“Big bonefish 12 o’clock, 60 feet mon,” our Bahamian guide Lox whispered to my partner Gerry Tipper.
Pointing his rod, Lox had him swing the tip until three big dark shapes morphed into view. When the fish were 50 feet away, Tipper placed the mantis shrimp fly in their path and waited for direction. “Strip now, strip,” Lox instructed as the fish were approaching the fly. All three bonefish rushed the fly, the smallest fish reaching and inhaling the fly first. Gerry set the hook with a quick strip strike and shifted his attention to the bow, watching as line flew from the deck while making sure there were no obstructions.
When the fish was on the reel, he set the hook again and held on as the bonefish made a blazing run for the nearby mangroves. I grabbed my camera and watched in awe as line melted from Tipper’s reel. As the bonefish closed in on the mangrove roots, Tipper palmed the reel trying to turn it. The big fish was unstoppable but as luck would have it, it only went under one mangrove before crossing a channel and going into another clump of trees. Lox pointed it out trashing on the surface 200 yards away. We managed to clear the line from the first mangrove root and poled across the channel to the other mangroves.
As we approached, I jumped from the boat and waded over to find the fish. When I spotted the big fish, it was completely wound around an arching root. I grabbed the exhausted fish and with Lox’s help managed to free it. Holding the fish, I was amazed at its weight and size. At 9 pounds, it was the biggest bonefish I had ever held. Even a small bonefish will amaze anglers with their power but a big bonefish drops jaws, including mine. After taking a few pictures we revived and prepared to release the big fish. As I was high-fiving Tipper I noticed Lox swishing the fish in the mud. When I asked what he was doing he related that covering the fish with mud before releasing it kept the scent down so the fish could recover its strength before a shark or barracuda could find it. I logged another lesson learned! The balance of that day we encountered and hooked three other fish in the 8- to 10-pound range, all of which broke us off in the mangroves. Fortunately, we managed to land several other smaller fish.
If had to pick my favorite fish to catch, it would probably be a bonefish. Tarpon are amazing targets as are redfish, little tunny and snook, but sight fishing for bonefish in the locations they inhabit and the crystal-clear waters in which they swim is incomparable. Not to mention that a well-placed fly is more often than not tracked and inhaled. On this trip, I was visiting a new (to me) lodge on South Andros with my friend Captain Rick Grassett and a group he had been bringing to the Mars Bay Bonefish Lodge for the past five years.
The lodge is situated near the southeast tip of what is the largest and least populated island in the Bahamas. I’ve been to the island several times but not in a long time. It was one of a few places I’ve been in a long while that had hardly changed. That went for the fishing as well. There are a few places I know where you can fish all day in solitude and never see another angler. South Andros was like that when I first visited in the late 90s and remains that way today.
The lodge was incredibly well-run by a Bahamian staff and guides, owned and managed by Bill Howard, an American expatriate from Nebraska. We stayed at the lodge for seven nights and fished six days. The day started out with a seven o’clock breakfast, although coffee was on for early risers by 5:30. We loaded up at 8 a.m. and made a five-minute ride to a nearby boat basin where boats, guides, drinks and lunches were waiting. We returned to the basin at 4 p.m. after eight hours of poling and wading the seemingly endless flats on the southern tip of the island.
At the lodge, staff had laid out libations and local hors d’oeuvres. The food at the lodge was consistently excellent and included fresh local delicacies including lobster, conch, fish and meats. Dinner was served at 7 p.m. and evenings were spent discussing the days fishing on the back veranda where cool Bahamian breezes were complemented by a sky ablaze with stars and the occasional satellite. On the rare nights when the wind abated, we watched football on a flat-screen TV from comfortable chairs and couches.
It had been a long time since I had visited the Bahamas but I’m already signed up for next year’s trip. If you’re interested in experiencing some of the world’s best fishing in a destination that’s literally in your backyard, contact Grassett at 941-350-9790 or check out his website. The lodge can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out their excellent website.
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