A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO: THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT


_MG_4668_1280x853_

A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO

In January I posted an article called BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED. This stemmed from contact online with fisherman and fly tyer Mark Minshull, who kindly tied some flies for me to try on the Marls. In the post I showed pictures of my manky flybox and his immaculate flies. We agreed to see how things turned out while I was on Abaco in March, and  that I would report back…   

image24

Mark 1 Specimen Bonefish Flies

THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT ON MARK 1 BONEFISHING FLIES

We set out to test the efficacy of  prototype ‘Mark 1′ bonefishing flies in the waters of the Abaco Marls. Our testers came from the US (TC & AH), Northern Ireland (AB), and England (RH). All are proficient fly fishermen with experience of several prime bonefishing destinations between them, except for the Englishman RH who was included to add balance to the trials by adding the element of incompetence. His fly box remained an object of ridicule throughout the tests, until he resorted to using a more carefully chosen small fly box containing his most successful flies, some ‘Delphi Club Approved’ flies and the test flies. 

QUALITY All our testers agreed that the Mark 1 flies were beautifully designed and tied. As flies, their quality was rated ‘superb'; ‘bloody good'; and ‘very impressive’. As potential winners for the waters of Abaco, however, there was considerable doubt about the suitability of the pattern for colouring, shape and size.

THE TEST AREA We used the huge area of prime bonefishing territory of the mangrove swamps and sand banks on the west side of Abaco known as the Marls. Our testers were familiar with the waters and all had fished them numerous times. The sea depth, depending on tide, is a few feet at most. The consistency of the bottom is of lightweight, pale coloured mud.

Bonefishing, Abaco Marls Abaco  1

It is usually easier to look out for the shadows of the fish on the light bottom than for the fish themselves, which are often difficult to see in the water. Half-close your eyes and look at this image – the fish almost disappears, but the shadow is clearly visible. It is hard to believe the wonderful colouring of the fish until it is out of the water.Bonefish, Abaco Marls Abaco 2

THE TESTS The initial reservations of the testers unfortunately proved justified in the field. The testers all found that the fish tended not to follow the flies at all, and mostly behaved as if they had not seen them, even with the most accurate casts. The few ‘follows’ observed produced refusals of the fly at the end. Disappointingly, no fly was taken by a single fish throughout the trials.

OBSERVATIONS Our testers had some useful comments. Above all, the Mark 1 flies were undoubtedly of excellent quality and design. They simply were not suited to the waters – or the bonefish – of Abaco. TC thought they might work in Belize. It was thought that larger versions might attract permit. Overall, the Mark 1s were so radically different from the tried and tested fly patterns used successfully on Abaco that the 3 competent fishermen soon forsook the experiment and caught fish using more familiar flies. The 4th tester, lacking any finesse, might have fluked a take against the odds , but even he drew a blank.

THE PROFESSIONALS The Guides in each case had been fishing the Marls since they could walk and hold a rod. They each examined the flies, shook their heads and kept their thoughts to themselves. We interpret this as indicating a tendency for the local guides to doubt the effectiveness of the Mark 1 flies.

IMG_1169

RH’s ‘Selected Specimen’ Fly Box

RESULTS ANALYSIS  The flies above show (front row) the 3 versions of the Mark 1 fly; (middle row) the highly effective Delphi Daddy and Delphi Diva patterns, with one random silver concoction of unknown origin; (back row) ; 2 browny / pale patterns plus a shocking pink one that the guides wisely forbade and, below, 3 roughly matching flies that brought great success even for RH this year (including 12 boated and 5 lost in one day), sourced from renowned tackle specialist E. Bay.

CONCLUSION The flies that catch the bones on Abaco tend to be pale and to have ‘streamer’ tails and / or a fair amount of sparkle. A touch of pink seems to be good. Too much pink, not so. Rubbery legs can be very effective (except in the fisherman after lunch). But lovely lifelike dark shrimp imitations are of no interest to the fish of the Marls.

‘WHICH?’ RATINGS FOR THE MARK 1 FLY 

  • Design and construction *****
  • Ease of use *****
  • Effectiveness for Abaco waters *

All photos RH. Thanks to Mark for creating the challenge and for being a great sport

A Box of Bonefish Flies (Abaco)

The largely ridiculous fly box of RH (most good ones removed)

 

RAYS OF SUNSHINE ON THE ABACO MARLS


Stingrays Abaco Marls 1

RAYS OF SUNSHINE ON THE ABACO MARLS

The Marls of Abaco are prime bonefishing grounds, a vast area of labyrinthine mangrove swamps, sandy islets, channels and shallow flats on the west side of the main island. The fish are wily and powerful, the fly hooks are barbless, and each one caught, retained, boated and swiftly released is a prize. There’s plenty of other wildlife to be seen. Heron and egrets, ospreys, belted kingfishers, wading birds and many other bird species make the Marls their home. In the water, there are snappers, jacks, barracuda, and sharks of various kinds and sizes. These latter range from small black tip, lemon and hammerhead sharks to more substantial contenders, with the occasional massive bull shark to add a frisson for those on a suddenly fragile-seeming skiff… 

There are also rays. I have posted before about the SOUTHERN STINGRAY and the YELLOW STINGRAY Out on the Marls I have mainly seen Southerns as they move serenely and unhurriedly through the warm shallow water. A couple of weeks ago, we were out with the rods when we had a completely new Ray experience. I’m not overly given to anthropomorphism and getting too emotional about encounters, but we all found this one quite moving – even our very experienced guide.

Gliding to our right side, a pair of stingrays slowed as they neared the skiffStingrays Abaco Marls 2

The adult paused very close to us, allowing the little ray to catch upStingrays Abaco Marls 3

Lifting a wing slightly the adult let the juvenile creep under, while keeping a beady eye on usStingrays Abaco Marls 4

The large ray was missing the tip of its tail, presumably from some adverse encounterStingrays Abaco Marls 5

The creatures examined us carefully for 2 or 3 minutes, before separatingStingrays Abaco Marls 6

Then they slowly drifted away across the sand…Stingrays Abaco Marls 7

According to our guide, this gently protective behaviour is not uncommon. They may well have been completely unrelated, the large ray tolerating the smaller one accompanying it through the waters and offering a kindly wing in the presence of danger or suspicious objects like us.

Photo Credits: Mrs RH (I was too entranced at the sharp end, with a bird’s eye view, to get a camera out)

AN OSPREY ON THE ABACO MARLS


Osprey - Abaco Marls 3

AN OSPREY ON THE ABACO MARLS

Anglers are not the only creatures out fishing on the Marls. Herons and egrets of several sorts live in the massive area of mangrove swamp, shallow sea and sandy spits that make up the prime bonefishing grounds of Abaco. Yesterday, we were lucky enough to be joined by an osprey. Hooking my ‘Delphi Daddy’ safely into a rod ring, I grabbed a camera and took some shots. These aren’t that great because (a) I normally only take a small cheap camera out fishing (b) the bird was some away off and (c ) my image qualities are variable… These aren’t really worth clicking to enlarge, but I’m pleased to have got some ‘action shots’ of this wonderful bird.

Osprey - Abaco Marls 2Osprey - Abaco Marls 1Osprey - Abaco Marls 4

BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED


Abaco Bonefish a

BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED

Here is my fly box. It is a qualified success, as is my fishing. The fly box is rather better organised than I am, though. Some of the flies in it are routinely ignored by others to whom I helpfully offer the box.  I’ve found the best plan is to stick with the silvery shrimpy patterns, especially the ones with pink heads. Then nobody gets upset. And from time to time I get lucky (see header image).

BF flies3a

Recently, a proper fisherman started to follow my blog, and I his. I immediately recognised one of the fishing lakes on his site, one where I have fished in the past. One thing led to another and I seem to have agreed to trial some of Mark’s expertly tied flies on the Abaco flats in March…

Mark’s Bonefish Patternsimage24

I am very keen on the principles of ‘Catch and Release’. So keen that I have developed my own specialist methods (designed for fishing with barbless hooks) using what might be termed ‘Early C&R’. These may include some or all of the following on any given day: 

  1.  ‘THE PHANTOM CATCH’ As the fish follows the fly, and the instant before it commits to a lunge for it, abruptly whisk the fly away from under its nose with a sharp reflex ‘trout-strike’. This will ensure that both the fish and your fly remain untroubled by actual contact. This is the most advanced form of Early C&R.
  2. ‘THE BIG MISSED TAKE’ As the fish takes your fly firmly in its mouth, become preoccupied by the fact that your left foot is planted firmly on a horrid tangle of line around your feet. You will feel the solid take, but instantly realise that your retrieve is hopelessly compromised. With some relief, you feel the line go slack as the fish shakes itself free…
  3. ‘THE REEL THING’ Hook the fish. Feel the weight on the end of the line. It’s heavy. Nice one! Turn in muted triumph to your boat partner to shout excitedly “Got One”. As you do so, allow the line somehow to snag round the rod handle and the reel simultaneously. Before you have even begun to figure how to sort this out, the fish will have released itself and be heading for the horizon.
  4. ‘THE STICKY SITUATION’ Hook the fish. Reel in confidently, keeping the line taut and the fish under your masterful control. Allow it to run if it wishes. Proceed with the same efficiency until you notice a single mangrove stem sticking out of the water 30 feet away. Using your skill, ensure that the fish suddenly has the chance to move to the other side of the stick, winding the leader or line (either will do) round it. Prepare for the ‘twang’ when the inevitable break occurs.  Your fish is away.
  5. ‘THE MANGROVE SWAMP’ Hook a fish. Play it competently until the moment your boat partner or guide gives you some word of encouragement or (worse) praise. Immediately, permit the fish to make a fast break for the nearest clump of mangroves even if it is over 100 feet away. The consequent entanglement round the myriad stems will be sure to lose you the fish and your fly. NOTE: all third party encouragement will diminish after this form of EC&R. Praise will not be repeated.

image4

Mark has just made a challenge public on his website in a post called  All aboard for Abaco! “This little packet of flies is destined for the Bahamas… What stories will they conjure up in time? Rolling Harbour, Abaco… All will be revealed in time! Thanks in advance to RH – I will keep everyone posted in due course! Looking forward to some beautiful pictures of Bonefish…” The flies in question are shown below. It is expected that they will prove to be effective. The expectation is Mark’s. My own feeling is more one of hope. I hope he knows what he is doing. I hope I know what I am doing.*

Rolling Harbour, Abaco... All will be revealed in time!

*The plan is to ask my boat-partner and guide – anyone with access to a rod, really – to “have a go with one of these little guys”. They are far less likely to be as skilled as I am at Early C&R, and are therefore far more likely to boat a fish. Job done…

Photos: RH, 1st two; the rest by Mark

NEST PROTECTION: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)


Wilson's Plover, Abaco 12

NEST PROTECTION: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)

This is the second of three vaguely planned posts about these delightful shore birds. They aren’t rare but they are approachable and fun to watch. During the nesting and hatching season, there may even be some gorgeous chicks on a beach near you (a phrase I never thought I’d find myself using). PART ONE identified the typical male and female adults found on the Delphi beach almost any day. 

Nettie's Point, Abaco - Trucks & Skiffs

This post is about nest protection. Not the ingenious methods of  the birds themselves, that will come next time. This is a story of protection by humans. The photograph above shows Nettie’s Point, one of the launching points for bonefishing skiffs being taken out to the Marls, a vast area of sea, low sand banks and mangroves where the fish are found. You hope. The skiffs gain access to open sea via an artificial channel carved out of rock. The early morning trip along it is one of the most exciting part of a fisherman’s day, as he or she sets out with a clean score sheet, a rod and a box of flies. And a cooler box with some food and maybe a Kalik beer or three.

Nettie's Point, Abaco - the cut to the sea

This June, a pair of plovers decided to locate their nesting ‘scrape’ right in the middle of the cleared area where the trucks normally turn. This was by no means a wise home-planning decision, and they might well have found themselves being promptly relocated. Or (worst case scenario) ending up under a large Toyota. But not a bit of it. Instead, these small birds were looked after by the guides like this: Nettie's Point, Abaco - Plover's nest protection

A makeshift castle was built all round the nest to protect it from any inadvertent truck-related tragedies. Meanwhile the male plover stood guard outside the castle, amiably watching the human activities. Nettie's Point, Abaco - Male Wilson's Plover guards nest

I kept my distance but in fact he was quite unperturbed, perhaps sensing that we were not a threat. He still kept a beady eye on the proceedings, though.Nettie's Point, Abaco - male Wilson's Plover guards a nest

Meanwhile, what of the wooden enclosure itself? At first glance, there didn’t look much to report. However, if you look in the centre of the picture, you’ll see the female peeping out from the nest.Nettie's Point, Abaco - Nest protection 2

I very slowly moved nearer, prepared to stop if the male became agitated, or if the female shifted her position. Both seemed quite relaxed, so I took a couple of shots and walked away to leave the birds in peace. Then I went fishing.Nettie's Point, Abaco - Female Wilson's Plover on NestNettie's Point, Abaco - Mrs Wilson's Plover on the nest

As a postscript, Nettie’s Point is the location of a remarkable geographical phenomenon, possibly the result of the cutting of the channel. Along one part of the cut, for about 30 feet, the water level sinks alarming in the middle, while remaining normal at each side. Then it levels out again. This remarkable mid-stream aquatic depression is quite disconcerting to motor through on a skiff, though eventually one gets used to it. Nettie's Point, Abaco - channel water phenomenon(Note: not every fact in this post is 100% true. If you have some salt handy, take a pinch)

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS


Great Egret Abaco 7

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS

The piratically named Treasure Cay (aaarrrrrr…) is north of Marsh Harbour, and home to one of the larger communities on Abaco. It has a wonderfully long white sand beach, a golf course, condos and villas, a marina and a cheerful atmosphere. It is also one of the best areas in North Abaco for birding. There are the shorebirds, of course, and all the usual ‘settlement’ species. In addition, the golf course has freshwater ponds where you will find a wide variety of duck and other water species. NB Check in at the Club House and get permission first – amiably given if politely requested (see map below).

Treasure Cay also has a large area of bays, brackish inlets and lagoons, including – to continue the pirate theme – Galleon Bay, Brigantine Bay, Cannon Bay and Gun Powder Creek. And also White Sound. This can be reached by luck (which may run out) or good management (ask for directions; wait for me to get back the map I have lent to someone and post a grab from it). Drive (with care) along the uneven track beside the lagoon and there is a good chance you will see Great Egrets in the mangrove islands dotted around the middle of the water. This is what to look out for…Great Egret, White Sound, Abaco

Zoom in a bit, and you’ll see two more egrets on the far side of the clump of mangroves. It’s a colony… in the end we were able to count 9 birds on this one mangrove island.Great Egret Abaco 1

One of the loveliest features of these fine birds in breeding season is the way that even a slight breeze will blow their long plumes away from their bodies like streamersGreat Egret Abaco 2Great Egret Abaco 3

We were some way from the birds, as these rather indifferent photos suggest, so we decided to try and get closer. The water was fairly low, leaving expanses of firm-looking marly mud around the edge. There was an apparent causeway to an overgrown rocky outcrop that would enable us to get closer to a vantage point without being spotted. As it turned out, the mud was only… ankle deep. It could have been messier. And we had a chance to see at close quarters the remarkable way in which mangrove entanglements develop.

Great Egret Abaco 4 Great Egret Abaco 5

We reached the outcrop muddier and slightly wiser, and clambered up through the scrubby and scratchy bushes to the top, nothing if not intrepid. My wading stick came in handy for beating a rough path. And by adopting strange stances in the manner of someone trying to pick up a faint cellphone signal, we could peer through the foliage to establish whether we were indeed a bit closer to the egrets.Great Egret Abaco 6

The answer was yes. But there was another obstacle, familiar to all fellow ‘focus fail’ offenders. Shooting a bird through a hole in a bush straight in front of you is complicated. You get a vivid detailed  frame of greenery, with a blurry centre of unintentional and unwanted BOKEH instead of the intended subject. A lens entension (the poor man’s zoom that I use) tends to make it worse. So you’ll have to make do with these pictures for now, until you can visit White Sound and get your own with your natty Nikon. Great Egret Abaco 11Great Egret Abaco 9Great Egret Abaco 8

My favourite ‘stance’ shotGreat Egret Abaco 10

That wasn’t the end of the adventure. After we had squidged our way back through the slightly smelly mud, we moved further along the sound, to find a further egret colony on the far shore just in time to watch them from afar as they took flight.Great Egret Abaco 12 Great Egret Abaco 13 Great Egret Abaco 14

TREASURE CAY, LOCATIONS OF WHITE SOUND & THE GOLF CLUB, &  SOME PIRATICAL NAMESTreasure Cay Map

TREASURE CAY IN RELATION TO OTHER ABACO PLACESAbaco Egret Map 1 jpg

When leaving Treasure Cay, visitors receive a friendly reminder to return, in terms reminiscent of, yet far nicer than, a Scottish Tourist Board brochure. Maybe this reflects the historic significance of the Scots in the history of the Bahamas, to the extent that there is even a Bahamas tartan. 

Bahamas TartanHaste Ye Back...

TC Map credit: Abaco Estate Services. They send me emails, so I guess they won’t mind publicity here

IT’S ALL WHITE – IT’S A REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO


Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 5

IT’S ALL WHITE – IT’S A REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO

Contrary to appearances from the header image and the one below, Reddish Egrets (Egretta rufescens) do not yet use cellphones to communicate. Nevertheless, the trick of having a good ear-scratch while standing in water on one leg is a good posey accomplishment.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 4

All these photos were taken while we were bonefishing from a skiff far out on the Marls in the mangroves. Ishi poled us closer so that boat-partner Tom – a real photographer – could get some shots. Meanwhile, I did my best with my little camera that I take out on the boat – the one that won’t matter too much when it slips from my hand or pocket into the drink. These things happen: I lost a good pair of Costas that a gust of wind unkindly whisked away when I took them off to change a fly.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 3Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 2

This egret comes in two very different ‘colourways’. The classic version has a slatey-blue body and a reddish head and plumes. The white morph is pure white. The only similarities between the two are the two-tone bills with the black tip; and the blue-grey legs and feet.

True Reddish Egret, as you might expect it to lookReddish_Egret Wiki

The white morphReddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 9

I’m not certain of the proportions of each type on Abaco, but I have certainly seen twice as many white ones as true reddish ones. There seem to be quite a few around – there are plenty of fish for them and dozens of square miles of human-free space in which to stalk them. However as with many (most?) of the bird species, there is a declining population for all the usual man-related reasons, and these fine birds have now had to be put on the IUCN ‘near-threatened’ list.220px-Status_iucn3.1_NT.svg

The bird kept an eye on us as we drifted closer, but was unperturbed. It continued to poke around in the mud, and occasionally it moved delicately but quite quickly to a different patch.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 8 Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 7 Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 6

We watched the bird for about 10 minutes. Then we returned to what we were really there for – Tom to catch bones with practised skill, and me to wave the rod incompetently around until some passing fish took pity on me and grabbed my fly, knowing it would soon be released once all the fuss was over…Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 1