The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 5 - November 16, 2011

reel time

The monster bones of Aitutaki

Reel time

Ian Dollery, head of the Aitutaki Bonefish Management
Committee, prepares to release an 11-pound bonefish
he caught on the Aitutaki flats.

Ian Dollery, director of the Aitutaki Bonefish Management Committee, told us to bring heavy fly tackle that could handle the large bonefish that swam this Cook Island atoll. My three choices were a nine weight, a 10 weight and an 11 weight. It didn't take long for me to find out that even with this tackle I could be defeated by some of the monster bones of Aitutaki. The recommendations were spot on, but there were times when the use of a floating line and bead chain flies was required. The high winds we experienced and the deeper water where the big bones often lurk required us to get our flies down quick much of the time. Most of the effective flies were variations of Clousers and the McVey Gotcha with large and medium weight lead eyes. Even with the high winds, there were times when a floating line and flies with bead chain eyes were more effective. The lee of some of the atoll's islands like Akaima and Long Island provided slick calm water where the big cruising bones could be very selective. The big bonefish of Aitutaki are all very smart and require long accurate casts and long leads. Itu, who occasionally has days with up to 15 fish, coaches his anglers to leads up to 12 feet. He then has them strip the fly until the bonefish spots it. It takes a lot of patience and faith to leave a fly perfectly still waiting for a bonefish to tail on the fly. The only time the fly is moved is when a fish looses interest and starts to move away. A short, smooth strip will often get the angler the second chance that's needed.

On one of the many windy and cloudy days, I fished with Butch Leone, an American who has been fishing the big bones of Aitutaki for over 18 years. Leone was one of the early champions of controlling netting and showing the locals the possibility of a sustainable guide fishery. We were plagued with clouds and high winds, but despite the conditions, we persisted, working our way up the lagoon. As we waded the shallows during the beginning of a falling tide, we both commented on the warm water flowing across the flat. We also started to see bonefish working up on the white sand adjacent to a deep, blue water edge. It was one of those frustrating days when just as a bonefish would come into view, a cloud would obscure the flat, and as it passed, so did the bonefish. Finally, as the sun made its way from one bank of clouds to another, two large bonefish, both easily double digit fish, swam into view. I made a cast, and just as I started a strip to attract them, another cloud obscured my view. With no other options, I continued a smooth strip, with an occasional staccato variation when my line came tight. With an instinctive strip strike, I found myself fast to a silver missile that stripped line from my reel faster than any other fish I've ever hooked. The bonefish took me an honest 100 yards into my backing so fast I could only watch in awe. Unfortunately, this fish also had a Ph.D and had headed for one of two coral heads within sight. My second double digit fish of the trip ended just as my first had. Fortunately, this time I did retrieve my fly line and backing sans some leader and a fly.

Aitutaki and the Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources is focused on developing a guided fly fishing industry for bonefish. It is hoped that through the shift from netting to sport fishing the people of these islands can assure that this incredible resource continues to sustain the people of the atoll, as it has for generations, while providing some world class bone fishing for anglers. Hopefully, the people of Aitutaki will be able to fully realize the potential of their fabulous bone fishing. While this destination will always be a quality over quantity destination, it's a place where the possibility of a world record bonefish lurks on the edge of every flat and where a fisherman and his family can find a true paradise. We were captivated by Aitutaki, its huge bonefish and the amazing scenery, but it was the people and their eagerness to learn, as well as their warmth and hospitality, that will be most prominent in our memories.

For accommodations contact

Popoara Ocean Breeze Villas


Itu Davey:
Web Site:
Butch Leone:
Web Site:

Review: The Hell's Bay Biscayne

I have to start this boat review with a disclosure. I've owned a Hell's Bay boat for close to eleven years and I count it among one of my prized possessions. When I got a call from Captain Todd Fuller with an offer to try out the Biscayne, Hell's Bay's newest boat, I jumped at the chance. Not only was there the opportunity to drive and fish the new model, but  I would also have the chance to meet and fish with Captain C.A. Richardson, host of "Flat's Class" a popular TV show that airs on Sun Sports, The Sportsman's Channel and The World Fishing Network.

We launched at the Green Bridge in Palmetto and ran a smooth Manatee River to Snead Island Cut where we passed into Terra Ceia Bay and an early morning chop. After navigating the slow speed zone we put the Biscayne on plane and I got my first taste of the ride. The smooth progress the Biscayne made over that early morning chop reminded me of my Hell's Bay Guide 18.  As the day progressed we were able to run and fish the boat under varying conditions that gave me a feel for the evolution and intent of the new hull's design.

Later in the morning I poled Fuller and Richardson on a shallow mangrove lined flat in Miguel Bay. While the new boat is only 16'4" long as opposed to the 18'4" Guide I'm accustomed to, it weighs almost the same . As the wind began to pick up I noticed that it pushed the stern downwind as opposed to upwind, a definite advantage when trying to control a flats skiff in a stiff wind.  The boat tracked extremely well and was easy to control when I poled upwind and then down to pot holes in the bay. It didn't take long before C.A.'s bait casting rod to doubled up as a redfish crashed his top water plug.  Holding the boat in place so Richardson and Fuller could work the area was a breeze.  I was also impressed with the quietness of the hull as I listened for wave sounds and heard none even with the increasing chop.

After catching a few more reds and trout, I asked to put the boat thru some trials on the now rough waters of the open (Tampa) Bay. I ran the boat downwind, upwind into the chop and then quartered the boat into the waves to test the ride. I was extremely impressed both by the smoothness of the ride and the degree of dryness that the boat maintained. It was the first flats skiff that actually kept me dry under theses rather extreme conditions.  After talking to Fuller I learned that the boat had been designed expressly for the demanding conditions that Keys guides encounter. Hell's Bay designers wisely enlisted the help of some of the Keys best guides in developing a boat that would handle rough water crossings, pole silently to finicky bonefish and permit and keep the guides and passengers dry throughout the day. A boat that can handle those conditions will be a great fishing platform for most anglers.

Contrary to what you'll often hear, there is no perfect skiff for every condition. The Biscayne's draft at seven inches is almost three inches deeper than the two foot longer Guide, and the hull weighs just five pounds less.  If you're looking for a boat that handles four people on a consistent basis you might want a larger boat. However, if you're a serious guide or dedicated angler the combination of dry, smooth ride, tracking and quiet approach makes the Biscayne a serious contender for your attention. Area anglers who want to get the feel of the new Biscayne can attend a "Demo Day' in St. Petersburg on Saturday December 2, 2011. For more information contact Hell's Bay Boatworks at 321.383.8223 or check out their web site at Check out C.A. Richardson's "Flat's Class" on TV or at

The Hell's Bay Biscayne

  • Weight - 595 lbs.
  • Draft - 7" with engine & fuel
  • Length - 16' 4"
  • Beam - 70"
  • Recommended Power - 60 hp - 80 hp

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