, Chile or Alaska you’ll be guaranteed a much better experience if you have perfected your casting. Knowing and practicing the fundamentals, including casting into the wind, will benefit you no matter what the weather.